Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Catherine Bearder’

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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Diversity and the Liberal Democrats

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 8th November, 2016

The 2015 general election devastated the ranks of Liberal Democrat MPs, reducing the House of Commons cohort to just eight, straight, white men — cruelly accentuating the lack of diversity in the parliamentary party (though the situation is a little better in the House of Lords, to which individuals are periodically appointed on the party leader’s recommendation). So if Sarah Olney is elected as the new MP for Richmond Park and North Kingston in the by-election on 1 December, the addition of a woman will be an important step in the right direction, but only a step. The issue of a lack of ethnic diversity will be acute as ever. Despite the fact that Britain’s very first BAME MP was a Liberal, the Liberal Democrats have only ever successfully elected one in modern times, in a by-election in Leicester, though he lost his seat at the following general election. Compare that record with those of both the Conservatives and Labour and one sees why the party hierarchy is so embarrassed about the situation. Even in multicultural London, the disproportionately small number of BAME faces at conferences or on local party executives is striking. The Party says it is determined to do something about this, but seems incapable of putting an effective strategy in place. That is a huge challenge for the new Federal Board that will take office in the New Year. Tim Farron did say all the right sort of things at a recent event in London highlighting the Party’s relationship with minority communities. But I totally understand the frustration of many Black and Asian LibDems at the lack of visible progress. Even when an opportunity arises, it is sometimes missed. For example, recently a Shadow Cabinet was appointed by Tim, drawing on talents from both Houses of Parliament as well as including Catherine Bearder MEP and Caroline Pidgeon, the excellent but sole LibDem member of the London Assembly. Some great people in there, but how does it look to the outside world, especially in London? Baroness Shaz Sheehan is the only non white face. Not a single Afro Caribbean in the mix, which looks crazy from a London perspective such as mine. I suppose the Party could say there is no sufficiently senior black LibDem in elected office, but even if that might be true, surely a talented non elected person could have been brought in? People such as Simon Hughes have been saying for years that the Liberal Democrats need to resemble the people they seek to represent. Well, let us start doing something concrete to fix the problem, rather than just talking about it!

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London LibDems’ Autumn Conference

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 5th November, 2016

tim-farron-4The shadow of Brexit hung over the London Liberal Democrats’ autumn conference in Hammersmith today, though the mood was far from downcast. Buoyed by a string of local by-election wins across the UK, as well as a very strong performance in the Witney parliamentary by-election last month, London LibDems are gung-ho for the contest now on in Richmond Park and North Kingston, for which polling day is 1 December. Although the Tory MP Zac Goldsmith brought about this contest as a protest against Heathrow Airport expansion, it is Brexit that most constituents want to talk about. About 70% of local residents voted Remain in the EU Referendum in June, but Zac — who is standing in the by-election as an “Independent”, though the Conservatives are not putting up a candidate against him — is an arch-Brexiteer. If Sarah Olney wins, she will add a much needed female face to the Party’s depleted MP line-up.

catherine-bearder-2As Catherine Bearder MEP, who was one of the speakers at the conference today, stressed, Prime Minister Theresa May’s policy on Brexit is little more than “I want this, or I leave!”, which has gone down like a lead balloon with our continental partners. Already the negative impact of a potential Brexit is being felt, with the fall in the pound and warnings of rising inflation and future labour shortages in key sectors such as the NHS. Both Catherine and party leader Tim Farron, who was the keynote speaker at the conference, referred to the landmark decision by the High Court this week, which ruled that Parliament must have its say before Article 50 is triggered — also condemning the vitriolic abuse leveled at the three judges by some Brexiteers and the rabid right-wing media. Tim has carved out a distinctive position for the LibDems, calling not only for parliamentary scrutiny of the Government’s Brexit plan (when it has one), but also for the proposed deal to be put before the British electorate in a referendum. That is certainly a line supported by most party members in London, including a majority of “newbies”, who have swelled our numbers by nearly a half. During his speech, Tim also made reference to the disgraceful post-EU Referendum attack on the Polish Centra in which today’s conference was held, as well as other xenophobic incidents. The political atmosphere in the UK has soured badly since 23 June, but the LibDems must stand up for decency and the rule of law, as well as holding true to our European credentials. Fortified by that message (and a splendid buffet lunch) most conference attendees then headed off to Richmond Park to campaign, or else did clerical work for the by-election on the spot.

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Liberal Democrats INtogether

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 10th February, 2016

Tim Farron at INtogetherThough the Liberal Democrats had a well-attended in-house launch for the LibDem European Referendum campaign at the party conference in Bournemouth last September, this afternoon a more public-facing event starring party leader Tim Farron, London mayoral candidate Caroline Pidgeon and Catherine Bearder MEP took place in central London at Bounce — a venue whose name the party can only hope has some kinetic effect. Against a backdrop of keen young people brandishing IN diamonds of various hues, Tim declared that the Liberal Democrats have always believed in EU reform, not the status quo. But that does not mean “IN, but”, he clarified. The party will be enthusiastically campaigning for reform with Britain firmly engaged in the EU, unlike half-hearted Labour and the divided Conservatives. Caroline Pidgeon stressed that whereas most of the issues likely to be raised on the doorstep between now and May 5 are likely to be more local issues, such as housing and transport, she is a convinced European who understands the value of London as Europe’s premier city. Catherine Bearder at one moment draped herself in a chiffon Union Flag scarf to make the point that a true patriot realises that it is in Britain’s best interests to be at the heart of Europe. The party’s INtogether campaign will now roll out across the country — and, one hopes, across social media. You can follow it, and indeed join in, via @LDINtogether.

