Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for the ‘Liberal Democrats’ Category

LibDems and the Creative Industries

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 16th September, 2018

Nik PowellThe LibDem Creative Network held an excellent event on the fringes of the Brighton autumn party conference last night, in an upstairs room at the Bar Broadway in Kemptown. There were two great speeches by producer Nik Powell, former Director of the National Film and Television School, and drummer Bob Henrit, who used to play with The Kinks. They both underlined what a disaster Brexit will be for the sector if it means a return to the bad old days of intrusive customs searches, carnets for instruments and other red tape. The creative industries contribute well over £70billion each year to the UK economy and the sector is growing faster than most others. But all that could be brought to a shuddering stop, before going into reverse, if there isn’t the free flow of actors, musicians and other artists between Britain and the Continent. No wonder there was such a sea of blue-and-yellow EU flags and 12-Star berets at the Last night of the Proms. To undermine the sector really would kill the goose that has been laying the golden eggs as well as enriching our cultural lives.

Bob KinksI reprised the theme in a speech I gave in the Britain and the World debate in the main auditorium at conference this afternoon, calling for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to be actively involved in Britain’s “soft power” through cultural diplomacy, and to report regularly to Parliament about the international aspects of our creative industries. It’s not just institutions such as the British Council and the BBC World Service that are important, but the hundreds of thousands of individual creators who make an enormous contribution. I recalled the wonderful spirit that there had been at the time of the London Olympics in 2012, while lamenting how that has evaporated in the two years since the EU Referendum. But as the clamour for a People’s Vote on whatever “deal” the Government comes up with grows, we must be hopeful that a cliff edge can be avoided. Remaining in the Single Market and Customs Union would certainly facilitate matters, but if we are going to do that, then we might as well stay in the EU, full stop.

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Why Lewisham East Matters

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 28th May, 2018

Lewisham EastParliamentary by-elections are the cup-cakes of political nerds and I have followed them closely since my early teens. I cut my political teeth as an 18-year-old sub-agent in the Birmingham Ladywood by-election in 1969 (which Wallace Lawler won for the then Liberal Party) and I have lost count of all the by-election campaigns I’ve helped in since. So naturally I’ve been heading down to Lewisham East ever since a by-election was called there, following the resignation of Labour MP Heidi Alexander to take up a job as a Deputy Mayor for London. Based on the 2017 figures one might imagine that Labour will walk it in the by-election, though the Liberal Democrats came a very strong second in 2010. But this is no normal by-election. As Leaving the EU Day (March 2019) looms, this is being seen as a Brexit litmus test, with the LibDems rallying Remainers behind the talented local candidate, Lucy Salek, in what was an overwhelmingly Remain constituency in the 2016 EU Referendum. More specifically, it is an opportunity for voters in Lewisham East to pass their verdict on Labour’s policy on Brexit. Despite repeated opinion polls showing that a majority of Labour members believe leaving the EU is a mistake, Jeremy Corbyn stubbornly persists in underwriting the Conservative government’s Brexit. Ideally there will be a People’s Vote on the final deal Mrs May and her team reach with Brussels, but in the meantime the Lewisham East by-election is the best opportunity to send a message to Mr Corbyn, as well as to the Prime Minister. That’s why so many of us, including party leader, Vince Cable, have been heading there often. Labour called the by-election quickly, with polling on 14 June; the Brent East by-election 15 years ago showed them that having a long campaign allows the LibDems to build up steam. They lost Brent East and if enough of a momentum builds up over the next fortnight in Lewisham East, they could get a shock there too.

