Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for the ‘UK politics’ Category

When Will Labour Face Truth on Brexit?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 24th May, 2018

Keir StarmerFor many continental Europeans one of the most puzzling things about Britain’s stumbling towards the Brexit door has been the way that the opposition Labour Party has been effectively cheering the government on the way. Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn called for Article 50 to be invoked almost as soon as the EU Referendum result waas announced and he has continued to pursue what he calls a Jobs First Brexit, making it work for the many not the few, whereas all the indicators are that all normal households are going to be worse off. In fact, Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, has said that households are already £900 worse off than forecast and Brexit hasn’t happened yet. There will be a divorce bill of £39billion to pay before trade talks with the EU can start and if the government opts for the “Max Fac” new technology approach to dealing with customs procedures, as favoured by right-wing Tory MPs, that is going to cost British businesses £20billion a year, so the head of the HMRC tells us. So why is Labour still going along with Brexit, instead of denouncing it for the gross act of self-harm that it is?

Baroness HayterI put that question today to the Shadow Brexit Spokesperson n the House of Lords, Baroness Hayter — a highly intelligent and articulate woman — who admitted that it is all a nightmare. But both she and her House of Commons counterpart are Keir Starmer are holding to the line that the British people voted for Brexit, and therefore Labour’s task is to make it less painful. She dismissed the notion of a People’s Vote on the final deal (which in principle is meant to be ready by October, though that seems incresihngly unlikely), saying there was no appetite for it. People just want the government to get on with Brexit (which is, of course, also Prime Minister Theresa May’s mantra). But surely it is the duty of the Opposition to oppose, especially when the Labour Party is meant to defend the interests of the poorest and weakest in society? Perhaos onyl a seismic by-election shock in Lewisham East (unlikely, given the campaign has deliberately been kept to just one month) would wake Labour from its complacency. But meanwhile, the party leadership trots behind the Conservative government as it sleepwalks through the Brexit door towards the unknown.

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House of Lords Lobby Fodder

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 18th May, 2018

Eric PicklesAs widely expected, the Government has announced the appointment of 10 new Conservative peers (subject to approval), as well as one for the DUP. This is despite the fact that the Conservative group in the upper chamber is already larger than any other, and the move is clearly designed to try to avoid more Brexit-related defeats, of which there have been quite a rash recently. If Mrs May hoped that by announcing the appointments on the eve of the Royal Wedding they might pass unseen she must be sorely disappointed by the storm of protest on twitter. Not so much condemnation from some people in the Labour Party, though, as Jeremy Corbyn has been given the sweetener of three peers for his own team. But the media focus is inevitably on the 10 Tories. Though some like Catherine Meyer may on account of their special expertise or experience have a decent claim to the privilege — and it is a privilege, albeit an anchronistic one — most of the others are former government retreads, incuding Sir Eric Pickles and Peter Lilley. Dubtless all ten have been instructed to support the Government loyally on Brexit (and perhaps more). But I can’t help wondering whether some of the current members of the Lords will feel a little peeved about having this lobby fodder casually thrown in, which might mean some more of them may be in a mood to “rebel”. The Upper House has done some sterling work scrutinising and amendings parts of the EU Withdrawal Bill and it is a sad reflection of the state of politics in Britain today that having failed to win the argument in debates in the Lords, Mrs May is indulging in behaviour more characteristic of a century ago.

