Jonathan Fryer

Posts Tagged ‘Liberal Democrats’

Tim Farron Hits the Spot

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 23rd September, 2015

Tim Farron 2When Tim Farron was elected Leader of the Liberal Democrats earlier this year there were many, both inside and outside the party, who wondered whether he would be able to cut the mustard. From his period as President we knew he was a brilliant speaker, and that he was the perfect warm-up man for rallies, including federal conference. But would he have the gravitas of his predecessors, given that he had never held any higher public office than being the (extremely effective) MP for Westmoreland and Lonsdale? That question was swirling around in the hall at the LibDem conference in Bournemouth this week, not least because the former leader, Nick Clegg, gave such a masterful, polished performance in a speech that rightly brought the delegates to their feet. One newbie member (of whom there were a lot in Bournemouth) sitting next to me at the time whispered in my ear, “Now, that’s a leader!” But Tim’s speech to conference this lunchtime, closing what was the best-attended ever LibDem conference, will certainly have laid any fears to rest. It was passionate and it was Liberal and there cannot have been anyone in the hall who doubted that it was totally, utterly sincere. Tim chastised David Cameron for his shoddy response to the current refugee crisis, as well as for his dangerous flirtation with Brexit. The Liberal Democrats are European and internationalist and Tim is firmly in that tradition, with a gritty northern directness that commands attention. He also mentioned core domestic issues, such as the environment and the need for social housing, showing that he can indeed be the voice of the reasonable but principled opposition to the Conservatives. As David Cameron has been dragged to the right by his Eurosceptics and elitist chums and Jeremy Corbyn takes Labour on a magical mystery cruise to we-know-not-where, so Tim Farron has staked out the Liberal Democrats’ political ground, in the radical, compassionate centre, underlined by his heartfelt plea for a more humane approach to refugees. In a nutshell, he has hit the spot.

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Yes to Europe, Great for Britain!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 21st September, 2015

imageimageTim Farron positioned the Liberal Demcrats firmly at the fore of the campaign for Britain to remain a member of the European Union in a rousing speech to a packed fringe meeting at the Party’s Bournemouth conference today. He described himself as a patriot who loves his neighbours and said that the forthcoming EU referendum was the most important challenge that Liberals in this country face. About a third of the population is resolutely anti-EU and a third is keenly aware of the benefits of EU membership. That means that victory or defeat depends on persuading the other third, who are not sure either way — and getting them out to vote. Nick Hopkinson, Chair of the Liberal Democrat European Group (LDEG), opened the meeting by recalling his own childhood in Canada, at a time when Quebec separatists were effectively forcing anglophones like his family out of the province. Laura Sandys, a former Conservative MP and Chair of the cross-party European Movement, produced a resounding rallying call of “Yes to Europe, Great for Britain!”, while Catherine Bearder wrapped herself in a Union flag shawl to emphasize that staying in the EU is the most patriotic thing Brits can do. While UKIP seeks to take Brutain back to an England of the 1950s, the LibDems are now committed to moving the country forward with Europe, but no-one should under-estimate the challenges of the political battle ahead, with a Tory Prime Minister who seems to be sleep-walking towards the Brexit door and a new leader of the Opposition who is Luke-warm on his support for the EU at best.

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EU Migrants Welcome Here!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 21st September, 2015

