It might seem an odd way to wind down from the exhaustion of the European election campaign — and the frustration at the results — but I’ve used the time (when not asleep) to read Chris Bowers’ biography of Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, which I bought in a bargain bookstore a few weeks ago. Although published by Biteback in 2011, much in the book still resonates. I’ve known Nick since he was MEP for the East Midlands, but there was much about his early life that I was unfamiliar with. I am also well aware that his public persona, as caricatured by opponents in the Labour Party particularly, is a travesty of the man himself, who is warm and humorous and often far more effective in one-to-one conversations or small gatherings than on a wider public stage or in front of a television camera. That said, I thought his performance in the LibDems’ European elections broadcast was brilliant. That made it all the more dismaying that the European results were so catastrophic, with only the South East of England’s Catherine Bearder being re-elected. The Party rightly pinned its European colours to the mast, and fought a principled campaign that underlined its internationalism and its refusal to get caught up in the anti-migrant hysteria of UKIP and the tabloid Press. Those within the Party (not to mention those outside) now gunning for Nick because of the three consecutive years of bad local election and now European election results should try to be more objective about the qualities of the man and the way he brought Liberals into government for the first time since the Second World War. I agree with Chris Bowers’ assessment that the Rose Garden launch of the Coalition and Nick’s determination that the Party should be seen to be “owning” the Coalition (i.e. be seen to be fully engaged) dulled the distinctiveness of the Liberal Democrat message and helped Labour portray Clegg as joined to Cameron at the hip. And despite the Party’s best efforts, its real achievements in Government (e.g. raising the tax threshold, the pupil premium, sensible pension reform) have not really got across to the public. As I discovered on the doorstep during the election campaign, the issue of trust is still a problem, because of the tuition fees debacle, though largely unfairly so. Moreover, the Cleggmania just before the 2010 General Election made a fall from political grace almost inevitable, when the new kid on the block suddenly became part of the Establishment. The current new kid, UKIP’s Nigel Farage, is a very different cup of tea, but it will be interesting to see how quickly he is now knocked off his pedestal.
Posts Tagged ‘David Cameron’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 27th May, 2014
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Biteback, Catherine Bearder, Chris Bowers, Cleggmania, coalition government, David Cameron, European elections, Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, Nigel Farage, UKIP | 1 Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 29th March, 2014
At one minute past midnight last night the first same-sex marriages took place in England and Wales and today the sun is shining on many such ceremonies. What a long way this country has come since 1967, when Home Secretary Roy Jenkins oversaw the decriminalisation of consensual homosexual relations between adult men, helping end nearly a century of persecution, prosecution, imprisonment and blackmail, not to mention countless suicides. It is to the credit of the Coalition government — not least the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, David Cameron and Nick Clegg, for pressing ahead with legislation on equal marriage despite opposition from traditionalists and some religious groups. There have been heroes in all the political parties in this struggle, both inside and outside the Houses of Parliament, including men such as Peter Tatchell, who was vilified when he first championed the cause. Special mention should go to LibDems Lynne Featherstone in the Commons and Liz Barker in the Lords, who did so much to further the legislative process. This morning, Lynne was a guest at a same sex wedding party (see picture) in Haringey, which for me sums up the brilliance of Britain’s modern diversity. Brilliant, too, has been the wave of enthusiasm and congratulation from heterosexual, as well as bi and gay, Britons. There is a festive air in England and Wales today, and surely it can’t be long before Scotland and maybe even Northern Ireland follow suit. As a teenager I lived in dread of being a “criminal” in the eyes of English law. But today I can truly say how proud I am to be British.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 18th January, 2014
