Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘House of Lords’

Brexit Briefing

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 24th January, 2019

sarah ludford and william wallaceLast night I was at the Liberal Democrats’ national headquarters for a briefing on Brexit organised by Southwark LibDems and addressed by three of the key party spokespeople in the House of Lords, Dick Newby, William Wallace and Sarah Ludford. Though only the House of Commons has the necessary clout to stop Brexit or significantly alter Theresa May’s “deal”, the Lords have been keeping the whole sorry Brexit saga under intense scrutiny and have been able to draw on the expertise of members with considerable knowledge on the subject, from the architect of Article50, John Kerr, to the former European Commissioner, Chris Patten. Sarah said there had been a noticeable shift in the attitude of many Conservative peers as the full complexity of disentangling the UK from 45 years of economic integration with Europe has become clearer.

dick newbyThe LibDem Lords team work closely with the Party’s MPs, especially Tom Brake, who is the national Brexit spokesperson. Next Tuesday is going to be a very important moment as the Commons will vote on amendments and motions including one from Yvette Cooper and Nick Boles which would, if passed, recommend extending Article 50 till the end of the year. That would in principle give time for any new approach to the Brexit impasse — for example, backing for a Norway-style deal (in which the UK would remain in the single market but have no say in formulating EU rules) or organising a fresh referendum, with an option to Remain. The three peers felt that at the moment there is probably not a clear majority in the House of Commons for what has been dubbed a People’s Vote, but more MPs and even Cabinet Ministers are warming to the idea. If Article 50 were to be extended beyond 2 July — the opening of the new European Parliament — then of course Britain would probably have to organise European elections in May, which would be both a challenge and an opportunity. Dick Newby told me that he thought no real contingency plans for that are in place within government institutions, but watch this space.

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Remembering Mike Harskin

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 25th October, 2012

A dozen or so of us gathered in the Guest Room at the House of Lords this evening, courtesy of Lord (Chris) Rennard, to celebrate the memory of Mike Harskin, former editor of Liberal Democrat News, who died at a tragically young age 20 years ago. My contact with him was that between editor and contributor, which was enough to make me realise how unconventional his approach was, sometimes concertina-ing a whole week’s production schedule into one marathon day-and-night session. Mike fought the Brent South parliamentary seat, unsuccessfully, and for a while could be found in the Liberal Whips office in the House of Commons, but he will better be remembered for being one of the key activists in what were dubbed the ‘Green Guard’ of the National League of Young Liberals who sometimes were such a headache to David Steel. These were an ecologically-minded antidote to the previous libertarian socialist Red Guards of Peter Hain & Co, who had made life hell for Jeremy Thorpe, and brought together such figures as Felix Dodds (now in the US) and a literal household of young Liberal activists including Carina Trimingham and Louise Bloom and up-and-coming political stars such as Martin Horwood MP. All of the aforementioned (except Felix) were there tonight, along with Peter Chegwyn, David Boyle and others. It was a delightfully incongruous setting for such an assemblage, but Mike would have enjoyed the irony. He didn’t live long enough to experience the full flowering of the Internet revolution and social media, alas, but I have no doubt he would have revelled in it if he had.

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Stand Firm on Lords Reform

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 25th June, 2012

At the 2010 General Election all three main British political parties argued for reform of the House of Lords. And that is still on the Coalition Government’s agenda. It is indefensible that in the 21st Century the Upper House of the UK’s Parliament should be comprised of appointees and a sizeable residue of hereditary peers and Anglican bishops. As someone who has done a lot of work overseas on behalf of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, in promoting democratic practices around the world, I am always embarrassed by the anachronism. Yet as the issue of reform looms, a sizeable body of Conservative MPs — maybe as many as 100 — are threatening to rebel when it comes to a vote. David Cameron, to his credit, has so far stood firm in favour of change, and he must continue to  do so. Some of those recalcitrant Tory backbenchers are basically aiming to give a black eye to Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who is in charge of such constitutional matters. That is extraordinarily petty and short-sighted. Moreover, up till now most Labour MPs have not come out as strongly as they should in favour of the Government’s proposals. Labour effectively scuppered the AV referendum campaign by being lukewarm, at best, on the issue. They must not allow a similar thing to happen with the House of Commons vote on Lords Reform. Meanwhile, London Mayor Boris Johnson has stuck his oar in, declaring that ‘Clegg’s scheme needs to be liquidated, vaporised and generally terminated with extreme prejudice.’ Johnson is of course thereby also undermining David Cameron, doubtless with the aspiration of becoming a future Tory leader and Prime Minister. The Mayor denies that this is his ambition, but it is crystal clear. And of course, were he ever to become Prime Minister, he could then retire at a moment of his own choosing and claim a seat in the House of Lords, as has often been the tradition, without having the bother of going through anything as vulgar as another election (as would be the case with a reformed House of Lords or Senate). So, the message is clear: LibDems must not waver (including those LibDem Peers who have discovered an unsuspected love for the House of Lords as it is since they joined it); David Cameron must whip his troops in; and Ed Miliband must push aside the prospect of party political point-scoring and come out with all guns metaphorically blazing in favour of Lords Reform. Otherwise, a once in a lifetime opportunity will be lost.


