Jonathan Fryer

Posts Tagged ‘Liberal Democrats’

INtogether Action Day

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 15th May, 2016

INtogether NewhamAcross Britain yesterday, hundreds of local Liberal Democrat parties organised street stalls promoting a Remain vote in the Euro-Referendum. I briefly manned the one outside Stratford Station in Newham and although inevitably many people rushed past without stopping, anxious to catch their train or to do their Saturday shopping, it was encouraging just how many people did engage, voluntarily approaching the stall (where we had about 10 activists from across the capital) to take literature and ask questions. Newham is an ethnically very diverse area, but there was just as much interest among Asian and Afro-Caribbean passers-by as among the whites. What was very striking, though, was the difference of attitude according to age. Many older white women in particular said “I’m voting OUT!”, whereas younger people were almost all in favour of Remain. The keenest of all were 15- and 16-year-olds, not least black girls, though of course they cannot vote. If Mr Cameron had thought about things more deeply he should have tried to get the franchise reduced to 16, as happened in Scotland’s independence referendum. After all, it is the young people whose future will be most affected by the decision to stay or go. Moreover, older people tend to vote more regularly than the young, that could skew the result. Doubtless that is what UKIP and Tory Outers like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove hope. Nonetheless, I feel that a narrow vote in favour of Remain is the most likely outcome, especially now that the Governor of the Bank of England and other authoritative non-politicians are weighing into the argument. Depressingly, the Brexit camp is still putting out lies, the two most common being that Britain pays £350 million into the EU every week and that the accounts of the Union have never been approved. That’s why it is so important to be out in the streets and knocking on doors putting the INtogether case.

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Syria: Think of Reconstruction Now

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 14th March, 2016

Syria destructionIt was striking that in his speech to the Liberal Democrat spring conference in York, Tim Farron devoted a lot of time to the refugee crisis and in particular the Conservative government’s failure to step up to the plate adequately in meeting the needs of the most vulnerable people, especially those fleeing the carnage in Syria. This is something Tim clearly feels passionately about and is also a fine issue on which Liberals can campaign. Moreover, an emergency motion on Syria won the ballot for debate early yesterday morning, emphasizing that the subject is uppermost in people’s minds. The fact that six of the eight LibDem MPs voted in favour of the UK joining in the US-led Coalition’s bombing of ISIS/Daesh in Syria is still a sensitive matter; both Paul Reynolds and I outlined our opposition to that at a fringe meeting of the Liberal Democrat Peace and Security Group the previous evening.

Bashar al-AssadBut in the emergency motion debate in the main hall I stressed how important it is that thought be given already to the reconstruction of Syria, which some UN estimates suggest could require up to US$4 trillion. There will be a difficult period of reconciliation to go through but my impression is that the vast majority of Syrian refugees would like to return to their homeland when it is safe to do so, always presuming the cities are made habitable. The situation is very complex and it is true that some areas of the country, notably those under the Assad government’s control, are relatively intact. But Assad and the Russians have bombed much of the rest to oblivion. I argued that Britain and France have a particular historic responsibility for helping resolve the Syrian mess, preferably as part of an EU diplomatic effort, which would lead to all interested parties being involved, including Russia and Iran. Understandably, much of the debate on the motion centred on short-term measures, but I underlined how vital it is that we learn from the lessons of Iraq and Libya and make sure that there is a proper, workable plan in place for what happens if or when Assad goes.

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The York LibDem IN Rally

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 11th March, 2016

imageThe Liberal Democrats’ Spring conference in York got off to a rousing start this evening with a rally underscoring the Party’s almost unanimous support for Britain to remain in the EU. The sole remaining LibDem MEP, Catherine Bearder, highlighted how her brand of patriotism involves Brutain at the heart of Europe, but some of the most impressive interventions from the platform this evening were from young newbies to the party, notably a young Muslim criminal lawyer from Walthamstow called Mohsin, and 18-year-old Lauren, who fought a brilliant campaign in a difficult ward in the London borough of Southwark recently. Tim Farron rounded off the proceedings; he is at his best in this sort of friendly environment, half serious, half jokey, but totally committed to Britain’s future in the EU. There was also a video of messages of solidarity from MEPs from continental sister parties in the ALDE Group in the European Parliament, all basically stressing that an EU without Britain will be diminished. Personally, I believe the turnout is going to be crucial in the EU Referendum on 23 June, with a higher turnout favouring Remain. That is why it is so important that some of the impressive youngsters we saw at the rally tonight get out motivate their peers, both to register and to vote.

