Jonathan Fryer

Posts Tagged ‘Lewisham Liberal Democrats’

Blackheath Fireworks

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 4th November, 2012

Last night I joined Lewisham Liberal Democrats for a curry supper at the house of a couple of members before we all headed up to Blackheath Common where a throng of many thousands had gathered to watch the famous firework display. This year’s show was a few minutes shorter than some previous years’, as Greenwich Council reportedly withdrew funding for budgetary reasons, so Lewisham had to shoulder all the burden. It was cetrainly worth it. There was a floral theme to the display, as rockets shot up into the sky where they blossomed into giant chrysanthemums and protea — even magnificent palm trees at one stage. Brilliant and fully worthy of the enthusiastic applause from the punters. The whole of the centre of Blackheath village was a sea of people as we left, but a mixture of stewards and police ensured that the mass moved forward slowly and safely and even effectively managed to funnel those people who don’t live locally onto the station platforms. There was a terrific atmosphere, like one big party. So, Lewisham, from someone who was there for the first time: thank you!

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Pete Pattisson’s Burma

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 30th June, 2012

The Liberal Democrats’ Parliamentary Candidates Association (PCA) has produced several editions of Who’s Who in the Liberal Democrats, listing the parliamentary and civic achievements of leading members of the Party (or at least those who filled in the necessary form, as is indeed the case with ‘the’ Who’s Who). But I can’t help feeling that it would be more entertaining if a volume were produced which highlighted the creative side of Liberal Democrat activists. Some people might be surprised by the revelations. Pete Pattisson, Councillor for Whitefoot ward in Lewisham om south-east London, for example, is a notable photographer and film-maker who in recent years has particularly focussed on Burma (aka Myanmar). Over the last few years he has done a number of shorts for the Guardian, sometimes by entering Burma through Rangoon (Yangon), sometimes crossing the border from neighbouring countries. And this evening he shared some of these films with attendees at a Lewisham Liberal Democrats’ Pizza and Politics at his home. There is a lot that can make us hopeful about developments in Burma, after decades of military rule and repression, not least the release of hundreds of political prisoners and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi (from house arrest). ‘The Lady’, as she is widely known, was successfully elected to the Burmese parliament in a by-election not so long ago, though she got her knuckles metaphorically rapped the other day by the men still in power for calling her homeland Burma (the old Britsh appelation) and not Myanmar, the name imposed by the junta. But as Pete’s clips — some of which you can find easily find on YouTube — vividly portray, life for many in Burma is still difficult, endemic poverty exacerbated by natural disasters and even the plague of rats attracted by the  twice-in-a-century flowering of bamboo. I have only been to Burma once, way back in 1969, when I was making my way slowly back from Vietnam, where I had been a cub reporter covering the War. The lasting image that stays in my mind, even at that time of a closed, impoverished country very much under the military’s heel, was the sublime atmosphere of the Shwedagon pagoda in Rangoon. I circled it barefoot at sunset with Buddhist pilgrims, not a tourist in sight; visas were not readily given. Moreover, for years since then people in the West were urged to stay away from Burma, in protest at the junta’s restrictions. But today Aung San Suu Kyi has put out the welcome mat, saying that foreign visitors should go, not only to savour Burma’s special quality, but to link up with the people and help them along the road to a more open society.

 

