Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘coalition government’

Another Coalition but Which Coalition?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 18th January, 2015

UK political leadersA new UK national opinion poll from YouGov this weekend puts Labour on 32%, the Conservatives on 31%, UKIP on 18%, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens both on 7%, and Others on 5%. Once again neither of the two main parties has managed to muster the support of a third of the electorate, or two-thirds together. Amazing to think back to the 1951 general election, when Labour and the Conservatives got 96.8% of the vote between them. Interestingly, in that election Labour polled 231,000 more votes than the Conservatives, but lost the election. The veteran Mr Churchill was thus put back in office, with a parliamentary majority of 17. That was not the only time that Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system delivered an odd result. And I suspect this May it will do so again, but with the added complication of a fragmented political scene. No-one can predict accurately what the outcome will be, but unless there is a sudden slump in support for the “minor” parties, including UKIP, then no single party can hope to form a majority government and maybe not even a credible minority one either. So another Coalition is the most likely scenario. But a Coalition between whom? I suspect both David Cameron and Nick Clegg privately hope the current one will endure, but that certainly cannot be taken for granted. Labour could well end up the largest party and thus be tasked to try to put a Coalition together. A traffic light arrangement with Labour-LibDems-Greens is one possibility. But could the SNP be the joker in the pack? On a national scale, they only figure under a small proportion of “Others”, but in Scotland the SNP may well end up sending more MPs to Westminister than any other, at the expense of both Labour and the LibDems.

Natalie BennettBecause of the electoral system, however, the headline figures shown in the opinion poll may not even be a rough guide to the number of MPs elected. For once the system might act in the LibDems’ favour, despite the huge drop in their vote share, because of the incumbency factor for many hard-working, respected LibDem MPs. In contrast, both UKIP and the Greens are likely to woefully under-perform in terms of MPs elected, thus making them less significant as potential Coalition partners. Caroline Lucas might hold on to her Brighton seat, despite some unpopular measures implemented by Green-controlled Brighton Council, but I think it is unlikely that Natalie Bennett’s Greens and UKIP will manage to elect more than half a dozen MPs between them. One of the ironies of UKIP’s continued strong showing since last May’s Euro-elections is that the UK has as a result now moved to a Continental-style multi-party situation, in which deals and compromises are becoming the norm. But we do not yet have a Continental-style electoral system by some form of proportional representation for Westminster (national) elections. Given the likelihood of some of the very bizarre and blatantly unfair outcomes that are possible this May for some parties under first-past-the-post I wouldn’t be surprised if the issue of PR suddenly shoots up the political agenda immediately afterwards.

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LibDems Must Stand Firm on Free Expression

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 13th January, 2015

Snoopers CharterIt was inevitable after recent events in Paris that the Conservatives in the UK would try to breathe new life into the Snoopers Charter — specifically seeking the right for the government to read everyone’s emails, in principle on the grounds of national security and the fight against terrorism. Nick Clegg quickly countered that the Liberal Democrats will not stomach that, rightly pointing out the contradiction between David Cameron’s going to Paris to march for free expression while championing curbs on the freedom of expression back home. It is vital that the LibDems hold firm on this. Civil liberties are a keystone issue for the Party, and many of us members and activists were dismayed earlier in this Parliament when it seemed that unsatisfactory compromises were being made (for example on secret courts) which undermined the Partyy’s credibility on such matters. Nick Clegg has effectively prevented Cameron’s extension of Internet scrutiny for the remaining four months of this Parliament, but the LibDems must make civil liberties and freedom of expression core elements of the message the Party will broadcast in May’s election. All the opinion polls suggest that there will be another Coalition of some sort after May 7th., and if the LibDems are part of the next government — whether with the Conservatives or with Labour (whose own record in government on such issues is dire — they must once again curb the excesses of the larger Coalition partner.

