Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for the ‘UK politics’ Category

The Truly Supreme Court

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 25th September, 2019

Baroness-HaleThe UK’s Supreme Court may only be a decade old but it represents centuries of judicial independence. Yesterday, it delivered an historic decision when it declared unanimously that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s advice to the Queen which led to the prorogation of Parliament was “unlawful, void and of no effect”. The five week closure, effectively preventing MPs from debating Brexit until mid-October — only two weeks before Mr Johnson wishes to take the country out of the EU — was therefore deemed illicit. The Speaker, John Bercow, grinning like a Cheshire cat on College Green, was swift to announce that the House of Commons would therefore reconvene at 1130 this morning and the Prime Minister had to cut short his visit to New York where he was speaking at the United Nations General Assembly. What happens now, as with so much regarding the Brexit chaos, is anyone’s guess. In normal circumstances one would have expected the Prime Minister to resign, but these are not circumstances and Boris Johnson is not a normal Prime Minister. He is likely to try to hang on and the Labour Opposition is reluctant to call for a vote of no confidence as there is no guarantee it would be won. However, the Government is in principle bound to ask for an extension to Article 50 because of a move by MPs before the prorogation and Mr Johnson might be loathe yo try to circumvent that illegally despite his bluster. Meanwhile, the President of the Supreme Court, Lady Hale, delivering the Court’s verdict while dressed in black with a large silver spider brooch on her chest, has become on overnight heroine to Remainers and a demon to Hard Brexiteers. But the important thing is that the Rule of Law has been defended and the principle upheld that no-one is above it, not even Boris.

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When Things Fall Apart

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 8th September, 2019

Boris Johnson Emperor's New ClothesBoris Johnson has been Prime Minister of the United Kingdom for less than two months, but already the wheels are coming off his government’s carriage. He swept many Cabinet Ministers from their posts, replacing most of them with Brexiteer hardliners, and when some of those ousted had the temerity to vocalise their objection to a threatened “No Deal” Brexit on 31 October, he ordered the Conservative whip withdrawn from them. Actually, reports suggest that it is chief adviser Dominic Cummings — unelected and unaccountable — who has been calling the shots in 10 Downing Street since Boris Johnson moved in. Cummings master-minded the Vote Leave campaign in 2016 and has become Johnson’s eminence grise. The purged include two former Chancellors (Finance Ministers) and the grandson of wartime premier Winston Churchill. He, Nicholas Soames, along with several others, has said he will not stand at the next general election, but others have indicated that they will stay on and fight, as Independents or One Nation Conservatives or whatever. Meanwhile, several MPs — from both the Conservatives and Labour — have defected to the centre-left Liberal Democrats, attracted by the party’s unequivocal anti-Brexit stance.

BRITAIN-EU-POLITICS-BREXIT Pro-EU demonstrations have taken place up and down the country on an almost daily basis, though yesterday in London about 200 pro-Brexit protesters were also out in Whitehall, clashing with police and chanting that they love Boris Johnson. This does not bode well for public security in the near future. I have long believed that civil disobedience (from left and right) is a real possibility if the current malaise continues. Interestingly, the pound sterling has risen as Boris Johnson’s woes have increased, but he himself looks rattled; he is known by his intimates to have a short fuse to his temper. Denied the chance of calling a snap general election, thanks to a combination of the Fixed Term Parliament Act which the Liberal Democrats insisted on in the 2010-2015 Coalition government and the solidarity of the opposition parties (and some Tory rebels) in not agreeing to an election before No Deal is legally off the table, Johnson is now in office but not in power. Amber Rudd is the latest Minister to resign not only from her job but also the Conservative whip. In desperation Boris Johnson may look for a lifeline to Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, asking for an electoral pact, but the Brexit Party currently has no MPs (despite its significant number of MEPs) and such a pact would likely drive more Conservatives away from their party. Things have fallen apart so much and so quickly that Boris Johnson is increasingly looking like an Emperor with no clothes [see brilliant cartoon above by the inimitable Peter Brookes]. No wonder rumours swirl that he could be forced to resign. But the Brexit millstone will not go away, whoever is Prime Minister, probably until the matter is put to the British electorate once more for a final decision one way or the other.

