Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Islington Liberal Democrats’

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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Michael Moore’s Scottish Answers

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 24th April, 2013

Michael MooreNext year the voters of Scotland will have the opportunity to decide whether they wish to opt for independence. Opinion polls consistently show that unless there is a significant shift in mood between now and then the response will be a firm “no”. The SNP would have preferred at least two questions on the ballot paper, but the government in Westminster put paid to that and the Electoral Commission (which will quite rightly supervise the referendum) made the in-or-out question less slanted. This gives the Liberal Democrats a golden opportunity to shoot at an open goal by coming out as the party of “devo max” (significant further devolution of powers to Edinburgh) coupled with a “no” vote in the referendum. I made this point to the Secretary of State for Scotland, my old pal Michael Moore, at a pizza and politics evening in Islington this evening. I’m sure I won’t be the first or last person to do so. He meanwhile had given a very coherent and appealing presentation to the assembled groups of party activists and supporters, starting out by declaring that home rule was a very Gladstone sort of thing. Indeed, while the Conservatives have been very unsound on this matter (until the Scottish Tory leader had to do an inelegant u-turn after David Cameron’s more conciliatory speech) the LibDems have been consistent for generations. The party has of course suffered badly north of the border since 2010 because of the Coalition agreement with the hated Tories, but that was inevitable. The last Scottish parliamentary elections were dire for the LibDems and even managed to deliver a majority SNP government, even though the system was designed to avoid such one-party dominance. But now is the time for the Scottish Liberal Democrats to rebuild. I believe Alex Salmond has peaked too early. He has often shown himself to be a master politician — for example taking a risk by standing in the LibDem area of Gordon yet comfortably winning it — but as Michael pointed out this evening, Salmond’s case does not really add up. He wants to retain EU membership for a putative independent Scotland, yet doesn’t want to join the euro (or Schengen). And why would the rest of the UK necessarily give a free pass to a sterling area to Scotland? Besides, as part of the UK, Scotland has a voice at the top table of the UN and other fora, whereas an independent Scotland would be out of the loop — even worse than the situation of Norway, which is of comparable population size but has built up a huge sovereign wealth fund on the back of decades of oil and gas production. As Michael rightly said, it is rubbish to suggest that one can only express one’s nationhood by being an independent state. The Scots are more Scottish than they have been for generations and they are a welcome constituent part of the UK for a’that.

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Vicky Pryce’s Debt Write-offs

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 28th November, 2012

Though many — perhaps too many — Brits rub their hands in glee that the UK is not part of the troubled eurozone, and therefore may sometimes benefit from currency fluctuations, only UKIP MEPs and other delusionists could relish the thought of the single currency’s collapse. “Europe”, as so many in Britain continue to refer to the Continent, as if we are somehow not part of it, is still the biggest single market for British goods and is likely to remain so for some time, despite the rise of the BRICs — Brazil, Russia, India and China. Moreover, those who would like us to become another Norway, being part of the European economic area but having no say in the rules and regulations that govern it, are positively unpatriotic, in my view. I was glad that Vicky Pryce, former Chief Economist at the Department of Trade and Industry and later working with Vince Cable at the Department of Business and Skills, stressed, at a Pizza and Politics put on by Islington Liberal Democrats this evening, that the UK is far better in than out when it comes to the EU. The author of a recently acclaimed book, Greekonomics*, she has since her departure from government employment become something of a guru on what is happening in Europe’s economy, with particular in relation to Greece, whence she originally hails. Indeed, she is forever popping up on the TV and radio as the one commentator who knows what she is talking about on the subject, yet does not slag off her compatriots as good-for-nothing lazy tax-dodgers. That is, alas, the image still in the minds of many Germans, for example, though they would do well to acknowledge just how well Germany has done out of the single currency — selling goods left, right and centre — even if they are now expected to bail out the declining European periphery. I was struck by Vicky’s comments about the possibility of the need for a debt write-off for Greece and possibly some others, as their debt levels are unsustainable and will only drive them further into the sloough of despond. I was reminded so strongly as she spoke of the Latin American debt crisis that I used to commentate on for the BBC in the late 1980s. I asked her whether she could ever envisage Britain during the euro — as Peter Mandelson, amongst others, have suggested. She was cautious about the possibility — more so than myself — but she didn’t rule it out completely.

