Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Liberal Democrats’

Proud to be a Saboteur

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 25th April, 2017

JFIn the weeks since Theresa May invoked Article 50 and Britain started heading down the slippery slope to exit from the European Union, whole swaths of the Tory Brexit Press has gone into hysterical overdrive in its futile attempt to try to silence those of us who believe passionately that we are better off inside the EU. On social media, too, the Brexiteers have been ridiculing “Remoaners”, accusing us of being against democracy, whereas we Liberal Democrats, in particular, are the champions of democracy by insisting that not only Parliament but the British electorate should have the chance of saying yes or no to whatever deal with the EU27 Theresa May and her team come up with in 2019. But it’s the intolerant nature of much of the right-wing media comment that is disturbing, at times verging on the fascistic. The High Court judges who gave a ruling that displeased the Brexiteers were denounced as traitors and enemies of the people, whereas in reality the independent judiciary is an essential safeguard of our democratic society. Gina Miller, who has courageously used the courts to challenge blind Brexit, has been vilified and threatened. The latest epithet coined by the Brexit Press to describe Remainers is “saboteurs”, as the Daily Mail, Express and others parrot the line that we are trying to thwart the will of the British people. I am not convinced that a majority of the electorate actually wants the sort of hard Brexit that Mrs May is pursuing — which entails leaving the European single market and customs union, as well as many European agencies. But just as early members of the Religious Society of Friends proudly accepted their detractors’ insult, “Quakers”, and made it their own, so I and many others are proud to adopt the term “Saboteur”. because to sabotage the government’s plan for national suicide is a noble cause. So I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with highlighted Saboteurs such as Ken Clarke (Conservative), Peter Mandelson (Labour), Caroline Lucas (Green) as well as, of course, Tim Farron and virtually the entire Liberal Democrat Party.

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LibDems Surge Past 100,000

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 24th April, 2017

LibDems EU Simon HughesTwo years ago, following a disastrous general election, many pundits were writing the Liberal Democrats off as a serious political force. But how things have changed! The party has now pushed UKIP down into fourth place in the opinion polls and has notched up an impressive series of local council by-election wins over the past year, not to mention Sarah Olney’s great triumph in Richmond Park & North Kingston. Moreover, despite the crushing disappointment (for Remainers) of last June’s EU Referendum, the LibDems have emerged stronger as the one sizable national party that has a clear line on Brexit: we believe Britain is better off inside the European Union, but if the Conservative government, with the active support of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, is intent on pressing ahead with a hard Brexit, removing Britain from the European single market and common customs area, then we will do everything to try to mitigate the damage. It would have been nice to have Labour singing from the same hymn-sheet, as former Prime Minister Tony Blair and some forthright MPs such as David Lammy have done, but nothing can hide the fact that Labour is deeply divided on the issue and is still trying to out-UKIP UKIP and the Tories in much of northern England. Sad. But the good news from the LibDems’ point of view is that a surge of people have joined the party since the Referendum, accelerating since Theresa May broke her promise and called a snap general election, in an egregious example of political opportunism.

LibDems 100,000So, today, Tim Farron was able to announce that party membership has topped 100,000 and it is still rising. That was a heartening message to deliver at his London general election launch, held in Vauxhall, where arch-Brexiteer Kate Hoey is re-standing as an MP (despite the fact that Lambeth had a phenomenally high Remain vote last June) and indeed has been endorsed by UKIP’s Paul Nuttall. So Vauxhall, previously way down the LibDem target hit-list, has now suddenly become very interesting for prospective parliamentary candidate, George Turner. It will be vital for London LibDems that we hold Richmond Park, as well as Tom Brake’s seat, Carshalton & Wallington, but there should be a good chance of recapturing places such as Old Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), Twickenham (Vince Cable) and Kingston & Surbiton (Ed Davey), to name but three. I’ll be flying the flag in Dagenham and Rainham, but also doing as much as I can to boost our chances in target areas.

