Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Graham Tope’

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.

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Sutton 40 Years On

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 9th December, 2012

1972 Sutton Focus leafletGraham TopeSutton is rightly hailed as London Liberal Democrats’ flagship council but of course the borough was put on the map politically some years before the (then) Liberal-SDP Alliance actually won control (on the Mayor’s casting vote). Indeed, 40 years ago the parliamentary constituency of Sutton and Cheam hit the headlines when young Graham Tope — at that time characterised by his cruel glasses and wicked sideburns — seized the seat from the Tories in a by-election on at 32.6% swing. I was in my final year at university at the time but remember the subsequent Liberal euphoria well. As was rightly recognised at a 40th anniversary buffet dinner at the Sutton Life Centre last evening, the Sutton & Cheam by-election was the first time Trevor Jones from Liverpool put into practice his concept of community politics — which meant pounding the streets to identify local issues and then trumpeting them in regular Focus leaflets — including the scary example illustrated here. Focuses are such old hat these days that it’s hard to imagine the huge impact this technique had. The Conservatives didn’t know what had hit them and Graham became not just a local celebrity but a national one too. Alas he was unable to hold the seat in the February 1974 general election, but he went on to become Leader of Sutton Council, a Member of theHouse of Lords, a London Assembly member and one of the Liberal Democrat representatives on the EU’s Committee of the Regions, at one time simultaneously. Apparently he can, like Margaret Thatcher, get by on very little sleep — though there the similarities end. Anyway, it was a splendid occasion last night, free of pomp but full of good humour and enlivened with tributes to Graham from a variety of people who have served with him in various guises, including Lynne Featherstone MP, (Baroness) Sally Hamwee, (Baroness) Sarah Ludford MEP and former Sutton Council leader Sean Brennan. There was even some audio-visual entertainment, including a replay of the 1974 election night TV coverage, which included a nice potted portrait of the man.



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Charles Kennedy’s Cheerful Descent on Sutton

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 11th July, 2009

Charles Kennedy 3Charles Kennedy flew down from sunny Glasgow today to be the guest speaker at Sutton LibDems’ annual garden party (held as usual in the spacious garden of Jayanta Chaterjee), accompanied by his wife Sarah and their young son Donald. The rain more or less held off and there was plenty to be cheerful about, in particular Gerry Jerome’s win in the recent Nonsuch ward by-election, which I blogged about the other day, and the swing from the Conservatives to the Liberal Democrats in the borough in last month’s Euro-elections. Charles has held his seat in Parliament for 26 years, which is only three years longer than the LibDems have been controlling Sutton Council. The borough is a prime Tory target in next year’s London local elections, as are Sutton’s two parliamentary seats, Sutton & Cheam and Carshalton & Wallington, currently held by Paul Burstow and Tom Brake. However, as Charles said, incumbency is a great asset, especially for hard-working LibDem MPs. Nonetheless, the Conservatives have reportedly been spending three times as much money as the LibDems campaigning in the borough in the hope of unseating both MPs. In this regard, it will be interesting to see how the parliamentary vote on the funding of political parties goes next week, which could lead to the barring of donations from non-domiciles, which may or may not include the Conservative party’s sugar daddy, Lord Ashcroft (up until now, he has refused to disclose his tax status, despite saying that he would move formally to England when he was granted his peerage). And then there is the Cameron factor, at first so dazzling, but now looking a bit lack-lustre. The verdict of the neighbourhood’s local peer, Graham Tope, on David Cameron: ‘a supercilious git.’


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Lord Tope’s Italian Revelations

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 4th October, 2008

  For the past few months, I have been encouraging LibDem local parties round London to organise European evenings, featuring the cuisine of one of the EU member states, as a way of reminding people of our rich European heritage and destiny — and of the European elections next year. But in Sutton’s case, I didn’t even have to urge, as Graham and Margaret Tope had fixed up an Italian evening at their house (from which I have just returned) off their own bat. It was hugely successful, raising over £700 for local party funds. I was able to circulate and meet several new activists, as well as encountering many old friends. The more I do this, the more London LibDems seem like an enormous extended family.

Ungallantly, I won the Italian general knowledge quiz (the prize being a suitably Italian bottle of wine). But I also picked up what for me was a nugget of new information: namely that Baron Tope of Sutton is half Bermudian. The delicious irony of this is that his political career really took off when he won the Sutton and Cheam by-election in 1972, when the sitting Tory MP, Richard Sharples, resigned his seat in order to become Governor of Bermuda. The following year, poor Sir Richard was assassinated, thereby winning his place in the history books, while Graham had ensured his by his by-election win. Graham lost the seat in 1974, but was later elevated to the Lords, while remaining a local councillor, serving on the EU’s Committee of the Regions and even sitting for two terms on the London Assembly. Such is the fickle finger of fate.

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