Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for the ‘Liberal Democrats’ Category

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.


Posted in Brexit, Liberal Democrats, UK politics, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

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.

Posted in Liberal Democrats, UK politics, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

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.

Posted in Liberal Democrats, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Strong and Cable?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 21st September, 2017

Vince Cable speechLiberal Democrats left sunny Bournemouth this week buoyed by the camaraderie and intellectual stimulation of autumn conference. It was make or break time for new Leader, Sir Vince Cable, who gave us all a rousing send-off with a speech full of meaty political content and a smattering of good jokes. Vince is a serious player; it was he, after all, who warned everyone where finance and the economy were going in the run up to the 2008 recession. And he has had ministerial experience in the Coalition government, notably as Business Secretary. So when he talks about the effects of Brexit, for example, people listen. But the big question is: can having an authoritative leader translate into votes for the party? The LibDems have been stuck around seven per cent in the opinion polls for some time and although the number of LibDem MPs went up from eight to 12 in June, the party’s national vote share actually fell back slightly. When it comes to local elections the picture is a bit more rosy; as Vince himself acknowledges, the rebuilding of LibDem fortunes will, as ever, come from the bottom up. Nonetheless, a lot of the hopes for a Liberal renaissance rest on his shoulders. It was good to hear him at Bournemouth being the champion of Exit from Brexit — a message likely to grow in appeal as the negative consequences of a looming Brexit become ever clearer — but he is no one-trick pony. His speech had plenty of sound messages on a range of issues from funding the NHS to replacing tuition fees with a graduate tax. Given the totally shambolic performance of Theresa May and her UKIPTories recently, the soft Conservative vote must be wobbling, and it hard to see the increasingly left-leaning Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn scooping that up.

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LibDems Vote to Recognise Palestine

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 18th September, 2017

IMG_2811At their autumn conference in Bournemouth yesterday, Liberal Democrats voted overwhelmingly to urge the British government to recognise the State of Palestine. The vote came at the end of a thoughtful and well-informed debate on a motion to mark the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, drafted with input from both Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine (LDFP, which I chair) and Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel (LDFI). Balfour expressed support for the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, providing the civil and religious rights of non-Jewish inhabitants were not compromised. Clearly the second half of that commitment has not been fully implemented, not least in the occupied territories. In my speech, I argued that calling for the recognition of the State of Palestine was timely for three reasons, namely the Balfour centenary, the 50th anniversary of the Occupation (the longest such situation in modern history) and the fact that it is one minute to midnight for finding a way forward to a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Personally, I believe it is up to the people of the region to decide ultimately whether a two-state or a one-state solution is ideal, but in the meantime, recognising Palestine would give Palestinians a degree of equality in a singularly unequal relationship. Moreover, to acknowledge Palestine as a state (as more than 130 members of the United Nations have already done) would help restore some of the dignity that was taken away from Palestinians by the Occupation, along with their land and much of their water. The Conservative government has been backsliding on the issue of Palestine, recently downgrading the status of the Palestinian Ambassador, and it must be pressed hard to change its position.

Posted in Liberal Democrats, Palestine, theatre review, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Online Voting Is Probably the Future

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 28th August, 2015

online votingThis morning I voted for the Liberal Democrats’ London Assembly list candidates electronically, a process that took less than five minutes in toto. That’s partly because I know all but one of the candidates personally and had given the matter some consideration once I knew who was on the shortlist. But the main reason it was so speedy was because the online voting system, which one accessed via a link sent in an email (which was security coded) was totally straightforward, easy to understand and to operate. Although I used to rather enjoy filling in the different coloured ballot papers for internal party elections it was a much more cumbersome process and costly for the party. If next month’s Bournemouth conference approves the recommendation that the LibDems should move to One Man One Vote (OMOV) for all relevant committees, rather than using a much smaller electorate made up of conference reps chosen by their local parties,  as well as for candidate selections. then online voting is going to have to be a must. Otherwise the postage alone would be astronomical. Some provision would need to be made for the minority of members who do not have access to a computer or who are Internet-averse, but I suspect even some current diehards will change their minds when they discover just how quick and simple it is.

government identity verificationSimilarly, the possibility of online voting in mainstream elections, for councils, MPs, etc, should be examined more thoroughly with a view to making this an option; after all, there already is an option for postal voting, rather than having physically to go to the polling station on election day. Some other EU countries — most notably Estonia, which promotes itself as an e-demoracy — have made big advances in this field and our own government has devised ways of verifying people’s online identity, even though we Brits do not have identity cards as such. So basically I do believe that online voting will become the predominant model here in the future.

