Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Liberal Democrats’

Arise, Sir Nick

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 26th December, 2017

D34327C6-5366-405B-A62B-E81EDCC1B26CThe news of Nick Clegg’s knighthood in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List has been so widely leaked that I think we can safely assume that it is true. Not surprisingly, there have been some sqwarks of protest from people on the Left of the Labour Party, who still haven’t forgiven him for taking the Liberal Democrat’s into Coalition with the Conservatives in 2010 — or “propping up the Tories”, as they prefer to put it. But let’s look at his record. As I sometimes recommend to my students, when they are writing essays, we shall start with the counter-arguments. In my view, Nick Clegg made two, serious mistakes (neither of which will come as a surprise to him, or indeed to most LibDems). First, it was unwise to endorse the National Union of Students’ campaign to freeze student fees, including urging all LibDem parliamentary candidates to sign up for it, as it clearly was going to be difficult to persuade any Coalition partner to agree to that at a time when the country was financially squeezed. Not surprisingly, the issue blew up like a hand grenade in his face, when the Conservatives insisted fees must rise instead.The damage to the voters’ trust in the LibDems was massive. But the second mistake was in many ways equally damaging, namely the enthusiasm with which he bounced into the Rose Garden at Number 10 Downing Street alongside David Cameron, as if they were the best of mates, almost brothers. There needed to be a clear distance between the Coalition partners, as usually happens on the Continent. Subsequently, the LibDems got blamed for some uniquely Tory policies, ranging from austerity measures to the iniquitous “bedroom tax”, but Nick Clegg’s detractors usually ignore the fact that he and other LibDem Ministers during the 2010-2015 government got through a whole raft of positive, progressive changes, despite their numerical weakness, including the pupil premium, free school meals fo the youngest kids, equal marriage, the triple-lock on pensions and a range of environmental measures. And by guaranteeing a stable government for five years, the Coalition helped Britain weather the economic storm. Of course, one could list more issues, on both sides of the argument, but on balance I believe Nick Clegg did serve his country well in government and even if I am sceptical of “honours”, I believe he is as worthy as most recipients to get one. He is badly missed from the House of Commons during these tumultuous Brexit times, and his ousting in the general election earlier this year was a tragedy, not least because the voters of Sheffield Hallam now appear to be represented by a total (Labour) noodle.

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ALDE Agrees Brexit Should Be “If” Not “When”

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 1st December, 2017

E6A43C6B-374F-4F6A-9FD2-41F92C5A8DA0The British Liberal Democrat’s have always played a prominent role in the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), but last year’s EU Referendum result inevitably threw a spanner in the works. One of the main focuses of the ALDE Congress currently taking place in Amsterdam is the preparation for the European Elections in 2019. If Mrs May’s timetable of Britain’s departure from the EU before the end of March 2019 is realised then Brits will have no direct participation in those elections; the Brexiteers have effectively disenfranchised UK citizens both in Britain and in other EU member states. Yet it has been abundantly clear to British delegates at Amsterdam that we will LibDems remain full members if the European family. After all, not all ALDE member parties are in EU states. Moreover, when some of us expressed dismay that some of the Congress papers referred to “when Britain leaves the EU”, participants readily agreed to talk instead of “if Britain leaves the EU”. Of course, at the moment it is likely that Brexit will happen, but the possibility that it won’t becomes increasingly obvious as the huge difficulty and cost of Brexit — especially with the incompetent Conservatives in charge — are clear. It could well be that Mrs May’s government will collapse next year, in which case all bets are off. Wishful think8ng? I don’t believe so. And it is great to know that our ALDE partners really would like us Brits to stay.

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The London Liberal Democrats Conference

