Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for the ‘UK politics’ 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.

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

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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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 »

Cities of London and Westminster

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 17th January, 2018

City of LondonTheresa May is hanging onto power with all the tenacity of a terrier refusing to let anyone take its bone away. But there is always a possibility that the Conservative Government — only in office because of an arrangement in the House of Commons with 10 Ulster Protestants from the Democratic Unionist Party — could fall some time this year, as the complexities of Brexit become clearer. If so, the Liberal Democrats are well-prepared, with prospective parliamentary candidates in place in most seats. In my case, I have been selected for the Cities of London and Westminster, which includes the City, London’s prime business and banking area, as well as the southern half of Westminster borough, including the Houses of Parliament and much of the West End.

Houses of ParliamentIt’s a good fit, as although I live just over the eastern boundary in Tower Hamlets, I spend much of my working week in the area. It’s also a bit of a homecoming, as the constituency was the one in which I was able to vote for the first time, in February 1974, when I lived in Pimlico. I had just started working at Reuters News Agency, so unsurprisingly was drafted to help with the media relations for the then PPC, Trevor Underwood. A highlight was going canvassing in Buckingham Palace — not the Queen, of course, as she cannot vote, but a number of her domestic staff, some of whom were very sympathetic. This time, as prospective candidate, I’ll be focussing on the financial and business communities in particular, as they are naturally concerned about the possible effects of Brexit. That also fits in well with my ongoing role as the Liberal Democrats’ Brexit spokesperson for London. Otherwise, I’ll be pitching in to help the Westminster local party get its first Councillors elected this May. It’s certainly about time!

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Truth in Politics

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 14th January, 2018

post-Truth politicsMany people are put off politics because they don’t trust what politicians say. Alas, that situation has got worse over the past year or so, with the election of Donald Trump to the White House and the chaotic Brexit discourse in the UK. Of course, with Trump one can never be sure whether he is deliberately lying or simply does not know the facts. What is certain, though, is that in this new era of post-Truth, if you don’t like the facts just make up your own, and trumpet them as if they are valid. In Britain, Nigel Farage and the arch-Brexiteers are masters of that black art, proclaiming “alternative facts” such as Turkey being about to join the EU and there being 29 million Romanians and Bulgarians just waiting to flood into the country. The Daily Express newspaper is a daily catalogue of lies and distortion, but the Daily Mail, the Sun and even the Daily Telegraph are often as bad. Even the Government twists the truth. This week Mrs May was boasting that the government had got rid of unfair credit card charges, whereas in fact this was as a result of EU action. The Conservatives regularly claim credit for things that have proved popular (such as the raised tax threshold and same-sex marriage) even though these were Liberal Democrat initiatives. Now the Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has got in on the act. This morning, on Peston on Sunday, he repeated the false claim that in order to be in the European Single Market one has to be a member of the EU, even though he has been told Norway and Switzerland, for example, are evidence to the contrary. I used to have a lot of respect for Corbyn, having worked with him on human rights issues relating to the Palestinians and the Kurds. But he has squandered that respect by becoming a cheerleader for Mrs May’s Hard Brexit, despite the pro-EU  leabings of a majority of Labour Party members. Moreover, he has joined in the delivery of lies and half-truths to try to destroy Britain’s European vocation.

