International Federation of Liberal Youth

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As regular followers of this blog will know, this blog hasn’t been regular recently. Since Hallowe’en, I’ve had a busy month, mostly because of that lovely biannual event – essay season. Follow that by a weekend spent in Istanbul at the International Federation of Liberal Youth (IFLRY) General Assembly and a nasty cough, and we arrive at today, with me angry about so many issues in the news.

Time to start with something pleasing though, to ease back into blogging. My thoughts on the IFLRY GA.

For those who don’t know IFLRY, it is essentially the youth-wing of Liberal International. Thus, instead of the Liberal Democrats being members, Liberal Youth is a member of IFLRY. Our mother parties have LI, we congregate in IFLRY.

At the General Assembly, we elected a new Bureau… who, being the newbie of the group, I didn’t know. My fault, but they seem like competent and hard-working professionals, so I’m looking forward to following their work. Hope to know a little more before next year’s GA.

The panels were fascinating – a discussion about the concept of Religion and Freedom, and an update on the state of Liberalism in the Arab Spring countries. Basically, that Liberalism has a reputation, due to its inherent secularism and defence of freedom of religion, of being ungodly and anti-religion. Something we need to combat. And plenty of fodder for upcoming blogs…

The discussion on Belarus and the work IFLRY is doing to support Liberal opposition and monitor elections is incredible. The stories told about the brutality of the Lukashenka regime chilled me – check out www.liberal-belarus.org for more information on their work.

The Resolutions were good quality and highlighted a lot of important topics – Tahrir Square, West Papua, Sri Lanka, and more. But as James Patava, Head of the Political Unit for Liberal International, said at a fringe meeting, some of the problem with IFLRY was that our message was vocal but didn’t hit too well. Same for our national party, I fear…

IFLRY should have huge strength in LI – we have 20 votes, as strong as any of their individual parties, and an extra vote goes to the IFLRY President… who just happens to be LI Vice-President. We have a lot of power to craft resolutions within LI, and thus have a lot of say over some parties that are in governments around the world, including our own. Definitely something to listen to.

James Patava also made some excellent points about how difficult it is to get the liberal message across. Socialists and Conservatives have their own niche and they’re excellent at keeping them. We’re the squeezed middle in every country, and it’s hard to find a voice. We can’t keep showing ourselves as the Alternative to left and ring wing parties, we have to be the Answer itself. We are the “compassionate center of social justice and individual freedom” but that doesn’t message so well. We need something new.

What do the LibDems message these days? The four “fair” points? I was a party member and could barely back those up.

I also attended a talk on communications from Wolf Von Laer, of the European Students for Liberty.  There was some useful advice on internal and external communications – such as the three principles of international communications (determining responsibilities, coordinating activities and sharing information). Definitely something to take back to our own local parties, societies and other groups…

There was one trend amongst the delegates that did raise my eyebrows at first – many of the parties that are members of IFLRY were Classical Liberals or even nearing Libertarian. At times, as a Social Liberal, I felt a little marginalised. These were groups I’d more associate with the Tories than the LibDems, and, being on the left of the Lib Dems, I felt like a communist compared to some of these people. It took a little while to find my ideological brethren but that, actually, surprisingly, didn’t matter.

What mattered was what we shared, not what divided us. After tweeting @WolfVonLaer and @ESFLiberty and mentioning it, they each summed it up nicely. Wolf Von Laer commented that the group isn’t hetrogenous, and that beyond Liberty the ESF has no position. ESF themselves tweeted

…and this is the crucial thing. While I disagreed on economic matters with some of my fellow delegates, that wasn’t the point. What was more important was what brought so many young “liberals” together in one place – the pursuit of freedom. We might have different methods of achieving it, but Social and Classical Liberals, and even Libertarians, are all dedicated to this cause, of freedom, of individuality, of liberty… it’s better to work with them on “the common ground we share”, than allow ourselves to be divided. This meeting of international parties at the other furthest reach of Europe actually profoundly altered my thinking on Coalition politics here in the UK. I disagree with the Cameroons on many issues, but we do have some unifying factors – what’s most important is to work together to make the country, politics, and the world a better place.

We will disagree. We do. But that’s ok. As Wolf said…

When we have the chaotic throwing together of concepts and ideas, when we disagree, we form better policy together. Both sides need to be willing and able to compromise but what comes out of it is hopefully better policy, or at least feasible policy.

This is the best part of the IFLRY meetings – the people. While some were Classical and some were Social, they were all great people. It didn’t matter their alignment. I met fascinating, interesting, dedicated, and just plain cool people from as far apart as Lebanon, the Netherlands, Sweden, Brazil, Sri Lanka, Norway, Morocco, and Turkey itself. Ideas and alcohol flowed, and I’ve rarely met a better group of people.

Hope to see them again, in a year.

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