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 29th October, 2017

Ed Davey sockThough the Party has been bumping along for too long at seven per cent in the national opinion polls, the Liberal Democrats’ membership has grown remarkably. There are now more than 20,000 LibDem members in London — making it the most successful LibDem regional party — so maybe it was not so surprising that yesterday’s London autumn conference was the best-attended ever. A very high proportion of those attendees were “newbies”; a woman from Brent who sat next to me had defected from the Conservatives just last week! The venue was fresh: the beautiful new University of West London complex in Ealing, where staff really looked after us well — including the food. But of course it was the food for thought that was the important thing, and we were treated to fine speeches by the capital’s three London MPs, Tom Brake, Ed Davey and Vince Cable. Ed Davey captured everyone’s attention by taking off one of his socks (to make an environmental point, apparently) while Tom Brake, as the party’s Brexit spokesman, gave a rather dispiriting account of the dog’s breakfast that is the Conservatives’ Brexit. A high percentage of new LibDem members joined the Party in their anger or frustration over Brexit and inevitably fighting for an Exit from Brexit will remain a major focus for LibDem campaigning for the next year and probably well beyond. But as Vince Cable made clear in a thoughtful speech that ended the formal business, this is not a one-issue Party. He spoke about the economy, but also health and education, and demonstrated the great quality that distinguishes him from both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn: wisdom. It was a great relief that the voters of Twickenham returned him to parliament with a majority of nearly 10,000 in June, following two years in the political wilderness. He noted that he was the first London MP to lead the Liberal Democrats since William Gladstone’s period as MP for Greenwich (1868-1880), and so maybe it’s not surprising that London LibDems like me tend to think of him as “our Vince” and are rallying behind him to bring about the Party’s national revival.

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The Balfour Declaration, 100 Years On

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 7th October, 2017

Israel PalestineThis year is the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, which was contained in a letter from the then British Foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour,  to a leading member of the country’s Jewish community, Lord Rothschild, and in which the British Government, headed by David Lloyd George, said that it viewed with favour the establishment of a national home for the Jews in Palestine, providing the civil and religious rights of the non-Jewish population there were not compromised. That condition — which has yet to be fully respected — was added at a late stage in the drafting of the declaration partly at the insistence of the one Jewish member of Lloyd George’s Cabinet, Edwin Montagu, who had serious hesitations about the whole Zionist enterprise. To mark the Balfour centenary, the Liberal Democrats passed a motion at last month’s Bournemouth Conference calling for HM Government to recognise the State of Palestine, as a positive contribution towards a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. At the beginning of December, in Amsterdam, I shall be moving a similar motion at the Congress of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE). Several EU member states, including Belgium and Sweden, have in fact already done so.

Avi ShlaimBut motions at political conferences are by no means the only activities taking place in this centenary year. Today, at the British Library, Middle East Monitor put on a conference with a glittering array of academic and other speakers, analysing the origins, composition and consequences of the Balfour Declaration. For me, the two highlights of the day were the keynote address by Avi Shlaim, Professor of International Relations at Oxford University, and a film made by Independent Jewish Voices (which will be posted on YouTube from this coming Monday). Dr Shlaim has made himself unpopular among some of his co-religionists by denouncing the reality of the current Israeli occupation of the West Bank as an apartheid state, but growing numbers of Jews, especially the young, are determined to make their voices heard, maintaining that some of the things being done by the Israeli government and Defense Force, should not be considered to be “in their name”. The current British government, alas, is dominated by those Conservatives who are self-declared Friends of Israel, which means that Mrs May and many of her Cabinet colleagues will probably “celebrate” the actual anniversary on 2 November, whereas many of the rest of us will be deploring the fact that the partial implementation of the Balfour Declaration has left the Palestinians dispossessed and increasingly bereft of hope.

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Strong and Cable?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 21st September, 2017

Vince Cable speechLiberal Democrats left sunny Bournemouth this week buoyed by the camaraderie and intellectual stimulation of autumn conference. It was make or break time for new Leader, Sir Vince Cable, who gave us all a rousing send-off with a speech full of meaty political content and a smattering of good jokes. Vince is a serious player; it was he, after all, who warned everyone where finance and the economy were going in the run up to the 2008 recession. And he has had ministerial experience in the Coalition government, notably as Business Secretary. So when he talks about the effects of Brexit, for example, people listen. But the big question is: can having an authoritative leader translate into votes for the party? The LibDems have been stuck around seven per cent in the opinion polls for some time and although the number of LibDem MPs went up from eight to 12 in June, the party’s national vote share actually fell back slightly. When it comes to local elections the picture is a bit more rosy; as Vince himself acknowledges, the rebuilding of LibDem fortunes will, as ever, come from the bottom up. Nonetheless, a lot of the hopes for a Liberal renaissance rest on his shoulders. It was good to hear him at Bournemouth being the champion of Exit from Brexit — a message likely to grow in appeal as the negative consequences of a looming Brexit become ever clearer — but he is no one-trick pony. His speech had plenty of sound messages on a range of issues from funding the NHS to replacing tuition fees with a graduate tax. Given the totally shambolic performance of Theresa May and her UKIPTories recently, the soft Conservative vote must be wobbling, and it hard to see the increasingly left-leaning Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn scooping that up.

