Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Kettners lunch’

Charles Dickens at the NLC

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 15th February, 2016

Jeremy ClarkeDickens groupiesCharles Dickens is often thought of as the quintessential Victorian novelist, though his career began before the young Victoria ascended the throne and he died in 1870. There was thus no way that he could ever have visited that most stylish of late Victorian edifices, Alfred Waterhouse’s National Liberal Club (NLC), which was founded in 1882 (though its magnificent premises on the north bank of the River Thames were not completed until five years later)  and to a degree remains a shrine to William Gladstone. However, the Kettner Lunch club — founded by Peter Boizot 42 years ago, originally at Kettner’s in Soho but latterly at the NLC –.has often doffed its cap in the direction of Dickens, but today it offered a special treat in terms of an illustrated lecture on My Boyhood’s Home: Dickens and North Kent by Dr Jeremy Clarke of the Dickens Museum in Rochester. It must be 20 years since I went down to Rochester specifically to see the Dickens collection at the Guildhall Museum and was pleased to know it is going great guns. Even better news was the revelation that Gad’s Hill, Dickens’s rather grand home at Higham, which has for some time been used as a school, may revert wholly to being a place for Dickens fans to make a pilgrimage. Though my own great literary love, Oscar Wilde, had a poor view of Dickens — thinking him old fashioned and at times mawkish — in fact the two of them were the real godfathers of modernism, at least insofar as we now see literature as much about the writer as about the text. Moreover, both were phenomenal self-promoters who also engaged directly with their public. No wonder Oscar was a little jealous of Charles, though I have to day that one’s admiration is somewhat dimmed by the fact that Dickens treated his wife even more shamefully than Wilde did his.

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Bob Worcester on the Royal Wedding and Yes2AV

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 28th April, 2011

Over the past four decades Sir Robert Worcester has established himself as the doyen of opinion pollsters in the United Kingdom. Though Kansas-born he took on British citizenship and lives happily in Kent, of whose University he is Chancellor. This lunchtime he was the guest speaker at the Kettner’s Lunch at the National Liberal Club, regaling us with the latest poll findings around the royal wedding. Only just over half of the UK population said they were very interested or fairly interested in the subject, yet fewer than 20 percent would like to see an end to the monarchy. Of much more concern to the NLC audience, however, was Bob’s take on the AV referendum. He strongly criticised the weak literature put out by the Yes campaign and said that current polls point to a victory for the No2AV. However, there is still a week to go and much may depend on the turnout in areas such as London and Scotland, where there seems to be more support for Yes2AV. Whatever the outcome of the referendum, he believes that there will be an almighty battle ahead when the government tries to reform the House of Lords, not only introducing STV as an election method but also slashing the total number of peers to around 300, who would be eligible for a single 15-year-term only. In the meantime, Bob has another book coming out shortly, co-authored with Roger Mortimore, Paul Baines and Mark Gill called Explaining Cameron’s Coalition — an analysis of the May 2010 general election and how the Lib-Con Coalition came about. The volume will be published by Biteback on 11 May — the first anniversary of the Coalition’s formation.

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Stephen Lloyd Regails the Kettners Lunch

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 16th March, 2011

One of the most heartening results of the May 2010 General Election was the Liberal Democrats’ capture of Eastbourne, after long years of trying. The new MP, Stephen Lloyd, had fortunately had enough experience of he world not to be fazed by the grandeur of the House of Commons and once the Coalition Agreement had been signed, realised that both he individually and the LibDems as a party would be in for a bumpy ride for a while. Moreover, as Stephen made clear in a speech to the Kettners Lunch Club today at the National Liberal Club, until one gets elected as an MP, politics can be an expensive business, not only in terms of money but also regarding one’s personal life. It demands a great deal of self-sacrifice. However, in Eastbourne he has had the advantage of a strong local team of helpers, as well as a well-run LibDem Council. He believes the party will retain control of Eastbourne at the local elections in May and probably should do quite well across parts of the country where the Conservatives are the main opponents. What the next general election will bring will depend entirely on how successfully the Coalition has delivered on its promises to get Britain’s finances in shape, though of course the introduction of AV — assuming the referendum delivers a ‘Yes’ vote — could produce some very interesting results.