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Pre-empting Rabbie Burns

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 22nd January, 2012

Burns Night has become an even more quintessentially Scottish celebration than Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve). It is normally celebrated on the 25th of January up and down the country with haggis, tatties (potatos) and neeps (swede), usually washed down with great quantities of alcohol, not least the whisky used in toasts. Apart from the wonderfully theatrical address to the haggis and its belabouring with a dagger, the toasts to the lassies (girls) and the lads (boys) are a great opportunity for a fine mixture of gallantry and sexist jokes. Burns himself was, of course, a great ladies’ man, a seducer with his poetic words as well as with his looks, though as fickle as a bumble bee flitting from one ripe blossom to the next. Given the migration of Scots worldwide over the centuries, it is not surprising that Burns Night is celebrated almost everywhere, from Buenos Aires to Dubai, but what is maybe astonishing is the relish with which Sassenachs (English) have taken the ceremony and the celebration to their hearts. It is not only in the grand London Clubs, such  the Caledonian (predictably) and the National Liberal Club, that Burns Night features in the annual calendar with due pomp. Even local Liberal Democrat parties have got in on the act. Merton LibDems’ Burns Night is famous for its authentic food and traditions and they usually get a Scottish MP to make one of the speeches. Haringey LibDems are also starting to make a reputation for themselves in similar vein. But Lewisham LibDems’ Burns Night, which I joined (for at least the third time) last evening, is unique. Apart from the fact that it occurs on a convenient Saturday, rather than on the day itself, it is a totally English (or at least, Scots-free) affair, albeit with the requisite food and drink. Local activists and visitors (me included) act out the toasts and readings of poems by the Master in accents that would make any true Scotsman weep, but a great time is had by all. And if by any chance Alex Salmond does hoodwink the Scots into opting for independence, I trust the English Burns Nights will continue to flourish.

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A Mansion Tax for Oligarchs?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 29th July, 2011

When Vince Cable launched his plan for a ‘mansion tax’ on homes worth more than £1 million, there were howls of dismay from LibDem activists in places such as Richmond Park and Kensington & Chelsea, where even quite modest dwellings are now worth well in excess of a million, thanks to London’s absurdly over-priced property market. There was then talk of a £2 million threshold instead, but the scheme was still unpopular and some Liberal Democrat party members actually resigned in protest. However, the LibDem Deputy Leader, Simon Hughes, last night unveiled at a Lewisham LibDems supper an intriguing variation which has gone to his colleagues in government for consideration: a Mansion Tax for non-doms, inlcuding oligarchs from the former Soviet Union — billionaires whose hunger for prime London property has been a major factor in house price escalation. Boris Johnson, London’s Tory Mayor, will doubtless scoff at the proposal, saying it will drive the super-rich foreigners away. But for the super-rich the ‘pain’ will be minimal, whereas the government’s coffers will get a useful boost and UK residents who happen to live in what is now a very expensive part of town will not be ‘fined’ for doing so.

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Caroline Pidgeon Goes Thai in Brockley

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 18th January, 2011

Tonight was the not the first time LibDem London Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon has spoken to a Lewisham party dinner, though in the old days these extremely convivial evnings were known as the Blackheath Supper Club and did indeed migrate around the many good and exotic restaurants of the northern part of the borough. But this evening we were down in Brockley, for a Thai meal at which Caroline put a discreet stiletto into Mayor Boris Johnson in absentia. She is the lead person on transport, which is perhaps the most important single brief within the GLA and ceratainly the subject that gets most people agitated. The shock-horror news of this evening’s presentation was that many millions of pounds have been wasted — notably at Shepherd’s Bush tube station — introducing accessibility (i.e. lifts), to no effect, as the shafts are non-functional. Similarly, Boris made a great hoo-ha about replacing bendy buses with his new style Routemasters, but the latter will be few in number and horrendously costly. Moreover, their back open platform will only function off-peak. Boo-hiss. Caroline will be leading the LibDem team in next year’s GLA elections and a good thing too. She has proved a bit hit in London and continues to provide a service which ought to be apreciated by far more than those who actually vote for her and the party.

