Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Floella Benjamin’

London Liberal Democrats’ Spring Conference

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 7th March, 2015

Nick Clegg 4London LibDems rallyWith just two months to go to the UK’s parliamentary elections Liberal Democrats in the capital gathered at Southbank University this morning for a campaign lift-off featuring Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Justice Minister Simon Hughes. Nick’s capacity to remain bright-eyed and bushy-tailed despite all the vitriol poured over him by political opponents, on top of having a very demanding job, never ceases to amaze me, and (Baroness) Floella Benjamin paid just tribute to him in introducing him. He reminded us all — as we in turn will have to do on the doorstep between now and 7 May — of the real achievements Liberal Democrats have clocked up during five years in government, including raising the tax threshold, introducing the pupil premium for disadvantaged schoolchildren and the implementing the “triple lock” pension reforms. Nick and Simon Hughes also cited some of the things that LibDems have managed to stop the Conservatives doing, including sacking people at will and bringing in the Snoopers’ Charter. The British economy is performing better than any of its European competitors and at least some of the legacy of Labour’s financial mismanagement has been rectified. But huge challenges remain, including the need for accelerated building of affordable homes, not least in Great London. Simon pledged that housing will be at the heart of his own campaign to hold the Old Southwark and Bermondsey seat that he has represented for over 30 years. And after just one-and-a-half hours of speeches and Q&As, everyone piled out of the conference for a quick sandwich lunch at the nearby Ministry of Sound before hitting the streets, canvassing and delivering to hekp get Simon returned, blessed by some premature warm spring sun.

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The LibDems’ 9 New Peers

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 28th May, 2010

The traditional British Dissolution Honours and new working peers’ list were announced today, with nine new peerages for the Liberal Democrats in toto, including three former MPs: Richard Allan, Matthew Taylor and Phil Willis.  The best-known name on the working peers’ list is Floella Benjamin, the Trinidadian-born author and TV presenter and Chancellor of the University of Exeter. She has been a star performer at recent LibDem conferences and events, as well as having a deep involvement with a number of charities, notably relating to children. She will be the LibDems’ frst black (as opposed to Asian) peer. Another ‘first’ is the Turkish-speaker Meral Ece, a former Islington councillor who is currently Chair of the Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats. The LibDems have been making great inroads into the Turkish and Turkish Cypriot communities in London and elsewhere recently, so her appointment will be particularly welcome there.

Sir Ken (now Lord) Macdonald was Director of Public Prosecutions in England and Wales from 2003 to 2006. He was an alumnus of my old college, St Edmund Hall, Oxford, and writes regularly for The Times. As a practising barrister, he works alongside Cherie Booth (aka Cherie  Blair) at Matrix, which hasn’t stopped him criticising Tony Blair’s ‘sycophancy towards power’. 

The other three new LibDem peers are all well-known in party circles. Mike German was leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats and one-time Deputy First Minister of Wales, while John Shipley has been a party stalwart in the North East of England, as a Councillor in Newcastle upon Tyne. Kate Parminter, former Chief Executive of the Council for the Protection of Rural England, also used to be a Councillor, in Horsham in West Sussex, and is currently a member of the LibDems’ Federal Executive.

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Floella Benjamin Revs up London LibDems

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 4th March, 2010

London Liberal Democrats rallied for success in the forthcoming general and local elections at our Spring Conference this evening. As I stated in my Chair’s remarks from the platform, we would hope to move into double figures for the number of London MPs we will have after the election, as well as gaining control of several new councils. The fight will be on two fronts, in a context in which neither of the larger parties is on a great roll, whatever David Cameron and his colleagues may claim. As Chris Huhne MP said in his opening address, the three-way TV debates are going to be crucial in determining the outcome of the parliamentary elections. Tom Brake MP emphasized how sitting LibDem MPs in London should benefit from the fact that (a) they came out smelling of roses in the MPs’ expenses affair (as testified by the Daily Telegraph, and (b) they work harder than most other London MPs (as testified by the Evening Standard). Party President (Baroness) Ros Scott said that she had found the party in good heart during her tours around the country. And in London we can celebrate having the fastest rising LibDem memership of any English region. But the star of the evening was undoubtedly Floella Benjamin, whose keynote speech revved up the delegates to go forth and win.

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Floella Benjamin’s LibDem Playschool in Hackney

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 30th November, 2009

Keith Angus, LibDem PPC for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, played host this evening at a fundraising dinner for the borough party at the YumYum Thai restaurant in his constituency — a splendid venue occupying historic former Council offices. Made me think that the House of Commons could be turned into an excellent diner. Anyway, Floella Benjamin — hot from a weekend’s campaigning alongside her local LibDem PPC, Chris Nicholson, in Streatham — was the great draw of the evening. And drew she did, filling the private dining area and even eliciting a spontaneous ‘We love you, Floella!’ from one of the establishment’s regular young lady clients. Half of the men in the audience under the age of 50 turned into recycled infants, cooing as Floella gave us all an almost evangelical speech about how anyone, like her, can overcome the hurdles in life and how the LibDems must offer hope, honesty and trustworthiness at the upcoming general election. All grist to the mill for those of us in East London who have to talk to an electorate sickened by the disappointment (to put it mildly) of New Labour and the tinsel-like superficiality of Cameroonian Conservativism. The evening — with both an auction and raffle — made a tidy sum of the local party’s coffers, but more importantly inspired not only the Hackney footsoldiers, but those who had come from neighbouring Tower Hamlets, Islington and Camden as well.


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Why Is the LibDem Conference Still So Hideously White?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 20th September, 2009

Floella BenjaminLast night’s opening rally at the Liberal Democrat Conference in Bournemouth was a far slicker affair than usual and was held in the main hall for once, which meant that at last there was enough room for everyone. Introduced by party president (Baroness) Ros Scott and compered by Sarah Teather MP (who made some pretty near-the-bone jokes about her outgoing colleague Mark Oaten), the event featured not only the current leader Nick Clegg but also his predecessor-but-one Charles Kennedy plus two strong black women: the TV presenter Floella Benjamin (a LibDem supporter in Streatham) and the feisty PPC for the target seat of Birmingham Perry Bar, Karen Hamilton. So big ticks for the party giving prominence not just to women but Afro-Caribbeans as well.

bournemouth_international_centreHowever, it cannot have escaped the notice of Floella and Karen that they were talking to a great sea of (albeit appreciative) white faces, with only a tiny scattering of other ethnicities represented among delegates. To borrow the famous phrase that Greg Dyke used about the BBC, the LibDem Conference is still hideously white. If the LibDems are ever to be a credible party of government, that has got  to change.

Sarah TeatherThe leadership is well aware of the problem and there are groups such as Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats (EMLD) who are tackling it head on. In London and some of the other major cities, there have been real successes in recruiting BME members and indeed getting them to stand successfully as councillors. A whole raft of parliamentary candidates in predominantly urban areas are now Asian or black. But somehow local parties don’t seem to have managed to ensure that their delegates to conference are as diverse as the communities they come from. Perhaps some ethnic minority members feel conference somehow isn’t for them. The party cannot afford to let any such impression persist.

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