Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Jo Swinson’

A Leadership Election Postponed

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 28th March, 2020

Libera; Democrats balloonsEarlier this week, the Federal Board of the Liberal Democrats (on which I sit ex officio, as Chair of the Federal International Relations Committee) took the decision to postpone the party’s leadership election until May next year. The vacancy came about, of course, because former leader Jo Swinson unfortunately lost her seat in December’s general election. Since then, her deputy, Ed Davey, and the new Party President, Mark Pack, have been standing in as joint interim leaders, and the intention was to hold a leadership election — in which all party members can vote — immediately after this May’s local elections. Those elections have been postponed for a year because of the Coronavirus crisis and it is also because of COVID19 that the Federal Board took the decision (by an overwhelming majority) to delay the party leadership contest for a year as well. It was felt that the public would have little sympathy for a party that that was prioritising an internal contest when people are facing huge challenges, not least within the National Health Service (NHS). Indeed, many Liberal Democrat local authorities are on the frontline in delivering services in dramatically changed conditions and thousands of individual party members are involved in community support and other voluntary efforts up and down the country, so a leadership contest in the short term could be an unwelcome distraction.

Naturally it is frustrating for the five MPs who had indicated that they were interested in running for the leadership, some of whom already had teams in place. And there has been some grumbling on social media by party members who felt the Federal Board took the wrong decision. I don’t agree, as I think the party has shown a mature sense of responsibility at this difficult and still very uncertain time. COVID19 has profoundly affected all our lives, whether we catch the virus or not, with most work and indeed politics going virtual, online. Our society and the way we normally conduct business are being fundamentally challenged. So let’s see how that pans out and then focus on the massively important Scottish, Welsh, London and local elections in May 2021 before choosing who will have the task of steering the party forward after that.

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Simon Hughes on What Went Wrong

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 29th February, 2020

Simon Hughes 3I spent most of today at a pop-up conference put on in Bermondsey by the Liberal Democrat lawyers’ group, Rights Liberties Justice. The key theme was how liberalism can combat populism in the world today, with interesting contributions from Professor David Howarth, former MEP Irina von Wiese and messaging strategist Rob Blackie. But little more than two months out from the disastrous general election it was not surprising that many of the attendees were keen to understand what went wrong then — and ideally to avoid such problems in the future. The former local MP, Simon Hughes, in his speech this afternoon tackled that issue head-on and did not hold back in his criticism of the LibDems’ general election campaign. He thought it was undemocratic for the Party to propose Revoking Article 50 — though that is what the Bournemouth party conference decided — and he thought we should have stuck with arguing for a People’s Vote, for which there was sizable support within the House of Commons, even if not perhaps a majority. More serious was the decision to run a presidential-style campaign with a new Leader most of the electorate had never heard of (despite the fact that Jo Swinson had been a Minister in the 2010-2015 Coalition government). This was particularly crass at a time when not only was the parliamentary party more gender-balanced than ever before but also (thanks to high-profile defections from both the Conservatives and Labour) more diverse than ever.  This was something the LibDems should have championed, but it missed the opportunity, with which I agree. It was also foolish, Simon Hughes believes, to reject outright the idea of allowing Jeremy Corbyn to form an interim government, rather than pushing for a general election which was a terrible gamble in which the stakes were stacked against us. Moreover, the election campaign was devoid of a punchy, memorable message to counter the Tories’ “Get Brexit Done”. Our messages were wishy-washy, eminently forgettable and presented in excessive quantities of insipid leaflets. The net result, of course, was that the party lost half of its opinion poling support during the final weeks. Far from being able to form a government — a palpably absurd pretension — it registered a net loss of one MP compared with 2017, with a final total of just 11. Simon is not alone in hoping that lessons will be learnt from all this. Baroness Dororthy Thornhill is chairing the election review group (on which David Howarth sits). So watch this space.  

