Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Hackney Liberal Democrats’

Shas Sheehan’s Plea for Refugees

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 12th February, 2016

Refugees are human beingsThis is the time of the year when Liberal Democrat local parties organise sessions to discuss the agenda for the Party’s forthcoming Spring conference, but Hackney LibDems decided instead at their Poppadoms and Politics last night to focus more directly on the burning issue of refugees, and in particular those who have been fleeing the last five years of carnage in Syria. Shas outlined the evolution of the Syrian conflict, which I have also been following on a day-by-day basis, and highlighted the fact that a quarter of Lebanon’s population is now made up of Syrian refugees, most of them housed in local peoples’ homes or out-buildings, or in makeshift accommodation. There are another million Syrian refugees in camps in Jordan and more than two million in Turkey, and tens of thousands continue to attempt a perilous crossing to Europe. The photos of the lifeless body of 3-year-old Syrian Kurd Alan Kurdi certainly brought home that reality to the British public, but David Cameron has only promised to take in 20,000 Syrian refugees, over a period of five years, and all from camps in the Middle East. As Shas said, the situation will only get worse, as Assad’s forces and the Russians further their advances into rebel-held districts of Aleppo. Moreover, this is a problem that is going to be with us for years not months, as happened with the refugee flows after the Second World War. That makes all the more necessary a coordinated and compassionate, long-term strategy on the part of the European Union.

refugees 1Inspired by her own trip to Dunkirk, Shas encouraged others to be part of relief efforts for people stuck there or in the Calais “Jungle”. But she was rightly insistent that only the right sort of aid should be delivered. Médecins sans Frontieres is working the the camps and absolutely does not want people self-miedicating on drugs brought over by well-meaning Brits. Similarly, most types of clothes and shoes are similarly not appropriate, nor tinned soup. What is needed, and could indeed be organised by local political parties or even at next month’s York LibDem conference, are items such as batteries, wind-up torches, sleeping bags, good quality tens and a limited range of foodstuffs and beverages, including tinned tuna, chickpeas, tomatoes, lentils, beans and fruit (preferably in ring-pull tins), cooking oil, spices, tea, sugar and salt.

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Future Directions of Liberalism

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 19th July, 2015

Hackney LD garden partyThere is a certain satisfaction, not necessarily smug, among Liberal Democrats that we have got our leadership election over while the Labour Party is still facing a summer of grueling conflict between their various contenders. Actually, there was very little ‘conflict’ or indeed major difference between Tim Farron and Norman Lamb, despite their varying experience and style, as they are both Liberals to their core, so although I put Norman first on my ballot paper I am very happy to campaign with Tim, who is a brilliant communicator. Anyway, now the Leader is in place, what do the LibDems actually stand for? This is an important question for the electorate, given that the identity of the Party got blurred within the Coalition. And as a result, as Lynne Featherstone, formerly MP for Hornsey & Wood Green and Minister at DFID (and the Home Office) said at a garden party discussion put on by Hackney LibDems this afternoon on the theme ‘Future Directions for the Liberal Demorats’, the LibDems got toxified by the Tories while the Tories got semi-detoxified by us. Hence, in part, our electoral disaster, which saw Lynne and so many superb colleagues swept away. But as she pointed out, we did get through key LibDem policies while she was in office, such as Equal Marriage and the campaign against FGM. For such things we can be truly proud. Evan Harris, who unexpectedly got narrowly booted out of Oxford West & Abingdon in 2010 and was also a guest speaker at today’s Hackney event, issues of civil liberties were at the fore. After all, he has been at the forefront of the Hacked Off campaign since he lost his seat. Interestingly, the members present (who included several newbies from the post-election influx) highlighted the issue of BaME under-representation in the Party, something I wrote about after the recent Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats (EMLD) leadership hustings a while back. There is no denying the fact that we now have just eight MPs, all of whom are straight white males, though in fairness the candidates standing in many held and target seats this May were far more diverse than that. In London, especially, this is a major issue we have to face, perhaps the biggest issue of all; if we do not look like the city we aspire to represent, how can we expect people to vote for us? Knowing the candidates in the running for the London elections next year (Mayor and GLA members) I am confident that we are going to be putting forward a wonderfully diverse list, whoever finally gets selected. But can we then persuade the voters of London to back them? That is the question we need to ask if we are going to chart the direction of the Party henceforth.

