For several years now, I have been celebrating Burns Night with Lewisham Liberal Democrats at the home of two hospitable members in Honor Oak Park. To the best of my knowledge I do not have any Scottish links, nor is any of the participants at these jolly occasions usually a Scot, but that does not stop us entering into the spirit of the evening with gusto. We follow the set pattern of speeches, which usually includes me addressing the haggis, in a mangling of Scots that might make Rabbie Burns spin in his grave. But I hope it would amuse him too. It is surely good that even Sassenachs — and a few other ethnicities here in multicultural London — gather to commemorate Scotland’s bard. I believe that as Liberal Democrats, as indeed for the British public in general, we should celebrate diversity, and that means the cultural diversity within Britain as well as abroad. Moreover, theme nights are a great way of bringing party members together, new and old, for socialising that helps bonding inside political teams. Campaigning is the core activity of political parties, but a team is more likely to be happy and gel if the campaigning work is leavened by social occasions. Moreover, in the run-up to the EU Referendum, which may or may not take place later this year, there will be countless opportunities for country-themed evenings, which can also be useful fundraisers as well. There are 27 other EU member states to choose from, not to mention some of their constituent parts. Anyone up for Hungarian goulash or a Paella Party?
Posts Tagged ‘Lewisham Liberal Democrats’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 24th January, 2016
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 25th November, 2015
Most of the Liberal Democrats’ big beasts in the House of Commons were swept away in May’s nightmare general election, but one exception was Norman Lamb, MP for North Norfolk and former Minister of State for Care and Support. It was largely through his determination as a Minister in the 2010-2015 Coalition government that mental health moved into more of a position of parity with physical health in the British government’s priorities and perceptions. So that was inevitably one of the major topics for discussion when he came to speak to Lewisham Liberal Democrats at a dinner in Blackheath last night. However, the thrust of most of his remarks was forward-looking, not backward-looking, in particular highlighting the size of the mountain that the LibDems have to climb in order to become a political force with clout once again. There is a fine cohort of more than 100 LibDem peers in the House of Lords which are doing sterling work in trying to hold the Conservatives to account. But in the House of Commons, there are only eight LibDem MPs left, making them not even the third largest party and therefore depriving them of some automatic rights to speak in debates. The media are mainly ignoring the Party and therefore an arresting new narrative, based on Liberal principles, is needed to grab people’s attention. Norman spoke fondly of the legacy of the passionate radical Jo Grimond, who in the 1960s helped the then Liberal Party punch above its weight thanks to his principles and rhetoric — an observation that resonated with me as I was rallied to the Liberal cause by Jo Grimond personally when he came to speak to my school in the run-up to the March 1966 general election. We have to find both the issues and the passion, to hone a distinctive message, Norman said, suggesting that one topic that might attract younger voters would be reform of Britain’s antiquated drug laws. I also believe that the LibDem MPs should be prepared to take a stand against David Cameron’s call for more direct military engagement in Syria unless United Nations involvement and diplomatic activity aimed at a political settlement are to the fore.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 21st July, 2015
One of the key policy areas many Liberal Democrats will be focussing on now we are in opposition to the Conservatives is human rights, which have been prominent in the campaigning values of both the national party and our wider Liberal International family. So it was timely that Lewisham Liberal Democrats this evening hosted a dinner in Blackheath at which the speaker was the recently knighted Simon Hughes, who was Minister for Justice for a short period before the May election. A lawyer by training, Simon had an interesting slant on the subject to help us finesse our campaigning tactics in that he is not necessarily opposed to the idea of a British Bill of Rights so long as that retains the core principles enshrined within the European Convention on Human Rights (which was of course largely framed by British legal minds). As he told the gathering at the Everest Inn Nepalese restaurant, the Conservatives (with some noble exceptions) have been damning the Human Rights Act as a flawed Labour invention, which while technically true rather misses the point.
