Jonathan Fryer

Posts Tagged ‘David Steel’

Remembering Mike Harskin

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 25th October, 2012

A dozen or so of us gathered in the Guest Room at the House of Lords this evening, courtesy of Lord (Chris) Rennard, to celebrate the memory of Mike Harskin, former editor of Liberal Democrat News, who died at a tragically young age 20 years ago. My contact with him was that between editor and contributor, which was enough to make me realise how unconventional his approach was, sometimes concertina-ing a whole week’s production schedule into one marathon day-and-night session. Mike fought the Brent South parliamentary seat, unsuccessfully, and for a while could be found in the Liberal Whips office in the House of Commons, but he will better be remembered for being one of the key activists in what were dubbed the ‘Green Guard’ of the National League of Young Liberals who sometimes were such a headache to David Steel. These were an ecologically-minded antidote to the previous libertarian socialist Red Guards of Peter Hain & Co, who had made life hell for Jeremy Thorpe, and brought together such figures as Felix Dodds (now in the US) and a literal household of young Liberal activists including Carina Trimingham and Louise Bloom and up-and-coming political stars such as Martin Horwood MP. All of the aforementioned (except Felix) were there tonight, along with Peter Chegwyn, David Boyle and others. It was a delightfully incongruous setting for such an assemblage, but Mike would have enjoyed the irony. He didn’t live long enough to experience the full flowering of the Internet revolution and social media, alas, but I have no doubt he would have revelled in it if he had.

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CAABU Reception for new MPs

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 16th June, 2010

The Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding (CAABU) — on whose Board I sit — held a reception in the Jubilee Room of the House of Commons this lunchtime to introduce itelf to newly elected MPs. Amongst the speeches was a short address from the ubiquitous and urbane Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, the Kuwaiti Ambassador, Khaled Al-Duwaisan, as well as some remarks from  (Lord) David Steel (with whom I travelled to Gaza many moons ago). The Israeli lobby, while not as strong in London as it is in Washington, is nonetheless a powerful force in both of the British Houses of Parliament, which makes it all the more important that there is a visible Arab presence. Of course, the Arab narrative is a far more complicated one, as it covers issues way beyond the immediate concerns of Israel-Palestine, though for someone such as myself, who has been working as a journalist and academic in the region for longer than I care to recall, this very complexity adds to its fascination. My current focus is mainly on Jordan, but the entire Arab world intrigues.

Link: www.caabu.org

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LibDems The Only True British Internationalists

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 15th March, 2010

The Liberal Democrats are the only truly internationalist party in Britain — as well as being the only committed Europeans — according to the party’s Foreign Affairs spokesman, Ed Davey MP, who gave a brief address at the annual reception for London’s diplomatic corps hosted by the British Group of Liberal International (LIBG) at the National Liberal Club this evening. The warm-up act was (Lord) David Steel, former Liberal Party leader and an earstwhile President of the worldwide Liberal International. Malcolm Bruce MP, LIBG President and Chairman of the House of Commons’ select committee on International Development, ended the formal part of the proceedings by on the one hand welcoming the fact that the Labour government has been moving towards the UN goal of devoting 0.7% of GDP to overseas development aid while on the other, chiding them for not progressing on this more quickly.

It was interesting to see just how many Ambassadors and High Commissioners turned up, which reflects how seriously the Liberal Democrats are being taken by the diplomatic corps in the run-up to what promises to be an exciting election. It was good to spot among those present the High Comissioner of South Africa and the Ambassador of Panama, both of whose countries will be hosting Liberal International meetings in the months to come.

Link: www.libg.org.uk/

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An Evening with Jacob Zuma

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 2nd March, 2010

The timing of the South African President Jacob Zuma’s state visit to Britain is particularly auspicious: it’s the 20th anniversary of the release from prison of Nelson Mandela and today is exactly 100 days before the Republic hosts the FIFA World Cup. An interesting mix of London’s diplomatic corps and the business world rubbed shoulders with old anti-apartheid campaigners such as (Lord) David Steel and Paul Boateng in the Dorchester Hotel’s ballroom tonight. But the message of President Zuma (who brought along only one of his wives to the festivities) and the support staff from the South African marketing board was very much one of selling the country as a progressive and high-achieving brand as it prepares to hosts the Games. The President raised a laugh (given his own recent chequered career) by announcing that South Africa will introduce 24-hour courts to execute ‘instant justice’ during the Games, but it is true that the country needs to reassure the world that it is indeed safe to travel to the World Cup, despite it having the highest per capita murder rate in the world. I will be discovering the reality myself in November when I attend the Liberal International Executive in Cape Town — my first journey back there for many a year. But it’s fair to say that the world wants not only the football bonanza to succeed but the ‘rainbow nation’ championed by Madeba (Nelson Mandela), Desmond Tutu and others as well.