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Kate Parminter’s Food for Thought

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 9th September, 2013

Kate Parminterhealthy foodfood productionFood is essential to all citizens and they have the right to be part of the related decision-making process, according to Baroness (Kate) Parminter, who was the guest speaker at a Hackney Liberal Democrat event yesterday afternoon. She has been making the point strongly over the summer with particular reference to GM crops, following their championing by the (Conservative) Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Owen Paterson. He has gone beyond the letter and spirit of the Coalition Agreement with the Liberal Democrats, and Kate, for one, believes that so long as the public is still dubious about GM foods, Ministers should go softly-softly and engage with the public, rather than be cheerleaders for the industry. Her own background is in the charity sector, having notably worked for the RSPCA before becoming Chief Executive of the Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE). She is a spokesperson on DEFRA matters in the House of Lords and is concerned that the notable rise in the number of food banks in Britain is a reflection of how hard the more vulnerable in society have been hit by the economic problems of the past few years and cutbacks in benefits. In the lively discussion after her presentation I raised the issue of biofuels, which were hailed as a great ecological breakthrough not all that long ago — notably regarding ethanol production inn Brazil — but now pose a problem in competition for land that could otherwise be producing food. Several people present at the event lamented the fact that modern urban dwellers have mainly become detached from food production, instead relying on supermarkets (which are also driving small businesses out of business). I remember at primary school being given seeds and growing lettuce and parsley from them — later devoured with a huge sense of pride and achievement. Some schools apparently still do that sort of thing, but perhaps it should be included in the curriculum, as part of home economics — “domestic science” in my schooldays — for boys as well as girls!

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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: http://greenlibdems.org.uk

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Multicultural London Liberal Democrats

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 17th March, 2012

The selection by Hackney Liberal Democrats of Pauline Pearce to be their candidate in the forthcoming by-election in Hackney Central is symbolic of the way London Liberal Democrats have transformed themselves in recent years to be an inclusive party that can not only represent the UK’s multicultural capital but also reflects its diverse population. Pauline — dubbed the ‘Heroine of Hackney’ by one local newspaper after she stood up to young rioters last summer and berated them — would be a brilliant addition to the Liberal Democrat group on Hackney Council (which currently includes Orthodox Jews and a Muslim), and would justifiably shame the local Labour Party which just assumes that people will vote for a Labour replacement after their sitting councillor moved to Scotland. But this is about more than just Hackney. Across London, Liberal Democrats have been signing up members from all ethnic and faith groups and electing a range of local representatives who are of and with their local communities. The election to the London Assembly this 3 May (the same day as the Hackney council by-election) sees a LibDem list which features three South Asians, one Chinese, one Afro-Caribbean and one Irish among the 11-strong team. The Asian Muslim woman, Shas Sheehan, has the strongest chance of being elected, as Number 4 on the list. It is true that the Party still has a way to go in diversity among our MPs, even in London. All seven LibDem MPs in London are white and there needs to be a huge effort to ensure some new, diverse faces get in somewhere in London in 2015. But overall, London Liberal Democrats can be proud of the way that they have led the way on diversity as far as the national party is concerned. And the subject will be an important issue at the London Liberal Democrats’ Spring Conference in Canary Wharf at the end of the month.

Link: http://libdems4london.org.uk

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Hackney Stunelled

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 18th January, 2012

Though Europe is often cited as the most contentious issue between the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Coalition Government partners, another important area of divergence is multiculturalism. David Cameron famously used a speech in Germany to suggest that multiculturalism in Britain has failed, by stressing people’s differences rather than what unites them. But that prompted Nick Clegg to speak up for multiculturalism while on a visit to Luton. One thing the two governing parties are agreed on, however, is that the previous Labour administration’s ‘Prevent’ programme was deeply flawed. I said as much when it was introduced; not just because the name was itself was so negative, but also because it risked stigmatising the entire Muslim community in Britain by false association, i.e. the most likely sources of terrorism in Britain are those communities with the highest proportions of Muslim population. Andrew Stunell, junior Minister within the Department of Local Government and Communities, with special responsiblity for race relations and community cohesion, helpfully defined his own views on the matter at a Pizza and Politics event put on by Hackney Liberal Democrats in Shoreditch this evening. He acknowledged that his own home area of Stockport in Greater Manchester — one of the least racially diverse areas of the North West — had received a grant under Prevent, but the money was usefully spent on an adventure playground. Far more diverse Bradford, over the Pennines, interestingly refused to have anything to do with the programme. Anyway, under the new government, matters have been finessed and it was very helpful to have additional insights from local Hackney Councillor Dawood Akhoon (a Muslim who represents his LibDem ward alongside two Orthodox Jews), Akeela Ahmed, who has been involved with a helpline for young Muslims having diffiulties dealing with personal issues within their own community, and Jamie Bartlett from Demos. The danger was acknowledged of blithely referring to ‘Islamic terrorism’ (as so often is the case in the media), but a valid point was also made by Councillor Farooq Qureshi from Waltham Forest that it is wrong to denounce all Wahabis as extremists. I know that peronally, having encountered all types of Wahabis, from the most conservative in Saudi Arabia to distinctly open-minded in Qatar. The evening’s discussion was rich, including far more than can be encompassed in a short blog post. So I was really pleased to see that the whole event was being live-streamed by video so that people who were not physically present could actually follow the discussion — an example which could usefully be followed by other LibDem Pizza and Politics evenings and their equivalents.

