So this is a new feature I'm trying out - a Friday roundup of things which have crossed my mind this week.
EU-Japan free trade negotiations
Yesterday the EU opened negotiations with Japan on the prospect of a free trade agreement after efforts in the European Parliament led by Liberal MEPs. Given that Japanese companies employ 100,000 people in the UK and that we export chemicals, pharmaceuticals, cars, machinery and scientific instruments to Japan, this is a bit of quite good economic news. And, given that it's predicted to produce £35 billion of European exports to Japan, these negotiations are also a good example of why it's useful to be inside of, rather than outside, the EU and the world's largest economy and able to benefit from these kind of deals which individual nations find it much harder to negotiate.
Liberal Youth Conference
Last weekend I was in rainy Manchester for Liberal Youth conference. As always it was great fun but unfortunately my motion to get Liberal Youth to campaign for the minimum wage to be raised to match the living wage was gutted by a wrecking amendment which turned it into a motion endorsing the status quo. Thankfully we were able to get the motion returned to the policy committee for redrafting so hopefully the motion can be resurrected in a less radical form in time for next conference.
On a brighter note, there was an excellent speech by Lib Dem Lord Rennard (who became involved with the Liberals by becoming a local party treasurer at age 13) and I was able to get an emergency motion passed on the recent fighting in Gaza which called for an end to the Israeli blockade of Gaza, condemned violence by both sides, called for all violence against civilians to end and for the UK and the EU to push for an end to the supply of arms to both Palestine and Israel as well as to push both sides to come to a lasting peace settlement.
And, speaking of Palestine...
Palestine admitted to the UN as an observer nation
Congratulations to Palestine on formally being accepted into the UN as an observer nation rather than an entity. Given Palestine has diplomatic recognition from almost every country apart from the US and it's allies, this doesn't really change anything with regards to the issue of whether Palestine is a state or not but it does make it easier for them to join organisations like the International Criminal Court. And, given that war crimes have undoubtedly been committed by both sides in Israel and Palestine, the possibility of the ICC being able to extend its jurisdiction and bring people to justice can only be a good thing. Above all the Palestinian people have the right to self-determination and sovereignty (as does Israel) and it's good to see that internationally recognised. It's just a shame that we in the UK were too afraid of the US to take a principled stand and vote in favour of the Palestinians rather than abstaining.
Leveson recommendations published
Well the recommendations of the Leveson inquiry have been published and everyone political or involved with the media is very excited about it while everyone else can't really see what all the fuss is about. But basically all it is is a recommendation for a new independent regulatory body for the press which will have powers backed by law, so that newspapers can't choose not to be members or ignore it's rulings, as well as an independent arbitration process.
Given that at the moment there is absolutely nothing to stop newspapers printing lies like the Daily Star headline of "MUSLIM-ONLY PUBLIC LOOS - Council wastes YOUR money on hole-in-ground toilets" (literally nothing was true about this headline - the toilets weren't Muslim only and they weren't paid for by the council), I can't really see what's so contentious about the proposals to actually enforce the same code of conduct that newspapers already profess they believe in - especially when most UK papers are members of a similar regulatory system in Ireland without any complaints about it. And it's nice to see Nick Clegg publicly disagreeing with Cameron on this and standing up for what's right as well.