Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘David Laws’

Nick Clegg’s Boost for Richmond Park

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 15th October, 2013

Nick CleggRobin MeltzerRobin Meltzer’s campaign to win the Richmond Park constituency in south-west London back from the Conservatives in May 2015 recevied a boost last night when Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg spoke at a fundraising dinner at the Russell family’s old home of Pembroke Lodge. Apart from singing the prospective parliamentary candidate’s praises, Nick particularly emphasized the pro-European message of the Liberal Democrats. Though the Party believes the EU would benefit from reform, it would, in Nick’s words, be a disaster for the UK to leave. This means that the Liberal Democrats really will pin their European colours to the mast in next May’s European elections — for the first time ever, if truth be told, despite the fact that the electorate knows where the Party stands on the issue. Because of the nature of Richmond Park constiuency and, let’s be frank, the affluence of most of the people attending last night’s dinner, there were some sharp questions about the proposed “mansion tax” on properties worth over £2 million pounds. But Nick held his ground on this and insisted that it was only right that the most wealthy help pay for the government policies that have been lifting millions of the poorest people out of tax all together. The junior Education Minister, David Laws, was the back-up speaker, not surprisingly highlighting the pupil premium and other Coalition government policies aimed at th less wll-off — and all Liberal Democrat initiatives. Robin Meltzer should get a pointer as to how the mood amongst voters in the constiuency is developing next May, when the borough elections take place alongside the Euro-poll. But the many thousands of pounds raised at the dinner will give him and the local party a shot in the arm and will lead to a campaign office being set up in Richmond once again. 



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David Laws Passes the Test

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 25th January, 2013

David LawsDavid Laws is so much associated in the political class’s minds with economic issues that there were eyebrows raised in some quarters when his governmental comeback from the wilderness proved to be in Sarah Teather’s old job at Education. But any doubts about his passion for his new brief were dispelled last night when he addressed a wine and canapé reception put on by Camden Liberal Democrats at Swiss Cottage School. It was hardly his fault that he arrived an hour late; he had been stuck on a train coming down from North East England where he had been visiting some turn-around schools that have benefitted from the Pupil Premium. The Pupil Premium is one of the most successful innovations of the Coalition government — and the result of Liberal Democrat pressure — with the transformational ability to help children from disadvantaged backgrounds or with other problems that might formerly have condemned them to failure. It deserves to be better known; in my home borough of Tower Hamlets it has made a huge difference. So much for the Opposition’s fatuous claim that this government only cares for the rich. It is also thanks to the LibDems, of course, that lowest earners in our society are being taken out of income tax altogether. But back to David Laws, who sometimes gets tarred with the accusation from social Liberals that he is a pseudo-Tory. It’s true that he is probably the Conservatives’ favourite LibDem Minister, but that is in recognition of his undoubted intelligence and capability. What came over clearly in Swiss Cottage last night was that he is a man of compassion and radical zeal as well.

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Tim Farron Is Not David Laws, but…

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 5th November, 2012

David Laws, the Minister of State for Schools and the Cabinet Office, was billed to speak at a bangers-and-mash supper at the Clarendon Hotel in Blackheath this evening and Liberal Democrats from the three boroughs of Lewisham, Greenwich and Bromley — plus me — arrived prepared to quiz him quite firmly on issues such as his somewhat disparaging recent remarks about teachers and how he would justify some of the Coalition’s economic policies. But as so often happens with Ministers (and indeed MPs) he cancelled, because of other obligations, during the afternoon. So in through the door marched Party President Tim Farron instead. Now if David Laws might have felt like Daniel in the lions’ den, Tim found himself amongs a group of purring pussy-cats. Well, almost. He has a manner that can charm the proverbial birds off the trees and part of his widespread appeal across the party is that he acknowledges the mistakes that have been made in government, and where he has not agreed with what the government was doing. And not being a Minister he has a greater freedom to range more widely than many of his colleagues. He is undoubtedly closer to the ideological soul of LibDem activists than some. In the Q&A session after his speech, he was asked where he thought Britain was heading in its relations with the EU and he reaffirmed the party’s strong commitment to the UK’s need to be at the heart of Europe. He said he believed that the mood of the country means that we would probably never join the euro, which is the one major point on which I disagreed with him when I made a short speech myself on EU matters later in the meal. There may well come a time when it would be our interest to join the single currency, albeit not in the short-term, but the question remains whether our partners would open the door if the British Conservatives continue to handle dealings with them so ham-fistedly.

