Most of the Liberal Democrats’ big beasts in the House of Commons were swept away in May’s nightmare general election, but one exception was Norman Lamb, MP for North Norfolk and former Minister of State for Care and Support. It was largely through his determination as a Minister in the 2010-2015 Coalition government that mental health moved into more of a position of parity with physical health in the British government’s priorities and perceptions. So that was inevitably one of the major topics for discussion when he came to speak to Lewisham Liberal Democrats at a dinner in Blackheath last night. However, the thrust of most of his remarks was forward-looking, not backward-looking, in particular highlighting the size of the mountain that the LibDems have to climb in order to become a political force with clout once again. There is a fine cohort of more than 100 LibDem peers in the House of Lords which are doing sterling work in trying to hold the Conservatives to account. But in the House of Commons, there are only eight LibDem MPs left, making them not even the third largest party and therefore depriving them of some automatic rights to speak in debates. The media are mainly ignoring the Party and therefore an arresting new narrative, based on Liberal principles, is needed to grab people’s attention. Norman spoke fondly of the legacy of the passionate radical Jo Grimond, who in the 1960s helped the then Liberal Party punch above its weight thanks to his principles and rhetoric — an observation that resonated with me as I was rallied to the Liberal cause by Jo Grimond personally when he came to speak to my school in the run-up to the March 1966 general election. We have to find both the issues and the passion, to hone a distinctive message, Norman said, suggesting that one topic that might attract younger voters would be reform of Britain’s antiquated drug laws. I also believe that the LibDem MPs should be prepared to take a stand against David Cameron’s call for more direct military engagement in Syria unless United Nations involvement and diplomatic activity aimed at a political settlement are to the fore.
Posts Tagged ‘David Cameron’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 25th November, 2015
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 22nd November, 2015
David Cameron and other British government Ministers have been busy demonstrating the warmth of their relationship with Saudi Arabia in recent months which begs the question: why? Of course, the Desert Kingdom uses a significant part of its oil wealth to purchase arms and other products and services from Britain, but in which ways do the two countries’ values coincide? Certainly both are sworn enemies of self-styled Islamic State (ISIS), yet individual Saudis have been funding that nefarious group. Moreover it is not difficult to see how the twisted ideology of ISIS has roots in the Wahhabi version of fundamentalist Islam, which Saudi Arabia has been aggressively exporting throughout the Islamic world, as well as among Muslim communities elsewhere. This creed is the very antithesis of the sort of tolerant multiculturalism that is needed in an increasingly globalised world, condemning as false believers not only non-Muslims but also Shia and other Muslims who do not adhere to Wahhabism’s narrow sectarianism. Yemen is an overwhelmingly Muslim country but it is being battered by Saudi Arabia with huge cost to both people and the country’s rich cultural heritage in an ongoing war that has received little criticism in the West.
However, the thing that really alarms me is the way that the UK’s Conservative government seems blind to the appalling human rights abuses that continue in the Kingdom. Executions this year are running at an obscenely high level, one of the latest to be condemned to death being the Palestinian poet and artist Asraf Fayadh, on the medieval charge of apostasy. Crucifixion is still practised in extreme cases as well as barbaric punishments that should have no place in the 21st century. The blogger Raif Badawi is still liable to be lashed every Friday just for writing about liberalism. The great victory at the end of World War II was the acknowledgment in 1948 that human rights are universal. All UN member states have signed up to that, including Saudi Arabia. It is time for Britain and other countries around the world to put pressure on the Saudis to live up to that commitment.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 18th November, 2015
In the wake of last weekend’s appalling terrorist attacks in Paris the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, last night stated his determination to get tougher with ISIS, including the possibility of getting parliamentary support for air strikes against ISIS positions in Syria. The UK already takes part in anti-ISIS military action in Iraq, at the request of the government in Baghdad, but so far has not joined the Americans, French and most recently the Russians in taking the fight to Syria. Indeed, when the prospect of air strikes in Syria was raised in August 2013, the House of Commons voted against. Would the result be any different this time, given the heightened outrage over the Paris attacks? Quite possibly. However, I believe that Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat leader, was right last night to express reservations following Mr Cameron’s statement to the House on ISIS. Bombs are rarely the answer to conflict situations, usually just making matter worse.
