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 ‘Tim Farron’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 5th November, 2012
David Laws, the Minister of State for Schools and the Cabinet Office, was billed to speak at a bangers-and-mash supper at the Clarendon Hotel in Blackheath this evening and Liberal Democrats from the three boroughs of Lewisham, Greenwich and Bromley — plus me — arrived prepared to quiz him quite firmly on issues such as his somewhat disparaging recent remarks about teachers and how he would justify some of the Coalition’s economic policies. But as so often happens with Ministers (and indeed MPs) he cancelled, because of other obligations, during the afternoon. So in through the door marched Party President Tim Farron instead. Now if David Laws might have felt like Daniel in the lions’ den, Tim found himself amongs a group of purring pussy-cats. Well, almost. He has a manner that can charm the proverbial birds off the trees and part of his widespread appeal across the party is that he acknowledges the mistakes that have been made in government, and where he has not agreed with what the government was doing. And not being a Minister he has a greater freedom to range more widely than many of his colleagues. He is undoubtedly closer to the ideological soul of LibDem activists than some. In the Q&A session after his speech, he was asked where he thought Britain was heading in its relations with the EU and he reaffirmed the party’s strong commitment to the UK’s need to be at the heart of Europe. He said he believed that the mood of the country means that we would probably never join the euro, which is the one major point on which I disagreed with him when I made a short speech myself on EU matters later in the meal. There may well come a time when it would be our interest to join the single currency, albeit not in the short-term, but the question remains whether our partners would open the door if the British Conservatives continue to handle dealings with them so ham-fistedly.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 17th June, 2012
There was a moment on the BBC’s Question Time this week when someone asked Liberal Democrat Party President Tim Farron whether he agrees with any of the Coalition government’s policies. It was a forgivable jibe and actually quite useful, as it gave Tim an opportunity to “differentiate”. I wager that is going to be the buzzword at the LibDem Conference in Brighton this September, as people stake out clearly the differences between Liberal Democrat policy and government policy. Of course, often the two do coincide. Considering how much the LibDems are the junior partner in the Coalition in terms of seats (thanks to our antideluvian voting system), it’s remarkable how many “wins” the party has had in getting through such things as raising the tax threshold and a reasonably positive attitude to the European Union (most of the time!) — often to the fury of backbench Tory MPs, who seem to believe that because they are the bigger party in the Coalition they should get their own way all the time. David Cameron, to his credit, understands the nature of Coalition government better than they do. But much of the public is still a bit baffled. The situation is not helped by the Labour opposition muddying the water by carrying out a full-frontal assault on the LibDems almost from Day 1. But this means that the LibDems need to keep saying over and over again — in the media, in Focuses, and most importantly on the doorstep — what these LibDem policy “wins” are, and moreover what the Party’s policy is and remains. As President, with no Government job, Tim Farron is in a ideal position to lead that effort. And maybe that is why he often gives the impression, on Question Time and elsewhere, that he has been given a Licence to Roam.
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!
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Brian Paddick, Caroline Pidgeon, Chinese Liberal Democrats, Elephant and Castle, GLA, James Palumbo, London Liberal Democrats, Merlene Emerson, Ministry of Sound, Shas Sheehan, Simon Hughes, Tim Farron | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 24th January, 2012
One of the least glamorous and yet necessary tasks of being President of the Liberal Democrats is systematically going round local party meetings and events, though Tim Farron, like his predecessor Ros Scott, does this with seemingly unbounded energy and enthusiasm. Although he is an MP in the North West, we see a lot of him in London, as it is easy to make the short journey from Westminster to one of the region’s local parties. But as he told members of Battersea and Tooting LibDems at a social event in the Wandsworth Museum this evening, he is moreover committed to doing everything possible to boost the current London Mayoral and GLA campaign. Indeed, he has pledged to go out campaigning with London candidates once a fortnight in the run-up to May, over and above his usual party workload. The Wandsworth Museum — which was a public library when I last visited it, to take part in a Euro-election hustings some years back — was a nicely quirky venue to hold this evening’s event, with home-made chilli con carne and baked potatos. But I wonder if Tim noticed that while he was speaking he was standing next to an exhibit of a splendid vintage phamacy in which there were two historic billboards displayed: one for a lecture by Marie Stopes on fulfilling wedlock and another advertising a talk by a now forgotten member of the medical profession about venereal diseases. Tim’s subject was far less dramatic, though it did involve the health of the Liberal Democrats, which he believes is stronger than some recent opnioin polls suggest. These are difficult times, certainly, but the Party has known far worse, recovered and gone on to exceed people’s expectations.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 23rd November, 2011
Liberal Democrats from Richmond, Kingston and Hounslow — plus a number of supportive interlopers from other parts of London, such as myself and the increasingly ubiquitous Mark Pack — took over the Park Hotel in Teddington last night, for a highly successful fundraising event for the South West London GLA constituency campaign, which embraces the three aforementioned boroughs. The event was compered by Munira Wilson, who will be flying the LibDem flag in the constituency next May, and who is well known in the area, not least for having fought the Feltham and Heston parliamentary seat in Hounslow at the 2010 General Election. The first of two guest speakers was party president Tim Farron, who welcomed the fact that the party’s poll ratings had recently gone up from ‘flipping awful to mildly depressing’. As I’ve noted in previous posts, part of his current role is encouraging party activists to hang on in there during difficult times and to keep reminding people of the plus points of Liberal Democrat participation in the Coalition government. That was naturally a line echoed by the other speaker, Ed Davey, MP for Kingston and Surbiton, who seems genuinely enamoured of the various junior ministerial projects he is currently involved with, such as greater paternity rights (and therefore more gender equality) for couples with a young baby, and saving the Post Office network. Three GLA List candidates were present — Caroline Pidgeon, Stephen Knight and Shas Sheehan — and the event raised several thousand pounds for the campaign fund — a consderable proportion of which came from the auction. It’s amazing how many LibDem members in South West London seem to have holiday homes in France or Spain, and even more amazingly, are prepared to auction off weeks in their properties for the cause!