Simon also pointed out that with the exception of unqualified rights such as that against being subject to torture and degrading treatment most of the articles in the ECHR do have qualifications, which are often ignored or misrepresented by the more unscrupulous sections of the British Press. Most of the ‘scandals’ highlighted in the Daily Mail and the Daily Express have been related to Article 8 of the Convention, in particular regarding the right to a family life, but it is perfectly possible for British courts to make sound judgments without offending the principles of the Convention. There seemed to be a feeling among members present — many of whom had campaigned for Simon in his sadly unsuccessful attempt to retain his parliamentary seat in Old Southwark and Bermondsey — that the Conservatives are in danger of wanting to throw the baby out with the bathwater on this issue, though they may find changing our relationship to the ECHR difficult to get through the House of Lords. It would be crazy as well as self-defeating for the UK to withdraw from the ECHR, but that message needs to be got over to the general public in an understandable way. At the end of the evening, instead of the conventional raffle, a collection was made for relief efforts in Nepal, in which the owner of Everest Inn has been involved, as the after-effects of the eathquake are still severe.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 4th November, 2012
Last night I joined Lewisham Liberal Democrats for a curry supper at the house of a couple of members before we all headed up to Blackheath Common where a throng of many thousands had gathered to watch the famous firework display. This year’s show was a few minutes shorter than some previous years’, as Greenwich Council reportedly withdrew funding for budgetary reasons, so Lewisham had to shoulder all the burden. It was cetrainly worth it. There was a floral theme to the display, as rockets shot up into the sky where they blossomed into giant chrysanthemums and protea — even magnificent palm trees at one stage. Brilliant and fully worthy of the enthusiastic applause from the punters. The whole of the centre of Blackheath village was a sea of people as we left, but a mixture of stewards and police ensured that the mass moved forward slowly and safely and even effectively managed to funnel those people who don’t live locally onto the station platforms. There was a terrific atmosphere, like one big party. So, Lewisham, from someone who was there for the first time: thank you!
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 30th June, 2012
The Liberal Democrats’ Parliamentary Candidates Association (PCA) has produced several editions of Who’s Who in the Liberal Democrats, listing the parliamentary and civic achievements of leading members of the Party (or at least those who filled in the necessary form, as is indeed the case with ‘the’ Who’s Who). But I can’t help feeling that it would be more entertaining if a volume were produced which highlighted the creative side of Liberal Democrat activists. Some people might be surprised by the revelations. Pete Pattisson, Councillor for Whitefoot ward in Lewisham om south-east London, for example, is a notable photographer and film-maker who in recent years has particularly focussed on Burma (aka Myanmar). Over the last few years he has done a number of shorts for the Guardian, sometimes by entering Burma through Rangoon (Yangon), sometimes crossing the border from neighbouring countries. And this evening he shared some of these films with attendees at a Lewisham Liberal Democrats’ Pizza and Politics at his home. There is a lot that can make us hopeful about developments in Burma, after decades of military rule and repression, not least the release of hundreds of political prisoners and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi (from house arrest). ‘The Lady’, as she is widely known, was successfully elected to the Burmese parliament in a by-election not so long ago, though she got her knuckles metaphorically rapped the other day by the men still in power for calling her homeland Burma (the old Britsh appelation) and not Myanmar, the name imposed by the junta. But as Pete’s clips — some of which you can find easily find on YouTube — vividly portray, life for many in Burma is still difficult, endemic poverty exacerbated by natural disasters and even the plague of rats attracted by the twice-in-a-century flowering of bamboo. I have only been to Burma once, way back in 1969, when I was making my way slowly back from Vietnam, where I had been a cub reporter covering the War. The lasting image that stays in my mind, even at that time of a closed, impoverished country very much under the military’s heel, was the sublime atmosphere of the Shwedagon pagoda in Rangoon. I circled it barefoot at sunset with Buddhist pilgrims, not a tourist in sight; visas were not readily given. Moreover, for years since then people in the West were urged to stay away from Burma, in protest at the junta’s restrictions. But today Aung San Suu Kyi has put out the welcome mat, saying that foreign visitors should go, not only to savour Burma’s special quality, but to link up with the people and help them along the road to a more open society.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma, Lewisham, Lewisham Liberal Democrats, Liberal Democrats, Myanmar, PCA, Pete Pattisson, Rangoon, Shwedagon Pagoda, Whitefoot, Yangon | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 22nd January, 2012