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The Rise and Fall of David Laws

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 29th May, 2010

When a Sunday newspaper contacted me earlier today to ask what I thought about the unfolding David Laws affair, I said I thought he had been silly but not dishonest. Since then, he has resigned following revelations in the Daily Telegraph that he claimed allowances for accommodation in the London home of his male lover, and the Prime Minister, David Cameron, has accepted his resignation. I think this is a pity. The more sensible thing would have been for David Laws to tender his resignation and for David Cameron and Nick Clegg to have graciously refused it. David Laws was — and is — the perfect man for the job of Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the fact that he got into a pickle over his second home allowances because he felt unable to admit publicly the nature of his relationship with his landlord is as much a reason for sympathy as for condemnation. Several prominent members of the previous Labour government had behaved far more heinously with their expenses.

But who is this David Laws, who was a total stranger to most of the British public, before being propelled into high office by the Coalition? Born in 1965, he grew up in Surrey and was educated at a Roman Catholic school before going to King’s College, Cambridge, where he got a double first in economics. He went into the City, being immediately recognised as a high flyer, working at J P Morgan and Barclays de Zoete Wedd. In 1994, having already made a packet, he gave way to his political bent, becoming an economics advisor to the Liberal Democrats. He fought Folkestone and Hythe (against the Tory Home Secretary, Michael Howard) before becoming the Liberal Democrats’ Director of Policy and Research. His big political break came with Paddy Ashdown’s decision to stand down in Yeovil and his adpotion for the seat. Once in Parliament, he became the LibDem ‘shadow’ Chief Secretary to the Treasury, little realising that the real thing would soon be in sight. He is much respected within the party, though his strait-laced demeansour and permanent suits give the impression of unapproachability. Of course, now we know that behind that facade there is a different reality. Perhaps now he has been brought down, he can let his other side develop more naturally. In the meantime, our continental neighbours will laugh at yet another case of perfidious Albion getting its knickers in a twist over a scandal involving both sex and money. But in truth, it is no laughing matter and the Daily Telegraph should be ashamed of what it has brought about. It is nothing short of a tragedy and the last thing the country needed when the new government has to try to get it out of the current economic mess.

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The Wit and Wisdom of Phil Willis

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 25th February, 2010

The House of Commons will be a duller place when Phil Willis MP stands down at the forthcoming general election. Not only has he been a tremendous local champion for his constituents in Harrogate and Knaresborough, but he has also entertained people up and down the country on the so-called rubber chicken circuit. Orpington Liberal Club, of course, does not do rubber chicken; its catering is renowned among LibDems throughout South East London and North West Kent. So too the quality and quantity of its wines at its periodic Wine, Wit and Wisdom evenings, at one of which Phil Willis starred last night, in support of local PPC David McBride. Even if one of Phil’s jokes was stolen from the late Russell Johnston, it was a bravura performance. One can well see how he managed to command respect at the huge comprehensive of which he used to be Headmaster in Leeds, as well as among the Harrogate ladies who take tea at Betty’s. He was a first-rate Education spokemsan for the Liberal Democrats (a role now filled with a different sort of panache by David Laws), and even if he has got himself in hot water recently in some quarters with his calls to end NHS funding for homeopathic remedies, he is much loved and will be much missed on the green benches.

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Reinventing the State with Paul Holmes

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 21st January, 2009

paul-holmes       The first of a monthly series of informal discussions on themes within the (currently out-of-print) Liberal Democrat policy book Reinventing the State was held at Portcullis House, Westminster, this evening. For those who don’t know or have forgotten, the tome was a complementary counterblast to the far more controversial Orange Book. It was seen by some critics as a reposte by ‘social liberals’ to the ‘economic liberals’ of the earlier volume, though as I said in a long review I wrote at the time for ‘Liberator’, the situation wasn’t as simple as that. Indeed, some canny individuals — including Chris Huhne, if I remember correctly — wrote essays in both publications.

Anyway, this evening’s session was originally intended to be a tour d’horizon by Steve Webb, MP, but because of a diary change, the gritty Member for Chesterfield, Paul Holmes, stood in instead and focussed his attention on education. It soon became clear that he did take a social, not economic, liberal view of the subject. He made no bones about his relief that certain aspects of the policy paper written by David Laws, MP, (which is going to be debated at the Harrogate Spring Conference) have been modified by the Federal Policy Committee.

Paul was a history teacher is secondary schools for 22 years, and it shows. His delivery has a sufficient mix of punchy controversy and sly barbs to keep schoolchildren and politicos engaged. He is an ardent advocate of comprehensive schools, blowing a giant raspberry at all forms of selective education (among which he included the ‘free schools’ Nick Clegg was promoting a while back, trust schools and Andrew Adonis’s beloved Academies). The very best educational results are achieved in countries such as Finland where comprehensives are the norm, he argued. And he welcomed the fact that under New Labour (for all its many faults), spending on education in Britain has at last reached the Western European average.

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