Jonathan Fryer

Posts Tagged ‘Simon Hughes’

Press Freedom in Turkey

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 27th February, 2014

Yavuz BaydarWilliam HorselyLike many longstanding friends of Turkey I have been dismayed by some of the developments in recent months, several of which seem retrogressive rather than progressive. The way the Gezi Park protests were handled by the police and security forces — water cannon to the fore — was cack-handed and the fact that most of the mainstream media in Turkey –not least the TV — ignored them at first was a worrying indication of the way that self-censorship in the country is now rife. Moreover, scores of journalists have found themselves sacked, imprisoned or with the threat of prosecution hanging over them, which has resulted in Turkey now figuring way down the list of states in the world when it comes to freedom of the Press. So it was timely that this evening the Zaman newspaper group organised a meeting on Press Freedom in Turkey in the House of Commons, which I chaired. The parliamentary sponsor was Simon Hughes MP, recently appointed as Justice Minister in the UK’s Coalition Government and therefore in a position to make important representations on an international level, though as I pointed out one of the most disconcerting things about the current situation is the way that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has raised the spectre of foreign plots and conspiracies, which is a narrative that resonates with his supporters when they reject criticisms from abroad. The main speakers at tonight’s meeting were the Turkish journalist and blogger Yavuz Baydar — who was sacked from his position Ombudsman on the newspaper Sabah for political reasons — and William Horsley, formerly Europe Correspondent of the BBC, currently Chairman of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) UK Section and a key player in freedom of press issues at the Council of Europe and elsewhere. All of us were distinctly downbeat in our analysis of the current situation, which is made more complex by the fact that Mr Erdogan is under heavy scrutiny because of allegations of corruption based largely on recordings which he declares are fakes. There is a common argument that maybe he has suffered from the Ten Year Test (a la Thatcher and Blair), but as I pointed out there will be a real power vacuum in Ankara if he falls or the AKP does really badly in upcoming elections, as no opposition party seems ready and able to seize the moment. I still love Turkey, but I worry increasingly for its short-term future, as the Prime Minister and his administration become more authoritarian and ever more removed from common European values.

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Simon Hughes Speaks up for Europe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 21st November, 2012

Long before Simon Hughes became Mr Bermondsey (and more recently Mr Old Southwark too) he had European ambitions and indeed worked in Strasbourg for a while. But the looming opportunity of a byelection three decades ago diverted him onto a path that has led to his becoming Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats and the very model of a modern community politician. This evening, however, in the delightful surroundings of Sofra Covent Garden — courtesy of the restaurant group’s generous owner and Westminster LibDems member Huseyin Ozer — Simon was able to reflect on things European and international as the guest after-dinner speaker at the local party’s annual fundraising event. He stressed how important it is that the LibDems continue to champion the importance of Britain being at the heart of Europe and like St George face-to-face with the dragon he slayed some of the falsities put out by Tory Eurosceptics and the right-wing Press. He also stressed how vital it is that when the Leveson Inquiry reports the LibDems must take its recommendations to heart — something which again various people on the Tory right will attempt not to do. Sue Baring, now standing down as Chair of the local party after three years at the helm, rightly received plaudits and presents for her energy and commitment. And the best present of all for her will be in 2014 if, alongside a good performance in the European elections, the LibDems take Bayswater ward, which she and her colleagues have been building up for so long.

Link: http://westminsterlibdems.org.uk

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Sergei Mitrokhin and Liberals in Russia

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 12th November, 2012

Being a Liberal in Russia is a risky vocation, as putting one’s head above the parapet politically is an invitation to harrassment, arrest, criminal proceedings and heafty fines or imprisonment. High profile anti-establishment activists such as Pussy Riot get lots of foreign media attention and noises of sympathy from the outside world, of course, but even in their case that did not stop two of their number being sentenced to two years detention each in different gulags. Alas, as the leader of Russia’s Liberal Party Yabloko, Sergei Mitrokhin, detailed in a speech at Westminster this lunchtime, the long arm of President Putin’s law is getting firmer. He highlighted three aspects of particular concern regarding the current political situation in Russia and the crackdown against Liberal forces. First, there are the political reprisals, which have seen key Yabloko activists charged — often on false evidence — for demanding action against high-level corruption, for example. Second, Sergei stressed the hardening of laws and the suppression of civil rights under various amendments to the legal and civil codes. One good (i.e. bad) example is an amendment which will mean that Russian NGOs receiving grants from international bodies must now register as “foreign agents”. And last but not least in the litany of adverse developments, is what Sergei called the “clericalisation of the state”, in other words the way that a very conservative form of Russian Orthodoxy has now been melded into a state ideology which is dangerously nationalistic, anti-Western and anti-Liberal. Today’s gathering, at Portcullis House, was sponsored by Simon Hughes MP, Lord Alderdice and Liberal International, and in the discussion period after Sergei Mitrokhin’s speech I inquired exactly what helpful actions groups such as LI and the British Liberal Democrats can take to help Yabloko, without jeopardising its activists. Training in election strategies and techniques is something that I and others from the LibDems have done in various parts of the world, through the all-party Westminster Foundation for Democracy, and that may be the best answer — other than heartfelt moral support.