A local councillor belonging to the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) — not in the photo — has declared that the recent floods in Britain were caused not by climate change but by gay marriage. If you thought that sort of Christian fundamentalist bullshit only existed on the other side of the Atlantic, think again. Moreover, this is not an isolated incident. A fair number of UKIP’s local councllors (they don’t have any MPs) would fit well into the US “Tea Party” of right-wing Republicans. Moreover, UKIP’s leader, Nigel Farage, despite his Hugeunot origins and German wife, has nailed his basically xenophobic colours to the mast by declaring the other day if stopping EU migrants coming to work in the UK meant that Britain’s economy declined, so be it. In other words, let’s keep the foreigners out. Of course, there has always been a Little Englander minority in this country — by which I mean England, rather than Britain, as this is an essentially English phenomenon — tapped into at various times by far-right groups such as the National Front and the BNP, and urged on by rightwing toe-rags like the Daily Mail and the Daily Express. And the Conservative party has always had within it those Sir Bufton Tuftons in the shires, regaling pub and golf club bars with tales of the perfidy of Johnny Foreigner. Tory Central Office is scared stiff that those insular Tory voters and activists will defect to UKIP, and alas David Cameron does not stand up to them. I do not for a moment believe the Prime Minister shares the narrow-minded views of some members of his party, but he has made compromises in a vain effort to humour them. They’ll probably vote UKIP in May anyway. But despite that, I wouldn’t be surprised if UKIP peaked this year and then fell back. As Tomn Jamieson of Private Eye put it brilliantly in a tweet this afternoon, UKIP is not so much a political party, more a League of Gentlemen sketch that got out of control.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 16th January, 2014
This evening, at an inaugural debate at the new Network of Students (NOS) building in Whitehall my fellow London LibDem Euro-candidate Turhan Ozen and I debated the Consequences of the UK’s Euroscepticism with young people from Turkey, Russia (Chechnya), Ireland, the UK and elsewhere. I explained that when I was first sent to Brussels by Reuters soon after leaving university — and not very long after Britain joined the then European Economic Community — I was a bit of a Eurosceptic myself, but in the true sense of the word, i.e. examining critically and questioning what this evolving body and its institutions were all about. Seven years in the self-styled Capital of Europe really awakened me to the great potential of a more united Europe, as well as to the great richness and diversity of European culture. How much more so today, with 28 member states and a single market in which there is freedom of movement, which means young people can seek new opportunities for study, work or travel, and many older people find a place in the sun in which to retire. But all that is being put at risk by today’s Eurosceptics, who ought really to be called Europhobes. They hate the EU with a passion that at times spills over into xenophobia. Moreover much of the propaganda put out by UKIP, the Tory Right and their cheerleaders in the Press (Dail Mail, Daily Express et al) is packed with lies, distortions and myths, which means that those of us who are Euro-realists — acknowledging the validity of the European project, while recognising that some things need to be reformed — are forced to spend a lot of our time simply refuting rubbish. Like the “invasion” of Britain by millions of Bulgarian and Romanian migrants this month, which simply hasn’t happened. Or the claim that EU migrants are a huge burden on our welfare system — even ripping it off — whereas all the evidence shows that they make a substantial net contribution to the national coffers through their tax and national insurance. As I said this evening, my fear is that in trying to placate the Europhobes in his own party in the forlorn hope that this will quieten them down, David Cameron is acually encouraging them to demand more. At the same time, our continental partners are getting increasingly pissed off with hokey-cokey Britain, with one foot in and one foot out, while trying to shake it all about. No wonder growing numbers of continentals now shrug their shoulders at the prospect of a UK withdrawal, as opposed to the expression of dismay of a few years ago. The run-up to the European elections in May are going to be a rum affair in this country, with the major Coalition partner singing from a very different hymn-sheet from that of its junior partner. But so be it. Nick Clegg and everyone else, from Party President Tim Farron through Ministers to MPs and most LibDem activists are singing the same hymn, which proclaims that the Liberal Democrats are the party of IN. We must shout that from the rooftops so fellow Euro-realists realise there actually is a mainstream party in the UK that is sane on the matter.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 11th September, 2013