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Amber to Red for the Tories

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 30th April, 2018

5F9ED72A-789F-44CA-92C7-2238321154A8British Home Secretary (Interior Minister) Amber Rudd has fallen on her sword; her position had indeed become untenable over the weekend with revelations about how much she encouraged the “hostile environment” to “illegal” immigrants and approved of the policy of deportation before appeal, despite having tried to distance herself publicly from it all. The inhuman treatment of the so-called Windrush generation, who had their right to remain in the UK questioned and in some cases refused, was a particularly egregious example of this. Perhaps the final blow to her reputation came with the revelation that the Home Office had refused visas to 100 Indian doctors recruited by the National Health Service (NHS). Under Rudd’s watch, the Home Office has indeed become unfit for purpose. But one could argue that it became so under her predecessor, none other than the now Prime Minister, Theresa May. I can’t help feeling that Mrs May has sacrificed Amber Rudd in the hope of saving her own skin, because frankly it is time for her to acknowledge that old political adage “the buck stops here”. Theresa May was catapulted into the top job when David Cameron resigned after the disastrous outcome of the EU Referendum (which he called largely to try to silence Eurosceptic headbangers on the right of the Conservative Party). But far from proving to be a safe pair of hands, Mrs May has shown herself ready to give ideology precedence over common sense. This shows itself in two, related aspects: immigration and Brexit. The government persists in trying to reach its unrealistic target of getting net immigration down to below 100,000 a year, despite the fact that this is harming not just the NHS but other sectors of the economy too. And despite being a Remainer in the EU Referendum campaign, Mrs May has been pressing ahead with Brexit — again to appease the Tory right — in a most damaging way. The incompetence of the three Brexit Ministers — David Davis, Liam Fox and Boris Johnson — would be comic were this all not so serious. Britain’s international reputation has been trashed, not only among our 27 current EU partners but around the world. Moreover, from being the best performing economy among the OECD nations, the UK has crashed to the bottom. Growth was just 0.1% in the last quarter, with the real prospect of recession looming. And we haven’t even left the EU yet! Theresa May is lucky in that she lacks a credible Opposition in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, but that should not let her off the hook. The amber light of  Rudd’s resignation should turn to a red light for the PM herself.

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UK Should Not Be a Hostile Environment

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 22nd April, 2018

Home Office billboardsIt’s hard to be optimistic about the state of Britain these days, not just because the country’s economic growth rate has sunk from the top of the OECD countries to the bottom as Brexit looms but also because of the tensions now evident in society. The EU Referendum result left the UK deeply divided, and those divisions have got worse, not better, as the months have gone by. Moreover, there has been a surge in xenophobic and racist incidents as an unpleasant minority within the British public has felt emboldened by the Brexit vote to tell foreigners to “go home” or to stop speaking languages other than English. Such actions should be recognised as hate crimes and dealt with accordingly.

May RuddBut what I find even more disturbing is the way that the Conservative government has encouraged such attitudes — cheered on by the more obnoxious elements of the mainstream Press. The latest shocking revelations about the way some members of the so-called Windrush Generation and their children (immigrants who were invited to come to Britain after the Second World War, to help rebuild the country and run essential services) have had their right to remain questioned by the Home Office, leading to some losing their jobs or their homes and being denied free medical care, while others have been put in detention centres or been deported, after living here for half a century. It is now clear that much of the blame for this rests on the shoulders of Theresa May, currently Prime Minister but previously Home Secretary. It was under her watch that the infamous vans went round telling “illegal” immigrants to go home, before they were withdrawn after a public outcry. And it is both Mrs May and the current Home Secretary Amber Rudd who have pursued a policy of promoting a “hostile environment” to people who allegedly should not be here.

Even some Labour Home Secretaries, such as the jovial Alan Johnson, used that terrible phrase sometimes. And it is hardly surprising that it has been embraced by those who dislike the multicultural reality of much of Britain today. But it is not only people of colour who are feeling the impact. Even EU citizens have been the brunt of attacks and nasty comments. No wonder some have left and that many others (some married to UK partners) are worried about their future. Mrs May and her ghastly government have failed to tackle this problem head on. Indeed, both by their words and their actions, they have encouraged it. That is why on 3 May those who live in an area holding elections use their vote to send a clear message to 10 Downing Street: this is not the Britain we believe in.