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Remembering Conrad with David Starkey

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 28th November, 2009

Like many Liberal Democrats, I was deeply fond of Conrad Russell (1937-2004). When his slightly shambolic figure, dressed in a grubby overcoat and carrying his papers in a plastic carrier bag, hove into view, one knew that one was in for an intellectual feast as soon as he opened his mouth. The Chamber of the House of Lords would fill up when the 5th Earl Russell rose to speak. He was an eminent historian, notably of the 17th century, but he had his feet firmly planted in the contemporary world as well. He cared deeply about injustice and poverty and social exclusion, lacing his erudition with compassion and wit. So it was fitting this evening that a goodly crowd gathered to remember him at a memorial dinner organised by his younger son, John (a LibDem Councillor in Lewisham), in the Lloyd George Room (‘Lloyd George jailed my father,’ quipped Conrad) in the National Liberal Club. The keynote speaker was the historian and TV ‘personality’ David Starkey, who gave a predictably bravura performance, basically arguing that Conrad marked the end of an age. Dr Starkey was not at all complimentary about the standard of the current membership of the Upper Chamber, despite the fact that Baroness (Sally) Hamwee was sitting by his side. I’m not sure that some of Conrad’s progeny would have welcomed David Starkey’s claim that Conrad would have been an incomprehensible phenomenon except as a noble, an aristocrat. But he deployed his arguments with such sly humour, rhetoric and trademark camp arrogance that one surrendered to the bonhommie of the occasion, the good food and wine — and pondered how much Conrad would have savoured the prospect of the LibDems’ great surge in Lewisham in 2010.

Link: www.lewishamlibdems.org.uk

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Pidgeon Takes Pot-Shots at Boris

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 22nd June, 2009

Caroline Pidgeon 2Holding the Mayor to account is about all that members of the Great London Assembly (GLA) can do, but that role is itself essential in a system in which the anointed one (Boris Johnson for the moment) has a great deal of power and an ability to accrue even more. Assiduous Assembly members can indeed take the Mayor to task if they work at it. And just as Lynne Featherstone (now LibDem MP for Hornsey and Wood Green) got her teeth into Ken Livingstone on transport issues when she was on the GLA, so now Caroline Pidgeon, holding the same brief for the party, is scoring hit after hit on BoJo. In a speech to the lively Lewisham LibDem supper club at a Turkish restaurant in Lewisham Way this evening, Caroline highlighted how the Mayor has been slashing transport infrastructure projects across the capital – such as the cross-river tram and the further extension of the DLR – while demanding that local councils in boroughs badly affected by these cuts still meet targets for affordable house-builds. Presumably he expects the prospective inhabitants to cycle everywhere. Meanwhile he has trumpeted his desire to dispose of bendy buses (at vast cost), even though that will be contractually impossible in the short-term and they are the most practical form of public transport on long, straight routes. Cuts will be the leitmotif of Boris’s second year in office, Caroline warned – maybe a taste of what is to come if people are foolish enough to vote a Conservative government into power with an outright majority at the general election.

Links: www.carolinepidgeon.org and www.lewishamlibdems.org.uk

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Is There Anything More Camp Than Eurovision?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 24th May, 2008

I have never really appreciated ‘camp’. Graham Norton sets my teeth on edge. But there is something wonderfully over the top about the Eurovision Song Contest — especially when one sees it at a Eurovision party, as I did with Lewisham Liberal Democrats this year. We all drew lots (at a pound a ticket) to see which country we would represent. I got the hosts, Serbia, which was never going to manage to replicate the butch originality of last year’s female effort — and didn’t. Moreover, the two smarmy presenters in Belgrade were pretty cringe-worthy. One or two of the songs were actually rather good, not least Ukraine’s, and Russia was a justifiable winner. Bosnia and Herzogovina entered into the crazy spirit of things. Spain was simply embarrassing. The guy in Stockholm announcing the Swedish votes seemed to be out of his head.

For some time now, in the UK, Terry Wogan’s commentary has been part of the carnival. He was as wry (and sometimes outright bitchy) as ever, though by the end he was souding weary, and genuinely miffed that the British entry came joint bottom (though at least without the indignity of ‘nul points’). It’s true, as he said, that voting goes along political and geographical lines these days, though actually most of the top places were won by reasonable numbers. If Wogan retires, I suppose we might end up with Graham Norton next year. Will that be more than I can bear?

 

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