Monday, January 27, 2014

Charles Kennedy "too weak" to challenge Mike Hancock

Last week I blogged about Mike Hancock's worrying attitude to human rights in Eastern Europe. A little research has shown that concern at this goes back a long way.

In 2010 the Guardian reported the reaction of fellow ALDE members Council of Europe's parliamentary assembly (PACE):
Mágyás Eörsi, the former chairman of the parliamentary assembly's liberal group to which Nick Clegg's Lib Dems belong, said he and his colleagues were frequently "stunned" by the pro-Kremlin stance taken by Hancock during parliamentary assembly debates and amendments ... "I don't say that Michael is a spy," Eörsi said. "But I'm very sure that the Russians use Michael quite deliberately. He is the most pro-Russian MP from among all of the countries of western Europe. You just have to read his speeches. 
"When it came to debates on Putin, freedom of the media or the war with Georgia, Michael always defended Russia. Among the liberal bloc in Strasbourg we were all stunned by his position. According to him, Russia really is a fully fledged democracy."
Later the report says:
Eörsi, a Hungarian MP who led the assembly's liberal ALDE group between 2001 and 2009, said he grew so alarmed about Hancock's record on Russia that he raised the matter with Kennedy. "I warned Charles in 2006 there could be a scandal for the Lib Dems," he told the Guardian. "But he was too weak to intervene."
There were other odd things about Hancock's relations with the Russian government. In another Guardian report Eörsi recalled ALDE dinners in a Strasbourg restaurant:
Among their number was Mike Hancock, the flamboyant rebel Liberal Democrat MP from Portsmouth South. But while other delegates from the council's parliamentary assembly turned up alone, Hancock typically appeared with a glamorous young Russian woman, colleagues said. Sometimes he even brought two. 
"They were all the same type: long-legged, good-looking blondes, never older than 25, fluent in French, English and often German, and with a higher education." ... 
Former colleagues said they had raised serious concerns about the activities of Hancock's young Russian companions. They said they witnessed the alleged assistants using the computers of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (Alde), the liberal group secretariat, which were supposed to be protected by a password. 
"They knew the password. We had no idea what they were doing with the information. Perhaps nothing. Perhaps something," Eörsi said, adding: "I saw this myself." The computers allowed access to everything on the Council of Europe's central server.
Another concern about Hancock has been his continued support for Azerbaijan's continued membership of PACE, despite the growing evidence that its government is a tyranny.

As Caviar Diplomacy, a report by the European Stability Initiative, records, some had doubts about Azerbaijan being allowed to join in the first place:
Malcolm Bruce, a British Liberal Democrat, noted that PACE had usually withheld membership until a candidate state demonstrated its commitment to democracy by holding free and fair elections (which Azerbaijan had never done). He worried that Azerbaijan, if admitted prematurely, could roll back the limited progress it had made in previous years.
But Azerbaijan was granted membership, subsequently holding its first elections in November 2000. These were found to be unsatisfactory by a number of outside observers, including those from PACE itself.

Things have only got worse in Azerbaijan - read the Human Rights Watch page on the country to get a flavour of the regime. But, in recent years, every time that regime has been criticised in PACE it has been Mike Hancock who has got to his feet to defend it.

Caviar Diplomacy goes on:
Hancock did not leave it at making speeches in the assembly. He also played a leading role in trying to change the Council’s approach to election monitoring in Azerbaijan. During a PACE debate in September 2008, shortly before presidential elections in Azerbaijan, Hancock again turned against Andres Herkel [head of PAVE's monitoring team for the country's 2008 elections]. He accused him of being prejudiced and of “looking for excuses to rubbish the elections in Azerbaijan.” 
He then focused on the ODIHR, which was responsible for long-term election monitoring: “ODIHR was saying even before it got to Azerbaijan a month ago that the election would be full of problems. How can it know that – does it have some sort of telepathic power?” 
Hancock disregarded the fact that Azerbaijan had repeatedly ignored concerns by PACE rapporteurs and the Venice Commission about the unequal composition of election commissions. Instead, he recommended “testing the water to make sure that ODIHR was doing a good job and not simply going through the motions of pre-judging.”
It also reports on Hancock's politicking to get people who were more sympathetic to the Azerbaijani regime appointed to observe its elections.

Given his interest in this part of the world, it would be interesting to know how often Hancock has visited it. Unfortunately that is not possible.

In 2010 he explained the situation to the Guardian:
"All my trips were of an official nature," he said. He said he "hadn't a clue" about the precise number of his trips to Moscow because: "My passport fell in the sea. It got wet. It was in the early part of the year. "I'm getting a new one," he explained.

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