Westminster Liberal Democrats may not have any local councillors, yet — though watch Bayswater ward closely next May! But they do have some dedicated and moreover interesting members, which means that their annual dinners are always particularly enjoyable. That is also due to the fact that these dinners have been hosted in recent years by Huseyin Ozer, proprietor of the Sofra restaurants, at his home base establishment in Covent Garden. When someone said that one of the items on the menu was Hittite rice I thought they must have misheard/misread, as my mind wandered back to T.E. Lawrence’s work on Hittite remains at Carchemish before the First World War. But they were quite correct, and the Ottoman (sic) delicacies that accompanied that rice were indeed fit for a Sultan. No Sultan being available, we were treated to the next best thing: Tim Farron, President of the Party. Before the meal Tim apologised to me that I had probably heard his speech before (well, we do both get around on the circuit), but amazingly I hadn’t (well, most of it, anyway). He has an engaging breezy style with a slightly cocky Cumbrian edge, which I can appreciate having spent (wet) holidays in the Lake District as a child. He doesn’t do bad language, but has a habit of using the word “flipping” where others might resort to something a little spicier. But the core of his message was that the party must go into next May’s European elections (for which he is the national supremo) confidently as the party of IN. Tim was not entirely complimentary about our Conservative Coalition colleagues, including the Prime Minister, but then such differentiation is now inevitable as we enter the final 18 months of the Westminster parliament, let alone the six months to next May’s European elections (combined with all-out borough elections in London). I have never met David Cameron, though I am sure he would be socially charming, but as a Lancashire lad myself originally I can understand those who look at him and feel he has no core beliefs other than that he believes people like himself should be in charge. Actually, to me that is still far less objectionable than the dreadful Tony Blair, with his Messianic certainties, or indeed the angst of poor Gordon Brown (whom I did meet), who lumbered into the premiership far later than he would have liked with all the finesse of a bear chasing bees from a honeycomb. Anyway, despite mediocre opinion poll ratings averaging around 10 per cent (we have been in places much worse than that in our history), membership of the Liberal Demorcats is on the up and if we say the messages loud and clear enough, we should get across the fact that thanks to Liberal Democrats the tax threshold has gone up, the pupil premium has helped thousands of kids from disadvantaged backgrounds (including in my own borough, Tower Hamlets), and the 3,000 children of asylum seekers whom Labour had locked up are for the great majority now at liberty.
Posts Tagged ‘Liberal Democrats’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 26th November, 2013
For the British United Indian Liberal Democrats (BUILD) Diwali is a movable feast, and the fact that tonight’s dinner in the excellent Seasoning north Indian restaurant in Fulham took place long after most other Diwali celebrations were over in no way dimmed the light of the occasion, organised by my indefatigable fellow London LibDem Euro-candidate Anuja Prashar. In fact the timing was perfect, in that the keynote speaker, Treasury Secretary Danny Alexander, recently went on his first ever visit to India to help promote British trade, and duly loved the place (his colleague Vince Cable, incidentally, is virtually an old India hand). The way some UKIP and Tory Eurosceptics spin things you’d think the UK would need to leave the EU to do trade promotion with India effectively, but the opposite is true. Danny is of course also a thoroughbred Europhile, having worked in the not too dim and distant past for the European Movement, which means that both LibDem members of the Coalition Government’s core quartet (the other being Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, of course) are completely on message when it comes to the Liberal Democrats being the party of IN so far as the EU is concerned. In his speech, Danny did a fine balancing act, on the one hand justifiably claiming LibDem credit for helping get Britain in a healthier economic shape than it was in 2010 as well as bringing in fairer policies such as raising the tax allowance to £10,000 (as it will be in April), and saying that for all their obvious policy disagreements he gets on with the Chancellor, George Osborne well. But on the other hand Danny came out strongly on differentiation from the Conservatives, not just on Europe — though that is increasingly self-evident — but on a range of issues, as the Conservative Party is being tugged to the right by many of its backbenchers and Labour is once more being cosy with left-wing trade unions. We are the party of the centre ground, Danny declared — though I personally prefer one of Charles Kennedy’s old sayings: that we are neither left nor right but centre forward. Danny usefully trailed the ALDE (European Liberal Democrats) Congress which will be taking place in Canary Wharf later this week (which I will be attending) and at which he will of course feature, along with other UK government stars and some heavyweight delegations from across our wonderful, diverse continent.