* Biteback Publishing

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Previewing the LibDems’ Spring Conference

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 5th March, 2012

Islington Liberal Democrats have a tradition of letting members chew over what upcoming federal conferences are going to discuss and this evening those of us who attended a Pizza and Politics in Barnsbury had the opportunity to talk through the agenda with the Chair of Federal Conference Committee, Andrew Wiseman, who now lives in the borough. There is no motion at conference about the controversial NHS Reforms (though that doesn’t mean someone won’t dream up a credible emergency motion, and the subject is bound to be hotly debated on the fringe). But the very first item on Andrew’s list of conference topics sparked maybe more emotions than he had imagined: the government’s proposed ‘mansion tax’ of an annual levy of 1% on properties worth over £2million pounds. This was an idea originally launched by Vince Cable (though at the £1million level), but many people in London were quick to point out that this would be a form of taxation that would essentially clobber the residents of central London and parts of the South East, many of whom may well not enjoy the sort of income necessary to pay the mansion tax. I have certainly never been persuaded by the idea, especially if, as some Tories argue, it would be introduced at the same time as reducing the 50p top rate of tax. Anyway, that was not the only issue discussed in Islington this evening. Our host Jeremy Hargreaves has originated a motion on Islinton’s behalf (and with the backing of the Liberal Democrat European Group — LDEG — and some MEPs) which would essentially reaffirm the Party’s belief in the necessity for Britain to be at the heart of the EU, even if that institution required certain reforms. As I commented, I feel the Liberal Democrats now have a golden opportunity to prove our credentials as the pro-European party in Britain, with the Tories seemingly ever more hostile and Labour being ambiguous in a most opportunistic fashion — as Labour is about so much these days, of course.


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LibDem Activists Need to Relax Too, Sometimes

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 10th February, 2012

Liberal Democrat local parties are often good at organising events: Pizza and Politics (with a guest speaker), fundraising dinners, or thank-you parties after election campaigns and the like. But it’s rare that they just organise something for members and helpers without any ulterior motive. So hats off to Islington local party for putting on a New Year (!) get-together at Ursula and Caspar Wooley’s home near Archway this evening, just for councillors, activists and foot-soldiers to eat, drink and be merry, socialising and relaxing. This is in itself very important, as any company would tell you. It’s not just about bonding one-to-one but team-building, but without any pressure. It was good to see several new Islington local members and helpers present; this kind of social is probably the best way to ‘induct’ them, rather than confronting them with a Cabinet Minister, or thrusting a huge pile of leaflets in their hands to take away, or (as still does happen sometimes) twisting their arm to become Social Secretary or take on some other Executive post. Human beings are social animals, at least most of us — even (and maybe especially) politicians. But too often, in our desire to win Council seats or boost the local party’s bank balance, we forget the importance of just socialising, which is why some potential activists — and even old hands — run away.


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A Jolly Look at NHS Reform

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 26th January, 2012

Andrew Lansley’s proposed reforms of Britain’s health service came as a shock to many Liberal Democrats, as they were not part of the Coalition agreement; in fact, there had been an assumption that there would be no major top-down reorganisation. So it’s not surprising that the ensuing debate has been both extensive and contentious. Paul Burstow, as junior Minister, has done a great deal to ensure that the Bill stumbling its way through parliament has a significant emphasis on social care. But a lot of the most dogged attempts to make the proposed changes more palatable have occurred in the House of Lords, so it was good to have the opportunity last night to hear from Baroness (Judith) Jolly — at a Pizza and Politcs put on by Islington Liberal Democrats — her take on where we are at in the process. One element she stressed was the way that competition based on price (as originally proposed by Lansley) has been succesfully replaced by the concept of a an agreed price for which providers would then compete on the basis of quality of delivery. There is also now much more emphasis on the patient, though more progress still needs to be made. Judith had good experience working with health trusts before being elevated to the peerage last year and is therefore up to speed on much of the detail. But as I pointed out in the discussion following her presentation, it is very difficult to get a persuasive case based on detail across on the doorstep. In the London Mayoral and GLA elections this May, the Labour Party is bound to attack the Liberal Democrats on the issue of NHS Reform, even though health is not a competence of the Mayor or Assembly. Judith’s points were subtle and nuanced, but London politics is neither. I suspect the Labour approach will be like a twin-bored shotgun, with the two pithy criticisms: that the Coalition is destroying the NHS, and that it is privatising the NHS. Neither accusation in its blunt form is true. Health care will still be free at the point of delivery. And the opening up of parts of the service to private elements was in fact initiated by Labour. But we Liberal Democrats need equally pithy messages to refute Labour’s distorted charges. And we need them quickly.