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Caroline Pidgeon, Ed Davey, Feltham and Heston, Hounslow, Kingston, Kingston and Surbiton, Liberal Democrats, Mark Pack, Munira Wilson, Richmond, Shas Sheehan, South West London, Stephen Knight, Teddington, Tim Farron | 1 Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 26th October, 2011
It’s rare to hear a Westminster MP talk enthusiastically about Europe, but this evening Liberal Democrat Party President Tim Farron launched into a spirited defence of the EU at a Haringey local party event in Hornsey. Clearly the adrenalin was still flowing from last night’s Commons debate on a putative EU Referendum, during which Tim had the dubious pleasure of finding himself sitting next to John Redwood, arch-Eurosceptic. Tim confessed he was only five when the last EU Referendum was held, but neither he nor the parliamentary party at large were in any hurry to see another one. As Prime Minister David Cameron had declared, the time was not right, while the eurozone, and interested countries outside it, including Britain, are trying to face up to a very serious debt crisis. Moreover, Tim believes if a Referendum were held in the near future it would likely be lost, with catastrophic consequences for the UK economy if this led to withdrawal. Too large a proportion of the electorate is still feeling sore about the Coalition government’s austerity measures, but even more important much of the Press in Britain has poisoned the debate over Europe. Rupert Murdoch and Co have been violently, vehemently anti-Europe, Tim said; if one considers their particular brand of free market global capitalism it is not hard to understand why. I am not quite so pessimistic about the outcome of any EU Referendum, if the case of EU membership were argued eloquently as it was in 1975. But I agree with the Government that at the moment it would be an unhelpful distraction, when all of Europe — including Britain — needs to be putting its shoulder to the wheel of economic recovery.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 13th March, 2011
The Liberal Democrats’ Spring Conference this year was on Nick Clegg’s home territory of Sheffield, which was partly why there was such tight security – the so-called ring of steel — round the City Hall, to fend off protestors who accuse him of ‘selling out’ to the Conservatives. Actually, there were nowhere near the expected number of demonstrators, even if some were the predictably nasty Trots with their unsubtle chants of ‘Scum! Scum! Scum!’ and even ‘Nazis!’ Others were much more reasonable, including a number of students understandably aggrieved that the LibDem policy against university tuition fees fell by the wayside during the course of the Coalition Agreement negotiations. One small group, bizarrely, were Libyans praising Muammar Gaddafi. Party President Tim Farron, who was omnipresent, fuelling press speculation that he already has his eyes on the leadership, insisted the LibDem policy on this hasn’t changed, but I don’t think the electorate would put much credence in such a pledge second time round. As several speakers in this morning’s excellent debate on party’s principles pointed out, we must avoid such ‘train crashes’ as the tuition fees disaster in the future. The mood was distinctly upbeat, nonetheless, even before Nick Clegg’s speech. Government Ministers and party managers might be unhappy about the conference’s rejection of the government’s planned NHS reforms, but most rank-and-file members were not. Shirley Williams and Evan Harris were amongst those leading the charge on that issue and the outcome certainly makes the statement that the LibDems have retained their distinct identity more credible. My own activities this time were limited to the fringe, outlining some of the work I have been doing with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy in eastern Europe and the Arab world at a meeting organised by LDEG (Liberal Democrat European Group) and speaking briefly from the audience at a LDFP (Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine) discussion on the question ‘Should we speak to Hamas?’ O’ll be filing a piece on the Bankers’ Bonuses emergency motion for the next issue of Liberal Democrat News
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 19th September, 2010
The actor Art Malik compered the Rally at the Liberal Democrat conference in Liverpool last night, introducing with humour and verve the Man in the White Suit, Martin Bell, the political reform campaigner Pam Giddy and a trio of LibDem stars: Jo Swinson, Tim Farron and Nick Clegg. Charles Kennedy had been billed to perform but was reportedly prevented by travel problems, which meant that his last-minute replacement, Tim Farron, had to wing it — rather successfully, with a few spicy political jokes. Nick Clegg also had a good gag about Eric Pickles and a stalker, though I suspected that the short standing ovation he got at the end was more dutiful than heart-felt. There were clearly many in the hall who still feel a little nervous about some aspects of the Coalition government. However, the real theme of the evening was electoral reform reform and why we must all campaign hard for a Yes vote in the AV referendum next May, so from the moment Art Malik set out his passionate belief in reform (and support for the LibDems), the mood was upbeat.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 7th March, 2009
The Liberal Democrats celebrated their ‘Coming of Age’ (in the old time scale) last night at a rally in Harrogate’s magnificent Royal Hall. The evening kicked off with a medley from a splendid brass orchestra from a local school, after which Tim Farron MP compered a sometimes tongue-in-cheek review of the party’s difficult birth and troubled infancy, with a kaleidoscopic slide-show of leaders past and present. A video presentation on why people are Liberal Democrats — opened with me recalling Jo Grimond’s visit to my school and closed by Paddy Ashdown hoping (at least half seriously) to save the world — led on to a glance into the future and of course a rousing speech from Nick Clegg, pale from his latest bout of fatherhood, but striking in his new short, distinctly not Cameroonian, haircut. But Nick’s big moment comes tomorrow morning, when he will send conference attendees back to their constituencies envigorated for the European and county council elections ahead.