Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘George Osborne’

Grilling Vince Cable

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 29th January, 2018

Vince Cable David SelvesSir Vince Cable, Leader of the Liberal Democrats, this lunchtime faced a grilling at the London Grill Club, a group of journalists, broadcasters and businessmen who meet on a regular basis to put probing questions to prominent figures in British life. Other recent invitees have included Alex Salmond, Nigel Farage and Chuka Umunna. Vince dismissed a perhaps predictable early question about his age, arguing that age is just a number and that one is as old as one feels, before moving on to the more solid matter of the state of Britain’s democracy. This he described as being in serious trouble — dysfunctional, in a word. Theresa May appears to be increasingly weakened and there are renewed rumours of a plot among Tory MPs and even Cabinet Ministers to oust her, but Vince thought it unlikely that there would be a general election this year, reminding us of the five-year fixed term under the Parliament Act, unless there is a sufficient majority of MPs voting for it in the House of Commons — something the Conservatives would be unlikely to support. Besides, the government is totally bound up with Brexit, even it seems unable to agree what sort of Brexit it wants. Vince refuted a charge from one person present that it was denying democracy to call for a “second referendum” on Brexit, arguing that this would in fact be a new referendum on the terms of the deal — assuming the government is able to put one together with Brussels — and that that was definitely democratic, as the electorate would decide, not MPs (as some have suggested would be a possible way of stopping Brexit). He had harsh words about Jeremy Corbyn for being frozen in a 1970s mindset of Socialism in One Country, according to which the EU is dismissed as a capitalist club that inhibits nationalisation and certain types of state intervention. But he was also highly critical of the way David Cameron and George Osborne handled the EU Referendum Campaign; Project Fear just did not resonate and actually backfired. Vince defended his own record in the Coalition Government of 2010-2015, saying he had got several good things through and stopped some bad things from happening. But he felt the British public had not really been ready for coalition politics when the situation arose, being too tightly wedded to tribal politics.


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The Future of UK-China Trade

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 22nd October, 2017

JF addressing Chinese LibDems AGMLiam Fox and other Brexiteers in the UK’s current Conservative government are fond of saying that when we are “free” from the European Union, we will be able to enter into a great new dawn of trading partnerships with other big players around the world, not least China. Actually, it was David Cameron and the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, who really championed the idea of a bright future hand-in-hand with the People’s Republic, though they never imagined that would be something totally separate from EU-China trading relations. Theresa May, interestingly, has been a little more cautious in her embrace of President Xi Jinping, who has been expertly consolidating his authority at the Chinese People’s Congress this week. But despite the bluff reassurances of Liam Fox, David Davis and Boris Johnson, forging an advantageous new trading relationship with China is unlikely to be straightforward, for a number of reasons. First, until Britain formally leaves the EU — in principle on 29 March 2019 — it cannot make any bilateral arrangement with Beijing. Moreover, there are not sufficiently qualified negotiators in Whitehall to handle such a sensitive matter (as the EU has dealt with our trade negotiations for the past four decades) and little Britain, with 60 million inhabitants, is going to be at a distinct disadvantage in taking tough with the colossus of China, unlike the 500-million strong EU, which is still the largest trading bloc in the world. Bilateral trade is already skewed in China’s favour, and is likely to be more so in future, not less. Other factors make prospects mixed. China under Mr Xi is becoming more assertive in global affairs, having largely sat on the sidelines for many years, even within the UN Security Council. Many people in China believe the time has now come for China to reassert its pre-eminence in the world, as was the case prior to 1500 and the rise of European Empires. The four hundred years of European dominance, followed by a century of American hegemony, may in future be seen as a blip in comparison to China’s long supremacy. Then there is the issue of Donald Trump, who is repositioning the United States to be more isolationist (and certainly more self-centred), racheting up conflicts with countries such as Iran and North Korea in a way that risks souring US-China relations. Yet Theresa May aspires to be Mr Trump’s greatest ally, despite disagreeing with him over the Iran nuclear deal. This could prove awkward. In the meantime, the British government has downgraded human rights as a priority in its foreign policy, which is sweet music to Xi Jinping’s ears — though Britain must be careful to ensure that as a future relationship evolves it does not end up dancing to Beijing’s tune.