Link: www.fifa.com/worldcup/

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So Who Was the Liberal Party’s Real Daddy?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 20th July, 2009

Lord PalmerstonA hundred and fifty years ago, about 280 British MPs gathered at Willis’s Rooms in King Street, St James’s, London, to discuss uniting to oppose the continuation in office of the then Tory Prime Minister, Lord Derby. The majority of Members present were Whigs, but there were also Radicals like John Bright and Peelite Tories at this memorable occasion — though not, interestingly, the celebrated Peelite Tory William Gladstone, who would go on to be the champion of Victorian Liberalism. Gladstone’s government starting in 1868 is often cited as giving birth to Liberal England, but  as Professor Anthony Howe from the University of East Anglia argued in a drily witty keynote speech at a National Liberal Club dinner this evening, the Willis’s Rooms’ occasion nine year’s earlier was the party’s conception — hence the Liberal Democrat History Group’s decision to hold the 150th anniversary event this summer, in collaboration with the NLC. The President of the Liberal Democrat History Group, Lord (William) Wallace of Saltaire compered the evening, with turns by Liberal Democrat Party president, Baroness (Ros) Scott, and former Liberal Party leader, Lord (David) Steel. Two other former party (SDP and Liberal Democrat) leaders. Lord (Bob) Maclennan and Charles Kennedy, MP, were in attendance.

As a well informed questioner pointed out, the term ‘Liberal’ really came into political currency in Spain earlier in the 19th century. Moreover, the aristocratic Radical Lord John Russell used the term Liberal Party a whole 20 years before the Willis’s Rooms conclave. But according to Professor Howe’s analysis, full of fascinating detail and cheeky asides, Russell’s paternity of the party was denied by the inferiority of his wife’s salons compared with those of the wife of Viscount (Henry) Palmerston (pictured above), the conservative renegade Irish Tory, who nonetheless had flashes of radical zeal and became the first ‘Liberal’ Prime Minister when he assumed office for a second time. Confused? One might well be. And the young Queen Victoria’s diaries suggest she got fatigued by the ins and outs of what some of the Old Men of British politics were up to. But the seeds of British Liberalism were indeed sown that summer’s evening in 1859 and the plants they brought forth have grown and mutated — narrowly surviving extinction in the years after the Second World Wat — to blossom once again as the hybrid Liberal Democrat Party of today.

Link: www.liberalhistory.org.uk

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Jeremy Thorpe Unveiled

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 15th July, 2009

Avril Vellacott and Jeremy Thorpe's bustThe great, the good and the sometimes naughty of the old Liberal Party were out en masse in the Attlee Suite of Portcullis House at Westminster this evening, for the unveiling of a portrait bust of former party leader Jeremy Thorpe, as well as a preview of the three latest (and final) acquisitions of busts of 20th century Prime Ministers intended for the Commons lobby: Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, Andrew Bonar Law and Neville Chamberlain (the most stunning portrayal being that of Neville Chamberlain, apparently only on loan from Birmingham, but hey). The evening was introduced by Hugo Swire, MP, Chairman of the Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art. Nick Clegg, Liberal Democrat leader — barely old enough to remember Jeremy’s halcyon days as a politician — gave an amusing and  nicely-balanced speech,  while his predecessors Ming Campbell, Charles Kennedy and David Steel brushed shoulders with various Grimonds and Bonham-Carters. The Thorpe bust will be displayed in the Grimond Room in Parliament.

John Bercow, the new Mr Speaker, was both gracious and genuinely enthusiastic in his lauding of JT as one of the political stars of the 1960s and 1970s. Mr Bercow unveiled the bust — a cast from an original by sculptor and Twickenham Rugby Club enthusiast, Avril Vellacott, which she made shortly before JT’s first marriage to Caroline Allpass (who was tragically killed in a car accident) and which still graces the Thorpe home in Orme Square — by pulling on one tassled cord while Jeremy, in a wheelchair, tugged gently on another. Jeremy, despite long years of crippling Parkinson’s disease, then astonished everyone by giving a 10-minute speech, via a lapel mike. He paid particular tribute to his second wife and loyal companion, Marion (who was sitting slightly tearfully in another wheelchair beside him) and declared firmly that he intended to campaign vigorously for the LibDems in the run-up to the forthcoming general election. Indomitable, or what?

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Jeremy Thorpe’s 80th Birthday

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 29th April, 2009

jeremy-thorpeThe former Liberal leader Jermey Thorpe is celebrating his 80th birthday today, though a big party in his honour at the National Liberal Club in Westminister actually took place last night. It was attended by over 150 people, including his political successors David Steel, Paddy Ashdown, Menzies Campbell and Nick Clegg. Nick gave the first of several tributes to the man who by common consent was the most flamboyantly charismatic leader the Party has had in recent times. Alas, he was brought down by the scandal of his trial in May 1979 on charges of conspiracy to murder, of which he was found not guilty. Nick said that Jeremy’s witty but trenchant speech in favour of the then European Community in 1967 was the best political speech he knew, though he admitted he hadn’t heard it live, as he was only a few months old at the time. I can vouch for the oratory power; Jeremy came down to speak at the Oxford Union when I was Secretary of the Oxford University Liberal Club and had the audience eating out of his hand.

