Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Liberal Democrats’

Grilling Vince Cable

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 29th January, 2018

Vince Cable David SelvesSir Vince Cable, Leader of the Liberal Democrats, this lunchtime faced a grilling at the London Grill Club, a group of journalists, broadcasters and businessmen who meet on a regular basis to put probing questions to prominent figures in British life. Other recent invitees have included Alex Salmond, Nigel Farage and Chuka Umunna. Vince dismissed a perhaps predictable early question about his age, arguing that age is just a number and that one is as old as one feels, before moving on to the more solid matter of the state of Britain’s democracy. This he described as being in serious trouble — dysfunctional, in a word. Theresa May appears to be increasingly weakened and there are renewed rumours of a plot among Tory MPs and even Cabinet Ministers to oust her, but Vince thought it unlikely that there would be a general election this year, reminding us of the five-year fixed term under the Parliament Act, unless there is a sufficient majority of MPs voting for it in the House of Commons — something the Conservatives would be unlikely to support. Besides, the government is totally bound up with Brexit, even it seems unable to agree what sort of Brexit it wants. Vince refuted a charge from one person present that it was denying democracy to call for a “second referendum” on Brexit, arguing that this would in fact be a new referendum on the terms of the deal — assuming the government is able to put one together with Brussels — and that that was definitely democratic, as the electorate would decide, not MPs (as some have suggested would be a possible way of stopping Brexit). He had harsh words about Jeremy Corbyn for being frozen in a 1970s mindset of Socialism in One Country, according to which the EU is dismissed as a capitalist club that inhibits nationalisation and certain types of state intervention. But he was also highly critical of the way David Cameron and George Osborne handled the EU Referendum Campaign; Project Fear just did not resonate and actually backfired. Vince defended his own record in the Coalition Government of 2010-2015, saying he had got several good things through and stopped some bad things from happening. But he felt the British public had not really been ready for coalition politics when the situation arose, being too tightly wedded to tribal politics.


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The Limehouse Declaration Dinner

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 24th January, 2018

THLDs Limehouse DinnerLast night a lively crowd of Tower Hamlets Liberal Democrats and friends gathered at The Narrow in Limehouse for a dinner to celebrate the Limehouse Declaration, which was really the launching pad for the short-lived SDP (Social Democratic Party). Roy Jenkins, David Owen, Bill Rodgers and Shirley Williams were the “Gang of Four” who led the breakaway from Labour, caused mainly because of the Labour Party’s drift to the left under Michael Foot’s leadership, its espousal of unilateral nuclear disarmament and a policy of withdrawing from the European Union. The Declaration was issued to the media from David Owen’s house further along Narrow Street from the gastropub where we gathered. Lord Owen was not present at our dinner (he opposed merger between the SDP and the Liberal Party to form the Liberal Democrats and now sits as a Crosssbech — i.e. Independent — peer, though rarely attends debates). But the other David, Lord Steel, was a keynote speaker at our dinner and was keen to point out that despite the rather cruel caricature of him on the popular TV programme, Spitting Image, tiny and in David Owen’s top pocket, the two men got on well together most of the time — especially if Dr Owen’s wife, Deborah, was present. Lord Steel drew inevitable comparisons between the state of the Labour Party today under Jeremy Corbyn, underwriting the Conservatives’ Brexit, to the situation 37 years ago. But it was the other guest speaker, Baroness (Sally) Hamwee who focussed her remarks on the future. Brexit is dominating parliamentary business at present and with only two days scheduled for the next Lord’s Debate on the European Union Withdrawal Bill, peers will have to be concise, though many are highly qualified to deconstruct the whole thing in great detail — far more qualified than most of Theresa May’s Cabinet, indeed. As Sally was talking I was reminded that in the European Parliament, MEPs are limited to one minute in Plenary speeches, which is a good recipe for conciseness — a bit like a tweet, as I said to her, not that she uses twitter herself. Like many local parties, Tower Hamlets Borough Liberal Democrats has benefitted from a great surge in membership since the EU Referendum and with nearly 30,000 citizens of the other EU member states resident in the borough, will be particularly reaching out to them in the run-up to May’s London local elections.

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Cities of London and Westminster

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 17th January, 2018

City of LondonTheresa May is hanging onto power with all the tenacity of a terrier refusing to let anyone take its bone away. But there is always a possibility that the Conservative Government — only in office because of an arrangement in the House of Commons with 10 Ulster Protestants from the Democratic Unionist Party — could fall some time this year, as the complexities of Brexit become clearer. If so, the Liberal Democrats are well-prepared, with prospective parliamentary candidates in place in most seats. In my case, I have been selected for the Cities of London and Westminster, which includes the City, London’s prime business and banking area, as well as the southern half of Westminster borough, including the Houses of Parliament and much of the West End.

Houses of ParliamentIt’s a good fit, as although I live just over the eastern boundary in Tower Hamlets, I spend much of my working week in the area. It’s also a bit of a homecoming, as the constituency was the one in which I was able to vote for the first time, in February 1974, when I lived in Pimlico. I had just started working at Reuters News Agency, so unsurprisingly was drafted to help with the media relations for the then PPC, Trevor Underwood. A highlight was going canvassing in Buckingham Palace — not the Queen, of course, as she cannot vote, but a number of her domestic staff, some of whom were very sympathetic. This time, as prospective candidate, I’ll be focussing on the financial and business communities in particular, as they are naturally concerned about the possible effects of Brexit. That also fits in well with my ongoing role as the Liberal Democrats’ Brexit spokesperson for London. Otherwise, I’ll be pitching in to help the Westminster local party get its first Councillors elected this May. It’s certainly about time!


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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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