Jonathan Fryer

Posts Tagged ‘Bromley’

Tim Farron Is Not David Laws, but…

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 5th November, 2012

David Laws, the Minister of State for Schools and the Cabinet Office, was billed to speak at a bangers-and-mash supper at the Clarendon Hotel in Blackheath this evening and Liberal Democrats from the three boroughs of Lewisham, Greenwich and Bromley — plus me — arrived prepared to quiz him quite firmly on issues such as his somewhat disparaging recent remarks about teachers and how he would justify some of the Coalition’s economic policies. But as so often happens with Ministers (and indeed MPs) he cancelled, because of other obligations, during the afternoon. So in through the door marched Party President Tim Farron instead. Now if David Laws might have felt like Daniel in the lions’ den, Tim found himself amongs a group of purring pussy-cats. Well, almost. He has a manner that can charm the proverbial birds off the trees and part of his widespread appeal across the party is that he acknowledges the mistakes that have been made in government, and where he has not agreed with what the government was doing. And not being a Minister he has a greater freedom to range more widely than many of his colleagues. He is undoubtedly closer to the ideological soul of LibDem activists than some. In the Q&A session after his speech, he was asked where he thought Britain was heading in its relations with the EU and he reaffirmed the party’s strong commitment to the UK’s need to be at the heart of Europe. He said he believed that the mood of the country means that we would probably never join the euro, which is the one major point on which I disagreed with him when I made a short speech myself on EU matters later in the meal. There may well come a time when it would be our interest to join the single currency, albeit not in the short-term, but the question remains whether our partners would open the door if the British Conservatives continue to handle dealings with them so ham-fistedly.

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Why I Want to Be an MEP

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 2nd November, 2012

Today ballot papers started arriving at the homes of Liberal Democrat members in London so they can choose the order of the list of candidates for the European elections in 2014. There are nine candidates for eight places (a tenth, Elaine Bagshawe, has withdrawn). The Liberal Democrats are a democratic party, so everyone who has been a member for longer than a year gets the chance to take part by single transferable vote (STV). In 2004 and 2009 I was Number 2 on the list, and as such just missed actually getting elected to the European Parliament by a whisker, so no-one can be surprised that I’m going for Number 1 this time. Being an MEP is something I have always wanted, more than any other form of political office, though I did serve as a borough councillor for a while. I used to cover the European Parliament and other European institutions when I was based in Brussels, originally with Reuters but later freelance. In the early days it was something of a talking shop, whose members were appointed by their national parliaments and had almost no power. But in 1979 there were direct elections for the first time, giving the institution more democratic legitimacy. In Britain these were on a first-past-the post system in large constituencies, in London’s case usually comprising three boroughs (I fought London South East, which was made up of Bexley, Bromley and Greenwich). But in 1999, the Labour government rightly bowed to pressure from our continental partners to adopt a fairer, more proportional system.

I have often attended events at the parliament in Brussels and Strasbourg (yes, of course I am in favour of the abolition of the wasteful shuttle between the two!) and for many years I have been an elected member of the governing Council of the ELDR — the European Liberal Democrat and Reformist party, which groups like-minded parties from across Europe, including a number of states not currently members of the EU. In fact, this time next week I’ll be in Dublin at the 2012 Congress of ELDR. This moves round Europe, partly to give a boost to the host party; the last ELDR event I attended was in Yerevan, Armenia, in May. The Parliament itself now has much stronger powers than it did in the past, with many major decisions now being subject to ‘co-decision’ between the Parliament and the Council of Ministers (which is made up of Ministers from the governments of the 27 member states). MEPs usually sit on a couple of major committees; my choice ideally would be in EU external policy/foreign affairs and overseas development, but of course London concerns would figure large among my priorities, including the use of European structural funds to help create jobs and foster regenration in deprived areas of the capital, including my own home borough, Tower Hamlets. Because of my professional background, obviously culture, media and related issues are also of great interest. In fact, I write regularly for the culture website of the European Commission’s London representation. And I agree with EU founding father John Monnet that one thing maybe the European project should have stressed earlier and more strongly at the beginning is the crucial value of culture, identity and diversity.