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LibDems and Labour Must Be INTogether to Stop Brexit

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 28th February, 2016

LibDems INtogetherLabour RemainHearing Angela Eagle MP on the Marr Show defending the EU and the importance of British membership really drove home the importance of Labour and the LibDems working together in the EU referendum campaign, as the incurably split Conservatives tear themselves apart. Only five Labour MPs have come out as backing the LEAVE campaign, including the maverick Kate Hoey, which means that they have plenty of opportunity to make the case for REMAIN up and down the country (well, England and Wales; the Scottish Nationalists will be shouldering the burden of doing that north of the border). Labour was often vicious to and about LibDems during the 2010-2015 Coalition government which means that many LibDem activists do not see Labour as a natural ally. Indeed, anyone like me who grew up in a Labour rotten borough has a natural instinct to treat the party warily. However, given that the LibDems have only eight MPs now and the media do not pay as much attention to Peers, of which we have over 100, we need to work together on this single issue. The threat of Brexit is too great to let tribal loyalties divide us. Of course each party can work specifically among its own supporters as appropriate but out on the streets of our towns and villages we need to have a coherent, unified, simple set of messages about why being in the EU has been good for Britain, from food safety to workers’ rights and cheap flights and reduced mobile phone roaming charges. UKIP will be treating this Referendum as a life-or-death battle; if the vote is for REMAIN, Nigel Farage and Co will deflate. But we need to recognise that Labour can speak to working class voters who are natural Labour supporters, but who are wooed by UKIP, in a way not many LibDems can. And, who knows, if working in tandem in the INTogether campaign is a success we might also find other important common causes, such as exchanging our distorting electoral system for PR!

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Shas Sheehan’s Plea for Refugees

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 12th February, 2016

Refugees are human beingsThis is the time of the year when Liberal Democrat local parties organise sessions to discuss the agenda for the Party’s forthcoming Spring conference, but Hackney LibDems decided instead at their Poppadoms and Politics last night to focus more directly on the burning issue of refugees, and in particular those who have been fleeing the last five years of carnage in Syria. Shas outlined the evolution of the Syrian conflict, which I have also been following on a day-by-day basis, and highlighted the fact that a quarter of Lebanon’s population is now made up of Syrian refugees, most of them housed in local peoples’ homes or out-buildings, or in makeshift accommodation. There are another million Syrian refugees in camps in Jordan and more than two million in Turkey, and tens of thousands continue to attempt a perilous crossing to Europe. The photos of the lifeless body of 3-year-old Syrian Kurd Alan Kurdi certainly brought home that reality to the British public, but David Cameron has only promised to take in 20,000 Syrian refugees, over a period of five years, and all from camps in the Middle East. As Shas said, the situation will only get worse, as Assad’s forces and the Russians further their advances into rebel-held districts of Aleppo. Moreover, this is a problem that is going to be with us for years not months, as happened with the refugee flows after the Second World War. That makes all the more necessary a coordinated and compassionate, long-term strategy on the part of the European Union.

refugees 1Inspired by her own trip to Dunkirk, Shas encouraged others to be part of relief efforts for people stuck there or in the Calais “Jungle”. But she was rightly insistent that only the right sort of aid should be delivered. Médecins sans Frontieres is working the the camps and absolutely does not want people self-miedicating on drugs brought over by well-meaning Brits. Similarly, most types of clothes and shoes are similarly not appropriate, nor tinned soup. What is needed, and could indeed be organised by local political parties or even at next month’s York LibDem conference, are items such as batteries, wind-up torches, sleeping bags, good quality tens and a limited range of foodstuffs and beverages, including tinned tuna, chickpeas, tomatoes, lentils, beans and fruit (preferably in ring-pull tins), cooking oil, spices, tea, sugar and salt.

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Liberal Democrats INtogether

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 10th February, 2016

Tim Farron at INtogetherThough the Liberal Democrats had a well-attended in-house launch for the LibDem European Referendum campaign at the party conference in Bournemouth last September, this afternoon a more public-facing event starring party leader Tim Farron, London mayoral candidate Caroline Pidgeon and Catherine Bearder MEP took place in central London at Bounce — a venue whose name the party can only hope has some kinetic effect. Against a backdrop of keen young people brandishing IN diamonds of various hues, Tim declared that the Liberal Democrats have always believed in EU reform, not the status quo. But that does not mean “IN, but”, he clarified. The party will be enthusiastically campaigning for reform with Britain firmly engaged in the EU, unlike half-hearted Labour and the divided Conservatives. Caroline Pidgeon stressed that whereas most of the issues likely to be raised on the doorstep between now and May 5 are likely to be more local issues, such as housing and transport, she is a convinced European who understands the value of London as Europe’s premier city. Catherine Bearder at one moment draped herself in a chiffon Union Flag scarf to make the point that a true patriot realises that it is in Britain’s best interests to be at the heart of Europe. The party’s INtogether campaign will now roll out across the country — and, one hopes, across social media. You can follow it, and indeed join in, via @LDINtogether.