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Sir John Curtice at the NLC

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 16th January, 2020

25673522-9B64-4F9A-9BF4-2D07A7BB582EI was pleased to have a last-minute opportunity to attend a presentation last night at the National Liberal Club by academic and TV election pundit Sir John Curtice (a long-standing member of the Club) on The 2019 Election: A Tale of Hope and Disappointment. One might correctly guess from the title that the talk was particularly focussed on the Liberal Democrats’ less than optimal performance last month. Far from taking off during the campaign — which was the case in several previous general elections, thanks largely to a higher media profile — the LibDems actually lost nearly half of their opinion poll percentage as the weeks went by. Certainly some of the Remain-leaning Conservatives who lent the LibDems their vote in May’s European elections, not least in Greater London, went running back to Boris Johnson, despite Brexit, out of (unnecessary) fear of a possible Jeremy Corbyn government. Many commentators at the time also attributed the fall in LibDem support to (1) Jo Swinson’s call to Revoke Article 50, rather than pitching wholeheartedly for a second EU Referendum, and (2) her claim to be a potential PM in waiting, despite the modest number of LibDem MPs (albeit supplemented by both Labour and Conservative defections). However, Professor Curtice said polling, notably from YouGov, did not support that assumption. Instead, he highlighted three conclusions about the election result based on his research:

1) It was not clear that the decision to back revoking Article 50 without a referendum was electorally costly;

2) Jo Swinson failed to make a favourable impression on voters and thus provide a point of attraction in contrast to Jeremy Corbyn;

3) The Party failed to communicate what a “brighter future” for Britain might entail.

Other points from John Curtice’s brilliant presentation which particularly struck me were that the Liberal Democrats drew most of their support from the educated middle class, but unlike the other parties had an almost equal level of support across all age groups.

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Boris Bounces but LibDem Trounces

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 2nd August, 2019

Brecon by-electionIn the 10 days or so since Boris Johnson became Prime Minister, the Conservatives have risen in the opinion polls. This is almost entirely because some traditional Tory voters who had defected to the Brexit Party have drifted back because of Johnson’s Brexit pledge — though Jeremy Corbyn’s terminal uselessness as Leader of the Labour Opposition has also played a part. Nonetheless, yesterday the Liberal Democrats were able to seize the parliamentary seat of Brecon and Radnorshire in a by-election, with the Welsh LibDem Leader, Jane Dodds, achieving a majority of over 1,000. Inevitably some Conservatives are now wondering whether it was wise to readopt Chris Davies as their candidate in the by-election, as he had been the subject of a successful recall petition  because of dodgy expense returns. But the real problem for Boris Johnson is that his technical parliamentary majority (even with DUP support) is now down to just one. And several pro-Remain Conservative MPs who are horrified by the prospect of a No Deal Brexit on 31 October, as the Prime Minister has threatened, are poised to defect or else maybe even to bring the government down. Today the psephological guru, Sir John Curtice, was predicting that the LibDems could win as many as 50 seats if there were a snap general election this autumn or next spring, which would bring the party back to the sort of level it was at under Charles Kennedy and Nick Clegg. A heady prospect for new Leader, Jo Swinson. It will be interesting to watch the national opinion polls following the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election. Those of us with long enough political memories will recall that on several occasions in the past by-election triumphs led to a period of resurgence for the LibDems (and previously, the Liberals). So whereas Boris may indeed be enjoying a bounce in the polls, the Liberal Democrats could end up bouncing higher, especially if the Remain Alliance that worked so well in Brecon is maintained.

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It’s Jo!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 22nd July, 2019

JF Jo Swinson Ed DaveyThe result of the Liberal Democrats leadership election was announced this afternoon, with Jo Swinson notching up a clear win over Sir Ed Davey. That is no reflection on Ed’s talents and experience, nor indeed on his selection campaign, which was robust, engaging and at times masterful. But clearly many of the 72% of LibDem members who voted in the selection (a pretty impressive turnout) felt that as a relatively young woman who has already proved her mettle as Deputy Leader Jo has the qualities and the image that are needed to take the party forward in these excitingly volatile times. That was certainly my logic in voting for her (the first time I have actually backed a winning candidate in a Liberal/Liberal Democrat leadership contest, from the days of John Pardoe onward!) She will be refreshingly different from either Jeremy Corbyn or Boris Johnson, if, as expected, Johnson cruises to victory in the Conservative leadership contest tomorrow. Moreover, she will be able to slap down Boris’s casual, careless sexism, racism and other unpleasant traits that he tries to pass off as jokes. That sort of apologia might work over toasting crumpets in one’s study at Eton but it won’t wash on the floor of the House of Commons if he becomes Prime Minister. I say “if”, because we can expect more resignations by current government ministers in the wake of Sir Alan Duncan’s today. And some Tory MPs might even cross the floor and join the LibDems, destroying the Government’s wafer-thin majority in a flash. Several Cabinet Ministers, most notably the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, have made clear that they would be ready to pull the rug from under Boris rather than allow him to take Britain over the cliff edge of a No Deal Brexit on 31 October. And that is before the Conservatives lose the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election on 1 August, as now seems almost inevitable. So, Jo Swinson is taking over the LibDems at an extraordinary moment, able to build on the healthy legacy of Sir Vince Cable, to deploy her foreign policy experience (all the more important at a time of crisis in the Persian Gulf) and to rally a cross-party legion of sensible politician and voters, most of whom are not only pro-EU but anti-Boris.

