Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Chuka Umunna’

The LibDems’ Anti-Brexit Weekend

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 8th September, 2018

Hampstead LibDems Brexit stallAcross Britain, Liberal Democrats have been out and about campaigning against Brexit this weekend — and the mood everywhere seems to be that people don’t like the way things are going. Theresa May’s Chequers plan is in tatters, yet the arch-Brexiteers among the Tories have failed to come up with an alternative of their own. Labour, meanwhile, is still stuck on the fence, apparently with superglue, but the chorus from Labour members calling for the party to back a People’s Vote when a deal is proposed later this year is now getting so loud that it is hard to imagine that it will not dominate the Labour autumn conference, with prominent moderates such as Chuka Umunna and Ben Bradshaw leading the charge. There is even a growing band of Conservative ex-Ministers now putting their heads above the parapet to call for a referendum too. The Liberal Democrats will go into our own Brighton conference next weekend knowing that apart from a tiny minority, party members are overwhelmingly in favour of an Exit from Brexit, which has indeed become something of Vince Cable’s signature policy. But what I found interesting, helping man a stall on Hampstead High Street this morning, is how passionately many ordinary voters are starting to feel about the matter, including previous Leavers who would now vote Remain. This is quite different from the mood only a couple of months ago, when there was a widespread feeling of “oh, just get on with it!” But as the realities become ever clearer and people understand just how painful disentangling Britain from more than four decades of economic integration with the continent is going to be, there is a new sense of urgency to halt things while it is still possible. Mrs May has of course stated that there will be no second referendum, but she may find if she is not careful that unless she softens her line on that, Parliament will give her such a bloody nose that her rule comes to an abrupt end. Boris Johnson is of course chomping at the bit in the wings, just waiting for Mrs May to be overthrown, but he may instead find himself in the political wilderness if sensible people from all of the parties (except perhaps the DUP) come together to Stop Brexit by campaigning for a People’s Vote with the option to Remain.

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A Summer of Discontent

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 18th July, 2018

The Summer of Our DiscontentWere the likely effects of Brexit not so serious, the shambolic way the Government is handling matters would be laughable. At a weekend Cabinet gathering at Chequers earlier this month, Theresa May put forward her version of a Soft Brexit plan. All the Cabinet supported it at the time, but within days, David Davis and Boris Johnson had both resigned and the latter was extremely rude about the proposed deal, which he said would make Britain a colony of the EU. I’d been saying for months that Mrs May should sack Boris before he had the chance to resign, but in the event, both have been weakened by the way things have happened. In the meantime, several other (junior) Ministers have resigned, as well as other Conservative party luminaries, most of whom one had never heard of. But the debates about related bills in the House of Commons this week have taken the whole Brexit saga down to a new low. Mrs May caved in to the demands of Jacob Rees-Mogg and his euphemistically-named European Research Group and made her Soft Brexit a little harder. A dozen Tory rebels nobly voted to keep the UK within EU medicines regime, but on other issues the Government saw off amendments, with the help of the Labour Brexiteer Gang of Four, Kate Hoey. Frank Field, John  Mann and Grahame Stringer. The Government hoped to prorogue Parliament tomorrow, five days early, to limit inconvenient debate, but dropped that idea when it became clear that the suggestion was dead in the water. The problem is, Mrs May’s Soft Brexit is dead in the water, too; a country can’t effectively be within the Single Market for some things and outside it for others. The EU, rightly, will not compromise on the four freedoms, so Mrs May is just wasting time pursuing pipe dreams. In the meantime, Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn is failing pathetically to stand up to this government nonsense — mainly because he has always been hostile to the EU. And even though a majority of Labour MPs were Remainers (and most probably still are), they are frightened to stick their heads too far above the parapet, with noble exceptions such as Chuka Umunna, David Lammy and Ben Bradshaw. Doubtless the Prime Minister will be hoping that things go quiet over the recess, but I woudn’t count on that. With both the Brexiteers and the anti-Brexiteers angry about the current mess, it is likely to be a long, hot summer of discontent.

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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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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.

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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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Why Britain Needs PR

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 16th December, 2015

imageBritish MPs will today have the chance of voting for a change in the country’s electoral system, from First Past the Post (where the candidate with the most votes in a given constituency wins the seat, irrespective of the percentage he or she gets) to a more proportional system. This debate has come about because the outcome of May’s general election was the most disproportionate ever. The Conservatives obtained an overall majority despite not having a majority of the votes, which is usually the case, but worse still, the SNP was grossly over-represented (winning all but three seats in Scotland) while the LibDems were reduced to a rump of eight seats. UKIP fared worst of all, winning just one seat despite having the third highest vote share. The Greens similarly managed just one. So all those latter parties are naturally keen to see a fairer system.

interestingly, it is the Labour Patty, or at least some key figures in it, such as Chuka Umunna, who have been pushing for a debate on the issue now. That is because they realise that Britain might be saddled with a Conservative government for a very long time otherwise. Of course there are some Labour MPs and activists who have always been in favour of proportional representation (PR), but no Labour government has ever done anything about it when in office, having benefitted from the current system. There was a referendum early in the last parliament about whether to adopt the Australian system of the Alternative Vote (a very inferior alternative, in the eyes of most supporters of PR), which would have made things slightly better had it passed. But Labour failed to campaign strongly alongside the LibDems in favour, while the Tories firmly opposed. The Conservatives will also oppose the motion on moving to PR, arguing that First Past the Post gives us strong government, but that “strong government” is one that does not have the support of a majority of the electorate. Better to move to PR and enjoy a system that works well in many continental countries, where coalition governments reach consensus on issues and the pendulum swing from left to right and back again, as has so often happened in Britain, is far less marked. Under PR, the Labour Party could also divide into a Socialist Party and a Social Democrat Party, which would avoid the self-defeating internal battles we are seeing now. So, all in all, Britain’s democracy would be served better by PR — ideally the Single Transferable Vite system in place in The Republic of Ireland. But the current government will surely disagree.

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