Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Eric Lubbock’

Remembering Eric Avebury

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 14th February, 2016

Eric AveburyLord Avebury, who died earlier today at the age of 87, was better known to many in politics by the name he had before inheriting a peerage: Eric Lubbock. In 1962, Eric won for the Liberal Party one of the most famous by-elections of modern times in the suburban seat of Orpington, just down the road from that of the Conservative Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, hastening Macmillan’s political demise. By chance, Orpington was a favourite dormitory town for Fleet Street journalists as well as printers, because of the excellent commuter train service, and they really went to town by identifying a new breed of voter: Orpington man. People tend to forget that Eric hung on to the seat at the next two general elections before succumbing to the Tory tide that swept in Ted Heath in 1970. This defeat was given sweet recompense by the timely inheritance of his peerage (which would have forced him to resign from the House of Commons, had it happened earlier — or else try to imitate Tony Benn in trying to renounce  it). Though the Lubbock family was well-known in north-west Kent, Eric was not a natural member of the still rather fusty House of Lords, but both he and the Liberal Party realised that he could use new position as a platform to promote Liberal causes. Over the years, he would increasingly focus on human rights internationally. He and I often found ourselves at the same events not just because I stood for Orpington in the 1987 general election but also because increasingly our human rights issues were the same. We took a perverse delight in the fact that both of us had been banned from Bahrain because we highlighted some of the excessive actions of the Sunni monarchy against predominantly Shia dissidents. Eric’s own religious beliefs were essentially Buddhist and he provoked a degree of derision in the tabloid Press when he suggested he should leave his body to be recycled as animal food. In several ways he was ascetic, and in the timeworn phrase of obituarists, he did not suffer fools gladly. But he was a man of immense humanity, driven by a thirst for justice, and he will be much missed.

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David Steel’s Golden Orpington Dinner

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 11th March, 2015

Each year the National Liberal Club in Westminster hosts a fundraising dinner for Liberal Democrat by-elections, named after one of the most famous of all: Orpington, seized from the Conservatives by the then Eric Lubbock in 1962. But last night’s over-subscribed David SteelOrpington dinner had a special slant as it marked the 50th anniversary of David Steel’s victory at a by-election in Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles. Steel went on to become Leader of the Liberal Party, a presiding officer of the Scottish Parliament and an active member of the House of Lords. But in the tributes to him in speeches from such luminaries as (Baroness) Shirley Williams and (Lord) Jim Wallace, it was David’s internationalism that was highlighted, including his role in the anti-apartheid struggle. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg used the opportunity to make the most political speech of all, rallying support for the current general election campaign, while stressing the need for Liberalism in a worryingly illiberal world. When David Steel first told the then Liberal Party to “prepare for government” he was much mocked, but Nick was able to say realistically last night “prepare for government — again!”. But for many at the dinner, the most stirring quotation was from the late Alan Paton’s classic South African novel Cry, the Beloved Country: “By Liberalism, I don;t mean the creed of any country. I mean a generosity of spirit, a tolerance of others, an attempt to comprehend otherness, a commitment to the rule of law, a high ideal of the dignity and worth of man, a repugnance of authoritarianism and a love of freedom.”

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Mark Williams Speaks up for the Baha’i

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 23rd March, 2011

One of the more exotic consequences of Lembit Opik’s failing to retain Montgomery at last year’s general election was that the Baha’i Community in the United Kingdom lost an entertaining compere for their annual Naw Ruz (‘New Day’, i.e. Spring) reception on the House of Commons terrace. Lembit was an active champion of the cause of the Baha’i, who continue to suffer terrible persecution in Iran. Last night, this year’s reception was instead hosted by the Ceredigion LibDem MP Mark Williams, who gave apologies from veteran human rights campaigner Lord Avebury (aka Eric Lubbock) and reminded everyone that even at this time of celebration of the new awakening of Spring — marked by the Zoroastrians as well as the Baha’i, and various ethnic groups such as the Kurds — there was a sombre undertone, namely the imprisonment of seven Baha’i leaders in Iran for the simple reason that they were serving the religious and social needs of their beleagured community. Iran’s Islamic religious leaders despise the Baha’i because the Baha’i see spiritual truth in many places and acknowledge the contribution of prophets and visionaries of various faiths. But their central message is one of peace and community, which makes their suppression all the more outrageous.

Link: www.bahai.org.uk

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The Rebirth of Orpington Man?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 17th April, 2010

The Orpington by-election of 1962 was a political milestone. Eric Lubbock over-turned a large Conservative majority, panicking the Conservative government of Harold Macmillan, and the Liberal Party (which had almost died out a decade before) was revitalised. The term ‘Orpington Man’ was coined by the media as they tried to explain what had happened: a new breed of commuting voter who had turned against the Tories, they argued. Actually, there was another equally important factor, namely that the local Conservative association parachuted in a candidate with no local connections, whereas Eric was the local man incarnate. The electors appreciated the difference. It is amazing, therefore, that nearly 40 years later, the Conservatives have done the same thing in Orpington, parachuting in Boris Johnson’s brother, Jo, even though quite a number of qualified local councillors applied for the seat after John Horam’s retirement, as well, I understand, as the rather talented and personable James Cleverly, GLA Member for Bromley and Bexley. More fool them. And good fortune for the Liberal Democrat candidate for Orpington, David McBride, at whose adoption meeting in Orpington Liberal Club Eric Lubbock (now Lord Avebury) and I both spoke this lunchtime.

David has been a local councillor for several years, and grew up in the seat. I was pleased to see he is using the same slogan I used when I fought it in 1987: Orpington Matters! He had had the fillip last night of seeing Orpington turn yellow on the BBC’s swingometre chart following opinion polls after Nick Clegg’s sterling performance on the Leaders’ Debate earlier this week. And he will presumably be even more bucked by the poll in tmorrow’s Mail on Sunday, which puts the LibDems out in front (just!) on 32% nationally, ahead of the Conservatives on 31% and Labour on 28%.

Link: http://davidmcbride.org.uk

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