Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Ed Miliband’

Miliband to the Rescue?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 13th August, 2017

David MilibandIn an article in today’s Observer, former Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, describes Brexit as an “unparalleled act of economic self-harm”, and thus becomes the latest in a long line of senior politicians from both the Labour and Conservative parties to urge a rethink, in sharp contrast to the policy of their leaderships. The dissidents (whom I am tempted to call the Voices of Reason) include former Prime Ministers John Major and Tony Blair and several heavyweight figures in the House of Lords, as well, of course, as most of the smaller parties in Parliament. But could David Miliband be the last straw that breaks the camel’s back of Brexit? Unlike Tony Blair, he is not permanently tainted by the responsibility of promoting the Iraq War, and for many older Labour Party members, he has the status of the Dauphin over the water. He really ought to have become Labour’s leader, had not the trade unions backed his weaker brother Ed instead. How different UK politics might have been if that had been the case! But he can now play a crucial role in mobilising the anti-Brexit Labour voters (a majority of whom were Remainers in last year’s EU Referendum) and be part of a growing cross-party coalition calling for a second vote for the British people, to ask, on the basis of hard evidence of the negative effects of Brexit, whether that is really what they want. There has been a lot of talk lately about starting a new, centrist anti-Brexit party, but to my mind that is a waste of time and effort. There isn’t much time left before the window of opportunity to reverse Brexit closes, and all effort should be concentrated on making that happen.

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Liberal Democrat Resilience

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 12th May, 2015

LibDems join usLast week’s general election results in Britain were a shock to almost everyone — including the opinion pollsters — but the cruellest blows were for the Liberal Democrats, who lost 48 of their 56 seats. Ministers such as Simon Hughes, Ed Davey and Vince Cable were among the casualties, as well as high flyers like Julian Huppert and Jenny Willott. In London, Labour crowed, though as their party was almost wiped out in Scotland and their leader Ed Miliband fell on his sword for failing to win the election, they had little real reason to do so.  I lost count of the number of Labour supporters tweeting how the Liberal Democrats are “finished”, “destroyed”. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Though the eight LibDem MPs are now outnumbered more than tenfold by their counterparts in the House of Lords, the party’s membership base is expanding rapidly. Over 8,000 new members have joined the LibDems so far this month, most of those following last Thursday’s election. That is a remarkable affirmation not only the party’s resilience but also of the need for a strong liberal voice now that we have a purely Conservative government which will start implementing some of the things that LibDems prevented them doing in Coalition. The LibDem bird Libby is indeed like a phoenix, rsing from the ashes of last wek’s defeat. And it is the duty of every local party to engage with the new members and to get them involved, including those who left because of the Coalition deal with the Conservatives but who are now ready to return to the fold.

To join the party go to: http://www.libdems.org.uk/join

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The BBC Leaders Debate

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 1st May, 2015

Leaders Debate 2Television debates have now firmly established themselves as part and parcel of the British political process, even if Prime Minister David Cameron has tried to avoid a repeat of the 2010 head-to-heads with Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg, at which the Liberal Democrat leader established himself as the exciting new kid on the block. Cameron, Clegg and the new Labour leader, Ed Miliband, provided an hour-and-a-half of stimulating entertainment on BBC1 last night, in a Question Time special, even if the format was a series of half hour sessions with each in turn facing David Dimbleby and a feisty studio audience in Leeds rather than a genuine debate. Cameron went first, but as so often when he is interviewed he looked uncomfortable, even petulant at times. He avoided answering the question about exactly where a Conservative government would find an extra £12bn in welfare cuts and kept on insisting that the Tories were aiming for an overall majority on 7 May, even though not a single opinion poll in recent months has suggested that is possible. He is unlucky in that his face is so smooth that it looks somehow unhuman, though I’ve always thought the Guardian cartoonist’s caricature of him wearing a condom over his head somewhat cruel.

general election 2015Miliband was the most eagerly awaited, to see how he would fare, but I am sure I was not the only viewer astonished when he categorically ruled out any “deal” (let alone a Coalition) with the Scottish Nationalists — something the opinion polls suggest is almost inevitable if he is to get to No 10 Downing Street. He even said he would rather not be Prime Minister than have an arrangement with the SNP — a statement he may well live to regret. He echoed a phrase of David Cameron’s about secret Coalition talks in darkened rooms, similarly ignoring the fact that most of the British electorate has realised that we have moved into an era of Coalition politics in Britain, whatever the Labour and Tory leaders might wish. As he left the tiny raised stage Miliband slipped and almost fell onto a member of the audience. Metaphorically, he had indeed tumbled, and I suspect this will be the last time he is seen on a Leaders Debate.