This is a summary of remarks I made as the guest speaker today in London’s Chinatown at the AGM of Chinese Liberal Democrats:

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Why the Risk of Brexit Alarms the G20

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 27th February, 2016

G20 ShanghaiFinance Ministers and Central Bank Governors from the Group of 20*, meeting in Shanghai this week, have unanimously agreed that Britain’s possible withdrawal from the European Union (Brexit) could pose a risk to the global economy. In a draft statement from China’s business capital they highlight this as one of the most serious potential dangers confronting the world economic outlook. Growth in many of the leading industrial economies is sluggish and there are particular concerns regarding the performance of the two biggest economies, the United States and China. “The global recovery continues, but it remains uneven and falls short of our ambition for strong, sustainable and balanced growth,” a draft statement from the summit says. The statement notes that markets have reacted adversely to economic anxieties exacerbated by such things as Britain’s possible exit from the EU, as well as the European refugee crisis. The British Chancellor, George Osborne, has seized on the communiqué to underline why the British government’s formal position is to campaign for the UK to remain in the EU, despite opposition from many MPs within the ruling Conservative Party. The matter is being put to the British electorate in a referendum on 23 June, following Prime Minister David Cameron’s negotiations with his continental counterparts to promote limited EU reforms. Those campaigning for Brexit will doubtless maintain that this is another example of scaremongering by the “Remain” camp, but they should take note of the fact that the G20 is about as serious as it gets when it comes to global economic analysis and forecasting. The message is clear: Brexit would not just be a leap into the dark for Britain but would also cause instability within the EU and the wider world economy.

  • The G20 comprises Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States of America, plus the European Union. For the first time, Egypt also joined the Shanghai summit.

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Danny Alexander’s Diwali Dish

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 26th November, 2013

Diwali dinnerFor the British United Indian Liberal Democrats (BUILD) Diwali is a movable feast, and the fact that tonight’s dinner in the excellent Seasoning north Indian restaurant in Fulham took place long after most other Diwali celebrations were over in no way dimmed the light of the occasion, organised by my indefatigable fellow London LibDem Euro-candidate Anuja Prashar. In fact the timing was perfect, in that the keynote speaker, Treasury Secretary Danny Alexander, recently went on his first ever visit to India to help promote British trade, and duly loved the place (his colleague Vince Cable, incidentally, is virtually an old India hand). The way some UKIP and Tory Eurosceptics spin things you’d think the UK would need to leave the EU to do trade promotion with India effectively, but the opposite is true. Danny is of course also a thoroughbred Europhile, having worked in the not too dim and distant past for the European Movement, which means that both LibDem members of the Coalition Government’s core quartet (the other being Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, of course) are completely on message when it comes to the Liberal Democrats being the party of IN so far as the EU is concerned. In his speech, Danny did a fine balancing act, on the one hand justifiably claiming LibDem credit for helping get Britain in a healthier economic shape than it was in 2010 as well as bringing in fairer policies such as raising the tax allowance to £10,000 (as it will be in April), and saying that for all their obvious policy disagreements he gets on with the Chancellor, George Osborne well. But on the other hand Danny came out strongly on differentiation from the Conservatives, not just on Europe — though that is increasingly self-evident — but on a range of issues, as the Conservative Party is being tugged to the right by many of its backbenchers and Labour is once more being cosy with left-wing trade unions. We are the party of the centre ground, Danny declared — though I personally prefer one of Charles Kennedy’s old sayings: that we are neither left nor right but centre forward. Danny usefully trailed the ALDE (European Liberal Democrats) Congress which will be taking place in Canary Wharf later this week (which I will be attending) and at which he will of course feature, along with other UK government stars and some heavyweight delegations from across our wonderful, diverse continent.