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Tories Still Stand for Hereditary Privilege

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 23rd January, 2010

David Cameron likes to make out that the Conservative Party has changed, thazt it is no longer the party of wealth and privilege (despite the social and educational background and financial status of so many of its MPs and key parliamentary candidates). But now the cat is out of the bag. As reported in the current issue of the Sunday Times newspaper, the Conservatives are trying to scupper government plans to phase out the 90 or so remaining hereditary members of the House of Lords — peers who have a say in shaping UK legislation for no other reason than their ancestry. It is, of course, mere coincidence that most of the remaining hereditaries are Conservatives. Dominic Grieve, the Shadow Justice Secretary, bleats that the hereditaries play ‘an important role’ in the work of the House of Lords. Some of them doubtless do, but that’s not the point. Britain is meant to be a democracy, but the continued presence of so many hereditaries — and the system by which they are replaced when they die off  — are more appropriate for the 18th rather than the 21st century.

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Emma Nicholson’s European Decade

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 11th June, 2009

Emma Nicholson‘The European Union is one of the most calming and peaceful mechanisms in the world today,’ Baroness (Emma) Nicholson, MEP, told Kensington and Chelsea Liberal Democrats at one of their ‘Food for Thought’ supper events this evening, citing the EU’s work in election monitoring and promoting tertiary education in particular. The Union has extended its reach dramatically during the ten years she has been a member of the European Parliament, both through enlargement to take in 12 new member states and also because of fate, she said. Events — including terrorism — have transpired to encourage EU member states to become more involved in countries from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe — though not in a colonial way. Emma Nicholson’s own focus has often been on Romania (notably relating to children’s rights) and, more controversially, Kashmir, but she has just returned from south Lebanon, where she was part of the EU’s monitoring team covering the Lebanese general election, especially in Hezbollah-dominated areas. 

As Vice-Chairman of the Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, Emma has dealt with a whole range of crucial international issues during her decade shuttling between Brussels, Strasbourg and the South East of England region that she represents, not to mention the extended periods of time she has spent in various parts of the Middle East, notably Iraq and Iran. She was seconded for several months to a European Commission election monitoring operation in Yemen, raising some eyebrows among her constituents, but building expertise which will be invaluable to the LibDems’ foreign affairs team when her Euro-parliamentary career ends in five weeks time and she resumes a more active role in the House of Lords. But in the meantime, she is due to launch an Iraqi-British business association next Monday in London, to encourage British investment in Iraq and bilateral commercial cooperation.


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The End of the Peer Show?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 27th January, 2009

house-of-lords    Liberal Democrat parliamentarians in both Houses have been performing well in the rumpus over the latest allegations of political sleaze. Willie Goodhart, in the Lords, gave a ringing call for tougher sanctions against those who bring Parliament into disrepute, as the four Labour peers accused of making themselves available for hire for asking questions and what is effectively lobbying work in the Chamber certainly appear to have done. Nick Clegg in the Commons has also emphasized the need for probity, including the possibility to expel peers who abuse their position. Unbelievably, even being sent to jail for a felony is currently not a bar to continuing membership of the Upper House. That has to be wrong. Of course, a system in which members of the increasingly important revising chamber are not paid salaries is likely to lead to situations in which people are tempted to top up their allowances with ‘consultancy’ work, some of it more legitimate than the rest. We need to have comprehensive House of Lords reform, which will see at least a majority of peers elected, rather than appointed by the Prime Minister, and properly remunerated for the important task that they fulfil.

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