The following speech was presented by Robert Woodthorpe Brown in London on the 27 June 2011, at our event titled “The State of South Africa – Economy, Elections and BRICS”.
I am here, as the programme states, wearing two hats. So, I want to talk to you about relations with the LibDems here in the UK, and also about the DA and the wider liberal family.
It is important for Helen Zille and her colleagues not to be regarded as the whites and coloureds party. The results in the recent elections showed that you can increasingly win in African areas.
The aim has to be for a South African political outcome that is ideology based, where people vote for ideas and not for the colour of one’s skin or one’s tribe. And Liberal International is fully aware of this imperative.
That is why we held our executive meeting in Cape Town in November last year, coupled with the AGM of the African Liberal Network.
The ALN now has 27 member parties, with more waiting in the winds. Helen Zille was able to go on South African TV flanked by a couple of dozen black and brown facing, representing the DA’s sister parties from all over the continent – Arabic, French, English and Portuguese-speaking.
More recently good publicity was generated during ALN’s Executive Committee meeting in Johannesburg, organised with the help of the German FDP’s Friedrich Nauman Foundation.
The DA also plays its part on the international stage. Tim Harris MP, who is the party’s International Officer, accompanied Liberal International’s Patron, Colin Eglin, all the way to Manila where we have just held the first of our 57 congresses in Asia, in a country with a liberal president.
Hopefully Colin will be with us in the Autumn of next year to receive Liberal International’s highest honour, the prize for the freedom on African soil, in Abidjan, where African Liberals contributed greatly to ensure that president Alassane Ouattara’s election victory happened and then was recognises by the international community.
The DA has chosen the Liberal path both domestically and internationally. That means respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
We Liberal Democrats have recently copied you by setting up various cells of Liberal Democrats abroad.
At home we are an internationalist party, and we have Liberal International (British Group) – which I used to chair – which Felcomes as members (for a fee of only £20 each year) individuals who consider themselves to be liberals whether or not they are members of the Liberal Democrats.
They organise events with speakers, sometimes in conjunction with other organisations.
For those interested in the European Union, there is the Liberal Democrat European Group – LDEG.
There are also several “friends” groups, including Liberal Democrat friends of Israel, Palestine, Pakistan, India, and, most recently, Brazil. There is also a Chinese Liberal Democrats group.
We make our international policy in various ways. We have an international affairs backbench team comprising of both houses of parliament plus, outside experts, including Paul Speller, the paid head of our International office, and myself.
We have an international affairs team, which I chair, which brings together people elected by our annual conference, representatives of our Federal Executive, the Federal Policy Commission – so that we cannot lapse into heresy – the English, Scottish and Welsh parties, LDEG, LIBG, European Committee of the Regions, the MEPs and Liberal Youth. Thank goodness they don’t always all turn up.
And finally, all policy is made by our party conference, meeting in the Spring and Autumn of each year.
So, why not get involved. Join LIBG or the party. And why don’t we form a “Liberal Democrats Friends of South Africa” – at least the wine would be good.
Mr Browne is the Vice President of Liberal International and Lib Dem Chairman of the International Relations Committee.