Moreover, Britain has not been invited into Syria by the (ghastly) government in Damascus; indeed, Mr Cameron has made quite clear that he wants the Assad regime removed from power. But there are at least two other important considerations to be thought through carefully before rushing into military action. The first is that Britain is meant to be a champion of the rule of law as well as being a pillar of the United Nations system. So the first uncomfortable question is: where is the UN authority for all this? There have been talks in Vienna involving a wide range of countries that in principle are aiming at a political settlement to the Syria crisis and although they have not as yet progressed very these talks should, I believe, be the top priority. The second consideration is more controversial, namely that if Britain joins the bombing campaign against ISIS in Syria then it will almost certainly become a higher priority target for ISIS-inspired terrorist attacks. Doubtless Mr Cameron would say that that is a risk one takes in a war situation, but that it should not deflect us from the goal of wiping out the ISIS threat. That of course assumes that ISIS can be bombed out of existence, which I find difficult to believe, not least because each attack on the self-styled Islamic State acts a rallying call to radicalised young Islamist extremists.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 14th November, 2015
Given the drubbing that the party received at the General Election in May — losing all but one MP, Tom Brake, in London — London Liberal Democrats were in amazingly high spirits at their AGM at the University of West London today. But then LibDems are the perennial Minions of British politics; knock one over and (s)he immediately bounces back up. One reason for the good spirit was undoubtedly the large number of new members that have joined the party over the past six months, of whom there were a goodly number present at the one-day conference. But the main reason was the relished challenge of the London Mayoral and Greater London Assembly elections in six months’ time. Current Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon, who is number 1 on the LibDem top-up list for the Assembly is the party’s mayoral candidate and has had good media coverage for her work on the Assembly, not least in the field of transport. She gave a short but rousing rallying speech, and the Number 2 on the list, Emily Davey, spoke on housing, which is her speciality and is rightly being promoted as the top issue for concern in the capital. Number 3 is Merlene Emerson and it would be wonderful if she were elected too; the LibDems have had as many as 5 Assembly members in the past, and as an ethnic Chinese, Merlene would add some much needed diversity to the ranks of LibDem elected politicians.
I spoke about the EU Referendum, which David Cameron has said will happen some time before the end of 2017, but which the Westminster village believes could come as early as June or July next year. I had stayed up until the early hours of this morning following the news of the horrific terrorist attack in Paris. In my speech I mentioned how pleased I was that Donald Tusk, President of the European Council (and former Polish Prime Minister) had in his message to French President Francois Hollande not only expressed solidarity with the French people but also declared that the attack was an assault on Europe and European values. How often does David Cameron talk of European values, I asked rhetorically. While obviously working closely with the Stronger in Europe campaign, the LibDems must be leaders in campaigning for Britain to remain in the EU — as Tim Farron showed he was willing to be, in a skype link from the Welsh Liberal Democrat conference in Swansea. We need to be talking about Europe on the doorstep and putting it in our literature during the GLA campaign. More than anywhere in this country, London benefits from our EU membership, whatever the oafish Boris Johnson may say to the country, and it is essential that we do not allow a Brexit by default.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Boris Johnson, Caroline Pidgeon, David Cameron, Donald Tuysk, Emily Davey, EU Referendum, Francois Hollande, GLA, London Liberal Democrats, Tim Farron | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 27th September, 2015
Spending a gloriously warm, sunny late summer afternoon indoors in a lecture theatre is maybe not everyone’s idea of fun, but those people who signed up for the New Europeans’ debate on A New Deal for a New Europe but didn’t come this afternoon really missed a treat. Three major political groups from the European Parliament — the Socialists (PES), the Liberals (ALDE) and the European People’s Party (EPP, from which David Cameron, alas, withdrew the Conservatives) — were represented by the current President of the EPP group in the parliament, former Prime Minister of Bulgaria, Sergei Stanishev, the President of the ALDE Party (and former group leader) Sir Graham Watson, and Dirk Hazelll, Chairman of the UK Chapter of the EPP. There was a remarkable degree of agreement between the three, perhaps partly because all believe fervently that Britain ought to stay in the EU, both for the sake of Britain and for the sake of the EU. Graham Watson feared that in the current mood in the UK the referendum vote (on some still unspecified date in 2016 or 2017) could go the wrong way. That is why the “remain” campaign needs to fight hard. Sergei Stanishev (who was en route to the Labour Party conference in Brighton) spoke of the need for a truly European response to the great challenges the Union currently faces, including the refugee and migrant “crisis”.
