Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for June 12th, 2007

Not Lions but Pussy-cats

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 12th June, 2007

jam-wi.jpgWhen Tony Blair addressed the Women’s Institute conference at Wembley seven years ago, he felt he had walked into the lion’s den. He was slow-handclapped and a number of audience members walked out, complaining that he spoke for too long and too politically. And that was long before Iraq, remember. At the time, Charles Kennedy commented that Labour had failed to develop a coherent philosophy. Well, tonight I addressed the Shirley WI at an open evening to which members of neighbouring branches were invited, and they couldn’t have been nicer. Of course, I was not there as a politician, but as a writer and broadcaster. And I wasn’t making any political point, merely recounting through personal experience how covering international events — and especially wars — has changed over the past 40 years.

The WI itself has changed, of course, rebranding itself as an organisation that is much more than a production line for home-made damson jam. They have a wide range of activities and address all sorts of social concerns, as well as reaching out to younger age groups. The new initiatives aren’t always as eye-catching as the stripping that was so memorably captured in the film Calendar Girls, but the WI is a force to be reckoned with. It has well over 200,000 members — a figure of which the Liberal Democrats can only dream. But when I ponder on the question: ‘why not the LibDems too?’, I am reminded of Charles Kennedy’s comments on Blair after Wembley. Only my variant of this would be: the Liberal Democrats have failed to develop a coherent philosophy. In modern-speak, this is known as a narrative. I just hope it emerges soon.



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