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Dump Trump

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 13th July, 2018

808A8666-5BFB-4B28-AAB1-CB96F9ABF5DFit was heartening to see many tens of thousands of people turn up this hot Friday afternoon to march against the views and practices of US President Donald Trump. There was a carnival atmosphere right from the moment that a giant Baby Trump in a nappy was inflated this morning and floated over Parliament Square, but at 2pm big crowds converged on Portland Place near the BBC’s headquarters before marching down Regent Street and on to Trafalgar Square. There was a host of nationalities represented and lots of flags — the EU’s and Palestine’s particularly visible — but it was the home-made signs that attracted the attention of the TV cameras, from the predictably scatalogical (“F**k Trump”) to the deliciously English (“I’m really rather cross”). A brass band enhanced the mood. I didn’t spot all that many politicians (Ed Miliband and Jo Swinson being notable exceptions) but there was every age and social group present, as well as trade unions and single issue groups holding up colourful banners, all united in their opposition to Mr Trump’s current visit to the UK. As I write this, he is sitting down to tea with the Queen at Windsor Castle, and one can only hope that he will be more diplomatic with her than he has been with Prime Minister, Theresa May. In an exclusive interview with the Sun newspaper, published this morning, the Donald rubbished Mrs May’s Soft Brexit plan and said he thought that former Foreign Secretary and government bad-boy Boris Johnson would make a great PM. The President’s busy schedule kept him well away from the big London demonstration, but he will doubtless hear about it and see pictures on his twitter feed. It was massive, and made abundantly clear that for many Brits and others living here, he is not a welcome guest.

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Nick Clegg’s Equal Marriage Celebration

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 11th September, 2013

Admiralty HouseNick Clegg LGBTSo quickly has public opinion moved that it seems almost unbelievable that the last Labour government shied away from upgrading same-sex civil partnerships to ‘marriage’ because of the fear of a backlash (including from some of their MPs). But it is a tribute to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg (strongly and admirably supported by PM David Cameron) that he oversaw the relatively smooth transition into law of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act this summer. In an appropriately informal speech at a reception in Admiralty House, Westminster, this evening, he paid just tribute to Lynne Featherstone as the then Equalities Minister (subsequently replaced by Jo Swinson) and Baroness (Liz) Barker, who made a moving and heartfelt personal act of testimony in a speech in the House of Lords. As a Quaker (and therefore part of a religious group which has recognised the validity of loving same-sex relationships for several decades) I have been saddened by how far behind most of the mainstream Churches are on this. It was also heartening that some of the supportive luvvies, including my old friend Stephen Fry and Hugh Grant, turned out tonight, as did hardcore campaigners such as the truly noble Peter Tatchell (who has been a beacon for the LGBT+ community in Russia). Of course there was a good sprinkling of LibDem MPs and Lords, but this was not an occasion for narrow party politics. We were one big happy group, straight, gay and bi/trans +, celebrating the fact that we had won, and in doing so had proved what an open and tolerant society Britain has become, even if a minority still can’t quite get their heads around it.