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The LibDems are Right to be Happy

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 4th May, 2018

Kingston LibDemsWhen it comes to results, local elections in England can be frustrating as it often takes a long time for the details to come through and the early returns from super-keen places like Sunderland are not necessarily representative. But now that all but one Council has declared, the pattern is clear. UKIP has had an utterly disastrous election, losing all but three seats (-123). This undoubtedly helped the Conservatives, who picked up many former UKIP seats, but they still finished down (-31). Labour are up 59, but that is well short of what they were hoping for. Indeed, in London — which many Momentum supporters hoped was still infected by Corbynmania — Labour got nowhere near winning any of its key targets of Barnet, Wandsworth and Westminster. Indeed, in Barnet, as a result of the fallout of the allegations of anti-Semitism against some Labour activists, Labour fell back badly.  However, the real news of the election is the LibDem bounce-back: the party had a net gain of 75 seats, and gained control of four councils, including spectacular victories in Richmond and Kingston in south-west London. Of course, the LibDem successes have not been uniform, but significantly the party also advanced in northern cities such as Hull, Sheffield and Manchester, whereas the Tories are nowhere to be seen there. The overall LibDem vote nationwide was around 16 per cent, well below its level in pre-Coalition days, but still substantially better than the national opinion polls. In Richmond, interestingly, they entered into a sort of pact with the Greens, which meant that four Greens have been able to savour the delighted of ousting the Conservatives, though not every part of the country would be prepared to go along with such arrangements.

Tower Hamlets town hallSo, what of the one Council that has still to declare? No prizes for guessing which, as, yes, it is my home borough of Tower Hamlets, which is near as London politics comes to a basket case. The previous (ex-Labour) Independent Mayor was forbidden to stand again for public office because of various alleged malpratcices, but several of his former pals did. In fact, four of the Mayoral candidates had previously been Labour councillors, including the Tory! It was shocking but typical to hear on election day itself that some presiding officers were turning EU27 voters away from polling stations, not letting them cast their ballot, on the grounds of ineligibility, whereas in fact they are barred only from voting in general elections — an elementary bit of electoral law that even the most junior official should have known. But having lived in Tower Hamlets for 30 years, nothing surprises me anymore when it comes to elections, from harassment of voters to illicit acquisition of postal votes. I’m waiting for the day when it is reported that the total number of votes cast exceeds the size of the electorate. In the meantime, we await this year’s council results, including in my home ward of Mile End. But I shan’t stay up, as on past experience it might be tomorrow — or next week — before we know.

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Remembering George Dunk

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 27th April, 2018

7492AFE3-A1C8-478F-B94B-952DD4262BA5It was perhaps fitting that the news of George Dunk’s death came through while we European Liberal Democrats (ALDE, previously ELDR) were gathering for tomorrow’s Council meeting in Sofia, Bulgaria, as George devoted so much of his time and energy to causes European. A former Chair of the Liberal Democrat European Group (LDEG), he was hugely supportive of my efforts to get into the European Parliament  (I twice almost made it!) but he was also a genuine internationalist. South Africa was a country of particular concern and he had a wonderfully close marriage with his South African spouse, Sandra, who worked for years in party HQ, and who died far too young. George also mucked in with the Southwark Liberal Democrats, not only in supporting Simon Hughes, election after election, but also in his home Rotherhithe ward. He was the ultimate backroom boy, working hard to get other people elected, while staying out of the limelight himself. He must have loved the fact that if you google his name the only photos that come up are of lithe black American basketball players. Inevitably, because George was so physically huge (he would laugh at my choice of that term), he had mobility problems, especially in recent years, when he walked with a stick, though that did not prevent him attending many ALDE Councils all over Europe. Many of us worried about the strain that all that extra weight must be putting on his heart, let alone his knees. And there is a certain irony in the fact that he reportedly lost 30kg while in hospital during his recent incapacitation. That still did not save him. But George was one of those people who was very philosophical about life. He did so much for the Party, as well as for the European project, that one cannot grieve his passing but rather should celebrate what he achieved and the steadfastness of his belief. Yes, he was larger than life. And yes, sometimes he put people’s backs up with his forthright views about how things should be done. But he now deserves the most almighty of wakes. He won’t rest in peace, however, because he will be urging those angels to get off their backsides and fly off to deliver a few thousand leaflets.