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Stop the Coup!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 1st September, 2019

Stop the Coup 2Up and down Britain marches and rallies have been taking place to oppose Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s move to prorogue (i.e. suspend) Parliament by about five weeks from the second week of September, thus leaving precious little time for opponents of a No Deal Brexit to scupper his plans to take the United Kingdom out of the EU on 31 October. Former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith has branded the protesters as a “Corbyn hate mob”, as the government’s rhetoric against those who believe Britain is better and safer within the EU becomes ever more extreme. Rather as on the anti-Brexit marches that have taken place over the past three years, the self-styled “Stop the Coup” protests have mainly been populated by the anxious educated middle classes and the young, orderly and cheerful, despite their anger at what is going on. Many are not members of any political party and only a minority are Corbynistas (enthusiastic supporters of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn). These demonstrations have been nothing like the sometimes violent anti-Poll Tax riots of the Thatcher years. The police on duty, far from clashing with protesters, were often smiling and petting the numerous dogs. But there is an important difference between the current protests and the earlier anti-Brexit marches. The latter were big, one-off events, usually in the capital, whereas the new demos are all over the country — indeed, even in some foreign cities where there is a British migrant population or just holiday-makers determined the make their voices heard. Lots more are planned today and as next week could be crunch-time in Parliament for blocking No Deal or setting in motion a process to prolong Article 50 (the notice of Britain’s EU withdrawal). Meanwhile, Boris Johnson and his non-elected eminence grise, Dominic Cummings, have warned rebel Conservative MPs — including a significant number of former Cabinet Ministers — that they will not be allowed to stand as Conservatives at the next general election (which could be occur this autumn) if they oppose what the government is doing. Bravely, some, like David Gauke, former Justice Minister, have come out saying they will do what their conscience tells them is best for the country and not be cowed into silence.

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A Constitutional Outrage

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 28th August, 2019

Boris Johnson 7Queen Elizabeth this afternoon acceded to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s request that Parliament should  be prorogued for about five weeks starting in the first half of September. The Prime Minister argued that this is necessary so that a new session of Parliament can begin following a Queen’s Speech in mid-October, but critics — including many within the governing Conservative Party — believe that the real reason is to limit the time MPs will have to challenge Mr Johnson’s plan for a No Deal exit from the European Union on 31 October (assuming in the meantime he is unable to produce a new Deal with the EU like a rabbit out of a hat). The House of Commons Speaker, John Bercow, has denounced the government’s move as a “constitutional outrage”, a phrase echoed by Opposition parliamentarians, including the Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn. I suspect the Queen was none too pleased either, but the terms of the unwritten British constitution are such that the monarch is effectively forced to act on the advice of the Prime Minister. However, the ructions are starting to be felt up and down the country. The Leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth Davidson, is reportedly on the verge of resigning and several senior former Ministers, including the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, have protested loudly. Half a million people signed a petition against the proroguing of Parliament within a matter of hours and thousands descended on Westminster this evening in a spontaneous demonstration against what many are calling “the coup”. Other gatherings are taking places in different parts of the country and social media are fizzing. Boris Johnson may think he has been extremely clever, but this could all lead to his having the shortest term of office of any British Prime Minister, or the break up of the United Kingdom, or both.

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Brexit Is Now a Religious Cult

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 9th August, 2019

Brexit Deal No DealWhen the British electorate voted in an advisory referendum three years ago about whether they would prefer to remain in the European Union or leave, the Conservative government foolishly declared that it would implement the “decision”. In the event, the result was very close (approximately 52:48) and although no mature democracy had ever proceeded with such a drastic constitutional change on a slim simple majority, the Government then began the complex divorce proceedings from our 27 European partners, with the opposition Labour Party nodding approvingly from the sidelines. Theresa May, who had taken over as Prime Minister following David Cameron’s resignation and flight from frontline politics, oversaw the negotiation of a withdrawal agreement (designed to precede detailed plans for a future relationship between the UK and the EU), but that was then rejected by Parliament — three times. Mrs May subsequently also fell on her sword and Boris Johnson — who since childhood has aimed to be “World King” — took over, proclaiming that he will lead the country out of the EU on 31 October, “do or die”, deal or No Deal. Meanwhile, the pound sterling has tanked and the economy is heading for recession, yet warnings about the probably dire consequences of a No Deal have fallen on deaf ears.

Dominic Cummings 1In this era of post-Truth and alternative facts Hard Brexiteers just don’t want to listen to anything that does not chime with their own fantastic vision of a post-European Britain as a land of milk and honey, unicorns and fewer foreigners. And significant numbers of them are becoming increasingly strident in their antagonism towards people who don’t agree. Remainers are often denounced as traitors and in the most extreme cases, some supporters of the EU (including MPs) have received death threats. In the meantime, a significant part of the mainstream media has become evangelical in its championing of Brexit. Indeed, the whole Brexit phenomenon has taken on a quasi-religious tone. Fundamentalist, even. I am not saying everyone who voted Leave or who still/now believes Brexit is the right course of action is a fundamentalist, but a hard core are and they seem to have the upper hand. They are prepared to sacrifice not only other people’s well-being in their dogmatic propagation of their faith but also many aspects of our British democracy. Installing Dominic Cummings in a key position in 10 Downing Street was a deeply undemocratic and retrograde move and similarly Boris Johnson’s veiled threats of proroguing Parliament or otherwise bypassing MPs’ control as October 31 looms is deeply sinister. Boris Johnson has surrounded himself with a Cabinet of Hard Brexiteers who increasingly resemble a cult. Far from uniting the country as the Prime Minister brazenly claims he will do, he is leading it along a dangerous and divisive path. The fundamentalists now argue that No Deal is the logical outcome of the 2016 referendum, but that possibility absolutely was not on the ballot paper, which is why a new public vote is needed to see what people really want/ No wonder most of the outside world is aghast.

