Your editor has many hats – one of which is membership of Liberal Youth’s International Committee. Given that, the Libertine interviewed your two candidates for International Officer, Conor McKenzie and Owen Bartholomew. RON refused to answer his e-mails.
1) What do you think qualifies you for the role of International Officer?
CONOR : I think one key reason is that foreign affairs is something that I am really interested in and I can’t wait to get more of a chance to take a lead in this area for Liberal Youth. However, as dull as it sounds, I have the experience to take the job further from my past jobs in Liberal Youth; I’ve worked on the International Committee and I know exactly how realistic, yet ambitious my goals are as well as you can see from my time as Chair of Liberal Youth England that I can work with individual members, state organisations, other executive members and even the party to get the right results for us. I have the right ideas for Liberal Youth International so I feel comfortable taking the lead on it, but it’s definitely not a cop-out that I’d like to take the portfolio where members want it to go, on the international issues they want it to be about.
OWEN : The reason I qualify for the role of international office is my knowledge on international affairs as well as my enthusiasm for international affairs. I feel having a great deal of international awareness is very important to this particular role.
The other reason why I especially qualify for the post of international is my experience in campaigning both Politically but more importantly campaigning for issues regarding young people. A good example of a campaign I organised was a campaign in my local town (in co operation with young people) to save a young persons bus travel card, which was going to be scrapped by the County Council. The campaign i had organised got a fair amount of local publicity and eventually the campaign concluded when I presented a petition on behalf of young people in my town to keep the young persons travel card and presented it to full council meeting at my local council chamber.
So its the combination of my campaigning skills as well as international which I feel would be an asset to Liberal youth, should I be elected as International officer.
2) What would be the first thing you’d do if you were elected?
CONOR: Boring answer I’m afraid but I’ll hold Liberal Youth International’s first committee meeting of the year to set out where I want to go for the next six months with our campaigns, events and relations with sister organisations. I will get in contact with our representatives at LYMEC and IFLRY as well as work on handover with Sam Fisk.
One key thing is I have a six-month plan stating exactly where I am going to take the portfolio for the rest of the term if elected, so people know precisely what they’re voting for. You will see from looking at it, before this month is over I will have already looked into how we can further our Belarus campaign, began working on Liberal International British Group on our forum event in March and got the ball rolling on a closer relationship with the state organisations (which are vital for us in taking out campaigns to the campus and running more internationally themed events regionally).
OWEN : The first thing I would do if I am elected is discuss with the international committee as well as the Liberal youth membership in general what sort of area of the world or issue we all want to proceed with a campaign on. But as well as discussing what sort of campaign we as Liberal youth want to campaign on, I would want to discuss what type of publicity we want to gain and through what method. I am put a fair amount effort in approaching and meeting with human rights and international affairs correspondents and developing stronger links with national newspapers, such as the Independent and the Guardian, as these titles are much more likely to warm to Liberal youth and our campaigns and more likely to give us positive publicity.
3) How committed are you to the Bears for Belarus campaign and how would you take forward LYs campaigning on Belarus?
CONOR : Once LYI has got its house in order, campaigns is where I will go next – looking at how we can go with the campaign before the end of January.
As I have set out, I am fully committed to the Belarus campaign. I hate to suggest killing off the bears, but once we have got up the rest of the pictures I think it will be best to move away from them and focus on the same aim, just in different countries – however not overlooking the appalling human right abuses in Belarus. Something that I have been very keen on is looking at the Magnitsky Act, a US act aimed at tackling the human rights abuses just across the border from Belarus in Russia – they have hit back with a truly harsh policy which will only hurt the most vulnerable in their society, young orphans, through the Dima Yakovlev Bill.
What’s more, I’d really like to focus on social media campaigning. Our Belarus campaign started as a small-scale, reactionary campaign but with its successes, it was certainly worth expanding it into something bigger and we can still develop it more now. Nevertheless, it would be really great to also run a few other short-term reactionary campaigns on the side when issues as they arise, whether that is creating them ourselves or responding to campaigns our sister organisations abroad are already running. Social media is truly the best way to engage large amounts of people and inform them of the atrocities overseas which are too often ignored.
OWEN : I think the Bears for Belarus campaign was a good success and a VERY good idea, regardless of the problem with the motion at Conference, this campaign has never the less gained publicity and judging by the uncomfortable attitude of the Belarusian authorities towards Liberal youth and its campaign, I would say Liberal youth and the people that helped with this campaign have certainly rattled some feathers. I think gaining the attention of the Belarusian authoritites has only convinced me that this campaign must carry on.