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London LibDems’ EU Referendum Rally

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 17th January, 2016

Europe HouseThough we don’t yet have an official date yet for Britain’s IN/OUT EU Referendum, the hot money is on 23 June — or at least that is what the attendees at yesterday’s London Liberal Democrats’ EU Referendum Rally were told. That assumes that David Cameron will get what he considers a satisfactory response to his four key demands for EU reform from his 27 EU counterparts, either at the European Council on 18 February or possibly at a special Council meeting later that month. Otherwise the timetable might slip and we would be looking at a referendum in the autumn instead. Personally I hope it is in June, with the London, Scottish, Welsh and local elections out of the way but the weather in principle benign, therefore encouraging people to go out to vote.

Iain GillWe already know the Referendum question: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?”, to which the alternative answers are “remain” and “leave”. The big challenge for Liberal Democrats, as the political party most enthusiastically in favour of Britain’s EU membership, is to enthuse the “remain” voters, which will mean appealing to their emotions, not just relying on statistics. That is what UKIP does so effectively on the other side of the argument. There was a galaxy of LibDem stars at the rally at Friends House in London yesterday, including Sir Graham Watson (former Leader of the ALDE Party), Catherine Bearder MEP, Baroness Sarah Ludford, London Mayoral candidate Caroline Pidgeon and the man charged with runing the LibDems’ EU Referendum campaign, Iain Gill. But for me, the most fascinating contribution was from Tom Smithard, the party’s Strategy Research guru, who showed detailed results of polling about the referendum and related issues among LibDem members and voters, as well as among Conservative and Labour voters for whom the LibDems would be a second choice. The headline issue was that essentially the electorate is made up of three roughly equal groups: those who are strongly in favour of the EU and therefore are likely to vote to stay in come what may; those who are strongly against who will do the opposite; and a third group of those who are undecided. The pro-business, cross party Stronger in Europe campaign will be targetting the last of those three groups, which means that the LibDems should focus on the first, ensuring that the “remain” voters actually do vote, including as full a polling day operation as possible, just as we do when an ordinary election is taking place, the difference this time being that literally every vote will count.

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Yes to Europe, Great for Britain!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 21st September, 2015

imageimageTim Farron positioned the Liberal Demcrats firmly at the fore of the campaign for Britain to remain a member of the European Union in a rousing speech to a packed fringe meeting at the Party’s Bournemouth conference today. He described himself as a patriot who loves his neighbours and said that the forthcoming EU referendum was the most important challenge that Liberals in this country face. About a third of the population is resolutely anti-EU and a third is keenly aware of the benefits of EU membership. That means that victory or defeat depends on persuading the other third, who are not sure either way — and getting them out to vote. Nick Hopkinson, Chair of the Liberal Democrat European Group (LDEG), opened the meeting by recalling his own childhood in Canada, at a time when Quebec separatists were effectively forcing anglophones like his family out of the province. Laura Sandys, a former Conservative MP and Chair of the cross-party European Movement, produced a resounding rallying call of “Yes to Europe, Great for Britain!”, while Catherine Bearder wrapped herself in a Union flag shawl to emphasize that staying in the EU is the most patriotic thing Brits can do. While UKIP seeks to take Brutain back to an England of the 1950s, the LibDems are now committed to moving the country forward with Europe, but no-one should under-estimate the challenges of the political battle ahead, with a Tory Prime Minister who seems to be sleep-walking towards the Brexit door and a new leader of the Opposition who is Luke-warm on his support for the EU at best.