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Ten Months to Differentiate

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 13th July, 2014

Clegg CameronI am one of those Liberal Democrats who firmly believes it was the right thing for the party to go into Coalition with the Conservatives in 2010, despite being distinctly centre-left personally. Besides, the LibDem special conference in Birmingham overwhelmingly endorsed the move. The Rose Garden political bromance was a bit too cordial, maybe, but it was an historic occasion that truly broke the mould, unlike the formation of the Liberal-SDP Alliance, which also aspired to do so. But the LibDems have suffered as the junior partner, as our continental Liberal colleagues warned us we would. On the up-side, we now have a whole raft of LibDem MPs with ministerial experience, and there have been some real wins for LibDem policies, alongside the better publicised policy losses. And we need to shout about those wins, in Focus, on social media, on political platforms and on the doorstep. We may be tired of saying “raised tax threshold, pupil premium, triple lock pensions” and so on, but the messages have still not got through to the average voter. At the same time, with the general election only 10 months ago, differentiation now has to be central to our strategy. You can be sure that Tory MPs will be doing it from the other side of the Coalition. All our LibDem politicians need to articulate clearly and simply what the Liberal Democrats stand for, again and again and again between now and next May. Only then will there be a chance that we can regain the trust of those who are by nature LibDem supporters but who have drifted towards other parties over the past four years. We have obvious differences from the Conservatives on a whole range of issues, from the EU to international relations, the environment to civil liberties. We mustn’t allow the experience of Coalition to make us toxic in the public’s eye. We have principles and policies that we can be proud of. So let’s stand up and proclaim them, and not be put off by any squeals of protest from Tory right-wingers, who hate the Coalition anyway.

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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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Brighton Rock and a Hard Place

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 21st September, 2012

Britain’s Liberal Democrats start gathering for their autumn conference in Brighton tomorrow in what could prove to be a far livelier — in both the good and bad senses of that word — gathering than the somewhat pedestrian official agenda suggests. It is hardly good news to go into a conference with the latest opinion poll putting the LibDems on 8%, level-pegging with UKIP, though that is nearly twice what the party achieved in the London Mayoral and GLA elections in May. Of course, much of the media pack will be asking just one question: will the party dump Nick Clegg as leader, as it did Charles Kennedy and Ming Campbell? I can answer that one immediately, to save them the trouble asking: no. I say that not because I think Nick has ‘saved’ himself with his tuition fees apology video (considerably jollier in its sung version. by the way) but rather because this is absolutely not the moment for a leadership challenge. Nick can be proud of the fact that he took the party into government and there have been some (not many) important LibDem wins. What is absolutely not in doubt is that the Conservatives on their own would have been far worse, though that is not a particularly easy message to sell on the doorstep. Being in coalition is not easy, however, as both partners have been discovering. And certainly there is going to be a lot of pressure from activists at Brighton for the LibDems to differentiate ourselves from the Tories. But here the party is caught between a rock and hard place. It can’t undermine the coalition too much by criticising Cameron and other Conservative Ministers harshly, and yet it can’t seem to be propping the Conservatives up (a phraseology now being pushed by the Labour opposition). Well, I will opt for the rock in Brighton, appropriately, by which I mean we have to be proud of what we have achieved but also we must push for a mid-term review which gives more clarity to our different principles and priorities. This is a working partnership, not a political marriage (though right at the beginning, in the Rose Garden at No 10, it did seem a bit like the latter). Perhaps the most urgent task is for LibDems to explain to the British electorate what coalition government is all about and to show how and why we will be fgihting on different issues from those of our current partners in 2015, and even more so in the European elections in 2014.

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Richard Allan Woos Notting Hill

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 17th July, 2012

Richard Allan, Nick Clegg’s predecessor as MP for Sheffield Hallam and since 2010 a member of the House of Lords, was the guest speaker at Kensington and Chelsea Liberal Democrats’ summer garden party in Notting Hill this evening and delivered an astute analysis of the present state of the Party after two years in government. One would not expect anything less from someone who is now Director for Europe for Facebook and who introduced a whole new style of parliamentary campaigning in Sheffield. Most normal people are turned off by conventional politics, he suggested, but could be attracted into joining activities by stressing the social side, not just through expert use of social media but also through innovative techniques. In Sheffield Hallam, for example, he and his team reached out to students by leaving yellow helium balloons outside nightclubs at two-o’clock in the morning, with Liberal Democrat messages attached. Sure enough, students took them with them as they staggered home. Richard shared with us the saying of Dutch D66 colleagues who had referred to going into coalition government as “halving”, i.e. a minority party in a coalition government loses half its seats at the following general election. The good news, according to the Dutch formula, is that during the subsequent period of opposition, the party bounces back into people’s favour. We shall see. Richard was unusual in that he decided after two terms in the House of Commons that he had had enough and wanted to get on with other things, and he has been extremely successful with that. He moved into Kensington from Lambeth last year and could give a useful fillip to the local party, which has itself suprised evrybody — not least the Royal Borough’s Conservatives — in recent years by winning three council seats, in two separate wards.