Europe and Britain’s continued membership of the European Union were centre stage at the Liberal Democrat conference in Bournemouth yesterday morning, as we debated (and passed overwhelmingly) a motion calling for a vigorous campaign in favour of remaining in the EU in the referendum that is forthcoming, probably in the Autumn of next year. There were some powerful speeches, including from the mover, Peter Price (one of a number of former Conservative MEPs who defected to the LibDems over Europe) and the summator, former London MEP Baroness Ludford. I spoke in favour of four lines in the motion school which referred to freedom of movement. Though the LibDems are massively in favour of Britain’s EU membership (with a few exceptions, such as the speaker from Somerset and Frome, who spoke against the motion) I am under no illusion that the British public as a whole has yet been persuaded. So although I relish the prospect of the referendum campaign we should not fool ourselves that it is going to be easy. It’s not just the Faragistas who will be campaigning all out to take Britain out, even some Tory MEPs, such as Daniel Hannan, openly advocate withdrawal. Moreover, they will fight a scare-mongering campaign, pandering to some of the worst fears and prejudices of sizeable sections of the public, not least regarding free movement — which is a central pillar of the EU single market, from which Britain has benefitted enormously. Recently, along with tens of thousands of other people, I marched in London under the slogan “Refugees Welcome Here!” As I said in my speech, the LibDems need to have the courage over the coming months to also argue”EU Migrants Welcome Here!” Just as more than two million Brits have enjoyed the benefits of studying, working or just living in other EU member states so EU migrants have brought new dynamism to the UK economy. We must stand up and be proud in our defence of the EU case. We are all Europe!

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The LibDem Conference Rally

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 20th September, 2015

imageThe Liberal Democrat conference in Bournemouth is reportedly the best-attended ever, and certainly the traditional opening rally last night was packed, including many new faces. One of the thousands of new party members, a 19-year student from Bristol called Amy, followed party president Sal Brinton as a speaker, describing her own journey into membership. In contrast, the candidate for Mayor of London, Caroline Pidgeon, has been in the party for 25 years and has been making waves as a member of the London Assembly, holding Mayor Boris Johnson to account. In her speech, she emphasized how the elections next May in London, Wales and Scotland can be the springboard for the LibDemFightBack, which is the slogan of this conference. One of her GLA running mates, Zack Polanski, provided the rally’s main entertainment, along with the multiracial London gospel choir that he sings in. Tim Pickstone from the Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors (ALDC) reminded us that many council seats up and down the country will also be up for grabs next May. He then introduced someone he had signed up as a young student, Tim Farron — now transformed into Leader, rather than the comedy warm-up act that he has been in previous conferences. He particularly mentioned the forthcoming EU referendum and claimed for the Liberal Democrats the role as the radical but sensible opposition to the Conservative government, which in just four months has overthrown many if the good things brought in over the past five years when the LibDems were part of the Coslition government.

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The London March for Refugees

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 12th September, 2015

imageimageMany tens of thousands of people, of all ages and ethnicities, marched from Marble Arch to 10 Downing Street in London this afternoon in solidarity with refugees, especially those from Syria. The main chant and slogan on banners was “Refugees Welcome Here!”, echoing the actions of citizens in Germany and calling Prime Minister David Cameron to account for not being more generous — or indeed, precise — about how many refugees Britain will take and when. There were a good number of Socialist Worker Party members present, celebrating the triumph of Jeremy Corbyn in Labour’s leadership election and also a few genuine Trots, who made up for their small number by employing a mobile sound system that enabled them to drown out some of the pro-refugee messages with their diatribes against capitalism and all the “corrupt” mainstream political parties (including the Greens!). There was an excellent turnout of LibDems, not just from London, and Tim Farron was one of the keynote speakers. We were blessed with the most perfect Indian summer’s day, which added to the festive atmosphere. A sizable proportion of British people are ready to respond to the current refugee and migrant crisis, however hard media such as the Daily Express tries to poison minds against them. But clearly this is an issue which Britain cannot solve on its own, which is why the British government should be cooperating more closely with France, Germany and other EU member states that have taken a lead, as well as boosting global action by the United Nations. Some Syrian refugees are being driven by hunger to return to Syria from refugee camps in neighbouring countries, because the World Food Programme has had to halve rations as it has run out of cash. Saudi Arabia, for one, could fund what is needed there without blinking an eye.