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Nick Clegg: The Biography

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 27th May, 2014

Nick Clegg 3It might seem an odd way to wind down from the exhaustion of the European election campaign — and the frustration at the results — but I’ve used the time (when not asleep) to read Chris Bowers’ biography of Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, which I bought in a bargain bookstore a few weeks ago. Although published by Biteback in 2011, much in the book still resonates. I’ve known Nick since he was MEP for the East Midlands, but there was much about his early life that I was unfamiliar with. I am also well aware that his public persona, as caricatured by opponents in the Labour Party particularly, is a travesty of the man himself, who is warm and humorous and often far more effective in one-to-one conversations or small gatherings than on a wider public stage or in front of a television camera. That said, I thought his performance in the LibDems’ European elections broadcast was brilliant. That made it all the more dismaying that the European results were so catastrophic, with only the South East of England’s Catherine Bearder being re-elected. The Party rightly pinned its European colours to the mast, and fought a principled campaign that underlined its internationalism and its refusal to get caught up in the anti-migrant hysteria of UKIP and the tabloid Press. Those within the Party (not to mention those outside) now gunning for Nick because of the three consecutive years of bad local election and now European election results should try to be more objective about the qualities of the man and the way he brought Liberals into government for the first time since the Second World War. I agree with Chris Bowers’ assessment that the Rose Garden launch of the Coalition and Nick’s determination that the Party should be seen to be “owning” the Coalition (i.e. be seen to be fully engaged) dulled the distinctiveness of the Liberal Democrat message and helped Labour portray Clegg as joined to Cameron at the hip. And despite the Party’s best efforts, its real achievements in Government (e.g. raising the tax threshold, the pupil premium, sensible pension reform) have not really got across to the public. As I discovered on the doorstep during the election campaign, the issue of trust is still a problem, because of the tuition fees debacle, though largely unfairly so. Moreover, the Cleggmania just before the 2010 General Election made a fall from political grace almost inevitable, when the new kid on the block suddenly became part of the Establishment. The current new kid, UKIP’s Nigel Farage, is a very different cup of tea, but it will be interesting to see how quickly he is now knocked off his pedestal.

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British Media and the EU

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 7th September, 2013

David AaronovitchCatherine BearderCitizens of other European countries who come to live in England are often perplexed by the hysterically anti-EU tone of much of the tabloid Press. It’s been going on for years and continues unabated, lately supplemented by the propaganda drive for a “Brexit”: leaving the European Union as a result of what proponents hope would be a decisive vote in an In-Out referendum, currently envisaged by Mr Cameron’s Conservatives as taking place in 2017 (on the assumption that they will still be in power). This is not the most helpful atmosphere in which to run up to the 2014 European elections, which will take place in the UK on 22 May, the same day as the London borough council elections and many other local contests. So it was timely of Europe House — headquarters of the European Commission Representation and European Parliament London office — to host an event yesterday on the British Media and the EU. Interestingly, though there is no lack of journalists paid by their newspapers to write negative stories about the EU — not least for the Daily Express and Daily Mail — none of them had been able or willing to take part in the event’s two panels, chaired by David Aaronvitch of The Times. So there was a bias in favour of the shocked and dismayed that was equally evident in the large audience. We heard from members of the French and Dutch Press, as well as the Economist, with more political speeches from Catherine Bearder (LibDem MEP for South East England) and Evan Harris (former LibDem MP, representing Hacked Off). I suggested that some of the anti-EU bile produced by the British tabloids was attributable to xenophobia: the insular Little Englander’s contempt for The Other, “them” rather than “us”, Brussels being the ultimate “them”. A young man from YouGov polling agency made the sensible point that whereas a sizable proportion of the British electorate says it does want a referendum and the Outs currently outpoll the Ins, unless there is some sort of renegotiation/reform, Europe is way down the public’s list of priorities. Jobs, the economy, public services etc are much more of concern, and even if the EU is indeed related to the former, the public does not necessarily make the connection.

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Europe Is Culture, Too

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 24th June, 2009

Commission exhibition 1Last night, after a meeting of the Liberal Democrats’ International Relations Committee at Cowley Street, I walked round to the European Commission office at Westminster — accompanied by the newly-elected MEP for South East England, Catherine Bearder — for the vernissage of an exhibition of portraits and still lifes by the artist Ruth Addinall, a self-taught painter who like so many before her sought inspiration in Paris. As she says in the exhibition’s programme note, ‘I feel very much part of the continuum of European art. Most of my work could be described as a sort of homage to various of my favourite European image-makers, from Piero della Francesca to Bathus.’

Commission exhibition 2The European Commission office holds regular art exhibitions in its ground floor ’12 Star’ gallery, as a reminder to people living in or visiting London that Europe is about more than rules and regulations. The cultural diversity that can be found within the 27 EU member states is astounding in its diversity and richness. I have been to a number of interesting and sometimes innovative exhibitions there. The next one will be a display of photographs and videos by young Swedish artists, entitled Surfacing, on view during the last three weeks of July and marking Sweden’s assumption of the Union’;s six month rotating presidency.

Link: www.europe.org.uk/culture

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Oh We Do Like to Be by the Seaside

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 14th September, 2008

The Liberal Democrats are fortunate in having the first of the British political season’s conferences, as often this means we bask in the last warm days of summer, as indeed is the case here in Bournemouth. There are even some hardy souls swimming off the long sandy beach and last night’s almost full moon glistened off the tranquil water.

This morning, the LibDem Euro-MPs (11 out of an EU-wide ALDE grouping of over 100 MEPs) did an audio-visual presentation, in which I inadvertently figured, having gone to Brussels last month for a sort of ‘practice run’ for a Group Week. The message ALDE Leader Graham Watson put over loud and clear in the conference this morning is than we can and should increase the LibDem representation through next June’s Euro-elections — which means tackling the Euro-scepticism (even Euro-phobia in some Tories’ cases) head on. Which is why candidates including myself who are next on the regional lists behind the sitting MEPs have formed the ‘in it to win it’ group, steered by my South East counterparett Catherine Bearder, to try to galvanise local parties into appropriate action.

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