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LibDems Vote to Recognise Palestine

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 18th September, 2017

IMG_2811At their autumn conference in Bournemouth yesterday, Liberal Democrats voted overwhelmingly to urge the British government to recognise the State of Palestine. The vote came at the end of a thoughtful and well-informed debate on a motion to mark the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, drafted with input from both Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine (LDFP, which I chair) and Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel (LDFI). Balfour expressed support for the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, providing the civil and religious rights of non-Jewish inhabitants were not compromised. Clearly the second half of that commitment has not been fully implemented, not least in the occupied territories. In my speech, I argued that calling for the recognition of the State of Palestine was timely for three reasons, namely the Balfour centenary, the 50th anniversary of the Occupation (the longest such situation in modern history) and the fact that it is one minute to midnight for finding a way forward to a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Personally, I believe it is up to the people of the region to decide ultimately whether a two-state or a one-state solution is ideal, but in the meantime, recognising Palestine would give Palestinians a degree of equality in a singularly unequal relationship. Moreover, to acknowledge Palestine as a state (as more than 130 members of the United Nations have already done) would help restore some of the dignity that was taken away from Palestinians by the Occupation, along with their land and much of their water. The Conservative government has been backsliding on the issue of Palestine, recently downgrading the status of the Palestinian Ambassador, and it must be pressed hard to change its position.

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Brexit and Higher Education

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 16th September, 2017

IMG_2787This morning, the Liberal Democrats’ autumn conference in Bournemouth debated the effects of Brexit on public services in Britain. The impact on NHS staffing as well as the hospitality industry has received quite a lot of media attention, but in my speech I focussed on the situation regarding higher education. For the HE sector, Brexit is a lose-lose situation. UK students may in future excluded from Erasmus plus, restricting their opportunities as well as limiting the positive contribution they may later give as HE lecturers or researchers. The impact on EU and overseas student applications to UK universities and colleges is already being felt, because of the image of Britain as an unwelcoming environment following last year’s EU Referendum, and Brexit hasn’t happened yet. Financially, that is very bad news for those universities that rely on fees from foreign students. Similarly, EU research funding may be cut off. One of the worst effects of the prospects of Brexit, though, is the way that EU academic staff and support staff, of whom there are a great number, including at SOAS, where I teach, feel their status is insecure. Many have already left. So all round, Brexit is a looming disaster. It was however encouraging that this morning’s motion was adopted nem con, and the Party is revved up to campaign for an Exit from Brexit.

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Liberals Embrace the Diplomatic Community

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 19th June, 2017

NLC terraceFor many years, Liberal International British Group (LIBG) hosted a winter reception for London’s diplomatic community at the National Liberal Club, but the cost of this became increasingly difficult for such a relatively small organisation to bear, despite occasional welcome sponsorship. So it was with huge relief all round that the National Liberal Club (NLC) itself, under the dynamic chairmanship of Janet Berridge, took over the responsibility. The Club had the brilliant idea of rescheduling the event for summer instead, and this evening the gods were with us as it was a perfect June evening for a reception on the Club’s magnificent Terrace [pictured empty, but packed at the event]. The New European weekly newspaper sponsored the venture and former LibDem Leader Nick Clegg (who sadly lost his House of Commons seat in this month’s general election) was the guest speaker, emphasizing the Liberal Democrats’ commitment to internationalism as well as to Europe. There was an eclectic range of Ambassadors and High Commissioners present, as well as numerous LibDem Peers and paying guests from both LIBG and the NLC. Diplomats are only too aware that social gatherings oil the wheels of diplomacy and it is to be hoped that many of those present tonight will cement their relations with this section of Britain’s electoral spectrum by attending the LibDems’ autumn conference in Bournemouth in September.