Nick Clegg had the great advantage of coming last and even if he no longer has the novelty appeal of 2010 he is a consummate performer. An inevitable hostile question about tuition fees started off his interrogation, but he swiftly turned his response into a catalogue of the good things Liberal Democrats have done in government. He spoke eloquently about why he believes Britain must remain a member of the European Union (winning loud approval from The Economist on twitter) and came over not only as the only true internationalist of the three but also the only really human being. He was also the only who managed to make a joke that got the audience laughing, by suggesting that Cameron and Miliband ought to go and lie down in a darkened room if they thought they were capable of getting an outright majority. I may understandably be accused of bias but I do feel he “won” the debate. And it was definitely Ed Miliband who came off worst.

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The Leaders Debate

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 3rd April, 2015

Leaders Debate 1I was worried that last night’s leaders debate on ITV would be a fiasco, with seven contending figures, but in fact it held well together under the firm but fair chairmanship of Julie Etchingham. I thought Prime Minister David Cameron looked rather pained for much of the time, but then we all knew he did not really want to be there, though he carried on manfully. Ed Miliband was more persuasive than I have seen him on previous occasions, though he failed really to brush aside the embarrassing legacy of the last Labour government or to rebut the recent accusations about Labour and zero hours contracts. Nick Clegg had none of the novelty he enjoyed in 2010, but robustly differentiated the LibDems from the Conservatives while taking justifiable credit for certain LibDem wins in government. Nigel Farage was like a stuck gramaphone record, blaming everything on the EU and “uncontrolled immigration”, but he knows his corny old tune is popular with a dismayingly significant proportion of the electorate, not least the elderly, who are more likely to vote. However, it was the women who really gave new vigour to the event. Nicola Sturgeon was deeply impressive — even if some of what she said I find alarming, as it shows how far the SNP will be prepared to push should there be a hung parliament in which they are the power-brokers. Natalie Bennett did not wilt, as she had done in earlier car-crash radio interviews, though her great list of idealistic wishes — free education, eye and dental care, care for the elderly, 1% of GDP as overseas aid etc — would bankrupt the country if implemented. Leanne Wood of Plaid Cymru was the one politician who was new to me and although she was the weakest of the pack she did get in the one killer remark of the evening, when she rounded on Nigel Farage, who had just said non-UK nationals should not qualify for free anti-HIV treatment, by sternly telling him he should be ashamed of himself, to warm applause from the audience. I wonder how many TV viewers hung in there for all two hours, however; was it just political nerds like me?

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MPs for Hire

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 24th February, 2015

Rifkind StrawChannel 4’s sting operation that entrapped Jack Straw and Sir Malcolm Rifkind has yet again highlighted the dangers posed to Britain’s parliamentary democracy by the temptations of cash for questions or of lucrative consultancies. Both men involved his time had been Foreign Secretaries, one Labour, one Tory, and already have opportunities to make a good living from paid speeches and other side activities to their work as an MP, and in Sir Malcolm’s case, the chairmanship of an important committee. But human greed is sometimes difficult to resist, rather like sexual desire. This sad affair is yet another nail in the coffin of the public’s respect for politicians, five years after the raft of scandals relating to MPs’ claiming of expenses. So what can be done about it, to improve the integrity of the system? Labour’s leader, Ed Miliband, has suggested that MPs should be barred from having outside jobs or consultancies, which is a drastic but plausible solution, yet a difficult one to impose unless MPs salaries rise (as the independent body dealing with such matters has recommended). I suspect that few people will have much sympathy with Sir Malcolm’s lament that it is impossible to live on £60,000 a year, but it is true that MPs’ remuneration does not compare favourably with business salaries and bonuses, which acts as a disincentive for entering politics for those with the capacity to be high-flyers. I believe that being an MP should be a full time job — and indeed most of them do work extremely hard — and there needs to be some curb on those who frankly abuse the system, even if they are not breaking any rules. According to one report, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, for example, earned a million pounds last year; he certainly was not seen much in the House of Commons, so his electors might a reason to feel aggrieved. It is maybe not feasible to ban all outside paid work — including media fees — for MPs, but the temptation to be moonlighting or taking up consultancies that might create a conflict of interest with the duties of an objective legislator representing his or her constituents is so great that maybe it will only be solved if MPs are paid a market rate and the rules about outside income are tightened.