Photo of Danny Alexander, Jonathan Fryer, Anuja Prashar and Geoff Payne (by Merlene Emerson)
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Anuja Prashar, BUILD, Conservatives, Danny Alexander, Diwali, Fulham, George Osborne, India, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, Seasoning, Vince Cable | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 15th October, 2013
Robin Meltzer’s campaign to win the Richmond Park constituency in south-west London back from the Conservatives in May 2015 recevied a boost last night when Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg spoke at a fundraising dinner at the Russell family’s old home of Pembroke Lodge. Apart from singing the prospective parliamentary candidate’s praises, Nick particularly emphasized the pro-European message of the Liberal Democrats. Though the Party believes the EU would benefit from reform, it would, in Nick’s words, be a disaster for the UK to leave. This means that the Liberal Democrats really will pin their European colours to the mast in next May’s European elections — for the first time ever, if truth be told, despite the fact that the electorate knows where the Party stands on the issue. Because of the nature of Richmond Park constiuency and, let’s be frank, the affluence of most of the people attending last night’s dinner, there were some sharp questions about the proposed “mansion tax” on properties worth over £2 million pounds. But Nick held his ground on this and insisted that it was only right that the most wealthy help pay for the government policies that have been lifting millions of the poorest people out of tax all together. The junior Education Minister, David Laws, was the back-up speaker, not surprisingly highlighting the pupil premium and other Coalition government policies aimed at th less wll-off — and all Liberal Democrat initiatives. Robin Meltzer should get a pointer as to how the mood amongst voters in the constiuency is developing next May, when the borough elections take place alongside the Euro-poll. But the many thousands of pounds raised at the dinner will give him and the local party a shot in the arm and will lead to a campaign office being set up in Richmond once again.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 12th October, 2013
The radicalisation of Muslim youth has been a prime concern of Western governments and security agencies ever since 9/11. But it is sobering to realise that the path to militancy — with its intolerance and, in extreme cases, its contempt for human life — is not necessarily only one way. Readers of Ed Husain’s 2007 book The Islamist (Penguin, £9.99) will be aware of that, but it is useful to have the message reinforced by the record of another SOAS alumnus’s journey to Islamism and back, Maajid Nawaz’s Radical (W H Allen, £8.99). Born in Southend, Essex, in what white neighbours would doubtless have considered to be a “well integrated” Pakistani-origin family (his mother was positively liberal), Maajid experienced not just casual racism as a child but also the violence of white skinheads. He learnt to stand up for himself, carrying a knife around with him for years. But it was at college in Newham, East London, that he came under the influence of Islamist radicals, notably from Hizb ut-Tahrir. After witnessing a fatal stabbing there he was recalled by his family to Southend, enabling him to get the grades necessary to go to SOAS to read Law and Arabic. He met a similarly radical young woman, married and fathered a baby boy, moving with them to Egypt to work on his Arabic, following a prolonged stay in Pakistan where he worked to further Hizb ut-Tahrir’s cause. He hoped to do the same in Egypt, but the omnipresent Mubarak security forces had him under surveillance and before long he was taken away in the middle of the night from his apartment in Alexandria and entered the hell of the regime’s torture chambers, where every inmate was electrocuted on a rota system, the screams of their agony resonating through the dark dungeon hour after hour. Maajid was fortunate himself to narrowly escape the electrodes, instead being knocked about and threatened with rape, and eventually he was put on trial and transferred to a political prison, whose inmates included Ayman Nour, the Egyptian Liberal who had dared to stand against Hosni Mubarak in a presidential election and was incarcerated on trumped up charges for that impertinence. By this time Maajid was getting regular consular visits a well as some contact with his family, but his release was as sudden as his arrest and maybe partly because Amnesty International had adopted him as a prisoner of conscience, putting pressure on both the Egyptian and British governments. SOAS let him resume his studies, but his marriage had broken down and he had become disillusioned with the ideology that had driven him for several years. He met up with Ed Husain, who had defected to rationality well before, and made his own great leap away from Islamism; together they established Quilliam, a foundation dedicated to countering Islamist extremism (and also Islamophobia) and won open access to both the last Labour government and its Coalition successor. Indeed, so far did Maajid’s conversion go that he joined the Liberal Democrats and is now the Party’s candidate for the three-way marginal London constituency of Hampstead and Kilburn. I read Radical at one sitting, over eight hours on a plane back from Beijing on Thursday. It was literally a book I could not put down, passionate and at times chilling, but ultimately cathartic. Highly recommended.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 8th September, 2013