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Let’s Call Theresa’s Bluff!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 18th April, 2017

IMG_2267UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, has called a snap general election for 8 June. Doubtless she hopes to capitalise on Labour’s continuing melt-down and were she to win handsomely, she would claim that is a ringing endorsement for her red, white and blue Brexit policy. And that is exactly why she must not win handsomely. She and the Three Brexiteers — Davis, Fox and Johnson — have handled the whole Brexit process disastrously so far, being in serious danger of throwing the baby out with the bath water. That is why we need to deliver a giant raspberry to her and her team, by voting for anti-Brexit parties; in England, especially, that means the Liberal Democrats, who have been performing astonishingly well in local by-elections since last June’s EU Referendum. Ok, I am biased, as a long-standing member of the Party and serial Euro-candidate, but I do believe that this is the most important general election since 1945, in which people can take a stand against narrow nationalism and oppose the Tories’ destructive policies, not only on Brexit but on the NHS and public services generally, as well as the environment and so much more. I shall be flying the LibDem flag in Dagenham & Rainham, as well as helping the national campaign. This is our chance to say loud and clear, “No, Theresa, we are NOT united behind you, and today’s Consevative government does NOT represent the best of Britain!”

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Thank you, LibDem Members!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 17th December, 2016

Today Liberal Democrat headquarters announced the results of the all-member ballots for elections to internal federal committees — the first since the Party moved to One Member One Vote (OMOV). Though the turnout was predictably low, the numbers who took part were considerably higher than in previous internal elections by local party federal conference representatives, thus improving their democratic legitimacy. It was interesting to see that women polled particularly well in the elections, as well as a number of BAME candidates, showing that members have taken the diversity message to heart. I was delighted to be comfortably re-elected to both the International Relations Committee and the ALDE Party Council*, for which I thank sincerely all those who voted for me. The LibDems are the most genuinely international of all Britain’s political parties and it is essential that we nurture our links with sister parties in Europe and the wider world. I will post regularly on this blog about those links and the various events and conferences that I attend as one of the Party’s elected representatives.

* The governing Council of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE)

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Liberal Democrats: One Member One Vote

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 19th November, 2016

liberal-democrats-logoThe Liberal Democrats ensured by recent changes to their rules of governance that they can now claim to be the most democratic of the mainstream British political parties. Although there is a Federal Policy Committee, which debates policy areas and frames some of the motions for debate at conference, the party conference (a weekend in March and a longer session in September) is sovereign. What Conference agrees becomes party policy (though as we saw during the 2010-2015 Coalition government that may have to be nuanced when in a power-sharing situation). Moreover, as of this year, every single party member who registers for Conference can vote, ensuring that no-one feels disenfanchised or relegated to a second-class position, as was the case when there was a distinction between voting local party representatives and the rest. Moreover, for the first time ever, elections to Party committees — which will take place starting next week — will also be among an electorate of the entire membership. Members will be receiving an email over the next few days outlining the process, the roles of the different committees and the manifestos of the candidates. Although that might seem a little daunting for some, especially the “newbies” who have joined since last year’s general election, and who therefore might be not so familiar with some of the people standing, this is One Member One Vote (OMOV) in action. The minority of members who are not on email or have not given the Party their email address will nonetheless be catered for. I was pleased to be a member of the Federal Executive (FE) which oversaw these changes, but I am not standing for the new Federal Board, which effectively replaces the FE, but with enhanced responsibilities. However, I am standing for re-election to the Party’s International Relations Committee and the ALDE Council delegation. International Affairs have always been my prime political passion, not least relating to the European Union and its external relations. And even if Theresa May and her government seem bent on Brexit, there will still be an important role for British Liberal Democrats to play within ALDE (the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe), whose reach stretches way beyond the EU’s borders. Not surprisingly, I still hold out a small hope that Britain won’t actually leave the EU, but even if it does it is essential that we have a good working as well as trading relationships with our EU neighbours.liberal-democrat-conference

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Diversity and the Liberal Democrats