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Last Chance for EU Citizens?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 17th April, 2018

EU citizens register to voteToday, Tuesday 17 April, is the last chance for people to register to vote in the local elections on 3 May, if they are not already on the electoral roll. This is particularly important for citizens of EU countries other than the UK, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta, as it is unlikely that they will retain their voting rights after Brexit, so this may be the last opportunity they have to make their voice heard. The franchise in all UK elections is currently given to all legally resident Commonwealth and Irish citizens, but other EU nationals don’t have the right to vote in the national parliament elections. However, everyone will lose their vote for the European elections, which are due in June next year, as the UK will no longer have the right to send MEPs to Brussels/Strasbourg. In London, which has all-out elections in all 32 boroughs, there are a large number of EU citizens; in some wards, one or two thousand, which means that their participation in next month’s elections could swing the result. That’s why a number of community NGOs, as well as several political parties, are urging them to register and to vote, to send a strong anti-Brexit message to 10 Downing Street (and to Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, for that matter). A strong performance by anti-Brexit parties, including the Liberal Democrats and the Greens, will help boost the campaign for a People’s Vote on the final deal agreed between the UK government and the EU. And as public dissatisfaction over looming Brexit realities (as opposed to Brexit fantasies) grows, there is even an outside chance we could pull back from the brink.

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The People’s Vote Rally

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 15th April, 2018

13270BDE-5C74-40BF-8ED6-AF751E5A5521Over a thousand people gathered at the Electric Ballroom in Camden Town this afternoon to call for a People’s Vote on the Brexit deal that Theresa May and her Brexiteer Ministers are already having problems negotiating. Actor Sir Patrick Stewart — who had been on the Marr Show earlier in the day, championing the Exit from Brexit cause — gave a stirring keynote address, after which a cross-party panel of MPs took up the baton: Caroline Lucas (Green), Layla Moran (LibDem), Chuka Umunna (Labour) and Anna Soubry (Conservative). There was a tiny demonstration of pro-Brexit supporters outside the venue, but they seemed overawed by the long queue of people waiting to get in, eagerly picking up stickers and flags to wave in the hall. The central argument of the campaign (which has consistently LibDem policy, incidentally) is that the British electorate deserves to have the chance to say yay or nay to whatever is on offer for Britain’s future relationship with our current 27 EU partners. It is clear that many of the Leave campaigns promises cannot be delivered. Indeed, as Anna Soubry stressed, no deal that will be on offer can be as good as what we enjoy as members of the EU. The rally followed nationwide street stalls and demonstrations around the country yesterday, and for those of us who believe that Brexit is an act of collective madness from which people should be given the opportunity to retreat, it is encouraging how many more people are getting board the cross-party movement for a People’s Vote — including many Leave voters who have since realised they were conned.

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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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Brexit Is Bad for Us: Official

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 30th January, 2018

May Juncker 1BuzzFeed News has done the British public a great service by publishing details of a leaked government assessment about the likely impact of Brexit on the British economy. The headline message is that in all three scenarios modelled by civil servants almost all sectors of the British economy and most of the UK regions will take a significant hit. In the case of “no deal” with the other 27 EU member states (as some Conservative right-wingers advocate) the analysts believe economic growth would be reduced by eight per cent over the next 15 years — this at a time when the Eurozone is enjoying a strong recovery. Even if Theresa May succeeds in getting a free trade agreement with the EU, as the Prime Minister hopes, the hit to growth is expected to be five per cent, according to the leaked document. The “least worst” scenario, which would involve the UK staying in the European Economic Area (like Iceland and Norway) so that it can enjoy free access to the single market, would still mean a loss of growth of two per cent. But because freedom of movement of persons — as well as goods, service and capital –is part-and parcel of EEA membership, that is the option least likely to be accepted by both the Tory government and Labour’s Euroscpetic leadership. Not surprisingly, groups campaigning for the UK to remain in the EU, including the Liberal Democrats, have seized on BuzzFeed’s story as proof of what they have been arguing all along: that Brexit is damaging for Britain and should be abandoned (perhaps after a referendum). The timing of the BuzzFeed leak is significant, as the House of Lords is currently engaged in two days of concentrated debate on the so-called EU Withdrawal Bill. A sizable cohort of peers is anti-Brexit and their ranks may well be swelled by others alarmed at the details in the leaked report. It is worth underlining the fact that the report was commissioned from civil servants by the Government and its findings are conclusive. So we can with justification say: “Brexit is bad for us: official”!

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