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Boris Bounces but LibDem Trounces

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 2nd August, 2019

Brecon by-electionIn the 10 days or so since Boris Johnson became Prime Minister, the Conservatives have risen in the opinion polls. This is almost entirely because some traditional Tory voters who had defected to the Brexit Party have drifted back because of Johnson’s Brexit pledge — though Jeremy Corbyn’s terminal uselessness as Leader of the Labour Opposition has also played a part. Nonetheless, yesterday the Liberal Democrats were able to seize the parliamentary seat of Brecon and Radnorshire in a by-election, with the Welsh LibDem Leader, Jane Dodds, achieving a majority of over 1,000. Inevitably some Conservatives are now wondering whether it was wise to readopt Chris Davies as their candidate in the by-election, as he had been the subject of a successful recall petition  because of dodgy expense returns. But the real problem for Boris Johnson is that his technical parliamentary majority (even with DUP support) is now down to just one. And several pro-Remain Conservative MPs who are horrified by the prospect of a No Deal Brexit on 31 October, as the Prime Minister has threatened, are poised to defect or else maybe even to bring the government down. Today the psephological guru, Sir John Curtice, was predicting that the LibDems could win as many as 50 seats if there were a snap general election this autumn or next spring, which would bring the party back to the sort of level it was at under Charles Kennedy and Nick Clegg. A heady prospect for new Leader, Jo Swinson. It will be interesting to watch the national opinion polls following the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election. Those of us with long enough political memories will recall that on several occasions in the past by-election triumphs led to a period of resurgence for the LibDems (and previously, the Liberals). So whereas Boris may indeed be enjoying a bounce in the polls, the Liberal Democrats could end up bouncing higher, especially if the Remain Alliance that worked so well in Brecon is maintained.

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It’s Jo!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 22nd July, 2019

JF Jo Swinson Ed DaveyThe result of the Liberal Democrats leadership election was announced this afternoon, with Jo Swinson notching up a clear win over Sir Ed Davey. That is no reflection on Ed’s talents and experience, nor indeed on his selection campaign, which was robust, engaging and at times masterful. But clearly many of the 72% of LibDem members who voted in the selection (a pretty impressive turnout) felt that as a relatively young woman who has already proved her mettle as Deputy Leader Jo has the qualities and the image that are needed to take the party forward in these excitingly volatile times. That was certainly my logic in voting for her (the first time I have actually backed a winning candidate in a Liberal/Liberal Democrat leadership contest, from the days of John Pardoe onward!) She will be refreshingly different from either Jeremy Corbyn or Boris Johnson, if, as expected, Johnson cruises to victory in the Conservative leadership contest tomorrow. Moreover, she will be able to slap down Boris’s casual, careless sexism, racism and other unpleasant traits that he tries to pass off as jokes. That sort of apologia might work over toasting crumpets in one’s study at Eton but it won’t wash on the floor of the House of Commons if he becomes Prime Minister. I say “if”, because we can expect more resignations by current government ministers in the wake of Sir Alan Duncan’s today. And some Tory MPs might even cross the floor and join the LibDems, destroying the Government’s wafer-thin majority in a flash. Several Cabinet Ministers, most notably the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, have made clear that they would be ready to pull the rug from under Boris rather than allow him to take Britain over the cliff edge of a No Deal Brexit on 31 October. And that is before the Conservatives lose the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election on 1 August, as now seems almost inevitable. So, Jo Swinson is taking over the LibDems at an extraordinary moment, able to build on the healthy legacy of Sir Vince Cable, to deploy her foreign policy experience (all the more important at a time of crisis in the Persian Gulf) and to rally a cross-party legion of sensible politician and voters, most of whom are not only pro-EU but anti-Boris.