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Tope’s Hopes

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 22nd May, 2013

Graham TopeGT A Life in PoliticsOver the past 40 years Graham Tope has served at almost every possible level within the British political system: MP (thanks to the famous by-election victory in Sutton and Cheam), local councillor, Leader of the Council, GLA member, Member of the House of Lords, member of the EU Committee of the Regions and more besides, but throughout all this he has avoided falling into pomposity. He still cooks a mean lasagne for local activists every autumn and dutifully goes out on the rubber chicken circuit — this evening as guest speaker at an Islington Liberal Democrats pizza and politics. The starting point for his very informal, extended presentation was the book that he wrote at his son Andrew’s bidding, A Life in Politics, recounting the highs and the lows of four decades at the political coalface (mainly the first part), most of it — as he confessed tonight — transmitted to his son through his Blackberry. As was the case with me, Graham was inspired to join the Liberal Party by Jo Grimond, a truly remarkable man of principle and vision. Indeed, I wondered aloud tonight whether one problem of the current political scene is that we are missing charismatic figures such as Grimond or indeed Jeremy Thorpe, who was truly magnetic in his heyday. That is not to criticise Nick Clegg, but it is true that there is a certain similarity between David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband; none pops and fizzes in the way that, alas, Nigel Farage or Boris Johnson does. Graham is himself not a showman, but rather a solid man, someone you can count on and someone who continues to give a great deal to the Party and to Sutton. He will not be standing again for the Council in 2014 — after so long he can be excused handing on to others. But in the Lords and on the Liberal Democrat social circuit he will doubtless continue to make his contribution and, as tonight, offer hope for the future — that basically Liberal values are as important today as they ever were. Next May will not just be about winning seats, at London borough council and European Parliament level (important though that is) but also inspiring people with Liberal vision.

Related link: http://www.libdemvoice.org/graham-tope-a-life-in-politics-25133.html

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Stand Firm on Lords Reform

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 25th June, 2012

At the 2010 General Election all three main British political parties argued for reform of the House of Lords. And that is still on the Coalition Government’s agenda. It is indefensible that in the 21st Century the Upper House of the UK’s Parliament should be comprised of appointees and a sizeable residue of hereditary peers and Anglican bishops. As someone who has done a lot of work overseas on behalf of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, in promoting democratic practices around the world, I am always embarrassed by the anachronism. Yet as the issue of reform looms, a sizeable body of Conservative MPs — maybe as many as 100 — are threatening to rebel when it comes to a vote. David Cameron, to his credit, has so far stood firm in favour of change, and he must continue to  do so. Some of those recalcitrant Tory backbenchers are basically aiming to give a black eye to Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who is in charge of such constitutional matters. That is extraordinarily petty and short-sighted. Moreover, up till now most Labour MPs have not come out as strongly as they should in favour of the Government’s proposals. Labour effectively scuppered the AV referendum campaign by being lukewarm, at best, on the issue. They must not allow a similar thing to happen with the House of Commons vote on Lords Reform. Meanwhile, London Mayor Boris Johnson has stuck his oar in, declaring that ‘Clegg’s scheme needs to be liquidated, vaporised and generally terminated with extreme prejudice.’ Johnson is of course thereby also undermining David Cameron, doubtless with the aspiration of becoming a future Tory leader and Prime Minister. The Mayor denies that this is his ambition, but it is crystal clear. And of course, were he ever to become Prime Minister, he could then retire at a moment of his own choosing and claim a seat in the House of Lords, as has often been the tradition, without having the bother of going through anything as vulgar as another election (as would be the case with a reformed House of Lords or Senate). So, the message is clear: LibDems must not waver (including those LibDem Peers who have discovered an unsuspected love for the House of Lords as it is since they joined it); David Cameron must whip his troops in; and Ed Miliband must push aside the prospect of party political point-scoring and come out with all guns metaphorically blazing in favour of Lords Reform. Otherwise, a once in a lifetime opportunity will be lost.