Link: http://eng.yabloko.ru/

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BUILD’s Diwali Dinner

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 1st November, 2012

Indians are London’s largest ethnic minority and immigrants of South Asian origin from the sub-Continent and East Africa have made a huge contribution to the British economy. This evening, the first fund-raisingl Diwali dinner put on by British United Indian Liberal Democrats (BUILD), at the Bombay Palace restaurant in Bayswater, highlighted the valuable charitable work that Indian philanthropists and NGOs do in the UK, in India and worldwide. Five separate organisations were showcased before the meal, ranging from the Loomba Foundation (which promotes the welfare and interests of widows in India and now round the globe) to a group that helps Indian elderly in this country, many of whom may live with their offspring but sometimes get left alone in houses with the central heating switched off when the breadwinners go out to work or simply feel lonely, so they relish the conviviality and both physical and metaphorical warmth in earmarked community centres. Both the pre-dinner brief presentations and the after dinner speeches were admirably compered by Mistress of Ceremonies Anuja Prashar, who has been a real driving force within BUILD. The star guest speaker was Miriam González Durántez (aka Miriam Clegg) who, as (Lord) Navnit Dholakia gallantly said, has become something of a secret weapon for the Liberal Democrats. She has both presence and authority and is truly a Liberal, as well as a fine European. She focused on the symbolic meaning of light and hope associated with Diwali. Simon Hughes MP was the after-after-dinner speaker, managing to arrive just in time for the post-speeches’ desert. He stressed how much London and Britain as a whole value the input by citizens of Indian origin and he made the interesting observation that whereas a few years ago Diwali was really only celebrated in India and among the Diaspora it has now become a firm fixture of the United Kingdom’s diverse celebratory calendar.

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Vince Cable’s Question Time

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 29th June, 2012

One good aspect of Britain’s political system is that when MPs become Ministers they retain their seats in the House of Commons as well as their constituency responsibilities. That is particularly important for Liberal Democrats, many of whom got into Parliament because they made their mark as community champions. So even if their Ministerial diaries are bursting at the seams, they must carve out time to be among the people who elected them. This is very noticeable in London, where five of the seven LibDem MPs are Ministers (and a sixth, Simon Hughes, is deputy leader of the Party). And as government is based in London, their constituents expect to continue to see a lot of them, however important their portfolio. This is some ways unfortunate for someone like Vince Cable, whose ministerial responsibilities at the Department of Business, Industry and Skills take him not only all round the United Kingdom but also on frequent overseas trips, drumming up orders and investment. Yet the voters of Twickenham, Vince’s seat, are lucky, as he is regularly available at his constituency surgeries, and sometimes — like tonight — is the star of a Q&A session organised by the Twickenham and Richmond local party. This evening an audience made up mainly of party members — including me — had the pleasure of watching Vince field almost 20 varied questions, ranging from Trident replacement to an EU referendum. It was a tour de force, and he was not afraid to say in a couple of instances that the subject was out of his area of activities or expertise (too many politicians, when asked a question on a subject they know nothing about just spout whatever comes into their head; that is fatal, as usually the questioner knows more about the subject than they do, and will be only too happy to point out the hapless politico’s ignorance). This evening’s event was held at the big Baptist Church in Teddington, scene of many a Liberal Democrat meeting and community gathering. It was a pity there was no coffee or other light refreshment available, so that people could mingle afterwards. Instead, we wandered off into the still light night to reflect on what Vince had said.