Burns Night has become an even more quintessentially Scottish celebration than Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve). It is normally celebrated on the 25th of January up and down the country with haggis, tatties (potatos) and neeps (swede), usually washed down with great quantities of alcohol, not least the whisky used in toasts. Apart from the wonderfully theatrical address to the haggis and its belabouring with a dagger, the toasts to the lassies (girls) and the lads (boys) are a great opportunity for a fine mixture of gallantry and sexist jokes. Burns himself was, of course, a great ladies’ man, a seducer with his poetic words as well as with his looks, though as fickle as a bumble bee flitting from one ripe blossom to the next. Given the migration of Scots worldwide over the centuries, it is not surprising that Burns Night is celebrated almost everywhere, from Buenos Aires to Dubai, but what is maybe astonishing is the relish with which Sassenachs (English) have taken the ceremony and the celebration to their hearts. It is not only in the grand London Clubs, such the Caledonian (predictably) and the National Liberal Club, that Burns Night features in the annual calendar with due pomp. Even local Liberal Democrat parties have got in on the act. Merton LibDems’ Burns Night is famous for its authentic food and traditions and they usually get a Scottish MP to make one of the speeches. Haringey LibDems are also starting to make a reputation for themselves in similar vein. But Lewisham LibDems’ Burns Night, which I joined (for at least the third time) last evening, is unique. Apart from the fact that it occurs on a convenient Saturday, rather than on the day itself, it is a totally English (or at least, Scots-free) affair, albeit with the requisite food and drink. Local activists and visitors (me included) act out the toasts and readings of poems by the Master in accents that would make any true Scotsman weep, but a great time is had by all. And if by any chance Alex Salmond does hoodwink the Scots into opting for independence, I trust the English Burns Nights will continue to flourish.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Burns Night, Caledonian Club, Haringey Liberal Democrats, Hogmanay, Lewisham Liberal Democrats, Merton Liberal Democrats, National Liberal Club, Rabbie Burns, Robert Burns | 3 Comments »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 29th July, 2011
When Vince Cable launched his plan for a ‘mansion tax’ on homes worth more than £1 million, there were howls of dismay from LibDem activists in places such as Richmond Park and Kensington & Chelsea, where even quite modest dwellings are now worth well in excess of a million, thanks to London’s absurdly over-priced property market. There was then talk of a £2 million threshold instead, but the scheme was still unpopular and some Liberal Democrat party members actually resigned in protest. However, the LibDem Deputy Leader, Simon Hughes, last night unveiled at a Lewisham LibDems supper an intriguing variation which has gone to his colleagues in government for consideration: a Mansion Tax for non-doms, inlcuding oligarchs from the former Soviet Union — billionaires whose hunger for prime London property has been a major factor in house price escalation. Boris Johnson, London’s Tory Mayor, will doubtless scoff at the proposal, saying it will drive the super-rich foreigners away. But for the super-rich the ‘pain’ will be minimal, whereas the government’s coffers will get a useful boost and UK residents who happen to live in what is now a very expensive part of town will not be ‘fined’ for doing so.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Boris Johnson, former Soviet Union, Kensington & Chelsea, Lewisham Liberal Democrats, Liberal Democrats, oligarchs, Richmond Park, Simon Hughes, Vince Cable | 1 Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 18th January, 2011
