After the ALDE (European Liberal Democrats) Council in Pula, Croatia, the Ralf Dahrendorf Roundtables held a seminar on “Illegal Immigration: The Crossing Point” with a thought-provoking initial presentation by Felicita Medved, the (Slovene) President of the European Liberal Forum. Although the main purpose of the ensuing debate was to focus on illegal — or, as Commissioner Cecilia Malstrom has rightly encouraged people to rename it, “irregular” — immigration, in fact the whole issue of immigration in general got debated, with a sharp division emerging between more left-leaning Liberal parties including the UK Liberal Democrats, D66 from the Netherlands and the Swedish Centre Party on the one hand and more right-wing Liberal parties, notably the VVD from the Netherlands and Venstre from Denmark. I was so alarmed by the degree to which one VVD speaker, Mark Verheijen MP, seemed to have wandered on to the territory of Geert Wilders (just as a depressingly large number of British Conservatives have lurched into the openly xenophobic, even racist, anti-immigrant domain of UKIP’s Nigel Farage) that I argued passionately for the urgent need for a new alternative Liberal narrative and vocabulary on immigration. Of course levels of immigration have to be managed, but the positive side to immigration needs to be championed and due recognition given to how it has helped the economies of many EU member states, including Britain. Indeed, thanks to our greying population continued immigration is going to be a necessity if Europe is going to play a significant economic role in the globalised world of the future. The ensuing debate in Pula was so lively that it was fortuitous that the UK LibDems had already suggested the issue could be the subject of another session, associated with the ALDE Congress in London this November. I believe immigration will be the top issue in the European elections next May, thanks to UKIP, and it is essential we LibDems have a persuasive counter-narrative in place by then.
Posts Tagged ‘Liberal Democrats’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 12th May, 2013
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: ALDE, D66, EU, European Liberal Forum, Felicita Medved, Folkpartiet, Geert Wilders, immigration, Liberal Democrats, Mark Verheijen, Nigel Farage, Pula, UKIP, Venstre, VVD | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 4th May, 2013
The strong showing by the United Kingdom Independence Party in this week’s county council elections and recent parliamentary by-elections has been causing shudders in Britain’s other political parties and strengthens the hand of right-wing Conservative MPs who have been urging David Cameron to drift towards the UKIP agenda in an effort to stop the haemorrhage of traditional Tory voters. I trust we will not hear any such nonsense from Liberal Democrat parliamentarians. Even though sizable numbers of traditional LibDem voters also probably opted for UKIP this time I believe that was mainly as a form of protest. All three main political parties are suffering from voter disaffection and in particular the LibDems, as unfortunately many people in the UK don’t understand Coalition politics and the fact that as a junior partner in government the Liberal Democrats have only a certain degree of clout. But the really important thing, I believe, is that the Liberal Democrats must be bold enough to confront UKIP’s two main policy planks — anti-immigration and anti-EU — and tackle them head-on. I deliberately put immigration first, despite the fact that withdrawal from the EU is UKIP’s most well-known USP, as I believe the scare-mongering by UKIP regarding immigrants was more effective in garnering votes for the party than Nigel Farage’s attempts to ridicule Brussels. Opinion polls consistently show that for the vast majority of British voters Europe is way down their list of political priorities. But Farage and his colleagues have been steering the anti-immigrant bandwagon in a way that used to be more the role of the BNP and National Front. Farage’s repeated warning about the UK “opening its doors” to 29 million Bulgarians and Romanians from 1 January not only ignore such realities as the fact that the more favoured destinations of Romanians who do want to emigrate are Italy and France, and for many Bulgarians Germany is seen as more desirable because of low housing costs and a growing economy but also propagate the distinctly racist implication that all Romanians — and particularly Roma — are criminals. The LibDems — who currently have a working group looking at immigration and related issues — need to stress how much the British economy has benefited from immigration (which of course has to be controlled but not in an arbitrary fashion). Moreover, with regard to the EU the Liberal Democrats need to be brave enough to stand up and proclaim why leaving the EU would be disastrous for Britain. Certainly some reforms of the EU are needed, but you do not reform an organisation by leaving it. The European debate has been hijacked by UKIP and it is urgent that the alternative case is put strongly — by the LibDems.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 24th April, 2013