 

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Stephen Gilbert Speaks Out on Yes2AV

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 17th March, 2011

With only six weeks to go to the Alternative Vote referendum in the United Kingdom, MPs who are in favour of the switch to a fairer voting system are beginning to speak out loud. Last night, Stephen Gilbert, LibDem MP for St Austell and Newquay, was guest of honour at a social event put on by Holborn & St Pancras Liberal Democrats in London and urged everyone present to seize this opportunity for change. Were the vote to go the wrong way, it is unlikely there would be another chance for electoral reform for a generation, he claimed. Steve is right that the LibDems must not leave the campaigning only to non-party-political groups, although cooperation with them is of course very important. Although Ed Miliband and some other leading Labour figures (including London mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone) have come out in favour of AV, 200 Labour MPs are said to be opposed. So is most of the Conservative Party, the BNP (!) and some absurd purists such as Crossbench peers David Alton and David Owen who argue that people should vote No on 5 May because AV is not STV (the single transferable vote). Of course most LibDem campaigners for electoral reform would prefer STV, but the Conservatives made clear that was not an option when the Coalition Agreement was negotiated. So we have to work hard for the second best, AV. There has been a fear among some senior figures in the party that parts of the electorate would be turned off if the LibDems are seen to be too prominent in the Yes2AV campaign. But there is an even greater danger: that we could lose the referendum if they are not.

Link: http://www.yes2av.org.uk

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Labour Needs to Purge Itself

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 6th November, 2010

Watching former Labour Immigration Minister Phil Woolas announcing that he is seeking a judicial review, following the High Court decision to declare his election in May null and void because of his dirty tactics against his LibDem opponent, brought back many memories of the arrogant and often corrupt Labour politics of the Lancashire in which I grew up. I spent the first 17 years of my life in Eccles (now part of the irrepressible and unrepentant — over parliamentary expenses — Hazel Blears’s constituency) and although I could never have been a Conservative (unlike the household in which I was brought up), I similarly couldn’t touch the Labour Party with a barge-pole, because of the way they had made the town a rotten borough and their vicious hatred of anyone who wasn’t ‘working class’. So I joined the Young Liberals, even though the Liberal Party was almost non-existent in the area (apart from two councillors, whose seats they held only because of a pact with the Tories!). The then Liberal leader, Jo Grimond, clinched it when he came to my school during the 1964 general election and genuinely inspired my young self. Anyway, Phil Woolas, in all his unpleasantness, has reawakened all those memories of the unprincipled nature of the Labour Party Up North (and doubtless in some places Down South, too, though in many of the shires, Labour Party activists tend to be very decent, principled people, CND members and the like). I feel this situation now presents two challenges. The first is to Ed Miliband, to accept that what Phil Woolas did in the May general elections was morally as well as legally wrong, and to purge the Labour Party of such pratices. The second challenge is to my fellow Liberal Democrats: to go to Oldham East and Saddleworth asap — or to telephone canvass from wherever they are — to make sure we win the by-election convincingly!

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Debating the Labour Leadership

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 6th October, 2010

Last night, I spent an intensive but enjoyable hour-and-a-half on a live TV programme on the Bengali Channel S moderated by Ajmal Masroor debating the future of the Labour Party with Camden Council leader Nasim (Nash) Ali and two East London Labour activists. Interestingly, all three had backed Ed Miliband for national party leader, but a majority of the viewers who called in to the inter-active programme supported my line that Labour chose the wrong Miliband brother. Whatever legitimate criticisms may be made of David Miliband (re extraordinary rendition etc), he is the weightier political figure and would have made a more persuasive potential Prime Minister. Ed Miliband will really have his work cut out putting himself over to the British public — many of whom have only a rather marginal interest in politics, if any. There was some good cut and thrust in our TV debate, but not for the first time, I was astonished by the degree to which Labour activists are in a state of denial, deluding themselves that the Coalition is going to collapse at any moment and that the country will welcome Labour back with open arms. At one stage, Sonia Klein (who fought Ilford North for Labour in May) asserted that the Liberal Democrats are ‘imploding’. Dream on, Sonia! Some former LibDems who enjoy the comfort zone of Opposition may have defected to Labour, but the party in London has grown in size by over 20 per cent over the past few months and the recent LibDem Conference in Liverpool was the biggest and one of the best ever.

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