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London’s European Election Results

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 9th June, 2009

London City HallNow that the dust has settled, one can take a rational view of the outcome of the European elections in London. The most striking thing for me is the way that Labour’s vote in the capital proved remarkably resilient, compared with the party’s performance in most of the rest of the country. Though they did lose one seat (almost inevitable with the reduction in the number of London seats from nine to eight), Labour retained a very strong second place. Moreover, they held on to a local council seat in a concurrent by-election in Prince’s ward, Lambeth, despite a swing there to the Liberal Democrats.

European flagsThe Conservatives proved once again that they are good at getting their vote out. They were obviously well organised, not only in strongholds such as Barnet and Bromley, but also in target boroughs such as Tower Hamlets. The Tories may not have much time for the European Union, but they certainly took these election seriously, treating them as a dry-run for the forthcoming general election and building up in areas in which they hope to make gains in the London local council elections next year.

In principle, the Liberal Democrats were doing the same. And indeed, this strategy worked well in held and target seats, which got plenty of literature and had concerted campaigns, including telephone knocking-up of postal voters and on polling day. The LibDems therefore performed strongly in the south-western ‘golden triangle’ of Richmond, Kingston and Sutton, excellently in Haringey, well in Camden, Lambeth (Streatham), Brent, Southwark, Islington etc, though apparently haemorrhaging some votes to the Greens. Up-and-coming boroughs like Waltham Forest did well in parts. But the black holes — mainly in the east and south east – fared poorly. An unavoidable challenge for the party in dealing with future London-wide PR election will be to build support and accurate data in boroughs such as Barking and Dagenham, Havering and Bexley. Interestingly, the BNP did best in those three boroughs, though overall the BNP vote was slightly down on its GLA percentage last year and the party came nowhere near winning a seat.

European parliament logoUKIP sank to fifth place, behind the Greens, though still hanging on to one MP. The Greens were justifiably pleased with their performance, though they still only got a little over 10 per cent, well below what some of the opinion polls were suggesting. London voters were spoilt for choice when it came to parties and independents to whom they could allocate a protest vote. Amongst the ragbag of little parties and independents, the one that stands out most is the Tamil independent, Jan Jananayagam, who garnered over 50,000 votes in a ballot-box extension of the Parliament Square demonstrations. It is interesting (though futile!) to speculate how the results might have been different in places with large Tamil communities, such as Sutton and Brent, had she not stood.

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Remembering Mrs Thatcher

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 25th July, 2008

For those of us who lived politically through the Thatcher years, it’s hard to realise that younger souls see the Iron Lady as history. This afternoon, the news editor of Gaydar Radio, Joanne Oatts, came round to interview me for a programme she is making about Britain’s only female Prime Minister. My début as a political candidate was in the first direct elections to the European Parliament in June 1979, just a month after Mrs Thatcher and the Conservatives had swept to power, and she dominated the scene for the next decade. She was deeply unpopular by early 1982, when the political pendulum seemed to swinging in the direction of the new Liberal/SDP Alliance. But the Falklands War was her making, at least in the short term, and a body-blow to the Alliance’s prospects.

With hindsight, I recognise that Mrs T did some necessary things in the early part of her period in office, though like most people of the centre-left, I disliked her at the time. And for LGBT people — the main focus of this afternoon’s interview — Clause 28 and the stance taken by some Conservative traditionalists, for whom ‘Red’ Ken Livingstone’s GLC and its special interest groups were anathema, were very negative. Nonetheless, behind the scenes, British social attitudes were changing in a more tolerant direction, even among many Conservatives.

I remember organising a Writers Day in Bromley Civic Centre — I was a local councillor at the time — in 1989, at the very end of Mrs Thatcher’s rule. Alan Hollinghurst came to talk about the idiosyncratic 1920s gay novelist Ronald Firbank (who was raised in Chislehurst) and Hanif Kureishi (who grew up in Bromley) read an extract from his novel in progress ‘The Buddha of Suburbia’. There was a stunned silence amongst the many Conservative councillors in the audience when the latter finished, as if in disbelief that such things could emerge from this most respectable of Tory-controlled London boroughs. But then the wife of the Mayor broke the ice by declaring loudly, ‘Well! That was different!’

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