So quickly has public opinion moved that it seems almost unbelievable that the last Labour government shied away from upgrading same-sex civil partnerships to ‘marriage’ because of the fear of a backlash (including from some of their MPs). But it is a tribute to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg (strongly and admirably supported by PM David Cameron) that he oversaw the relatively smooth transition into law of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act this summer. In an appropriately informal speech at a reception in Admiralty House, Westminster, this evening, he paid just tribute to Lynne Featherstone as the then Equalities Minister (subsequently replaced by Jo Swinson) and Baroness (Liz) Barker, who made a moving and heartfelt personal act of testimony in a speech in the House of Lords. As a Quaker (and therefore part of a religious group which has recognised the validity of loving same-sex relationships for several decades) I have been saddened by how far behind most of the mainstream Churches are on this. It was also heartening that some of the supportive luvvies, including my old friend Stephen Fry and Hugh Grant, turned out tonight, as did hardcore campaigners such as the truly noble Peter Tatchell (who has been a beacon for the LGBT+ community in Russia). Of course there was a good sprinkling of LibDem MPs and Lords, but this was not an occasion for narrow party politics. We were one big happy group, straight, gay and bi/trans +, celebrating the fact that we had won, and in doing so had proved what an open and tolerant society Britain has become, even if a minority still can’t quite get their heads around it.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 30th August, 2013
The Government’s defeat last night over its motion on intervention in Syria was always on the cards given the deep divisions of opinion within all three main parties. It was interesting that some of the strongest speeches against going down a road that could lead to UK military strikes came from Tory rebels. Clearly memories of the way that the House was lied to over Iraq 10 years ago played its part, but there was also a realisation that a sizable majority of the British electorate is against going to war. At one level I am pleased about that; as a Quaker, that is hardly surprising. But I am anxious that we should not throw the Syria baby out with the bathwater. Last night’s Commons vote should not be an end to the affair. Assad supporters in Homs were out in their cars honking their horns in victory once they heard about the UK vote, but now it is important that Britain and other Security Council members work hard to get a negotiated end to the bloodshed in Syria. That means getting both Russia and Iran on board. I have no illusions about how difficult that may be, but that is not a reason not to try. The killing and destruction and dispossession have got to stop and in the meantime the UK and other countries that were braced to go to war should spend some of the resources they would have devoted to that on humanitarian assistance instead. Syria’s neighbours Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey are all struggling under the weight of the refugee influx and deserve support. The Arab League, which has never really lived up to its potential, should also now step up to the plate and take a leading role in promoting a diplomatic solution. The blatant truth is that on progress so far, the armed rebels in Syria are never going to win militarily and frankly the country would probably descend into anarchy if they did. The military benefits of any external strike were always doubtful too. But to reiterate, just because the House of Commons has given the thumbs down to a course of action which could have led to war must not mean that we just turn our backs on Syria’s agony and walk away.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 11th June, 2013
The fightback starts here. Yesterday I blogged about the benefits of the ECHR and the insane campaign by certain right-wing Tories to get Britain to remove itself from the Convention (thereby putting itself in the sole company of Belarus). But this evening I was speaking about why Europe — i.e. the EU — matters, at a pizza and politics organised by my own local Liberal Democrat party, Tower Hamlets. I reminded members that the EU (in its various incarnations), together with NATO, had preserved peace on our continent for nearly 70 years — unprecedented in modern times. The way that formerly Communist countries have been integrated into the Union — rejoining the European family — has been particularly striking. On 1 July, Croatia will be the next. I also maintained that we should champion the free movement of people within the European Single Market, which has helped Brits working on the Continent just as it has helped other EU nationals who have come here. The three areas we shall focus on over the next 11 months will be jobs, the environment and crime, and on all of these the Liberal Democrats have powerful messages to convey, stressing both the local and European dimension (there will be all-out London borough elections on 22 May 2014, alongside the European elections). Moreover, these are areas in which the LibDems have distinct policies from our current national Coalition partners, the Conservatives. The Tories characterise membership of the EU as an impediment, rather than an opportunity; the right wing’s idea that the UK could somehow go it alone and try to arrange bilateral trade deals with major economic powers like the US, China and India is pure cloud cuckoo land. At long last, Prime Minister David Cameron has said as much, but sotto voce, and almost drowned out by the shrieks of UKIP and his own Europhobic headbangers, cheered on by the tabloid Press. Every day the British Press (with noble exceptions such as the Guardian, Independent and Financial Times) spews out lies and distortions about the EU (too often politely dismissed by Euro-realists as “myths”). I was interested that the Bengali members of Tower Hamlets Liberal Democrats (who made up about half of tonight’s gathering) expressed worries about immigration from Eastern Europe and the notion that these newcomers are taking local people’s jobs. That is of course the narrative of UKIP, which has gained some traction, and we need to stress how (a) immigrants contribute more to the UK economy than they receive in benefits, and (b) young Brits (of whatever ethnic origin) really need to be getting appropriate qualifications to fill the jobs that are available and not turn their noses up at tasks which they feel are somehow beneath them.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 22nd May, 2013