Photo of Danny Alexander, Jonathan Fryer, Anuja Prashar and Geoff Payne (by Merlene Emerson)

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How Green Are the LibDems in Government?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 16th September, 2012

The Coalition government in Britain pledged to be the greenest government ever, though the poor economic climate has encouraged those Conservative MPs and Ministers who were half-hearted about the importance of environmental issues to question the wisdom of that strategy now. Chris Huhne, as Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change made a real impact, on which his successor Ed Davey has continued to build. However, environmental pressure groups fear that the LibDems are losing the green argument within the Coalition, as was discussed at an event hosted by Hackney LibDems this afternoon, with contributions from Richard George of Greenpeace and Chris Huhne’s former aide, Joel Kenrick (now working for the World Wildlife Fund). Richard George highlighted the issue of sustainable transport, on which the LibDems had an excellent manifesto in the 2010 election and indeed still have an excellent Minister in place in the person of Norman Baker. Yet LibDem opposition to various road schemes has been overruled and of course within the Consverative Party there is a renewed debate about the desirability of a third runway at Heathrow Airport — something specifically ruled out in the Coalition Agreement. Joel Kenrick countered that there have been tangible green benefits from the LibDems being in government, such as the Green Investment Bank, which he described as a huge achievement. Joel seemed to believe George Osborne is the main villain of the piece so far as the government goes, whereas Richard argued that the right-wing Press — including the Daily Mail, the Daily Express and the Daily Telegraph — have been banging the drum for campaigns such as climate change denial. But that surely means the LibDems must trumpet louder the real achievements that have been made, through social media, Focuses and other methods, as well as via the few newspapers such as the Guardian and Independent which are sympathetic to green issues.

Related Link:

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Tim Clement-Jones and Social Angst

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 24th August, 2011

If you have a social event lined up with a top rank political speaker and then suddenly a council by-election is called, what should you do? Camden LibDems provided the answer this evening when they moved the speaker event with Lord Clement-Jones from its original venue to the house of the candidate in the said  by-election, Martin Hay, so at least some of the guests could come on after campaigning. The by-election is in Highgate and Martin is the only candidate standing who actually lives in the ward. He and his wife put on a wonderful spread of smoked salmon, French cheeses and extremely good wine, while Tim regaled us with tales of being a backbench member of the House of Lords. Of course he does not agree with everything the Government is doing — no Liberal Democrat does — but that is life within a Coalition, where you only get some of what you want. Interestingly, Tim said that he thought students would come to realise that they are actually going to better off under the new system of post-graduation payments than they are under the one set up by Labour. But there is no denying it was a mistake to persuade PPCs to make the pledge to scrap tuition fees, which Vince Cable, for one, had declared unsustainable. Tim understands some of what he called ths social angst at present, and he is not alone amongst LibDem peers in feeling the current cuts are maybe too much too fast. In good LibDem fashion he would have preferred something somewhere between what George Osborne has demanded and what Labour would have done had they been returned to power. But he was buoyed by the latest ICM poll just out which puts the party up at 17% (Tories 37%, Labour 36%), which is a much rosier picture thn YouGov and others have been painting.

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The Tories Just Don’t Get It on Europe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 7th October, 2009

George OsborneThe Conservative Shadow Chancellor, George Osborne, looking all serious in long trousers at the party’s conference in Manchester yesterday, solemnly trotted out the new Tory mantra: ‘We’re all in this together!’  The deliberately Churchillian echo was designed to conjure up wartime nostalgia, of getting everyone to put their shoulders to the wheel at a time when Britain stood alone. The glaring flaw in this analogy is that in the current economic, rather than military, crisis, Britain does not stand alone — and it would be fatal if it did. On the contrary, the country’s best chance of emerging from the downturn strongly is to work more closely with our 26 EU partners. But the Conservatives are effectively doing the opposite. They have insulted and enraged the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, by leaving the main centre-right grouping in the European Parliament, the EPP, and they still mutter about torpedoing the Lisbon Treaty. Even Nicolas Sarkozy of France, who ought to be a natural Cameron ally, is instead championing former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair as the potential first President of the European Council (God help us). No, the Tories just don’t get it on Europe. And their Little Britain mentality on the world stage will not save these islands of ours, but rather risk sinking them in an increasingly competitive and globalised environment.