Posted in elections, Estonia, Internet voting, Liberal Democrats, online voting | 1 Comment »

Can the LibDems Fill the Widening Gap?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 15th August, 2015

Tim Farron 2The divide between Britain’s two major parties appears to be getting wider by the day, as David Cameron’s Conservatives drop all pretence at being One Nation Tories and instead adopt their default position of being the party of business and the rich. Labour, meanwhile, is in love with Jeremy Corbyn, or at least the bulk of its membership and newly signed-up supporters say they are, and the trade unions are therefore salivating at the prospect of acquiring more influence on politics than has been the case for decades. The net result is a yawning centre ground, and the challenge for the Liberal Democrats will be to show that we can fill it, by promoting policies that are radical but realistic, firmly rooted in liberal values which are shared by a sizeable proportion if the UK electorate, championing fairness and equality of opportunity, civil liberties, environmentalism and internationalism. I am not suggesting that is a complete list of priorities but they should be important foundations. With a much reduced contingent in the House of Commons, and the consequent inevitable fall in media interest, the LibDems will have a hard task ahead. Tim Farron, fresh from his well-deserved holiday will have to hit the ground running, as he did by showing a moral lead vis-a-vis the refugees and migrants in Calais. Next month’s Bournemouth conference must be a springboard that will grab the headlines. And local parties really must endeavour to fight every election that comes along, big or small. A golden opportunity has arisen because of Labour’s disarray but it must be seized before it slips away.

Posted in Conservatives, David Cameron, Jeremy Corbyn, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Tim Farron | 1 Comment »

In Memoriam Jeremy Thorpe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 4th December, 2014

Jeremy ThorpeJeremy Thorpe, who has died aged 85 after a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease, was a politician of great charm and brilliance who was brought down by a persistent streak of recklessness that prevented him achieving his full potential. The scion of a family steeped in Conservatism, he dressed like an Edwardian but identified himself as a radical at a time when the Liberal Party — saved from oblivion by the canny and charismatic Jo Grimond — was distinctly unfashionable. I first met Jeremy when I was Secretary of the Oxford University Liberal Club about 1971 and he came to speak at the Oxford Union, as Liberal Leader. He was funny and gracious, a scintillating speaker and at heart a great showman. Which other party leader in those days would have dreamt of conducting an election tour by hovercraft? But he very nearly destroyed the Party he loved by his feasting with panthers (as Oscar Wilde would have put it), though in Jeremy’s case it was not a young Scottish aristocrat who would prove to be his nemesis, but a stable lad and sometime male model, Norman Scott, who became the target of an extraordinary plot by some of Jeremy’s associates, which famously led to the death of Rinka the dog. It should be stressed that in the subsequent trial Thorpe himself was found not guilty of conspiracy to murder, but the case against him could hardly have been more damaging to his political cause. Yet he rashly thought (wrongly) that the people of North Devon might forgive him and re-elect him. Jeremy was bisexual, but too traditional to admit that publicly, and the lies he told to some of his parliamentary colleagues to cover up his true nature made him persona non grata with some in the Liberal Party and then the Liberal Democrats who never forgave him, though others of us remained faithful friends. His second wife, the concert pianist Marion Stein — who predeceased him — was amazingly resolute in her support for him and it was always a pleasure to visit them at the beautiful house in Orme Square that she had received in settlement from her previous husband, the Earl of Harewood. The last time I saw them together was at Jeremy’s 80th birthday celebrations at the National Liberal Club, when they were both in wheelchairs, and one had to get very close to Jeremy to hear what he was saying. But his brain remained razor sharp till the end.

Posted in Jeremy Thorpe, Jo Grimond Liberal Party, Liberal Democrats, Marion Stein, North Devon, Oscar Wilde, Rinka | 5 Comments »