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The Limehouse Declaration Anniversary Dinner

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 22nd January, 2016

Vince Cable at Limehouse dinnerThirty-five years ago, Labour’s “Gang of Four” — Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams, David Owen and Bill Rogers — met at Dr Owen’s home in Narrow Street, Limehouse, where they signed the Limehouse Declaration, which would soon lead to the formation of the Social Democrat Party, the SDP. Last night, just a few doors down the road from Dr Owen’s House, Liberal Democrats gathered to celebrate that anniversary and to give the City and London East GLA campaign a hefty boost. Though none of the three surviving Gang of Four was present, there was a stellar line-up of speakers, starting with Vince Cable, who had started his political life as a Labour councillor in Glasgow before joining the SDP and eventually getting elected as Liberal Democrat MP for Twickenham. He noted the parallels between the situation in the Labour Party in 1981 and that today under the respective leaderships of Michael Foot and Jeremy Corbyn, and said that many moderate Labour MPs now are running round like headless chickens, alarmed by the way things have developed within the party but unable to decide what to do about it. Moreover, in 2016 the dissidents lack figures of the gravitas of the Gang of Four who could be capable of organising a break-away. The fate of the SDP under Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system was also a dire warning. As Lord (Dick) Newby reminded us in his speech last night, although the SDP-Liberal Alliance polled 25.4% of the vote, compared with Labour’s 27.6%, the Alliance only bagged 23 parliamentary seats as opposed to Labour’s 209. Only five of the SDP MPs who had defected from Labour hung on to their seats and the party’s only gain was Charles Kennedy.

SDP logoTom Brake — London’s sole-surviving Liberal Democrat MP — warned that we must not assume that the Party will just bounce back in 2020 and that it is vital that we consolidate our hold on the eight seats we still have, as well as building in the targets. The compere for the evening, Dr Mark Pack, gave his own thoughtful commentary on the rise and fall of the SDP as well as providing some colourful memorabilia, which did indeed bring back memories among those of us old enough to remember the heady days of 1982, when the Alliance was leading in the opinion polls, only to have our hopes dashed on the rocks of the Falklands War, which saved Mrs Thatcher’s political skin. Interestingly, many of the guests at the Limehouse Declaration anniversary dinner were too young to have such memories, including the GLA constituency candidate Elaine Bagshaw who rounded off the evening and highlighted the remarkable rise in membership and activities in the local parties of Tower Hamlets, Newham and Barking & Dagenham.

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The Yawning Centre Ground

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 27th December, 2015

Jeremy CorbynCameron EU 1With Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn widely being predicted to purge his Shadow Cabinet of several right-wingers and Britain’s Conservative government rapidly becoming the most intolerant and anti-progressive since the dark days of Mrs Thatcher, there is a yawning centre ground in British politics. In principle, this offers an ideal opportunity to the Liberal Democrats as a third force. But to occupy that ground successfully won’t just happen; it has to be engineered. The way NOT to do it was illustrated in the final stages of May’s disastrous general election campaign, when a party political broadcast was aired showing a woman driving a car (while not wearing a safety belt, as thousands of TV viewers noted with disapproval) wondering whether to turn left or turn right but in the end deciding to go straight ahead. A neat idea from a PR firm’s point of view, perhaps, but as a political message totally vacuous. The LibDems were suddenly neither one thing nor the other, and nothing in particular; no wonder many of our wavering supporters went elsewhere.

Tim FarronThe late, lamented Charles Kennedy understood that the Party must not be seen as the soggy centre, and was good at articulating a narrative of being “actively forward”. That is something Tim Farron needs to emulate. Tim has rightly seized on human rights as a core Liberal principle, highlighting in particular the humanitarian crisis relating to refugees and migrants on the one hand and the disgraceful record of Saudi Arabia and some other badly performing countries on the other. But human rights — and indeed wider civil liberties — are always going to be a minority discourse, so the LibDems need to craft a “radical forward” political platform that draws more people away from left-leaning Labour and right-leaning Tories. With the Green Party wilting, environmental issues can be reclaimed by the Party. And so must the issue of fairness, often talked about in LibDem literature but as yet not turned into a campaigning message — one that is passionate, one that is angry about the growing inequalities within British society and one that challenges the Conservative head-on. The Tories may have been our Coalition partners between 2010 and 2015, but there is no doubt that they are our political opponents now.