Next year the voters of Scotland will have the opportunity to decide whether they wish to opt for independence. Opinion polls consistently show that unless there is a significant shift in mood between now and then the response will be a firm “no”. The SNP would have preferred at least two questions on the ballot paper, but the government in Westminster put paid to that and the Electoral Commission (which will quite rightly supervise the referendum) made the in-or-out question less slanted. This gives the Liberal Democrats a golden opportunity to shoot at an open goal by coming out as the party of “devo max” (significant further devolution of powers to Edinburgh) coupled with a “no” vote in the referendum. I made this point to the Secretary of State for Scotland, my old pal Michael Moore, at a pizza and politics evening in Islington this evening. I’m sure I won’t be the first or last person to do so. He meanwhile had given a very coherent and appealing presentation to the assembled groups of party activists and supporters, starting out by declaring that home rule was a very Gladstone sort of thing. Indeed, while the Conservatives have been very unsound on this matter (until the Scottish Tory leader had to do an inelegant u-turn after David Cameron’s more conciliatory speech) the LibDems have been consistent for generations. The party has of course suffered badly north of the border since 2010 because of the Coalition agreement with the hated Tories, but that was inevitable. The last Scottish parliamentary elections were dire for the LibDems and even managed to deliver a majority SNP government, even though the system was designed to avoid such one-party dominance. But now is the time for the Scottish Liberal Democrats to rebuild. I believe Alex Salmond has peaked too early. He has often shown himself to be a master politician — for example taking a risk by standing in the LibDem area of Gordon yet comfortably winning it — but as Michael pointed out this evening, Salmond’s case does not really add up. He wants to retain EU membership for a putative independent Scotland, yet doesn’t want to join the euro (or Schengen). And why would the rest of the UK necessarily give a free pass to a sterling area to Scotland? Besides, as part of the UK, Scotland has a voice at the top table of the UN and other fora, whereas an independent Scotland would be out of the loop — even worse than the situation of Norway, which is of comparable population size but has built up a huge sovereign wealth fund on the back of decades of oil and gas production. As Michael rightly said, it is rubbish to suggest that one can only express one’s nationhood by being an independent state. The Scots are more Scottish than they have been for generations and they are a welcome constituent part of the UK for a’that.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 21st April, 2013
In the latest UK opinion poll, by YouGov for the Sunday Times, the Greens are put at just two per cent, confirming their slump in recent months. If they polled anything like that in next year’s Euro-elections they would lose both their MEPs — and all the associated funding. Their main asset remains Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion, but since she stood down as leader last year, in a worthy but perhaps foolish attempt to spread the exposure of Green politicians, few voters are able to say who’s the Green Leader (before you rush for your google search, it’s Natalie Bennett, pictured). It will be interesting to see how the Greens fare in the County Council elections in 10 days time, but I doubt whether it will be particularly good news for them. In 2010, when borough elections in London coincided with a general election, they fell back badly, especially in Lewisham, which was one of their strongest areas. So how can all this be explained? Partly it can be put down to the degree to which other parties have successfully sold themselves as being environment-friendly. That is particularly true of the Liberal Democrats, with the LibDem push within the Coalition for green energy, green jobs and a green investment bank; Ed Davey, as Secretary of State, ably took over the baton from Chris Huhne, who had done some excellent work in the field. And some protest voters who migrated to the Greens from the LibDems or Tories may, believe it or not, now have moved on to UKIP. But undoubtedly there is another, perhaps stronger, reason: namely that when the economic and financial situation is bad and many people are worried about their jobs and making ends meet, green issues tend to slip down the priorities of all but the most committed. At the Euro-elections in just over one year’s time the Greens will be praying that is not the case. And if they do lose their two seats it will be hard for them to promote themselves as a truly national party of significance in the run-up top the 2015 general election.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 11th March, 2013
Thanks to a three-year cooperation programme with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and the British Embassy in Tunis the Liberal Democrats hosted a group of visiting politicians from Tunisia and Lebanon at the Brighton Spring Conference. On the Saturday afternoon there was a closed session with the visitors and most of the Party’s International Relations Committee and parliamentary International Affairs Team, identifying how best that programme might proceed. But in the evening there was an open fringe meeting that addressed the subject of Liberalism in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and how various political forces that might consider themselves Liberal can or should relate to ruling parties that base their core inspiration from Islam. I was the opening speaker, drawing on my professional experience working or travelling in all of the MENA countries as well as teaching at SOAS. I made the point that Islam is the most political of all religions in that it is not just a faith but a code of practice for both private and public life. A number of parties that have come to power since the Arab Awakening — such as Ennahda in Tunisia and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt — are indeed Islamic in inspiration but it is important to make a distinction between them and extremist, exclusive Islamists who have turned a perverted interpretation of the Koran into an oppressive and even murderous ideology (such as the Taliban when they were in power in Afghanistan). There is a worrying influence of salafi or ultra-conservative Islamic thought in much of the MENA region but people need to recognise at the same time that the main reason groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood gained such support was because they looked after people’s needs in societies in which the government was singularly failing to do so — in a sense engaging in community politics. I also made the point that the Arab Awakening, now barely two years old, is still in its infancy and it is likely to be a decade or more before its outcomes are clear.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 10th March, 2013