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Poland’s Priorities for the EU

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 17th February, 2011

Only a little over two decades after the struggles of Lech Walesa and his Solidarity colleagues led to the downfall of Communism in Poland, the country is making preparations for holding the rotating presidency of the European Union. Although the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty has meant that there is now a ‘permanent’ President of the European Council — currently the former Belgian Prime Minister, Herman van Rompuy — every six months a key role in the organisation of the Union passes to one member state (currently Hungary). Today, at a Kettner’s lunch held at the National Liberal Club, which I chaired, the head of the political section of the Polish Embassy in London, Jacek Gajweski, gave an excellent, succinct presentation about what Warsaw hopes to prioritise during its half-year in the Brussels sun, starting on 1 July. The final programme will not be unveiled until June, but as far as Mr Gayewski can predict, the six main themse are likely to be:

1) strengthening the EU’s internal market

2) improving relations with the Eastern neighbourhood, including Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia etc

3) strengthening the EU’s energy policy

4) consolidation of the common security and defence policy

5) neogotiating the 2014-2020 financial framework

6) full utiliastion of Europe’s intellectual capital

He said that Poland hopes to see progress in EU enlargement moves, relating to Iceland, Croatia, other parts of the Western Balkans and Turkey. And he noted how internally, Poland has been changing since the country joined the EU in 2004. The proportion of the population employed in agriculture has been halved — though those remaining farmers are perhaps the most pro-EU of all Poles — and as far as the role of the Catholic Church is concerned, he quoted a media commentatorwho said a few yers ago, a propos of John Paul II, ‘We heard the Pope, but we did not listen.’

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David Howarth’s School of Government

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 14th September, 2010

David Howarth is one of those rare politicians who felt that one term in the House of Commons was quite enough. As LibDem MP for Cambridge from 2005-2010, he made a deep impression and was respected by Members of all parties, especially in his role as Justice spokesman. But commuting daily to London — where he did not take a second home — and dealing with all the business of politicking palled and academe (from which he had emerged) once more beckoned. As he made clear at the Kettner’s Lunch at the National Liberal Club today — at which he was the guest speaker — he has not retreated into an ivory tower, but rather into his garden (at least while the weather remains warm), working on his laptop, mainly on what is now his pet project: the creation of a School of Government at Cambridge University. As David explained in his short speech, too many MPs have had no real training in policy-making, or even in the practicalities of dealing with government. So he is working to help set up a one-year postgraduate course in a new School of Government that could be of immense use for would-be politicos. In conversation with me over lunch, he did confess a slight twinge of regret that had he stayed in Parliament he would almost certainly have been made junior Minister under Ken Clarke at the Ministry of Justice, in the Coalition government. But I have to say, I have never seen David happier and chirpier, more relaxed and savouring the life of a man who is once more in charge of his own time.

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Tom McNally on the Near Perfect Storm of 2010

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 16th February, 2010

The Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords, Tom McNally, was the guest speaker at the Kettner’s Lunch in the National Liberal Club today, giving an overview of where the party stands in the run-up to the General Election. He asked for Chatham House rules to be respected regarding some of the fine detail (probably very wisely, given all the media-driven speculation about hung parliaments), but the broad, publishable message he had was that the 2010 General Election presents a ‘near perfect storm’ for the LibDems, given the the public’s weariness with this Labour government and its distrust of David Cameron and his crew. Indeed, this could be the best opportunity Britain’s third party has had since 1983, when the Liberal-SDP Alliance scuppered its chances by spreading itself too thinly, so that it only emerged with 23 seats despite getting over 25 per cent of the vote. Much has been learnt about targeting since then. Were the party to poll over 25 percent this time, it should reap anything up to 100 MPs. If such an eventuality happens (quite possible given the party’s usual increase in voter appeal during an election campaign), then the impetus towards a fairer voting system would be considerable.

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Lord Lipsey on Electoral Reform

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 15th October, 2009

Lord LipseyThe Labour peer and former political editor of The Economist, David Lipsey, spoke on electoral reform at the Kettner lunch at the National Liberal Club today. As one might expect, he was largely preaching to the converted. As he was a member of the Jenkins Commission on electoral reform — whose findings have, alas, largely been  ignored by the Labour governments ever since — he was able to blend authority with anecdote. I loved his story about one  meeting of the Commission, at which Roy ordered a bottle of claret for the members, and then a second one just for himself. Despite this, he gave a lucid and brilliant summary of what had been said, ordred a gin and tonic when he got on the train back to London, then promptly fell fast asleep. It’s more than a pity that Lord Jenkins is not still around to weigh into the discussion now, at a time when most of the Brtish public seems to think that politics is broken and that bringing in electoral reform is maybe one part of the solution to mend it. Unfortunately, despite the good efforts of people such as Lord Lipsey, the Labour government has only agreed to put the offer of a referendum on electoral reform in its manifesto for the next general election, which it is most unlikely to win.

I have always been uncomfortable with the Jenkins Commission’s recommendation for the adoption of the AV+ system of voting in general elections for the House of Commons, rather than the more proportional STV (with which the electors of Ireland cope well). But David Lipsey is no fan of STV himself, mainly, he says, because it weakens the link between voter and parliamentarian. Anyway, it looks as if  any future change would be to AV+ (in which voters list candidates in a single-member constituency in order of preference, then the bottom ones successively drop out and have their first preferences redistributed, until one candidate achieves more than 50% and is declared elected. The ‘+’ bit would be a top-up list to ensure that parties come out of the whole elction with an overall share of representation more or less proportional to their total vote). But maybe this discussion still remains academic. As David Lipsey said, the likehood of it happening anytime soon is very slim.

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