Tonight was the not the first time LibDem London Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon has spoken to a Lewisham party dinner, though in the old days these extremely convivial evnings were known as the Blackheath Supper Club and did indeed migrate around the many good and exotic restaurants of the northern part of the borough. But this evening we were down in Brockley, for a Thai meal at which Caroline put a discreet stiletto into Mayor Boris Johnson in absentia. She is the lead person on transport, which is perhaps the most important single brief within the GLA and ceratainly the subject that gets most people agitated. The shock-horror news of this evening’s presentation was that many millions of pounds have been wasted — notably at Shepherd’s Bush tube station — introducing accessibility (i.e. lifts), to no effect, as the shafts are non-functional. Similarly, Boris made a great hoo-ha about replacing bendy buses with his new style Routemasters, but the latter will be few in number and horrendously costly. Moreover, their back open platform will only function off-peak. Boo-hiss. Caroline will be leading the LibDem team in next year’s GLA elections and a good thing too. She has proved a bit hit in London and continues to provide a service which ought to be apreciated by far more than those who actually vote for her and the party.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 28th November, 2009
Like many Liberal Democrats, I was deeply fond of Conrad Russell (1937-2004). When his slightly shambolic figure, dressed in a grubby overcoat and carrying his papers in a plastic carrier bag, hove into view, one knew that one was in for an intellectual feast as soon as he opened his mouth. The Chamber of the House of Lords would fill up when the 5th Earl Russell rose to speak. He was an eminent historian, notably of the 17th century, but he had his feet firmly planted in the contemporary world as well. He cared deeply about injustice and poverty and social exclusion, lacing his erudition with compassion and wit. So it was fitting this evening that a goodly crowd gathered to remember him at a memorial dinner organised by his younger son, John (a LibDem Councillor in Lewisham), in the Lloyd George Room (‘Lloyd George jailed my father,’ quipped Conrad) in the National Liberal Club. The keynote speaker was the historian and TV ‘personality’ David Starkey, who gave a predictably bravura performance, basically arguing that Conrad marked the end of an age. Dr Starkey was not at all complimentary about the standard of the current membership of the Upper Chamber, despite the fact that Baroness (Sally) Hamwee was sitting by his side. I’m not sure that some of Conrad’s progeny would have welcomed David Starkey’s claim that Conrad would have been an incomprehensible phenomenon except as a noble, an aristocrat. But he deployed his arguments with such sly humour, rhetoric and trademark camp arrogance that one surrendered to the bonhommie of the occasion, the good food and wine — and pondered how much Conrad would have savoured the prospect of the LibDems’ great surge in Lewisham in 2010.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: 5th Earl Russell, Conrad Russell, Councillor John Russell, David Lloyd George, David Starkey, Lewisham Liberal Democrats, Liberal Democrats, National Libera Club, Sally Hamwee | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 22nd June, 2009
Holding the Mayor to account is about all that members of the Great London Assembly (GLA) can do, but that role is itself essential in a system in which the anointed one (Boris Johnson for the moment) has a great deal of power and an ability to accrue even more. Assiduous Assembly members can indeed take the Mayor to task if they work at it. And just as Lynne Featherstone (now LibDem MP for Hornsey and Wood Green) got her teeth into Ken Livingstone on transport issues when she was on the GLA, so now Caroline Pidgeon, holding the same brief for the party, is scoring hit after hit on BoJo. In a speech to the lively Lewisham LibDem supper club at a Turkish restaurant in Lewisham Way this evening, Caroline highlighted how the Mayor has been slashing transport infrastructure projects across the capital — such as the cross-river tram and the further extension of the DLR — while demanding that local councils in boroughs badly affected by these cuts still meet targets for affordable house-builds. Presumably he expects the prospective inhabitants to cycle everywhere. Meanwhile he has trumpeted his desire to dispose of bendy buses (at vast cost), even though that will be contractually impossible in the short-term and they are the most practical form of public transport on long, straight routes. Cuts will be the leitmotif of Boris’s second year in office, Caroline warned — maybe a taste of what is to come if people are foolish enough to vote a Conservative government into power with an outright majority at the general election.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: bendy buses, Boris Johnson, Caroline Pidgeon, cross-river tram, GLA, Greater London Assembly, Hornsey and Wood Green, Ken Livingstone, Lewisham Liberal Democrats, Lewisham Way, London Mayor, Lynne Featherstone | Leave a Comment »