The session of keynote speeches by those defined as 'political leaders' took place this afternoon. Wolfgang Gerhardt, Chair of the Friedrich Naumann Stiftung (FNS) and a Free Democrat MP in the German Bundestag, spoke about the importance of education if one is to built the 'knowledge economy' that must inevitably follow in those already developed economies in the global marketplace.
Of course, the FDP are key players in international Liberal circles, especially following their dramatic advance in the recent Bundestag elections, more than doubling their representation. The FNS has been a key element in supporting the cultivation of liberal forces worldwide and, given its direct link to the FDP, and the correlation between funding and political representation, its significance in supporting democratic, liberal voices across the globe will strengthened in coming years.
Next up was Annemie Neyts-Uyttebroeck, ELDR President and a former President of the Liberal International, whose video message provided an overview of global events, in particular the financial crisis. She notes that, contrary to those voices claiming that voters would turn away from liberalism at a time of recession, liberal parties performed well from a pan-European perspective, increasing their relative strength within the European Parliament.
We then heard from Ismail Jussa of the Civic United Front (Tanzania), who thanked, amongst others, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy for their support in building civic society structures in Tanzania, as well as other African nations. He spoke of the difficulties of providing vitally needed education in a country where freedom is vulnerable to attack from authoritarian forces, and much Government spending is derived from external donors. He condemned the concept of 'African democracy' as a disguise for increasingly undemocratic practices by would-be dictators. As he put it, there is only one form of democracy.
As a sign of genuine engagement by our Party, the next speaker was Party President, Ros Scott, who spoke about the failings of the UK education system, its over-centralisation and increasing regimentation. She reaffirmed our commitment to the abolition of student tuition fees, noting the barrier they place before the aspirations of those from less-advantaged backgrounds.
The final speaker was Lamine Ba, from PDS (Senegal), whose brief speech touched upon the role of liberalism in improving the situation of the African people. I might have said more, but my French is not what it might be...