Despite being a former Chairman of London Conservatives, Dirk Hazell lambasted David Cameron for his failure of leadership and the folly of the ambivalent Tory attitude towards Europe. Graham interestingly stated he thought that Britain ought to be part of Schengen, which got some murmurs of support from the predominantly young audience, and he argued that maybe Britain should have joined the eurozone when it had the chance, under Tony Blair. The whole history of the subsequent 15 or so years might have been different. Of course, there is not much to be gained (except as an academic exercise) in considering might-have-beens, and in principle the meeting was about the way forward. The eurozone is emerging from its own crisis, though one could be forgiven for not knowing so from reading the British press, but there needs to radical reform of the EU as a whole to make it fit for purpose. The big question for the UK is whether David Cameron can frame positive rather than negative demands for reform, and bring other member states onside through negotiation, rather than scaring them away with impossible demands.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 23rd September, 2015
When Tim Farron was elected Leader of the Liberal Democrats earlier this year there were many, both inside and outside the party, who wondered whether he would be able to cut the mustard. From his period as President we knew he was a brilliant speaker, and that he was the perfect warm-up man for rallies, including federal conference. But would he have the gravitas of his predecessors, given that he had never held any higher public office than being the (extremely effective) MP for Westmoreland and Lonsdale? That question was swirling around in the hall at the LibDem conference in Bournemouth this week, not least because the former leader, Nick Clegg, gave such a masterful, polished performance in a speech that rightly brought the delegates to their feet. One newbie member (of whom there were a lot in Bournemouth) sitting next to me at the time whispered in my ear, “Now, that’s a leader!” But Tim’s speech to conference this lunchtime, closing what was the best-attended ever LibDem conference, will certainly have laid any fears to rest. It was passionate and it was Liberal and there cannot have been anyone in the hall who doubted that it was totally, utterly sincere. Tim chastised David Cameron for his shoddy response to the current refugee crisis, as well as for his dangerous flirtation with Brexit. The Liberal Democrats are European and internationalist and Tim is firmly in that tradition, with a gritty northern directness that commands attention. He also mentioned core domestic issues, such as the environment and the need for social housing, showing that he can indeed be the voice of the reasonable but principled opposition to the Conservatives. As David Cameron has been dragged to the right by his Eurosceptics and elitist chums and Jeremy Corbyn takes Labour on a magical mystery cruise to we-know-not-where, so Tim Farron has staked out the Liberal Democrats’ political ground, in the radical, compassionate centre, underlined by his heartfelt plea for a more humane approach to refugees. In a nutshell, he has hit the spot.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 16th September, 2015
The new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had to face David Cameron at Prime Minister’s Questions this midday, looking far more calm and collected than one might have expected after the roller-coaster week he has gone through since being elected. He asked the Prime Minister to help change the nature of PMQs and himself introduced an interesting innovation by asking questions that members of the public had sent in to him — of which he said he received 40,000. He led on affordable housing and ended on mental health, true to his principles but reasonable in his delivery — in short, defying those critics who had been hoping he might fall apart under the pressure. To his credit, David Cameron also behaved with dignity in his answers, as well as congratulating Jeremy Corbyn on the size of his victory among Labour members and supporters. Mr Cameron said he also hoped that PMQs would become more civilised, though after Mr Corbyn’s quota of questions was exhausted the familiar raucous resumed. Predictably, some MPs, including one from Northern Ireland, used their questions to the Prime Minister to make digs at the new Labour leader’s attitudes towards the IRA and the British national anthem — something we are bound to see more of in the future. So on balance, how did Jeremy Corbyn do? Rather well, in my view, though if the Tory Press keep up to their usual low standards, they will spin this differently.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 13th September, 2015
Yesterday, along with tens of thousands of others, including a sizable Liberal Democrat contingent with leader Tim Farron, I took part in the London march in support of refugees. But in the evening I facilitated a discussion with the Lewisham local party on what can and should be done about the current refugee and migrant crisis. Britain has an historic responsibility regarding Iraq and Syria, not only because Tony Blair joined George W. Bush in ousting Saddam Hussein in 2003 and dismantling Iraq’s predominantly Sunni security fores but also because of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, the secret Anglo-French deal of 1916 that carved up the Arab lands of the Ottoman Empire to serve the colonial interests of London and Paris. That is also why Britain should be at the forefront of pressing for a settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict, as Palestine was part of the British Mandate in the Middle East.