Over the past 40 years Graham Tope has served at almost every possible level within the British political system: MP (thanks to the famous by-election victory in Sutton and Cheam), local councillor, Leader of the Council, GLA member, Member of the House of Lords, member of the EU Committee of the Regions and more besides, but throughout all this he has avoided falling into pomposity. He still cooks a mean lasagne for local activists every autumn and dutifully goes out on the rubber chicken circuit — this evening as guest speaker at an Islington Liberal Democrats pizza and politics. The starting point for his very informal, extended presentation was the book that he wrote at his son Andrew’s bidding, A Life in Politics, recounting the highs and the lows of four decades at the political coalface (mainly the first part), most of it — as he confessed tonight — transmitted to his son through his Blackberry. As was the case with me, Graham was inspired to join the Liberal Party by Jo Grimond, a truly remarkable man of principle and vision. Indeed, I wondered aloud tonight whether one problem of the current political scene is that we are missing charismatic figures such as Grimond or indeed Jeremy Thorpe, who was truly magnetic in his heyday. That is not to criticise Nick Clegg, but it is true that there is a certain similarity between David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband; none pops and fizzes in the way that, alas, Nigel Farage or Boris Johnson does. Graham is himself not a showman, but rather a solid man, someone you can count on and someone who continues to give a great deal to the Party and to Sutton. He will not be standing again for the Council in 2014 — after so long he can be excused handing on to others. But in the Lords and on the Liberal Democrat social circuit he will doubtless continue to make his contribution and, as tonight, offer hope for the future — that basically Liberal values are as important today as they ever were. Next May will not just be about winning seats, at London borough council and European Parliament level (important though that is) but also inspiring people with Liberal vision.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Andrew Tope, Boris Johnson, David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Graham Tope, Islington Liberal Democrats, Jeremy Thorpe, Jo Grimond, Liberal Democrats, Liberal Party, Nick Clegg, Nigel Farage, Sutton, Sutton and Cheam | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 20th May, 2013
David Cameron was elected Leader of the Conservative Party with a manifesto to modernise, though it would appear from the grassroots rebellion in the shires that a worryingly high percentage of Tory Party members have changed their minds. On issues like equal marriage this clearly has something to do with the high average age profile of the party’s membership, as well as the fact that Conservatives are by nature traditionalists. However, the really extraordinary feature of the past few months has been the slow-motion car-crash over Europe. The way that John Major’s authority was undermined over Maastricht in the 1990s should have served as a warning to Cameron that the EU was a potentially explosive issue yet however well he may have handled some other aspects of government — not least getting a Coalition with the Liberal Democrats swiftly in place after the 2010 general election — the way he has dealt with Europe has been a disaster. He has not only dismayed many of Britain’s EU partners by his posturing, instead of winning allies for necessary reforms; he has also failed to make clear what his government’s position on Britain’s role in the EU should be. One minute he is saying that he thinks EU membership is a good thing on balance, providing some reforms do take place, while the next he is pandering to the Europhobes and threatening to pull out. By throwing the red meat of an in-out referendum promise to his more rabid backbenchers he has only made them hungry for more. And he has given succour to UKIP, encouraging some of his more disaffected party members to defect there, while at the same time lambasting Nigel Farage and Co as clowns. As Leader he should have given clear guidance and then insist that the Party sticks to it — especially Cabinet Ministers, who have collective responsibility for government policy or else must resign their post. Instead, the Tory Eurocar is being steered by a driver who doesn’t after all appear to have passed his driving test.