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Tim Farron’s Licence to Roam

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 17th June, 2012

There was a moment on the BBC’s Question Time this week when someone asked Liberal Democrat Party President Tim Farron whether he agrees with any of the Coalition government’s policies. It was a forgivable jibe and actually quite useful, as it gave Tim an opportunity to “differentiate”. I wager that is going to be the buzzword at the LibDem Conference in Brighton this September, as people stake out clearly the differences between Liberal Democrat policy and government policy. Of course, often the two do coincide. Considering how much the LibDems are the junior partner in the Coalition in terms of seats (thanks to our antideluvian voting system), it’s remarkable how many “wins” the party has had in getting through such things as raising the tax threshold and a reasonably positive attitude to the European Union (most of the time!) — often to the fury of backbench Tory MPs, who seem to believe that because they are the bigger party in the Coalition they should get their own way all the time. David Cameron, to his credit, understands the nature of Coalition government better than they do. But much of the public is still a bit baffled. The situation is not helped by the Labour opposition muddying the water by carrying out a full-frontal assault on the LibDems almost from Day 1. But this means that the LibDems need to keep saying over and over again — in the media, in Focuses, and most importantly on the doorstep — what these LibDem policy “wins” are, and moreover what the Party’s policy is and remains. As President, with no Government job, Tim Farron is in a ideal position to lead that effort. And maybe that is why he often gives the impression, on Question Time and elsewhere, that he has been given a Licence to Roam.

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Being a Junior Partner in a Coalition

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 27th March, 2012

For half a century and more the Liberal Party and its successor, the Liberal Democrats, languished as the high-minded, principled oppositional alternative to both Conseratives and Labour, and I have to say that most of us found that situation pretty comfortable, although we spoke wistfully of one day having the chance of getting into power. But I think we realised that the only way that would happen in the post-modern age was as a junior partner in coalition with one of the two ‘major’ parties, which could well result in a shrinkage in our level of public support (as indeed Chris Rennard long ago warned). We looked at examples such as Germany’s FDP and saw that even on a small share of the vote one could nonetheless wield quite a lot of influence (admittedly under a system of proportional representation in Germany’s case), and even aspire to having a few Cabinet Ministers. I suppose most of us imagined that if that opportunity arose, it would almost certainly be in a Coalition with Labour; indeed, Paddy Ashdown and some of his closest colleagues imagined that could happen with a Blair-led government, before Britain’s warped electoral system gave Tony Blair a humungous majority and he veered away from social democracy to become seriously illiberal and a George W Bush groupie. So it was with some surprise that after the May 2010 election the arithmetic meant that only a Tory-led Coalition in Britain was possible. But did that inevitably mean that the LibDems as the junior partner would be screwed? This was the subject of a fascinating seminar put on at Westminster’s Portcullis House yesterday by the Centre for Reform, moderated by former LibDem Chief Executive Lord (Chris) Rennard. Ben Page, Chief Executive of Ipsos-MORI was somewhat disheartening in his analysis of the way that sacrificing full independence had inevitably led to the LibDems’ sharp decline in the opinion polls. But his pessimism was counter-balanced by the Deputy Leader of the party, Simon Hughes MP, who — despite getting into a bit of a muddle with his statistics — managed to reassure the audience that the LibDems, far from crashing to oblivion are still alive and kicking and actually doing better than at many times in their recent history, as well as winning real victories on policy within the Coalition government. Martin Kettle, the acceptable face of the Guardian’s political columns, was also fairly upbeat; unlike Polly Toynbee he does not feel we have sold our soul to the devil, and moreover he believes that even in the North — from which, like me, he hails — there is a future for the party. In the ensuing discussion I pointed out that being the junior partner in a Coalition government is rather like travelling down a road full of hidden sleeping poliemen. The tuition fees débacle was probably predictable; the NHS Bill less so. But I warned that the Tory rethink on the Heathrow third runway could be a third bump that could shake the Coalition and cause a fall in support for the LibDems unless the party came out firmly against once again. I didn’t get quite the ringing endorsement of this line that I’d hoped for from Simon Hughes (or indeed Lord Rennard), but I think the point was taken.

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