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Winning Here

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 10th April, 2018

0BC563C7-00F1-4254-A995-6EFB48B87F6DFor more than two decades, Chris Rennard was the Liberal Democrats’ campaign guru, masterminding successive by-election wins and astounding many media professionals by being able to predict results with uncanny accuracy (sometimes winning himself some useful cash with judiciously-placed bets at the same time). But as his memoir Winning Here (Biteback, £25) makes clear, he was something of a political anorak when he was barely out of short pants (and an orphan), cutting his teeth in the not always friendly environments of Liverpool and Leicester. His talents were soon recognised at the HQ in London, where he graduated from being a one-man campaign band to be the head of a team of 20. Ah, those were the days. Under his stewardship (later with the starring role of Chief Executive) he nurtured the growth of the Party until it won 62 seats in the 2005 general election, post-Iraq War, with Charles Kennedy as party leader. Willie Rennie’s by-election win soon after was the cherry on the top, taking the LibDems to an unrivalled 63 in the House of Coomons (and a hefty contingent in the House of Lords, too, including Chris Rennard himself).  But the wheels we’re beginning to come off the LibDem bandwagon, with Charles’s imminent resignation because of unchecked alcoholism, Simon Hughes’s sexual orientation confusion and Mark Oaten’s walk on the wild side. The book ends there, on a note of triumph, but with storm clouds gathering. But I am sure I cannot be alone in being a little perturbed by the fact that the cover says this is Memoirs Volume 1. Given the rumpus over Chris’s alleged inappropriate behaviour (unproven, a subsequent inquiry decided), maybe it would be wiser to call it a day here. As it is, for a longstanding campaigner and serial candidate such as myself, this book is a treasure trove of memories and anecdotes. I know/knew virtually everyone mentioned, and campaigned with many of them. Interestingly, the European elections get only scant coverage, confirming my suspicion that Chris (and some others in HQ) saw them as a somewhat irritating sideshow. The parliamentary by-elections were the things that kept him motivated — often working grotesquely long hours, detrimental to his personal health — and we can gloriously relive them all here and remember when for Liberal Democrats, the good times really were good.

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Full LibDem Slate for Tower Hamlets

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 5th April, 2018

THLDs 1Tower Hamlets Liberal Democrats are running a full slate of borough council candidates for the election on 3rd May, for the first time since 2010 (when I was the parliamentary candidate for the constituency of Poplar & Limehouse). Elaine Bagshaw is our Mayoral candidate. This time I’m standing for Council in my home ward of Mile End, along with Richard Macmillan and Tabitha Potts. As in much of the country, the local party was hit badly by the fallout from the 2010-2015 Coalition government with the Conservatives (despite the fact that several positive LibDem policies were introduced during that time, including the pupil premium, a substantial rise in the personal tax allowance and same sex marriage). However, in common with most other London borough local parties, Tower Hamlets LibDems have experienced a great surge in members (now well over 700) and keen young activists. Many of these have been motivated by the shock of the 2016 EU Referendum result (for which London as a whole did not vote Leave, Tower Hamlets markedly so) and the linked fact that under the leadership of Vince Cable the LibDems have firmly established themselves as the party of ExitFromBrexit, in sharp contrast to Theresa May’s Conservatives and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour. That is a message that is going down well on the doorstep, not least among the thousands of (non-UK) EU citizens — many of them married to or living with Brits — who are alarmed by the threats to their situation post March 2019. Of course, EU citizens can vote in local elections (but not in national ones, unless they are from Ireland, Cyprus or Malta) and their participation in this May’s vote could have a decisive effect on the outcome. Both for them, and for UK and Commonwealth citizens resident in Britain who are not yet on the electoral register, do please register by the deadline of 17 April. It’s a quick and easy process to do online through the government website:

https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIodGxhKKj2gIVir_tCh3SDAO1EAAYASAAEgLmV_D_BwE