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 8th November, 2016

The 2015 general election devastated the ranks of Liberal Democrat MPs, reducing the House of Commons cohort to just eight, straight, white men — cruelly accentuating the lack of diversity in the parliamentary party (though the situation is a little better in the House of Lords, to which individuals are periodically appointed on the party leader’s recommendation). So if Sarah Olney is elected as the new MP for Richmond Park and North Kingston in the by-election on 1 December, the addition of a woman will be an important step in the right direction, but only a step. The issue of a lack of ethnic diversity will be acute as ever. Despite the fact that Britain’s very first BAME MP was a Liberal, the Liberal Democrats have only ever successfully elected one in modern times, in a by-election in Leicester, though he lost his seat at the following general election. Compare that record with those of both the Conservatives and Labour and one sees why the party hierarchy is so embarrassed about the situation. Even in multicultural London, the disproportionately small number of BAME faces at conferences or on local party executives is striking. The Party says it is determined to do something about this, but seems incapable of putting an effective strategy in place. That is a huge challenge for the new Federal Board that will take office in the New Year. Tim Farron did say all the right sort of things at a recent event in London highlighting the Party’s relationship with minority communities. But I totally understand the frustration of many Black and Asian LibDems at the lack of visible progress. Even when an opportunity arises, it is sometimes missed. For example, recently a Shadow Cabinet was appointed by Tim, drawing on talents from both Houses of Parliament as well as including Catherine Bearder MEP and Caroline Pidgeon, the excellent but sole LibDem member of the London Assembly. Some great people in there, but how does it look to the outside world, especially in London? Baroness Shaz Sheehan is the only non white face. Not a single Afro Caribbean in the mix, which looks crazy from a London perspective such as mine. I suppose the Party could say there is no sufficiently senior black LibDem in elected office, but even if that might be true, surely a talented non elected person could have been brought in? People such as Simon Hughes have been saying for years that the Liberal Democrats need to resemble the people they seek to represent. Well, let us start doing something concrete to fix the problem, rather than just talking about it!

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Richmond Park up and Running

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 27th October, 2016

richmond-park-byelectionYesterday afternoon I went to the Richmond Park and North Kingston LibDem HQ in Mortlake to collect a couple of delivery rounds and was pleased later to learn that a hundred other people passed through the doors during the course of the day. With polling announced for 1 December, this is likely to be the fiercest-fought by-election since Brent East in 2003, at which the LibDems’ Sarah Teather snatched the seat from Labour. On that occasion, the LibDems benefited from the fact that the campaign was long drawn out, enabling the party to gain momentum. That is unlikely to be the case in Richmond Park, yet this new by-election does offer a potentially perfect storm. The Conservative government has announced plans to build a third runway at Heathrow Airport, in the face of strong local opposition, and although Zac Goldsmith has resigned as MP to fight as an Independent anti-Heathrow candidate the Conservative Party is not going to field a candidate against him, underlining the fact that he is a Conservative and therefore cannot escape blame for what the government is doing. Interestingly, UKIP is not going to oppose him either, which highlights the fact that Goldsmith is an arch-Brexiteer — unlike three quarters of the constituency’s electorate. This inevitably means that Brexit and the Conservative government’s incompetent handling of the whole sad business is going to be central to the by-election campaign. As this is a seat that the LibDems held until 2010, we can expect the windows and gardens of Richmond Park and North Kingston to become a sea of LibDem yellow over the next few weeks — and battalions of party activists pounding he streets and knocking on doors. This is most definitely one to watch.