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Will the LibDems Overtake Labour?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 14th February, 2009

The ComRes poll in tomorrow’s Independent on Sunday will spark alarm in Downing Street: Conservatives 41 (down 2 since 26th Jan), Labour 25 (down 3), LibDems 22 (up 6). This is the narrowest gap between Labour and the LibDems since 2003 and the figures confirm that the recent Populus poll, also giving the LibDems 22, was not a statistical blip. It had puzzled many people why the LibDems were not doing better when confidence in Labour (and especially in the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown) collapsed, not least because Conservative Shadow Chancellor George Osborne does not exactly look ready to assume the challenge restore the nation’s fortunes. In contrast, Vince Cable increasingly does. And by total fluke, Vince is due to reassume the role of Acting Leader of the LibDems again in a matter of days, as Nick Clegg nobly welcomes the anticipated new addition to his family by taking paternity leave, thereby pushing Vince further into the limelight. I’m not a betting man, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we see the LibDems leapfrogging Labour in the polls in the near future.


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In Memoriam Harold Pinter

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 26th December, 2008

harold-pinter     Harold Pinter was famous for more than his silences. He could have won a Nobel Prize for explosive anger — or so his reputation went. I have to confess that I never saw anything but his teddy-bear side (though he would growl at me from beyond the grave for saying so). A few years ago, before he was diagonsed with the cancer that has killed him, he came to lunch at our house with his wife, Lady Antonia Fraser. The fact that I live in London’s East End, where he had grown up, was undoubtedly the main attraction as far as he was concerned, as he wanted to show Antonia some local sights of his childhood (which astonishingly he had not until then done).

As the lunch guests stood around in the front room, supping their pre-lunch drinks, one of the children of another invitee succeeded in tripping and splashing a coke right into Antonia’s eye. There was a horrified hush, a silence worthy of a Pinter play, as everyone waited for Harold to erupt. But he was sweetness itself, attentively helping Antonia dab her eye, while at the same time assuring the child’s horrified parents that nothing was amiss. On his departure, to explore the local cemetery, he wrote in the visitor’s book the simple entry: ‘H.P.’

For several years, he sent me typed copies of his new plays, which seemed to get shorter and shorter. He railed against American imperialism, as I did in a somewhat more diplomatic way. As a firebrand socialist, who detested Tony Blair, he thought I was incurably wishy-washy by being a Liberal Democrat. I was thus never invited to the Notting Hill set political gatherings. That is, the original, leftist Notting Hill set, over which Harold more or less presided, at the Pinter’s splendid house in Campden Hill Square, not the David Cameron/George Osborne Conservative upstart.

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Vince for PM?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 26th November, 2008

Claire Rayner, the veteran agony aunt and LibDem supporter, has a letter in today’s Guardian arguing that what Britain needs at this time of economic woe is Vince Cable as Prime Minister — now! This is, of course, something one hears increasingly regularly from ordinary voters who believe it is time to ‘Move over, Darling’ and to send George Osborne off to university to do a post-graduate degree in economics, while Vince is the unchallenged star of Newsnight et al. But the logical conclusion is that Vince should be Chancellor of the Exchequer, not Prime Minister. And if the Labour and Conservative parties are as close at the time of the next general election as the opinion polls suggest that they are now, that is a distinct possibility.

There are some LibDems who lament that Vince is not party leader, but if he were, the onerous associated duties would prevent him doing what he is doing so brilliantly now. Moreover, with Nick Clegg as leader and Chris Huhne on Home Affairs, no-one can these days accuse the Liberal Democrats of being a one-man band, as was sometimes the public perception in the past. Three men in a boat, perhaps? Yes, a lifeboat for Britain!

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