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Exit from Brexit

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 11th February, 2018

Catherine Bearder 3Yesterday Catherine Bearder MEP hosted a rally in Richmond-upon-Thames as part of the LibDems’ campaign to Exit from Brexit. As the Party’s London spokesperson on Brexit, I gave a short speech of welcome, underlining the importance of two dates this year. First is May 3rd., when there will be all-out elections for councillors in all 32 London boroughs. Though obviously local issues will be at the fore, these elections can also serve as a verdict on the Conservative government’s chaotic performance so far in relation to Brexit. Moreover, for citizens of the other 27 EU member states who are resident in the UK, this is a chance (maybe their last) to make their voice heard through the ballot box. So local parties need to be encouraging those who are not yet on the electoral register to get on, and to make clear to EU voters that the Liberal Democrats are the only major party in England campaigning for an Exit from Brexit. The second important date is October, by which time, in principle, the UK and EU will have mapped out their proposed new trading relationship, and a public vote on the details of that deal would be timely. So we need to persuade the public as well as Parliament over the next six months or so that such a vote is desirable, so they can pass their verdict on “Is this really what you want?”

Sarah Olney Catherine Bearder Costanza de TomaFittingly at a time when Britain is celebrating the centenary of the extension of the franchise to women (over 30, initially), the rest of yesterday’s event was entirely in the hands of women. Catherine Bearder gave a speech outlining many of the practical problems that will occur if Britain does leave the Customs Union, as the Government maintains. Many things will be more expensive, choice will be reduced and there will inevitably be delays, threatening the viability of many businesses. Sarah Olney, LibDem MP for Richmond Park and North Kingston until last June’s general election, gave an update on the progress (or otherwise) in Parliament regarding the EU Withdrawal Bill and other related legislation. The House of Lords is currently proving its worth by critically analysing what is before it. But there is a growing feeling that the timetable the Government has set for Brexit is impossibly short. The third principal speaker yesterday was Costanza de Toma of the 3 Million group, which lobbies for the rights of EU citizens here (and liaises with representatives of UK citizens on the continent and in the Republic of Ireland, who will also be impacted by Brexit, if it goes ahead). Much of her testimony highlighted the gross injustices and absurdity of the way the situation is developing, as well as the frequent incompetence of the Home Office. The 3 million are encouraging EU citizens to vote in local elections in May, so they could make a real difference.

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Grilling Vince Cable

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 29th January, 2018

Vince Cable David SelvesSir Vince Cable, Leader of the Liberal Democrats, this lunchtime faced a grilling at the London Grill Club, a group of journalists, broadcasters and businessmen who meet on a regular basis to put probing questions to prominent figures in British life. Other recent invitees have included Alex Salmond, Nigel Farage and Chuka Umunna. Vince dismissed a perhaps predictable early question about his age, arguing that age is just a number and that one is as old as one feels, before moving on to the more solid matter of the state of Britain’s democracy. This he described as being in serious trouble — dysfunctional, in a word. Theresa May appears to be increasingly weakened and there are renewed rumours of a plot among Tory MPs and even Cabinet Ministers to oust her, but Vince thought it unlikely that there would be a general election this year, reminding us of the five-year fixed term under the Parliament Act, unless there is a sufficient majority of MPs voting for it in the House of Commons — something the Conservatives would be unlikely to support. Besides, the government is totally bound up with Brexit, even it seems unable to agree what sort of Brexit it wants. Vince refuted a charge from one person present that it was denying democracy to call for a “second referendum” on Brexit, arguing that this would in fact be a new referendum on the terms of the deal — assuming the government is able to put one together with Brussels — and that that was definitely democratic, as the electorate would decide, not MPs (as some have suggested would be a possible way of stopping Brexit). He had harsh words about Jeremy Corbyn for being frozen in a 1970s mindset of Socialism in One Country, according to which the EU is dismissed as a capitalist club that inhibits nationalisation and certain types of state intervention. But he was also highly critical of the way David Cameron and George Osborne handled the EU Referendum Campaign; Project Fear just did not resonate and actually backfired. Vince defended his own record in the Coalition Government of 2010-2015, saying he had got several good things through and stopped some bad things from happening. But he felt the British public had not really been ready for coalition politics when the situation arose, being too tightly wedded to tribal politics.