 

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London Liberal Democrats’ Spring Conference

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 1st April, 2012

With just over a month to go to the London Mayoral and GLA elections, London Liberal Democrats had their minds firmly focussed on campaigning when we gathered in the East Wintergarden at Canary Wharf yesterday, chaired by (Baroness) Susan Kramer. The mayoral candidate Brian Paddick alongside Caroline Pidgeon, head of the GLA list, presented a summary of their manifesto, which had largely been drawn up my outgoing GLA member Mike Tuffrey, who also gave a presentation on housing. There were several innovations at the conference, including a speech on Extremism by Maajid Nawaz of the Quilliam Foundation and some stunning unaccompanied singing by Pauline Pearce, the “heroine of Hackney” who is the Party’s candidate in the Hackney Central council by-election that will take place on the same day as the main London poll, 3 May. There was also a “trialogue” question time which I chaired with a panel comprising London MEP (Baroness) Sarah Ludford, (Baroness) Sally Hamwee and Caroline Pidgeon. Ed Davey, the Secretary of State of Energy and Climate Change, spoke about his role in government and MPs Tom Brake and Simon Hughes shared their views on the current state of play. A central message was that Liberal Democrats should be proud of what we have achieved as the junior partner in Government but we will be campaigning in these elections on a purely Liberal Democrat platform, even if that sometimes diverges from Coalition policy. At the drinks reception at the end of the busy day several participants said it was the best London Liberal Democrat ever, for which thanks must go to Conference Committee Chair Jill Fraser and her team, including Pete Dollimore, who facilitated the training sessions going on in parallel with the plenary.

(photo by Merlene Emerson)

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Being a Junior Partner in a Coalition

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 27th March, 2012

For half a century and more the Liberal Party and its successor, the Liberal Democrats, languished as the high-minded, principled oppositional alternative to both Conseratives and Labour, and I have to say that most of us found that situation pretty comfortable, although we spoke wistfully of one day having the chance of getting into power. But I think we realised that the only way that would happen in the post-modern age was as a junior partner in coalition with one of the two ‘major’ parties, which could well result in a shrinkage in our level of public support (as indeed Chris Rennard long ago warned). We looked at examples such as Germany’s FDP and saw that even on a small share of the vote one could nonetheless wield quite a lot of influence (admittedly under a system of proportional representation in Germany’s case), and even aspire to having a few Cabinet Ministers. I suppose most of us imagined that if that opportunity arose, it would almost certainly be in a Coalition with Labour; indeed, Paddy Ashdown and some of his closest colleagues imagined that could happen with a Blair-led government, before Britain’s warped electoral system gave Tony Blair a humungous majority and he veered away from social democracy to become seriously illiberal and a George W Bush groupie. So it was with some surprise that after the May 2010 election the arithmetic meant that only a Tory-led Coalition in Britain was possible. But did that inevitably mean that the LibDems as the junior partner would be screwed? This was the subject of a fascinating seminar put on at Westminster’s Portcullis House yesterday by the Centre for Reform, moderated by former LibDem Chief Executive Lord (Chris) Rennard. Ben Page, Chief Executive of Ipsos-MORI was somewhat disheartening in his analysis of the way that sacrificing full independence had inevitably led to the LibDems’ sharp decline in the opinion polls. But his pessimism was counter-balanced by the Deputy Leader of the party, Simon Hughes MP, who — despite getting into a bit of a muddle with his statistics — managed to reassure the audience that the LibDems, far from crashing to oblivion are still alive and kicking and actually doing better than at many times in their recent history, as well as winning real victories on policy within the Coalition government. Martin Kettle, the acceptable face of the Guardian’s political columns, was also fairly upbeat; unlike Polly Toynbee he does not feel we have sold our soul to the devil, and moreover he believes that even in the North — from which, like me, he hails — there is a future for the party. In the ensuing discussion I pointed out that being the junior partner in a Coalition government is rather like travelling down a road full of hidden sleeping poliemen. The tuition fees débacle was probably predictable; the NHS Bill less so. But I warned that the Tory rethink on the Heathrow third runway could be a third bump that could shake the Coalition and cause a fall in support for the LibDems unless the party came out firmly against once again. I didn’t get quite the ringing endorsement of this line that I’d hoped for from Simon Hughes (or indeed Lord Rennard), but I think the point was taken.