International Women’s Day fell during the Liberal Democrats Brighton Conference and among several events pegged to the occasion was a fringe meeting with the Turkish writer Elif Safak, which was put on by Liberal Democrat Friends of Turkey. Elif won many friends among London Liberal Democrats when she spoke at our autumn conference in Croydon in October, when she read from her latest novel. This time, she spoke of the two women who had made a big impression on her in her childhood: her mother, a Westernised, free-thinking woman who went on to do university studies; and the grandmother who subsequently raised Elif — a much more conservative, irrational, superstitious woman. In a sense the two personified different aspects of Turkey, an immensely complex and changing society. In principle the theme of the Brighton Conference fringe meeting was women and post-feminism in the Muslim world, which is a subject that fell within Elif’s own postgraduate studies, as well as the sort of thing I teach at SOAS in the summer term. But as usual with her much of what she talked abut was autobiographical, weaving into the story both considerations of the multilayered aspects of self as well as elements of Turkey’s Ottoman past, in which there was far greater diversity than is acknowledged today and there was an indigenous women’s movement. We should also not forget that Turkey gave women the right to vote before France did, for example. And women fill high positions in all sorts of sectors in the labour force. And yet much of Turkish society, whether ethnic Turk, Kurdish or Armenian, remains patriarchal and there are still occasional so-called honour killings, often involving brothers killing sisters who have formed a romantic relationship with someone deemed unsuitable or, worse still,who have lost their virginity. Such contradictions in a country that has an enviable growth rate and is making its mark in the modern world are part of Turkey’s fascination, of course, and will provide Elif with many more themes for her novels. Liberal Democrat Friends of Turkey, meanwhile, is playing a crucial role in reaching out to the extensive Turkish, Kurdish and Turkish Cypriot community in Britain, much of that based in London.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 3rd March, 2013
If there was a magic formula to win elections it would have been patented and sold to the highest bidder long ago. Nonetheless, there are many practical tips from which a political campaigner can learn, from the late David Penhaligon’s “if you have something to say, put it on a piece of paper and shove it through the letterbox” to much more recent advice on how best to use social media. It is no surprise that many of the best tips have come from Liberal Democrats (or Liberals before them) as the third party in British politics has always had to fight harder and more imaginatively than the big two in order to win seats. It was no coincidence that Trevor “Jones the Vote” in Liverpool largely invented community politics and exported it down south via the 1973 Sutton and Cheam by-election. Now, one of the Party’s campaigning gurus, Mark Pack — no longer working for the Party but still acknowledged as the mastermind behind much of Lynne Featherstone’s successful activities in Hornsey and Wood Green — has teamed up with former colleague Ed Maxfield to write an Everyman’s guide to successful campaigning: 101 Ways to Win an Election (Biteback, £12.99). It could all too easily have fallen into the trap of the Pippa Middleton school of How To books, i.e. stating the obvious as if it were a huge secret, but in fact the book is packed with very astute and useful advice, held together with an occasionally tongue-in-cheek commentary. The book is conveniently divided into 101 bite-sized chunks or chapters, each about the length of a BBC Radio 4 Thought for the Day. Grouped under five headings — A Good Message, The Team, The Resources, Communicating the Message, and Leadership — they offer an A to Z of sensible guidelines as well as pointers to disaster avoidance. Reading the book carefully, ideally in small sections, won’t necessarily deliver victory to any aspirant candidate or campaign, but it will make it more likely. And as the authors say in the final chapter, the book can be usefully stored away to be referred to repeatedly when the need arises.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: 101 Ways to Win an Election, Biteback, David Penhaligon, Ed Maxfield, Liberal Democrats, Lynne Featherstone, Mark Pack, Pippa Middleton, Trevor Jones | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 24th February, 2013