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City & London East LibDems Ready for GLA 2016

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 8th September, 2015

imageOf all the mega-constituencies in London’s city-wide elections City and London East has long been the Cindarella as far as the Liberal Democrats are concerned. Though once strong in the borough of Tower Hamlets the Party currently has no Councillors there or in Newham or in Barking & Dagenham. The “City” part is the Corporation of London, whose Common Councillors are usually devoid of party political affiliation. However, that situation may be about to change, as, in common with many other parts of Britain, the east of London has seen a large influx of new members, many of them young and keen. For many of them, 2016 offers the first chance of direct political engagement as LibDems, in the London Assembly and Mayoral elections next way and, probably, the EU in/out referendum in the Autumn. This evening, in Bow Church, a hustings was held to choose the candidate for the GLA constituency; both women who put themselves forward were Damian to many, as Elaine Bagshaw fought Poplar & Limehous in May’s general election while Teena Lashmore fought neighbouring Bethnal Green & Bow. Elaine was also the LibDem candidate in the rerun of the Tower Hamlets mayoral election earlier this summer. Both candidates highlighted the issue of housing it homes, and each had her own salient qualities. Elaine stressed her campaigning experience on the doorstep and online, while Teena argued that being a visible ethnic minority woman made her look like the face if the electorate in a East a London today. In the event, it was Elaine who just won through — by one vote! Warm congratulations to her and also to Teena for putting up a spirited fight. Teena is also standing for the LibDems’ GLA top-up list, for which online voting is currently underway.

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Simon Hughes Conquers Everest

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 21st July, 2015

Simon Hughes 4One 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.

Nepal eathquakeSimon 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.

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Farron Calls for Visibility, Dynamism and Viability

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 20th July, 2015

Tim Farron 2The July meeting of the Liberal Democrats’ federal executive (FE) was put back a week to tonight so the new party leader could be present. As everyone now knows, that is Tim Farron, who certainly got lots of attention on the TV over the weekend. But with only eight MPs, can the Liberal Democrats maintain high visibility? That is going to be one Tim’s three priorities, he informed the FE, and as he won’t get the same opportunities in the House of Commons Chamber that his predecessor Nick Clegg had as Deputy Prime Minister, at the head of a far larger cohort of MPs in a Coalition government, Farron may have to use other possibilities, including Westminster Hall meetings and other public platforms. Of course, to get visibility the Liberal Democrats must have a distinctive message, and I believe he is right in seeing that at the moment as being partly a matter of having a coherent and morally defensible position on dealing with Islamic State and the complex web of issues relating to that.

dynamismSecondly, Tim argued, the LibDems must have dynamism — radiating an energy that enthuses people. Whether one was a Farron or a Lamb supporter in the recent leadership contest, I think all of us would agree that Tim is a kind of human dynamo, which is why he was such a successful party president. Given the many thousands of new members who have flocked to join the party since May, that dynamism is something that local parties have got to radiate, not just the leader. Finally, Tim stressed viability: which all comes down to money. One of the few consolations of being out of government is that the Liberal Democrats do now receive so-called Short money, designed to help opposition parties prepare their political arguments. But that is just a drop in the ocean when one thinks of the resources that will be needed to make the LibDem Fight-back a reality. The party doesn’t get large handouts from big business, like the Tories, or cash subsidies from the trade unions, like Labour. So it is going to have to be far more expert at crowd-funding, basically, including in the EU referendum YES campaign, when the LibDems will be championing the cause of Britain’s remaining a member of the EU.

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Future Directions of Liberalism