When it comes to LY’s Campaigning on Belarus in general, I would like us as Liberal youth to develop and increase our links with members of Belarus’s opposition and get them involved with our campaigns themselves, as well as inviting them to events such as Liberal youth conference or Federal conference for events at these conferences.
4) What do you think of Britain’s membership of the EU?
OWEN : Britain’s membership of the EU is hot on the agenda at the moment, the Euro sceptics of Britain are very good at making alot of noise of why we should leave and its these euro sceptics who are getting the most publicity. I strongly support Britain remaining a member of the EU and im sure most of Liberal youth think exactly the same as me on this issue, this is why i want Liberal youth to be the biggest players in this country when it comes to making the arguments of why Britain should stay a member of EU, but our campaigns should focus on making the case to a sceptical public in the loudest way possible and pushing for as much publicity for our arguments as possible.
CONOR : Of course I support Britain’s membership of the EU! The European Union is a truly brilliant organisation that we can credit with so much, not just free-trade and peace. However, with the rise of parties like UKIP, us Liberal Democrats need to start developing a clear stance on issue and begin talking about these how important it is as well as where we would like to see it improved (it really isn’t perfect).
I’ve always wanted to see the Liberal Democrats brand themselves more as the internationalist party, though perhaps not supporting some kind of ‘United States of Europe’ just yet, but one that looks sensibly at globalisation and develops its common-sense policies in this area better – just as we do on issues like equal marriage and drugs reform. I was telling Harry the other day that I think we should be sceptical of all big, powerful organisations – this should include the European Union so there are things we need to appreciate like the evident democratic deficit that exists in it, but I personally don’t see what the United Kingdom would gain from leaving an organisation that we have so much to credit for.
5) If you could take just one motion to Conference, what would it be?
OWEN : I am determined to get a new Belarus motion taken back on the agenda at federal conference. The reason why I want a motion to brought back to Federal conference is due to the fact that this issue and this country MUST NOT be forgotten about by the national party and other people. Belarus is a country where in the face of other countries in the ex-USSR are proceeding towards democracy and human rights, is doing the opposite, the people of Belarus and more importantly the young people in Belarus want the freedom, just like us here in the UK to simply have a democratic voice and for its government to respect the human rights of its citizens, this is why I am convinced we really need to push for this conference motion to be re introduced.
CONOR : Right now? It would be the Belarus motion that Sam wrote for Brighton last year, yet perhaps updated a bit to take into account more the recent developments that have happened. With the deadline fast approaching and the federal committee meeting on the 19th January to look at the submitted motions for Spring Conference, I think it would be a little hasty to submit anything worthwhile this conference anyway.
What is important though is that we can’t rush these things. The Federal Conference Committee disgracefully rejected our motion last year on the basis of it ‘not being a current issue’, this couldn’t be further from the truth; at the time of rejection 3 journalists had recently been arrested and thrown into jail indefinitely and even a couple of days ago now some political activists were detained for handing out opposition leaflets. The point is though: these are big issues that need to be appreciated, taking this motion to spring conference without being amended properly will only result in its rejection meaning we might as well not take it Autumn Conference in Glasgow where if it is debated, it will get the right level of publicity it deserves (the Lib Dems are the only main party to have a Spring Conference now and far fewer journalists turn up). We need not rush things, we’re making great progress with our campaign as it is, so we can spend the correct amount of time amending, developing and preparing a greater argument for the motion so that we can get it debated properly in the autumn.
6) What do you think Liberal Youth could learn from our overseas sister organizations?
OWEN : In the UK, political youth organisations struggle to deal with getting young people interested in politics and more importantly getting ordinary young people involved in politics. Sisters organisations in Europe are known to target their political youth organisation at all levels of young people whether studying at university or not. I think as Liberal youth we need to find out ways where Liberal youth can get more young people interested in our organisation who do not necessary study politics at university or go to university in general.
CONOR : Brilliant question! We can learn so much from our sister organisations abroad; I know this from first-hand experience after having a Skype chat to Yabloko Youth’s International Officer in Russia and I have stayed in contact with her quite regularly since.
As I have made clear, relations with our sister organisations is something that I am really keen on expanding as an International Committee, giving each member territorial responsibility so they can liaise with our sister organisations in their areas, looking how they manage their campaigns, events and even engage with their membership, as well as look into the current affairs there so that we can more effectively produce statements and reactionary social media campaigns on issues concerning liberty in those countries.