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The Limehouse Declaration Dinner

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 24th January, 2018

THLDs Limehouse DinnerLast night a lively crowd of Tower Hamlets Liberal Democrats and friends gathered at The Narrow in Limehouse for a dinner to celebrate the Limehouse Declaration, which was really the launching pad for the short-lived SDP (Social Democratic Party). Roy Jenkins, David Owen, Bill Rodgers and Shirley Williams were the “Gang of Four” who led the breakaway from Labour, caused mainly because of the Labour Party’s drift to the left under Michael Foot’s leadership, its espousal of unilateral nuclear disarmament and a policy of withdrawing from the European Union. The Declaration was issued to the media from David Owen’s house further along Narrow Street from the gastropub where we gathered. Lord Owen was not present at our dinner (he opposed merger between the SDP and the Liberal Party to form the Liberal Democrats and now sits as a Crosssbech — i.e. Independent — peer, though rarely attends debates). But the other David, Lord Steel, was a keynote speaker at our dinner and was keen to point out that despite the rather cruel caricature of him on the popular TV programme, Spitting Image, tiny and in David Owen’s top pocket, the two men got on well together most of the time — especially if Dr Owen’s wife, Deborah, was present. Lord Steel drew inevitable comparisons between the state of the Labour Party today under Jeremy Corbyn, underwriting the Conservatives’ Brexit, to the situation 37 years ago. But it was the other guest speaker, Baroness (Sally) Hamwee who focussed her remarks on the future. Brexit is dominating parliamentary business at present and with only two days scheduled for the next Lord’s Debate on the European Union Withdrawal Bill, peers will have to be concise, though many are highly qualified to deconstruct the whole thing in great detail — far more qualified than most of Theresa May’s Cabinet, indeed. As Sally was talking I was reminded that in the European Parliament, MEPs are limited to one minute in Plenary speeches, which is a good recipe for conciseness — a bit like a tweet, as I said to her, not that she uses twitter herself. Like many local parties, Tower Hamlets Borough Liberal Democrats has benefitted from a great surge in membership since the EU Referendum and with nearly 30,000 citizens of the other EU member states resident in the borough, will be particularly reaching out to them in the run-up to May’s London local elections.

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The London Liberal Democrats Conference

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 29th October, 2017

Ed Davey sockThough the Party has been bumping along for too long at seven per cent in the national opinion polls, the Liberal Democrats’ membership has grown remarkably. There are now more than 20,000 LibDem members in London — making it the most successful LibDem regional party — so maybe it was not so surprising that yesterday’s London autumn conference was the best-attended ever. A very high proportion of those attendees were “newbies”; a woman from Brent who sat next to me had defected from the Conservatives just last week! The venue was fresh: the beautiful new University of West London complex in Ealing, where staff really looked after us well — including the food. But of course it was the food for thought that was the important thing, and we were treated to fine speeches by the capital’s three London MPs, Tom Brake, Ed Davey and Vince Cable. Ed Davey captured everyone’s attention by taking off one of his socks (to make an environmental point, apparently) while Tom Brake, as the party’s Brexit spokesman, gave a rather dispiriting account of the dog’s breakfast that is the Conservatives’ Brexit. A high percentage of new LibDem members joined the Party in their anger or frustration over Brexit and inevitably fighting for an Exit from Brexit will remain a major focus for LibDem campaigning for the next year and probably well beyond. But as Vince Cable made clear in a thoughtful speech that ended the formal business, this is not a one-issue Party. He spoke about the economy, but also health and education, and demonstrated the great quality that distinguishes him from both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn: wisdom. It was a great relief that the voters of Twickenham returned him to parliament with a majority of nearly 10,000 in June, following two years in the political wilderness. He noted that he was the first London MP to lead the Liberal Democrats since William Gladstone’s period as MP for Greenwich (1868-1880), and so maybe it’s not surprising that London LibDems like me tend to think of him as “our Vince” and are rallying behind him to bring about the Party’s national revival.

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