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SDP Assistant Secretary-General John Tan recently attended the UK’s Liberal Democrat Party (LibDems) conference in Liverpool, the birthplace of the legendary Beatles and the famed football team named after the city. Mr Tan was there together with other member parties of the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (CALD).
The LibDems recently came into power in a coalition with the Conservative Party following the last elections held in May this year.
Its leader, Mr Nick Clegg, is now the Deputy Prime Minister. The LibDems and Singapore Democrats are sister parties in the Liberal International.
The conference, attended by thousands of members, is where members decide on party policy where members debate and vote on what becomes policy. For example, the party’s recent election manifesto was debated and approved at the previous conference.
Top on the agenda of the present conference was a fairer alternative voting system to replace the archaic First Past the Post system that we have adopted in Singapore. The LibDems are proposing an alternative that would better allow the composition of the parliament to reflect the popular vote.
Some of the other major issues discussed at the conference include the libel law reform, taxation, accountability to the poor, school governance, and the “war on terror” in the context of respect for human rights.
Parallel to the main events, there were huge number of fringe events that raised issues on the environment, woman and child rights, LGBT, education, disability, labour, religion, fair trade, and a host of societal concerns. Some of these events were organized by NGOs or commercial sponsors that also displayed their services or concerns at the 100 or so booths exhibition hall.
There were also street protests and demonstrators outside the conference. Unhappy trade union groups, anti-foxhunting groups, “families-fighting-for-justice” groups, groups that want more government attention on crime, etc had their say through placards, banners, and mascots.
Mr Tan met with the DPM Clegg, the Minister of State at the Foreign Office Jeremy Browne, and the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills Vince Cable, and the President of the LibDems Baroness Ros Scott.
The meetings discussed Singapore’s human rights record and its use of the libel law against opposition leaders. The subject of Mr Alan Shadrake, a UK citizen who was arrested for writing ‘Once A Jolly Hangman’ and is now awaiting trial, also came up.
Mr Tan was impressed with the democratic process of the conference. Everything was based on transparency and accountability, he said.
He was especially struck by the level of political awareness and participation. “People, young and old, came from all walks of lives,” the SDP leader said, “I met janitors, soldiers and Lords. There were also deaf folks that needed signs, blinds who were led by guide dogs, and paraplegics on wheelchairs. What I saw was indeed democracy in action.”