A coachload of London Liberal Democrats went down to Eastleigh yesterday, where we found the by-election headquarters a hive of activity; apparently nearly 500 volunteers from all over the country went through the doors during the day. I don’t remember such a positive buzz about a by-election since the early days of the Liberal-SDP Alliance, but the difference in the level of professionalism between now and 30 years ago was striking. Arriving helpers were immediately divided and labelled into canvassers, deliverers and clerical, and people were genuinely asked what they preferred to do, rather than just being told, as if so often the case at such times. The warehouse space being used was large enough to have a number of different activities going on at the same time, while printers continued to churn out new literature. That literature itself was of a far higher quality than has sometimes been the case and presented the LibDem candidate Mike Thornton — a respected local councillor — as a man of the community who will do all he can to represent the areas interests at Westminster. So it was a pleasure to deliver it, even in the freezing cold and flurries of snow. Unusually, every single councillor in the constituency, at local and county level, is LibDem, but that almost embarrassing dominance does not mean the by-election is going to be a walkover. The Party is still languishing at between 10 and 12 per cent in the national opinion polls and has been the subject of negative publicity recently, including over former MP Chris Huhne’s resignation and trial. Nonetheless there are a good number of dayglo poster boards up around the constituency and local opinion polls suggest the LibDems and Tories are neck and neck. UKIP is also going to poll well (though not well enough), with Labour trailing badly in fourth place. Of course we won’t know the actual result until after the count, but Mike Thornton deserves to win and both the number and enthusiasm of party helpers out and about in the constituency bode well for the Party’s health.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 9th December, 2012
Sutton is rightly hailed as London Liberal Democrats’ flagship council but of course the borough was put on the map politically some years before the (then) Liberal-SDP Alliance actually won control (on the Mayor’s casting vote). Indeed, 40 years ago the parliamentary constituency of Sutton and Cheam hit the headlines when young Graham Tope — at that time characterised by his cruel glasses and wicked sideburns — seized the seat from the Tories in a by-election on at 32.6% swing. I was in my final year at university at the time but remember the subsequent Liberal euphoria well. As was rightly recognised at a 40th anniversary buffet dinner at the Sutton Life Centre last evening, the Sutton & Cheam by-election was the first time Trevor Jones from Liverpool put into practice his concept of community politics — which meant pounding the streets to identify local issues and then trumpeting them in regular Focus leaflets — including the scary example illustrated here. Focuses are such old hat these days that it’s hard to imagine the huge impact this technique had. The Conservatives didn’t know what had hit them and Graham became not just a local celebrity but a national one too. Alas he was unable to hold the seat in the February 1974 general election, but he went on to become Leader of Sutton Council, a Member of theHouse of Lords, a London Assembly member and one of the Liberal Democrat representatives on the EU’s Committee of the Regions, at one time simultaneously. Apparently he can, like Margaret Thatcher, get by on very little sleep — though there the similarities end. Anyway, it was a splendid occasion last night, free of pomp but full of good humour and enlivened with tributes to Graham from a variety of people who have served with him in various guises, including Lynne Featherstone MP, (Baroness) Sally Hamwee, (Baroness) Sarah Ludford MEP and former Sutton Council leader Sean Brennan. There was even some audio-visual entertainment, including a replay of the 1974 election night TV coverage, which included a nice potted portrait of the man.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Focus leaflets, Graham Tope, Liberal Democrats, Lynne Featherstone, Sally Hamwee, Sarah Ludford, Sean Brennan, Sutton and Cheam, Sutton Council, Sutton Life Centre, Trevor Jones | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 3rd December, 2012
In her first local party engagement since being re-elected to the top of London Liberal Democrats’ Euro-list, Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP told the Tower Hamlets Liberal Democrats’ AGM in Bethnal Green this evening that the Party must be quite clear in its pro-EU stance in the 2014 Euro-elections and she pointed out that we are likely to be the only party that is. That doesn’t mean saying that everything coming out of Brussels is rosy; there are things that need reforming. But the electorate knows where the LibDems stand on Europe and it would be madness to obfuscate. Local member David Hall-Matthews — a prominent figure in the Social Liberal Forum — argued from the floor that if, as expected, the Euros coincide with the London borough elections (and in Tower Hamlets’ case a mayoral election as well) then it is essential that the Euro-campaign is indeed about Europe and not about British domestic issues, as has sometimes been the case in the past. I added the comment that we will need a strong regional and national campaign on Europe London-wide to complement the more targetted campaigning for the local elections, and highlighted the fact that among many Tory voters in Tower Hamlets and beyond there are those who realise that elements of the capital’s prosperity — and in some cases their jobs — depend on Britain’s being a full member of the EU. There are just 18 months left for Sarah, myself and the other six members of the London Euro-candidate team to get our messages across. And those must indeed be strong and simple and persuasively argue the benefits of being part of Europe.