However, in my presentation last night I emphasized how we need to work with our EU partners to respond to the current massive increase in refugees, including guaranteeing safe routes into Europe. David Cameron ought to have joined Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande in launching an EU strategy instead of sitting on the sidelines and only coming up with a still rather vague timetable for Britain’s taking Syrian refugees from camps in the Middle East. I deplored the Conservative government’s ongoing closeness to the Saudi regime, which not only has an appalling human rights record but also is partly responsible for Islamist extremism and the growth of groups such as ISIS as Saudi has exported its own fundamentalist interpretation of Islam as expounded by Muhammed bin And Al Wahhab in the late 18th century. The Saudi intervention in Yemen, as well as devastating that already impoverished country is further destabiising the region. Nonetheless, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Russia, the US and the EU all need to be involved in some sort of peace conference, preferably sponsored by the United Nations, that could negotiate an end to the Syrian civil war. But given such developments as the rise of ISIS and the Kurds growing demand for an independent homeland I do believe we are witnessing the unravelling of the borders as set down by Sykes-Picot and that that is not necessarily a bad thing given their arbitrary nature.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Angela Merkel, David Cameron, Francois Hollande, Iraq, ISIS, Israel, Kurds, Middle East, Palestine, refugees, Saudi Arabia, Sykes-Picot Agreement, Syria, Tim Farron | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 12th September, 2015
Many tens of thousands of people, of all ages and ethnicities, marched from Marble Arch to 10 Downing Street in London this afternoon in solidarity with refugees, especially those from Syria. The main chant and slogan on banners was “Refugees Welcome Here!”, echoing the actions of citizens in Germany and calling Prime Minister David Cameron to account for not being more generous — or indeed, precise — about how many refugees Britain will take and when. There were a good number of Socialist Worker Party members present, celebrating the triumph of Jeremy Corbyn in Labour’s leadership election and also a few genuine Trots, who made up for their small number by employing a mobile sound system that enabled them to drown out some of the pro-refugee messages with their diatribes against capitalism and all the “corrupt” mainstream political parties (including the Greens!). There was an excellent turnout of LibDems, not just from London, and Tim Farron was one of the keynote speakers. We were blessed with the most perfect Indian summer’s day, which added to the festive atmosphere. A sizable proportion of British people are ready to respond to the current refugee and migrant crisis, however hard media such as the Daily Express tries to poison minds against them. But clearly this is an issue which Britain cannot solve on its own, which is why the British government should be cooperating more closely with France, Germany and other EU member states that have taken a lead, as well as boosting global action by the United Nations. Some Syrian refugees are being driven by hunger to return to Syria from refugee camps in neighbouring countries, because the World Food Programme has had to halve rations as it has run out of cash. Saudi Arabia, for one, could fund what is needed there without blinking an eye.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 7th September, 2015
The European Commission has today endorsed a plan put forward by the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the French President Francois Hollande over the weekend in response to the current refugee and migrant crisis. Germany has agreed to take in 40,000 refugees and France 30,000. Smaller quotas have been allocated to several other richer European countries such as Austria. However, despite receiving the Commission’s imprimatur the Plan is still rejected by a number of formerly Communist central and eastern European member states, notably the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. Poland has said it will take up to 2,000 refugees, though the Commission is asking the Poles to take in six times that many. You might be wondering where Britain is in all this. Well, as so often, it is outside. Britain, Ireland and Denmark have an opt-out from EU arrangements on refugees and asylum-seekers. Ireland, to its credit, has nonetheless offered to take in 600 asylum-seekers. Denmark, to its shame, has launched a campaign in ten different languages discouraging asylum-seekers from applying to settle in Denmark. Mr Cameron this afternoon brought moral dignity back to Britain’s tardy response by announcing that the UK will take in 20,000, though staggered over a long period. He is to be quietly congratulated for that, though he would have done himself and Britain far more credit if he had gone along to meet Ms Merkel and Mr Hollande to make this a trilateral Plan instead of a Franco-German one. Alas, Mr Cameron does not really “do” Europe, which is why under his watch the UK is becoming increasingly marginalised from the EU and seemingly ever nearer the exit door.