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Mark Field: Conduct Unbecoming

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 21st June, 2019

Mark Field Mansion HouseThe Chancellor of the Exchequer’s annual speech to the City of London at the Mansion House last night was interrupted by Climate Emergency protesters. But that demonstration was eclipsed by the extraordinary behaviour of the local MP — and Minister of State at the Foreign Office — Mark Field, who rose from his seat to grab a young woman protestor in a long red dress, slamming her against a pillar and then  frogmarching her out of the Egyptian Hall with his hand round her neck. Other guests at the black tie dinner sat rooted in their places as if they could not quite believe what was happening and when a clip of the incident was shown shortly afterwards on BBC’s Newsnight, presenter Kirsty Wark was visibly shaken. Little surprise, perhaps, that overnight there were calls for Mr Field to resign; this morning he has been suspended as a Minister, pending an inquiry.

What makes the affair all the more remarkable is that in his ministerial role, Mark Field has defended the right of demonstrators in Hong Kong and Myanmar and other places in his Asian ministerial bailiwick to protest peacefully and he has criticised the high-handed tactics of some countries’ security forces. Yet his own behaviour was shockingly aggressive against a woman who posed no physical threat to anyone. This comes at a time when violence and intimidation have become more common in the political arena in Britain. At times there have been ugly scenes outside the Houses of Parliament, when MPs have been jostled or threatened and rhetoric has got ever more extreme in the wake of the 2016 EU Referendum. Last Sunday marked the third anniversary of he assassination of Jo Cox MP, who had worked so hard to bring harmony where there was discord. It is essential that this trend towards intolerance and aggression is reversed if Britain’s democracy is to avoid being permanently tainted. And that means no conduct unbecoming by MPs as well.

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No, Not Boris!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 14th June, 2019

Boris Johnson scowlThe first round of the Conservative Party’s leadership contest saw the welcome departure of Esther McVey, among others, but less heartening was the very strong performance by Boris Johnson, who came well out in front. That does not necessarily mean he will win in the end — there is a significant number of Tory MPs who fall into the “anyone but Boris” camp — but he is clearly now the firm favourite. Most of our European partners will be scratching their heads in disbelief, seeing this as proof that Brexit Britain’s disease is not only chronic but terminal. Boris has declared a willingness to press the self-destruct button of crashing out of the EU on 31 October without a deal, even though the economic effect of that is likely to be dire. Of course, when push comes to shove, he might decide not to go for the nuclear option. Consistency is not exactly his strongest characteristic. Bluff, bluster and self-promotion are more his house style. He is arguing that winning two terms as Mayor of London proves he can reach parts of the electorate other Conservative politicians cannot, which may be true up to a point but rather overlooks the fact that his record as Mayor was not brilliant. Remember the tens of millions wasted on the Garden Bridge that never happened, the white elephant of the cross-Thames cable car and the water cannon bought from Germany but never used before being flogged off cheap? His tenure as Foreign Secretary was equally uninspiring, with gaffes galore. There were literally celebrations in the department when he left. As Prime Minister, he would probably be as much of an international liability as Donald Trump, whom he increasingly resembles. Perhaps he even sees the Donald as a role model. But that is absolutely not what Britain need at this juncture. He is the worst of a singularly awful range of leadership contenders, the least bad being Rory Stewart. All of them are bent on pushing through Brexit, but a Boris Brexit would be likely to be the worst of the lot.

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Westminster Shows Its True Colours

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 30th May, 2019

Westminster aerial viewThere has been some very interesting number-crunching going on since the results of the European  elections in Britain were announced late on Sunday night. And one of the most intriguing outcomes relates to the Cities of London and Westminster (CLW), that quintessentially establishment constituency that embraces many of the great institutions of state, Parliament, Buckingham Palace and the Square Mile. It’s actually the first place I lived when I came to London after university, sharing a flat in Pimlico and campaigning for the then Liberal candidate for CLW, Trevor Underwood. It has always been Conservative ever since it was created, but Westminster is also a bastion of Remainers. This was reflected starkly by the votes as tabulated by Chris Hanretty, Professor of Politics at Royal Holloway, University of London. He has done admirable work breaking down the results in every constituency in the country, so here is his tally for CLW:

Liberal Democrats  10537

Brexit Party               4149

Labour                        3894

Conservative             3144

Green                          3126

ChangeUK                  1942

Others                        1301

As British general elections are held under first-past-the-post, that would be an easy win for the LibDems. I have to declare an interest, as I am the LibDem PPC for CLW, but as a keen European I am particularly thrilled to know that the area understands the importance of Britain’s membership of the EU. Had many (non-UK) EU citizens not been turned away from polling stations last Thursday thanks to an administrative cock-up,  I suspect the LibDem vote would have been even higher. But how gratifying that a national opinion poll published this evening by YouGuv for the Times is saying that the LibDems are now are just on top nationally (on 24%). That is an amazing turnaround and a lot of that is down to the fact that the party has a clear message on the biggest issue of the day> Stop Brexit!

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