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 19th July, 2015

Hackney LD garden partyThere is a certain satisfaction, not necessarily smug, among Liberal Democrats that we have got our leadership election over while the Labour Party is still facing a summer of grueling conflict between their various contenders. Actually, there was very little ‘conflict’ or indeed major difference between Tim Farron and Norman Lamb, despite their varying experience and style, as they are both Liberals to their core, so although I put Norman first on my ballot paper I am very happy to campaign with Tim, who is a brilliant communicator. Anyway, now the Leader is in place, what do the LibDems actually stand for? This is an important question for the electorate, given that the identity of the Party got blurred within the Coalition. And as a result, as Lynne Featherstone, formerly MP for Hornsey & Wood Green and Minister at DFID (and the Home Office) said at a garden party discussion put on by Hackney LibDems this afternoon on the theme ‘Future Directions for the Liberal Demorats’, the LibDems got toxified by the Tories while the Tories got semi-detoxified by us. Hence, in part, our electoral disaster, which saw Lynne and so many superb colleagues swept away. But as she pointed out, we did get through key LibDem policies while she was in office, such as Equal Marriage and the campaign against FGM. For such things we can be truly proud. Evan Harris, who unexpectedly got narrowly booted out of Oxford West & Abingdon in 2010 and was also a guest speaker at today’s Hackney event, issues of civil liberties were at the fore. After all, he has been at the forefront of the Hacked Off campaign since he lost his seat. Interestingly, the members present (who included several newbies from the post-election influx) highlighted the issue of BaME under-representation in the Party, something I wrote about after the recent Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats (EMLD) leadership hustings a while back. There is no denying the fact that we now have just eight MPs, all of whom are straight white males, though in fairness the candidates standing in many held and target seats this May were far more diverse than that. In London, especially, this is a major issue we have to face, perhaps the biggest issue of all; if we do not look like the city we aspire to represent, how can we expect people to vote for us? Knowing the candidates in the running for the London elections next year (Mayor and GLA members) I am confident that we are going to be putting forward a wonderfully diverse list, whoever finally gets selected. But can we then persuade the voters of London to back them? That is the question we need to ask if we are going to chart the direction of the Party henceforth.

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Tim and Norman Put on the Spot

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 30th June, 2015

EMLD hustingsTim Farron and Norman Lamb had to face what was probably the most difficult hustings of their LibDem leadership contest so far tonight at an event put on by Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats (EMLD) at the Draper Hall in Southwark. The meeting was chaired by Simon Wooley of Operation Black Vote, who had some pretty penetrating questions of his own about how the Liberal Democrats have failed to resonate with so much of the BaME community over the past five years — in contrast to the groundswell of support from Muslims in particular when Charles Kennedy bravely opposed the Iraq War. Both candidates acknowledged that the Party is currently in an unfortunate pace, in which there are only eight MPs, all of whom are white men. That means there are gender issues to be confronted. too. But it is the striking way that the LibDems fail to reflect the ethnic diversity of modern Britain at all levels, including membership, that needs to be tackled most urgently. Prominent LibDem politicians such as Nick Clegg and Simon Hughes have often referred to the problem, yet it self-evidently has not been solved (though Simon did establish an excellent relationship with the large African community in his constituency over the 32 years that he represented it). Indeed, it has got worse.

EMLD logo The great irony is that actually Liberal core values of inclusiveness, equality and respect for the individual should all chime in with a multicultural reality. Moreover, the Party has often taken stances on issues such as immigration and the rights of asylum seekers that are more progressive than those of either the Conservatives or Labour. But the predominantly BaME audience at the EMLD hustings was not ready to give either Tim or Norman an easy ride. They were both chided for not doing enough while the Party was in government to prevent the slashing of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s budget (and therefore its staff). Several members expressed frustration that sometimes they feel they are token ethnic members, useful for photographs, but often handicapped when it came to achieving political office. Interestingly, both Tim and Norman, when pressed, came out in favour of positive discrimination as a temporary measure to ensure that some BaME LibDems do get elected, though not all the EMLD members present favoured that. Both men pledged to reach out to diverse communities if they do become Leader, and Norman was able to point to relevant work he had done with regard to mental health and discrimination against ethnic minorities when he was Minister for Health and Social Care. Tim strongest personal narrative is that he does not fit the standard Westminster white male MP’s profile in having been brought up in relative poverty in Lancashire by a determined single mother, which gives him a certain natural empathy for the marginalised of society. Despite the quite rough ride that the two candidates had tonight, both came across as sincere and passionate and determined that whichever one of them wins, racial equality issues, including police stop-and-search and discrimination in the provision of public services, will be one of their prime concerns. Simon Wooley, resolutely non-partisan, acknowledged that and reiterated what many people in this country think: that Britain needs a principled Liberal party and that the Liberal Democrats need to fit for purpose to meet that challenge.

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