Link: http://www.lgbt.libdems.org.uk

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Nick Clegg’s Equal Marriage Celebration

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 12th September, 2012

The right-wing media and a few Tory rent-a-gobs such as Peter Bone, MP, have got themselves into quite a lather over the past 24 hours because of Nick Clegg’s alleged description of opponents to Equal Marriage as ‘bigots’. The fact that he actually did not use that term (it was in an unfortunately unverified pre-release email, until spotted and removed) and indeed would never have used that term in this context has not stopped the bile from pouring out from those self-appointed defenders of the ‘sanctity’ of marriage. The hint of scandal — or if not scandal, gaffe — meant there were TV cameras outside 1 Carlton Terrace when guests turned up for a reception last night to celebrate the Equal Civil Marriage Consultation. Inside the building the paparazzi naturally gravitated towards the luvvies, including Hugh Grant, Stephen Fry, Simon Callow and Derren Brown, as well as to a positive conclave of bishops in purple, some from churches I had never heard of. But the majority of those present were the old troupers of the LGBT rights movement, such as Peter Tatchell, and an astonishing number of LGBT+ Liberal Democrat councillors and MPs. Nick Clegg spoke well, paying fitting tribute to Lynne Featherstone (also present), as the consultation — which will, one hopes, lead to legislation, though one must not prejudice its outcome — was her baby until she was shifted sideways to DFID in the recent government reshuffle. Jo Swinson is taking her place as a Minister of State for Equalities, which is a welcome addition to the LibDem ministerial team.

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Scrutinising Belarus

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 6th February, 2012

Belarus is often portrayed as the Bad Boy of Europe — the only European state that is not a member of the Council of Europe, thanks to its retention (and use) of the death penalty, the apparently fraudulent nature of its elections and its poor record on human rights. Opposition figures are regularly imprisoned (often for short periods), harrassed and denounced in the official media, and the KGB — which still keeps its Soviet-era name — is a looming, ominous presence, with a large headquarters on the main drag in the capital, Minsk. When I went there a few years ago to meet political and human rights activists, I felt I had walked onto the set of a film of one of John Le Carré’s novels. Rendezvous were made with people at their request in parks or noisy restaurants; Even the head of the Communist party insisted on meeting clandestinely in a café. Yet it is an over-simplification to denounce Belarus blithely as ‘Europe’s last dictatorship’, for all the self-evident shortcomings of Alexander Lukashenko’s regime. People can access the Internet in the numerous cyber-cafés, and young Belorussians with enough money to pay for a Schengen visa can travel West, notably to Lithuania and Poland. They don’t need a visa for Russia, to which Belarus remains tied with an umbilical cord, And even if Lukashenko has sometimes irritated Putin and other Kremlin figures, Belarus is a useful ally for Moscow. Some of the subtleties of the situation came out in a meeting that I chaired this evening at the National Liberal Club, on behalf of Liberal International British Group (LIBG) and Liberal Youth. This was the first such joint venture, which not only packed out the room but also produced some high-level debate, not only from the panel — Jo Swinson MP, Dr Yaraslau Kryvoi of Belarus Digest and Alex Nyce, former East European specialist at Chatham House — but also from the floor. Several members of the audience had had direct or indirect experience of working in or with Belarus and there was considerable discussion about what sort of stance the European Union should take on relations with the recalcitrant state. Intriguingly, a parallel was drawn between Belarus and Myanmar (Burma) and the question was posed as to whether constructive engagement might be a way forward in the hope of encouraging reform — though Lukashenko would have to release prominent dissidents before his good faith would be taken seriously.

http://libg.co.uk and www.belarusdigest.com

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Art Malik at the LibDem Rally

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 19th September, 2010

The actor Art Malik compered the Rally at the Liberal Democrat conference in Liverpool last night, introducing with humour and verve the Man in the White Suit, Martin Bell, the political reform campaigner Pam Giddy and a trio of LibDem stars: Jo Swinson, Tim Farron and Nick Clegg. Charles Kennedy had been billed to perform but was reportedly prevented by travel problems, which meant that his last-minute replacement, Tim Farron, had to wing it — rather successfully, with a few spicy political jokes. Nick Clegg also had a good gag about Eric Pickles and a stalker, though I suspected that the short standing ovation he got at the end was more dutiful than heart-felt. There were clearly many in the hall who still feel a little nervous about some aspects of the Coalition government. However, the real theme of the evening was electoral reform reform and why we must all campaign hard for a Yes vote in the AV referendum next May, so from the moment Art Malik set out his passionate belief in reform (and support for the LibDems), the mood was upbeat.

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