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Israel and Palestine: What Next?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 1st December, 2015

Last night I was at the National Liberal Club for a meeting organised by Liberal International British Group (LIBG) on Israel and Palestine, addressed by the former British Consul General in Jerusalem, Sir Vincent Fean. Since retiring from the diplomatic service, Sir Vincent has been an eloquent advocate of the Palestinian cause, in particular calling for recognition of the State of Palestine as a necessary step on the way to a viable Two State Solution. In summating after Sir Vincent’s talk and a range of often vigorous questions from the audience and proposing a vote of thanks, I said:

Sir Vincent FeanA few years ago, I made a documentary in the West Bank which focussed on two young families: a Jewish couple and their small daughter, who had immigrated from Australia because they believed it was God’s will that they should be part of Jewish “re-settlement” of Judea and Samaria, and a Palestinian businessman (and his teacher wife), whose business was basically going down the pan because of the continued Israeli occupation. These two families were physically separated by only a couple of kilometres, yet they were worlds apart and seemingly irreconcilable. The temptation for many of us therefore is to give up on trying to find a peace settlement in the Middle East and just accept the status quo. But as Sir Vincent has said, the status quo in this case is not static; it is dynamic and the movement is going dangerously in the wrong direction, which will ultimately probably lead to catastrophe unless something is done to change it.

Israeli occupationOne attendee tonight said he could not understand how Liberal Democrats today speak so differently about Israel than Liberals used to when he first joined the Party; at the time, every single Liberal MP was a member of the Liberal Friends of Israel. The answer to that query is contained in one word: occupation. Nearly 50 years of often brutal occupation, coupled with ever increasing Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, has shifted liberal opinions radically. I know that because it is a journey I have made myslf. As a teenager I was a keen supporter of Israel, thought the kibbutzim movement was fantastic and when Arab states attacked Israel I was out in the street protesting. But what has happened since 1967, with the persistent violations by Israel of the Geneva Conventions and other instruments of international law, has made me a passionate champion of justice for the Palestinians. That must include recognition of the Palestinian state (as 130 countries have already done). There can be no true negotiations between parties as unequal as Israel (the occupying power) and the Arab people of the occupied territories.

Israel PalestineBritain has a moral duty to further this cause, both for historic reasons (as the mandatory power of Palestine from the end of the First World War until 1948) and because of its position on the UN Security Council. The Obama administration appears to have given up hope in trying to promote a settlement, so as Sir Vincent has argued, Britain and other EU countries should take a lead. The two state solution is dying, indeed it is almost dead. But we must make a last, determined effort to resuscitate it before it is too late, in the interest of both the Palestinians, who suffer so much injustice and humiliation on a daily basis, and of Israelis, who understandably desire to live in security.

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Tim Farron and the HIGNFY Challenge

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 21st November, 2015

Tim FarronThe much missed late, great leader of the Liberal Democrats, Charles Kennedy, was routinely mocked by political opponents as “Chatshow Charlie”, because of his readiness to go on popular TV programmes, including and especially the BBC’s Have I Got News for You (HIGNFY). But as with schoolboys, this mocking often masked jealousy on the others’ part, as Charles was such a warm and witty person who remained so utterly himself on camera that he endeared audiences, even those who normally have no time for politicians. And although Charles’s principled stance over the Iraq War (for which he was viciously heckled by MPs on both sides of the House of Commons) was certainly the major reason the LibDems did so well in 2005, winning 62 seats, another explanation was Charles Kennedy’s humanity. The excuse for bringing this up now is that next Friday, 27 November, the current LibDem leader, Tim Farron, will be occupying one of those HIGNFY hot-seats. Sir Humphrey Appleby would doubtless have dubbed this a “bold” move and it is indeed quite brave. Some politicians have ended up looking right plonkers on HIGNFY, particularly if they try to be “clever”. My advice to Tim is this: be prepared for some rigorous ribbing (de rigueur for any politician on the show), including and especially for your religious beliefs and the smallness of the LibDems’ cohort in the House of Commons. Do your homework on what are the sort of subjects likely to come up in the questions. But above all, be yourf usual relaxed, even cheeky self. Don’t try to be anything else but but Tim Farron, the lad from Preston who made good, and maybe, one day, when viewers see you on TV they’ll say, “Oh, there’s that Tim from Have I Got News for You”, in the way that they hailed Charles and learned to love him.

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