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The Sound of London Liberal Democrats

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 8th February, 2012

The Ministry of Sound is used to revving people up at its base in London’s Elephant and Castle, but this evening the throbbing crowd was somewhat different than usual in that it was made up of Liberal Democrat activists, in party mode. The event was the launch of the LibDems’ London2012 election campaign, compered by local MP and Deputy Leader, Simon Hughes. Party President Tim Farron gave an upbeat speech, underlining how seriously the Federal Party is taking the London elections this time, in contrast to previous occasions. Both the mayoral candidate, Brian Paddick, and the leader of the GLA team, Caroline Pidgeon, gave sterling performances, against the backdrop line-up of the impressive and diverse phalanx of GLA list and constituency candidates. The point was made — as it will be repeatedly to the electorate over the next 12 weeks — that last time the LibDems were just pipped at the post for the final seat on the proportional represnetation list by the BNP. This time, we will be fighting hard to get that fourth seat back, and who better to achieve that than Shas Sheehan, a Muslim woman who has already proved her worth as a former Richmond Councillor and parliamentary candidate for Wimbledon at the 2010 General Election. In 2000, we got five London Assembly members, which must be a target we can aim for this year. If successful that would also see Merlene Emerson, Chair of Chinese Liberal Democrats, catapulted into City Hall. When I took over as Chairman of London Liberal Democrats in January 2010, I was determined to up our game, to help make the organisation more professional and to build the sense of London-wide identity for local parties and activists. This evening’s event at the Ministry of Sound (courtesy of James Paulmbo) was yet another step upwards in that journey. And I am happy that in Brian Paddick we have a mayoral candidate who is an impressive figurehead, with particular expertise on policing matters, moreover one who is determined — as he said tonight — to lead a ‘radical and risky’ Liberal Democrat campaign — in the best sense of both those adjectives!

Link: http://libdems4london.org.uk  and www.brianpaddick.com    Video: http://youtu.be/ZSmgrczJNCU

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Simon Hughes on House of Lords Reform

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 7th November, 2011

It’s a hundred years since the last serious attempt to reform Britain’s anachronistc Second Chamber was made, by the then Liberal government. And some of us who believe passionately in constitutional reform sometimes wonder if it will be another hundred before a further major step forward is made. This is despite the fact that all three main parties at the last general election pledged in their manifestos to transform the Lords by making it a wholly or mainly elected institution — and one with fewer members than at present. The Liberal Democrats’ deputy leader, Simon Hughes MP, shared his optimism with the Gladstone Club at the National Liberal Club this vening by saying we might expect the Coalition government to put forward concrete proposals in 2013 or 2014. The matter of course falls within the brief of Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, which is maybe unfortunate given the AV referendum failure and lingering public anger about tuition fees. It is essential, as Simon said tonight, that NGOs, pressure groups and even the media take ownership of this overdue reform. He is personally not enamoured of the idea of a list system PR election, though I think that might be the best way forward for electing the 80% of Senators that is widely being touted — an open list system, of course, in which voters, not just the party, would state their preference among candidates on the list. It also makes sense that the Senators should be elected from the recognised European regions in the UK, of which London would be one. Simon spoke of 15-year terms, with one third of the Senators being elected at the same time as elections to the House of Commons. I would actually prefer 12-year terms, with elections that would not therefore usually coincide with a general election but which could of course be held on the same day in May as local or other elections.

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Launching Brian Paddick

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 5th September, 2011

Brian Paddick’s campaign as the Liberal Democrat candidate for Mayor of London had its press launch at the Party’s new national HQ in Westminster this morning, with most of the GLA List candidates — headed by Caroline Pidgeon — also present. Media included the BBC, ITN and the Press Association, as well as Spectrum Radio. Simon Hughes MP, deputy leader of the LibDems, introduced Brian, making the point that recent events in London have underlined why having a candidate with hands-on experience of policing is singularly relevant. The current Mayor, Boris Johnson, has proved his inability to oversee London’s policing personally, whereas Brian would relish the task. Inevitably, law and order figured prominently in the Q&A at the launch, but Brian was keen to emphasize the fact that he is not a one-trick pony. He has the expertise of the current GLA members — Dee Doocey, Caroline Pidgeon and Mike Tuffrey — to draw on, and he will now embark on a listening exercise during which he will go round every borough in the city, finding out what is on people’s minds so the public can have an input into the final London LibDem manifesto that will be unveiled in the New Year.

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