After his downfall, he developed Parkinson’s disease, which has left him physically wasted and wheelchair-bound, though mentally still remarkably alert, confounding the medical experts’ predictions regarding his longevity. That is undoubtedly in large part due to the devoted care of his second wife, Marion, herself also now in a wheelchair. At the NLC party, the pair received a steady stream of well-wishers at one end of the magnificant Smoking Room.

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Graham Watson Pitches for the Presidency

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 9th January, 2009

graham-watson-1    Next week sees the first 2009 plenary session of the European Parliament, in Strasbourg, but ALDE (Liberal) Group leader Graham Watson is already hard at work, launching his bid to become the Parliament’s next President. It’s an audacious move, which will raise eyebrows in some quarters. But ever since I first met Graham when he was David Steel’s bag-carrier, I have been aware of both his ambition and his talent. We can expect him to fight hard, even if he enters the campaign as the underdog. The reason for that is that the two bigger parliamentary groups — Socialists and EPP (centre-right) — tend to sort out the position between themselves, and it is only rarely that a Liberal — such as the Irish independent MEP, Pat Cox — gets through.

That’s why Graham is standing, he says. ‘For too long, Presidents of Parliament have been chosen through backroom deals in smoke-filled rooms. Mine will be the first ever public campaign for the presidency: in this I hope that I will set a precedent. I hope that by going public with my campaign I will stimulate debate about the candidates and the issues, and spark a contest that will be decided on merit not convenience.’

Graham plans to reveal his campaign platform next week. Let the debate begin!

Link: www.grahamwatsonmep.org

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Remembering the Lib-Lab Pact

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 14th July, 2008

The Lib-Lab Pact of 1977-1978 got an almost uniformly bad press at the time and the short-term electoral consequences for the Liberal Party were pretty dire. During the 18 months or so of the pact’s existence, the Liberal vote plummeted in local elections and parliamentary by-elections, as if in protest at David Steel’s baker’s dozen of MPs keeping Jim Callaghan’s government in power. Coalition politics might have been the norm on the continent for a long time, but the British public, it would appear, weren’t ready for it. Some Liberal Party members were pretty peeved too, not least because David failed to win in return the concession from the government to have a PR system for elections to the first directly-elected European Parliament in 1979. Had Jim Callaghan not wobbled, and gone for an election in the autumn of 1978, then things might have been different, of course. But he played cautious and the following May Mrs Thatcher swept into power. The rest, as they say, is history.

Earlier this evening, at a meeting of the Liberal Democrat History Group in the National Liberal Club, the now ennobled David Steel and his colleagues in the House of Lords, Tom McNally (30 years ago, the Head of Callaghan’s Political Office in 10 Downing Street, but now Leader of the LibDems in the House of Lords) and Geoff Tordoff (Chairman of the Liberal Party at the time) joined psephologist (and the other day winner of a council by-election in Canterbury) Michael Steed recalling the Lib-Lab Agreement (as it was more properly termed). With hindsight, the episode can maybe be viewed more sympathetically and it was probably a step in the direction of the ‘reliagnment of British politics’ that David Steel would try a few years later with the SDP’s Gang of Four, Roy Jenkins, David Owen, Shirley Williams and Bill Rodgers. They did not break the mould of British politics then, as they had hoped (partly because of the Falklands War). But the two-party political system that dominated so much of the 20th century was over-turned.

Link: www.liberalhistory.org.uk

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David Steel Reveals

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 24th June, 2008

No less than three of us LibDem Eurocandidates for London were at the Slovenian National Day reception at the Institute of Directors in Pall Mall this evening. With just a few days of the Slovenian presidency of the EU left to go, one could almost hear the sighs of relief emanating from Ljubljana. The Slovenians had hoped to go out with a bang, with the successful ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, but the Irish referendum put the kaibosh on that. Nonetheless, they have done nobly, and as the first of the ‘new wave’ of EU member states to hold the presidency, they have put up a more than creditable performance.

I had to leave early, to attend a Central Camden LibDem do at the National Liberal Club (NLC), at which the guest of honour was (Lord) David Steel. In case anyone is wondering what on earth David has to do with Camden, it transpires that he launched his (successful) leadership bid for the old Liberal Party there, in Hampstead — which was a bit cheeky, as his rival, John Pardoe lived, and indeed still lives, in Hampstead Town.

David’s link with the NLC is more obvious. Apart from attending numerous Club functions over the years, he actually lived there for a while, when he, like several other Liberal MPs, used it as his London base. The Club was distinctly scruffy at the time — I remember it well, with Young Liberals sitting on the floor of the David Lloyd George room, backs to the wall, swigging beer from the bottle — and the bedroom accommodation upstairs was distinctly rudimentary. As David recalled this evening, he and fellow residents would be shaken awake in the early hours of the morning in winter by the clanking of the radiators. Tactfully, he did not mention other disturbances during the night, when bedroom doors opened and shut with surprising regularity.

www.nlc.org.uk  

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