Link: www.hackneylibdems.org.uk

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Dr Pack’s Instant Remedy

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 4th September, 2011

Hackney Liberal Democrats must be unique in London in having organised four garden parties this summer. The latest, this afternoon, was a bit unusual, in that both the host, Dave Raval, and the booked speaker, Andy May, were unable to attend because of pressing family concerns. But the show must go on and organiser Geoff Payne had quickly found a replacement attraction in the new media guru Dr Mark Pack, who gave an interesting, discursive presentation taking as its starting point the Guardian correspondent Nick Davies’s book Flat Earth News, about media distortion and malpractice. There was a lot of discussion about where ultimate responsibility lies: the journalist, the editor, senior management or the owner? Media ownership has shrunk in this country, in the sense that independent newspaper companies (often run by families) have almost all been bought out by great enterprises, like Archant vis-a-vis local newspapers. But Mark raised the interesting point that many ordinary people, including LibDem voters, without realising it often have a stake in newspapers or broadcasting outfits through direct or indirect shareholding. A third of us, he estimated, probably have a stake in the Daily Mail, if only through the holdings of pension funds etc. One area in which I dd disagree somewhat with him was over the effect of modern media diversity and new media on the variety of people’s sources of information. I tend to think that as more and more specialised TV channels and websites get created, people narrow down their range of input, for example relating to political bias, whereas Mark believes that through Twitter, Facebook etc one gets to interact with a cross-section of viewpoints. While this may be true of people like him and me, who deliberately find out about what others think, and have ‘friends’ and ‘followers’ from all political parties, I’m not persuaded that this is the case for most people, who tend to keep linked in with people with views like their own. Anyway, this afternoon’s event was a provocative introduction to a massive subject that is currently going through a state of flux.

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Dr Harris’s Prescription for the LibDems

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 5th June, 2011

The second year of Britain’s Lib-Con Coalition government is going to be a tough one, especially in the wake of last month’s local election results, which seemed to reward (slightly) the Tories for what the government is doing and punish (heavily) the Liberal Democrats for everything that is deemed unsatisfactory. Of course, the reality is much less straightforward than that. And as Dr Evan Harris — former MP for Oxford West and Abingdon and now a leading voice in the Social Liberal Forum — pointed out this afternoon in a speech at a Hackney LibDems’garden party, there is much to trumpet about what LibDems have achieved since May last year. Unfortunately, the media, Labour and to some degree the general public focus instead on the ‘car crash’ of the tuition fees débacle and a level of public spending cuts which before the election the Party was claiming would be too far, too fast. More significantly, Evan said that maybe the chumminess of the Cameron-Clegg relationship had been allowed to go on for too long. It has to turn into a more realistic presentation and understanding of what a Coalition between two parties with different ideologies actually means. That is not something that can wait until a month or so before the 2015 General Election, when Liberal Democrats and Conservatives will be fighting each other. In a deligtfuol mixed metaphor, Evan also said that we had to learn to see ‘elephant traps hurtling towards us’, in order to lessen their impact. In London, of course, we have the urgent task of running an effective 2012 campaign, in which Mayor Boris Johnson will be an obvious target — and it was good to see Mike Tuffrey, London Assembly member, at the Hackney event, to remind us of this. All help and advice from beyond the M25 will, of course, also be welcome!

Links: www.hackneylibdems.org.uk http://socialliberal.net

 

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Paul Burstow and Health Integration

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 8th May, 2011

The mood as well as the weather was sunny in Victoria Lubbock’s garden in Hackney this afternoon. After all, that London borough produced the highest vote in favour of AV of anywhere in the country on Thursday. Moreover, in London there were no local elections, so Liberal Democrats in the capital aren’t feeling quite as wounded as in some other parts of the UK, though frustrated at the results. Besides, the Hackney local party had organised a splendid debate on the NHS reforms between Health Minister Paul Burstow and Prateek Buch of the Social Liberal Forum, the still relatiuvely new group within the Party that is pushing for a more assertive social liberal approach to the Party’s involvement in the government. In fact, at the Sheffield LibDem Spring Conference, key figures from the Social Liberal Forum were at the forefront of the debate that resulted in substantial amendments to the NHS Bill currently under consideration. The movers of that motion accepted the amendments and again today there was considerable room for agreement and negotiation between the positions set out by the two speakers. Paul particularly stressed his key concern of the integration of the NHS and social care; mental health in particular has not always received the attention it merits. I am sure there will be some quite vigorous arguments when the Social Liberal Forum holds its conference at City University in London on 18 June.

Link: http://socialliberal.net

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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.

Link: www.keithangus.com

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