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Olly Grender Live

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 25th May, 2011

This evening Olly Grender, political pundit and communications expert, gave Liberal Democrats several reasons to be cheerful, fearful and even tearful, though for once not on Newnsight’s tripartite line-up or the BBC’s This Week but at an Islington local party’s Pizza and Politics. While admitting some things had been handled badly — the tuition fees débacle, notably — she underlined the fact that much of the mainstream media has seriously got it in for the LibDems in government, and of course for Nick Clegg in particular. As she pointed out, there is not one single LibDem columnist on any major newspaper, which makes it all the more important for party members to use new media such as Twitter, both to promote good news and views and to comment. We could also do with a few more high-powered Talking Heads (other than Cabinet Ministers) appearing on TV; her former boss Paddy Ashdown got an honoroable mention in this regard. Using new media, including Facebook, is even more important these days, as the old Penhaligon-Rennard mantra of pushing one’s messages out ad nauseam through people’s letter-boxes has had its day. Leaflet blitzing certainly delivered us some parliamentary by-elections in the past — Brent East was a classic case — but the electorate is now tired of it, and understandably so. We have to think of new ways of communicating, in both the air war and the ground war (to adopt the jargon beloved of Cowley Street). In the meantime, though, Olly is heartened by how steadfast most LibDem activists have remained, despite the media hostility, the combined onslaught of both the Tory Right and the Labour Right, and electoral knocks. We are in for the long haul in this Coalition government, and if the economy does recover sufficiently before May 2015, perhaps people will start praising us rather than cursing us by then.


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Macdonald’s and Politics

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 24th March, 2011

Islington Liberal Democrats have established a reputation for hosting the most stylish Pizza and Politics in London, especially when these are hosted in the spacious surroundings of Julie Horton’s home. They also get an impressive range of speakers, the latest, last night, being Lord (Ken) Macdonald, former Director of Public Prosecutions and now a LibDem peer. He asked to speak according to Chatham House rules, so unfortunately I can’t report what he said, but there was a lively discussion about gains for civil liberties since the Coalition government was formed, many of these thanks to the tenacity of Liberal Democrats. I stressed my belief that the Party really needs to highlight these ‘wins’ (which are in sharp contrast to the assault on civil liberties that occurred under New Labour) especially in the run-up to next year’s London elections. Labour is too often getting away with painting the government as ‘Tory led’, as if the LibDems have no influence at all, and in places like Islington there are many current or potential Labour voters who care deeply about civil liberties and need to know what has actually been achieved by Liberal Democrats since May 2010.


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Danny Alexander Charms Islington

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 10th March, 2011

The UK Treasury Secretary Danny Alexander — who has self-assuredly accepted his mocking nickname of the Ginger Rodent — was guest of honour at a gala dinner last night put on by Islington Liberal Democrats at Fredericks Restaurant in Camden Passage. He set out some of the achievements of LibDems in government, including the forthcoming rise in the income tax threshold to £10,000, and confirmed the fact that many Labour-run councils are cutting some frontline services unnecessarily, either because they are sitting on banked resources which they could spend, or because they are deliberately exacerbating public resentment at central government cutbacks (which were themselves the result of over-spending by Labour for years) by making cuts that will hurt. Danny restated his own deep commitment to European integration and reminded people how the LibDems have managed to help tame the rabid Eurosceptic Tory right. He looked forward to some robust debates at the Liberal Democrats’ spring conference in Sheffield this weekend — though delegates are likely to have the gauntlet of Trots and other protestors who argue that the party has sold out.


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Julia Neuberger Champions Volunteering

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 28th January, 2010

The Liberal Democrat peer, Rabbi Julia Neuberger, was the guest speaker at Islington LibDems’ pizza and politics last night. The original idea had been that she would be interviewed by the Leader of Islington Council, Terry Stacy, but he was bedridden with flu. In the discussion, Baroness Neuberger was asked how she got on as an advisor to the Labour government a while back, when Gordon Brown was trying to assemble a government of all the talents, or GOATs (as opposed to the sheep that make up most of his Cabinet). She said that her personal relationship with the Prime Minister was good, having worked with him professionally on various issues when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, and her experience as an advisor was happier than that of her fellow LibDem peer Anthony Lester, QC. Perhaps, she surmised, this was largely because there was much greater consensus on the topic of her consultancy: volunteering. She is a strong advocate of the value of volunteering, not last within the National Health Service, and she believes that it will inevitably take on a more important role as our population ages, meaning more frail elderly in need of personal care, but also more fit older people with time on their hands. She also underlined the success of one project she had been involved in, which was to encourage government departments to allow their civil servants to volunteer in working time. This had greatly improved their job satisfaction and performance, she said.

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