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Arise, Sir Nick

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 26th December, 2017

D34327C6-5366-405B-A62B-E81EDCC1B26CThe news of Nick Clegg’s knighthood in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List has been so widely leaked that I think we can safely assume that it is true. Not surprisingly, there have been some sqwarks of protest from people on the Left of the Labour Party, who still haven’t forgiven him for taking the Liberal Democrat’s into Coalition with the Conservatives in 2010 — or “propping up the Tories”, as they prefer to put it. But let’s look at his record. As I sometimes recommend to my students, when they are writing essays, we shall start with the counter-arguments. In my view, Nick Clegg made two, serious mistakes (neither of which will come as a surprise to him, or indeed to most LibDems). First, it was unwise to endorse the National Union of Students’ campaign to freeze student fees, including urging all LibDem parliamentary candidates to sign up for it, as it clearly was going to be difficult to persuade any Coalition partner to agree to that at a time when the country was financially squeezed. Not surprisingly, the issue blew up like a hand grenade in his face, when the Conservatives insisted fees must rise instead.The damage to the voters’ trust in the LibDems was massive. But the second mistake was in many ways equally damaging, namely the enthusiasm with which he bounced into the Rose Garden at Number 10 Downing Street alongside David Cameron, as if they were the best of mates, almost brothers. There needed to be a clear distance between the Coalition partners, as usually happens on the Continent. Subsequently, the LibDems got blamed for some uniquely Tory policies, ranging from austerity measures to the iniquitous “bedroom tax”, but Nick Clegg’s detractors usually ignore the fact that he and other LibDem Ministers during the 2010-2015 government got through a whole raft of positive, progressive changes, despite their numerical weakness, including the pupil premium, free school meals fo the youngest kids, equal marriage, the triple-lock on pensions and a range of environmental measures. And by guaranteeing a stable government for five years, the Coalition helped Britain weather the economic storm. Of course, one could list more issues, on both sides of the argument, but on balance I believe Nick Clegg did serve his country well in government and even if I am sceptical of “honours”, I believe he is as worthy as most recipients to get one. He is badly missed from the House of Commons during these tumultuous Brexit times, and his ousting in the general election earlier this year was a tragedy, not least because the voters of Sheffield Hallam now appear to be represented by a total (Labour) noodle.

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Why John Bercow Is a Hero

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 19th December, 2017

449177D3-C066-4CA9-943B-07239321330CThe Speaker of Britain’s House of Commons, John Bercow, has come in for a lot of flack over the years, mainly from his fellow Conservatives. But he has proved himself to be a hero in the way that he maintains debating standards in the chamber and is unafraid to stand up to bullies. We saw that brilliantly this week when he defended MPs who have received death threats and other abuse because of their opposition to Brexit. Speaker Bercow not only stressed that these MPs were doing their duty by speaking up for what they believe in but also took a swipe at newspapers such as the Sun, the Daily Mail and the Daily Express and even the Daily Telegraph for publishing headlines and articles that have accused critics of Brexit of being traitors and “Enemies of the People”. It’s worth pointing out that few Conservative politicians dare take on the right-wing rags head-on out of fear of becoming targets themselves. Theresa May is just the latest in a line of British Prime Ministers who have kowtowed to Rupert Murdoch and Paul Dacre. But refusing to stand up to bullies — and that is what these men are — only encourages them. Though he knows he will be the subject of yet more unflattering stories and epithets, John Bercow has not been afraid to do so and deserves praise for it. It’s just a pity that most of the Conservative Cabinet are more spineless.

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

Full House for LibDems in Local By-Elections

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 1st December, 2017

58F7EB73-4A3F-47E1-82B6-1F8623D05E1BYesterday’s four local council by-elections all brought astounding wins for the Liberal Democrats. There was one very strong hold and three spectacular gains from the Conservatives, Labour and UKIP, in a couple of cases in seats where the party had not fielded a candidate last time. In every case, the LibDems scored more than 50% of the vote. Of course, this is mainly a tribute to the hard work of local teams and strong, credible  candidates, but there is no denying the fact that the Party is alone among the largest English parties in opposing Brexit. Yes, all four by-elections were in the south of the country, and Brexit may not necessarily have been at the forefront of all voters’ minds. But the victories were so spectacular that one cannot ignore the significance of the Brexit effect, with Theresa May’s government stumbling from one disaster and embarrassment to the next — with the Labour Party leadership’s support, despite the noble efforts of MPs such as Ben Bradshaw, David Lammy and Chuka Umunna. The tide is turning in British politics, as people realise that the land beyond the rainbow promised by the Breiteers was pure fantasy. Let’s see what by-elections in other parts of the country produce over the next few weeks and months, but for me th message is clear: Theresa and Jeremy: are you listening?

 

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