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Tim Farron Bows Out

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 14th June, 2017

Tim Farron 4Earlier today, Tim Farron stood down as Leader of the Liberal Democrats after barely two years in the job. He didn’t have to do so, as the LibDems increased their number of MPs by 50% last week, in contrast to 2015, when there was devastation for the party at the polls, and Nick Clegg had little alternative but to fall upon his sword; that was despite having achieved really rather a lot as Deputy Prime Minister of Britain’s only post-War Coalition government. I did not back Tim in his leadership contest with Norman Lamb, partly because of his seeming ambivalence over LGBT rights, despite the fact that LibDems had been instrumental in bringing about Equal Marriage during the Coalition government. But that wasn’t the only reason. I thought Tim had been absolutely brilliant as President of the Party and he can certainly wow an audience of the faithful, with a good line in jokes and self-deprecation. But could I see him ever as Prime Minister, or indeed Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition? The answer had to be “no”. Of course, there was little other choice on offer two years ago, as most of the so-called Big Beasts of the previous parliament had lost their seats. At least the situation now is better, as several of them have returned to the green benches, including Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Jo Swinson (as well as some brilliant new talent). Tim was brave to pin his pro-European colours to the mast in the election that was sprung upon the nation a few weeks ago by Theresa May; I could only applaud that. But at times during the campaign he did seem to be coming across (unfairly) as a one-trick pony. Moreover, catastrophically, for weeks he failed to address the issue of whether he considered homosexual sex to be a sin, despite urgent pleas from LibDems’ LGBT+. Similarly, though he was perfectly entitled to declare himself a true Friend of Israel (as many Christian Evangelicals are), he turned a deaf ear to appeals to balance that with an equally clear stand on justice for the Palestinians and against Islamophobia.

Brian PaddickThis afternoon, (Lord) Brian Paddick, who had been acting as the LibDems’ Shadow Home Secretary recently, resigned from that post because of the Leader’s apparent ambivalence on LGBT rights and other classic “liberal” issues. I support absolutely an individual politician’s right to hold strong religious or moral views, but as Tim made clear today in his dignified resignation statement, there was a perceived contradiction in his own situation which was played on mercilessly by sections of the media and the Labour Party. All of Tim’s constituents that I have met over the years praise him to the skies, even if his majority was slashed last week. I hope whoever takes over after the forthcoming leadership contest (which, according to party governance, must go out to the whole membership) will find an appropriate role for him as a policy spokesman. Tim’s two years at the helm saw a doubling of the party membership and without doubt he had a different, distinctive voice from that of either Mrs May or Jeremy Corbyn. So, thank you, Tim, sincerely, for all that you have done. Now we LibDems must brace ourselves to go onwards and upwards.

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The Liberal Democrats’ Manifesto Launch

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 17th May, 2017

Tim Farron manifesto launchDespite the dismal rain outside, the atmosphere in the Oval Space in Bethnal Green was electric this evening for the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto launch — reminiscent of the very best LibDem autumn conference events, packed with activists and complete with a well-stocked bar. After a warm-up act (and fundraising pitch) by St. Albans candidate Daisy Cooper, Tim Farron hit the stage to give a barnstorming speech which can have left no-one –including those watching via the numerous TV channels filming — where the party’s heart lies. Right at the fore of the manifesto and in Tim’s speech was the restated belief that Britain is better off inside the EU. No ifs, no buts. And, not surprisingly, Theresa May got a roasting for adopting not only UKIP’s language but their policies too. Similarly, Jeremy Corbyn was criticised for instructing his MPs and peers to embrace Brexit and vote for Article50 to be invoked.

Tim Farron’s line could not have been clearer: although the party that accepts that a (narrow) majority voted to leave the European Union in last June’s EU referendum, the vote indicated a departure but not a direction. Did all those who voted Leave really endorse leaving the European single market with all the likely economic shock that that will deliver? Palpably not. So, say the LibDems, when Mrs May has a deal hammered out with our current 27 EU partners that ought to be put to the people in a referendum, not just to politicians in Parliament. And, yes, one option in that fresh vote would be to stay in the EU is voters thought that was preferable. Many people are a bit punch-drunk from votes at the moment, but will that be the case in 12 or 18 months time, when the effects of looming Brexit really bite? Already inflation has increased ninefold, largely as a result in the sharp fall in the value of the pound sterling, and the economy has stopped growing. Let;s see. But certainly among the hundreds of LibDem candidates and supporters at the manifesto launch this evening, Tim Farron’s clear message could not have been sweeter.

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