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Britain in the World

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 21st October, 2016

britain-in-the-worldThe Liberal Democrats pride themselves on being the most internationalist of Britain’s political parties and a liberal, internationalist voice is going to be needed more than ever as the United Kingdom and several other parts of the world seem to be heading towards narrow nationalism and illiberal tendencies. Buoyed by last night’s result in the Witney by-election — where the LibDem candidate Liz Leffman quadrupled the party’s vote share, standing on a pro-EU ticket in former Prime Minister David Cameron’s seat — the new LibDem working group on Britain in the World held its inaugural meeting at party headquarters today, to begin a process that will culminate in a policy paper being taken to next autumn’s party conference in Bournemouth, effectively marking out the LibDem approach to foreign affairs up to the 2020 general election. About 17o people had applied to join the working group and the members chosen from that pool are an impressive bunch, with a wealth of expertise in foreign policy studies, diplomacy, the armed servies and the media, as well as parliamentary and Euro-parliamentary experience. An impressive proportion of the group’s members are LibDem newbies: people who only joined the Liberal Democrats since last year’s general election, even if several had long voted for the party. The group will meet regularly to hear evidence from expert witnesses, both internal and external, and to discuss issues with them. Today, we heard from two LibDem members of the House of Lords, William Wallace and Judith Jolly, who both held junior ministerial posts in the 2010-2015 Coalition government. In keeping with “Chatham House rules”, who said what shall remain confidential within the group, but I will post in general terms any interesting developments or insights over the next few months.

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Witney: A Golden Opportunity

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 19th October, 2016

img_1518Tomorrow the voters of Witney in Oxfordshire will be going to the polls in a by-election caused by the resignation of former Prime Minister David Cameron. Normally this would be safe Conservative territory (despite the fact that one previous incumbent defected to Labour), but these aren’t normal times. David Cameron made the disastrous mistake of calling June’s EU Referendum, convinced that he would win, and his successor as PM, Theresa May, seems determined to march down the road to a “hard Brexit” despite all the warnings from economists about the damage that will do to Britain’s GDP. Interestingly, West Oxfordshire (of which Witney is the administrative seat) voted for Remain in the Referendum, but the Tory candidate is a Brexiteer. All this could produce a perfect storm for the Liberal Democrats as the party  that is not afraid to show its European colours. The LibDem candidate, a personable local businesswoman and councillor, Liz Leffman, is well known, having fought the constituency in 2005. Several pro-EU groups have endorsed her and hundreds of LibDem volunteers have been pouring in daily to campaign for her. The Tories deliberately called the by-election quickly, to avoid any opposition head of steam building up, so it is probably not likely that Liz can win, but coming a very strong second would send a very powerful message to 10 Downing Street. And if Liz did pull off an Orpington-style victory then the whole story of Brexit could be changed.

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The Challenge for the Liberal Democrats

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 16th September, 2016

tim-farronAs Liberal Democrats gather in Brighton this weekend for Autumn Conference, it’s a timely moment to consider the challenges facing the party. Despite the turmoil within Britain’s official opposition party, Labour (graphically illustrated on BBC’s Question Time last night by a cat fight between John McDonnell MP and Alastair Campbell), the LibDems seem stuck in the national opinion polls in the range 6-8%. Pretty pathetic for a party that was in government (albeit in Coalition) between 2010 and 2015. Yet the position is nowhere near as bleak as that headline figure might imply. There has been a whole series of very strong LibDem gains in local council by-elections over the past few months; there was another one yesterday, in Derbyshire. These suggest that the party has bottomed out electorally and is now on the road to recovery (as Paddy Ashdown argues in today’s Guardian). Moreover, there is what I see as a golden opportunity in the parliamentary by-election due to be held in Witney on 20 October. Witney was of course David Cameron’s seat. Just a year after winning an unexpected overall majority in the last general election, David Cameron’s fall from grace has been spectacular. In the wake of June’s Brexit vote, he resigned as Prime Minister and then on the eve of a highly critical Foreign Affairs Committee report on his handling of the Libyan crisis, he resigned his seat. Interestingly, in West Oxfordshire (in which Witney is the seat of local government) Remain triumphed in the EU Referendum, which means that there must be many thousands of disgruntled voters there who in a by-election situation might be persuaded to vote for an explicitly pro-European party. That certainly won’t be Labour, given Jeremy Corbyn’s self-evident ambivalence about the EU. But it could be the Liberal Democrats, if the party seizes the opportunity, selects a brilliant by-election candidate with the right credentials and pours members and supporters into the constituency for an intense month-long campaign. Tim Farron is expected to make the clarion call for pro-Europeans at Brighton this week. Let that also be the trumpet sound for Witney, which, if handled well, could be a milestone in the LibDem Fight Back!

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