The UK political twittersphere has been in overdrive over the past 24 hours regarding the announced departure from the House of Commons of the Brent Central MP Sarah Teather (LibDem) at the next General Election. I waited until I had the opportunity to read and ponder upon the interview-based article that was the lead story in today’s Observer before putting fingers to keyboard here. Sarah’s frustration has been obvious for some time, not only since she was effectively sacked as a junior Minister for Education. As a devout Catholic, she has strong moral views, some of which concur with mainstream Liberal thinking (for example on immigration), some of which don’t (most notably on equal marriage). On the latter, she would have been well-advised to abstain, rather than vote against; one could understand why she could not support something which was in conflict with religious teaching she holds to be true, but to vote to prevent a significant proportion of her electorate, and even more of her fellow LibDem members, the right to sanctify or formalise (however one might wish to describe it) their union was foolish, even cruel. Some of the flak she has received over this was also cruel; this cannot have helped her feeling of well-being, nor can the comments of Tory blogger Iain Dale and others mocking her unpreparedness for government. I have known Sarah for many years, long before she set foot in Brent and won that extraordinary by-election victory in Brent East. But of course, she did not do it alone. Many hundreds of LibDem activists, including myself, piled in while Tony Blair’s Labour government floundered around. It was interesting, but also sad, that a few weeks ago, when there was a London Liberal Democrats regional action day in Brent, the turnout was much lower than at similar events across the capital. I have no doubt that Sarah’s vote on equal marriage contributed to that. And what now? She obviously needs some time to think about what she can and should do with her life after May 2015. But she mustn’t be surprised if some of the people who did flog their guts out to get her elected 10 years ago feel aggrieved, particularly given the timing of her announcement just one week before the Liberal Democrat autumn conference in Glasgow . She has served the diverse community of Brent well on most things over the past decade. And if she had renewed her commitment to be a voice for social justice within Parliament, rather than throwing in the towel and implying that the Party had lost its principles (rather than facing up to the realities of Coalition government) she would have been better regarded. In any event, I sincerely wish her well.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 14th July, 2013
Since standing down as Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman in the House of Lords in 2011 after describing the Coalition Government’s Project Merlin as “pitiful”, Matthew Oakeshott has made full use of his political freedom. Journalists and broadcasters often turn to him for a meaty quote and he has starred on BBC1′s Question Time. Having worked closely with the late Roy Jenkins he is a keen European and he had early working experience in Kenya. Despite being an investment manager he is often identified as being on the left, or at least Social Democratic, wing of the Party. He also does his fair share of the rubber chicken circuit, though certainly that would be an unjust description of the splendid Dulwich and West Norwood LibDems’ garden party this afternoon, all of whose funds raised were dedicated to the Evelina Children’s Hospital Appeal. In his short speech, as guest of honour, Matthew urged activists present to Keep the Faith in next year’s combined European and London borough elections. Being in coalition with the Conservatives was never going to be easy, but it was the right thing to do and there have been several major Liberal Democrat wins — for example the raised tax threshold — which would never have happened if a purely Conservative government were in office. Matthew lives in Lambeth and there is of course close cooperation between LibDems in Southwark and Lambeth (which together form a GLA constituency). Moreover, it was clear from conversation with councillors present this afternoon that the current Labour administrations in both boroughs deserve criticism. Mainstream political parties in general have been haemorrhaging members over the past few years, but with just 10 months to go till polling day it is vital LibDems get out on the doorstep and sell what we have been doing and what we have to offer.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 16th June, 2013
The European Union has been leading the way in the global fight against climate change, not least thanks to the efforts of Liberal Democrat Ministers in the UK’s Coalition government, Chris Huhne and now Ed Davey. The latter was guest speaker at Merton Liberal Democrats’ summer garden party in Wimbledon this afternoon and restated his determination that the Paris summit in 2015 must seal a meaningful new treaty, to build on achievements so far. There are some member states that are dragging their feet — notably Poland, which still relies heavily on coal for its energy needs. But the UK is part of a group of 10 EU member states — dubbed the Green Growth Group — which are on the side of the angels in the related debate. Moreover, Ed has been buoyed by the appointment of John Kerry as Barack Obama’s Secretary of State in his second term, as Kerry was ahead of Al Gore in recognising the problems of global warming. Even China is sending out some reassuring signals. The problems of air and water pollution in China are immense, as a result of the country’s rapid industrialisation and relatively lax environmental supervisory standards. But public opinion in China has become increasingly vociferous about the health consequences for children — all the more acute give China’s ongoing (though modified) one child policy. Accordingly, the Chinese Communist Party has started to take note of ecological protests, instead of just suppressing them, as it realises that its survival in government may be at stake. Back home in the UK, it is the Liberal Democrats who have been keeping the Coalition government on track on climate change issues, despite the scepticism of certain Tory right-wingers. In next year’s European elections (which in London will coincide with all-out borough council elections) the LibDems must champion this success. Furthermore, Ed argued, we should not hold back in attacking UKIP, which is not only the home of many climate change deniers but also tries through its lies and distortions to undermine European cooperation with all its beneficial aspects for our common future.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Al Gore, Barack Obama, China, Chris Huhne, climate change, Ed Davey, global warming, Green Growth Group, John Kerry, Liberal Democrats, Merton Liberal Democrats, Poland, UKIP, Wimbledon | 1 Comment »
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 »