Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Liberal Democrats’

The European Liberal Family (ALDE)

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 3rd November, 2019

12836C57-4082-48C4-B8C6-5EA2ED7AF71AFor most of last week I was in Athens, the cradle of democracy, for the ALDE Party Congress, which brought together dozens of Liberal parties from across Europe, not just the EU. I’ve been on the ALDE’s elected Council as a UK Liberal Democrats’ representative for many years and am currently standing for re-election to that role (all LibDem members can vote). As ever, one of the highlights of the Congress was the welcoming into membership of new parties, the details of which can be found on the ALDE website*. But inevitably a lot of the political discussion, especially outside the plenary sessions, was about Brexit. It was good to be able to confirm that the UK would not be leaving the EU on 31 October after all, despite Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s do-or-die pledge. The British delegation worked hard to strengthen the resolve of our Continental counterparts (the Irish are well on board!) to support our efforts to Remain. When Luxembourg Prime Minister, Xavier Bettel, declared in his plenary speech that he regretted the UK’s departure, he was rightly heckled by London MEP Irina von Wiese, “We’re not Leaving,”

5D6E7B66-4657-4764-A539-A4A387F6AD9BSubsequently, after the Congress, a 3-month extension to Article50 was granted by the EU27 and a general election was called in Britain for 12 December, in which Brexit will inevitably be a major issue. However, the ALDE Congress agenda was much broader than that and there was a range of interesting fringe meetings, including an event put on by (the worldwide) Liberal International on fighting Fake News and Alternative Facts.

ALDE itself is a very broad church, embracing social liberals, like the UK LibDems and D66 from the Netherlands, as well as more economically conservative parties, such as the German and Swiss FDPs. But there are many strongly shared values, not least on human rights (including LGBTi matters) and environmental protection. In the European Parliament, ALDE parties are together in the Renew Europe Group with Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche from France, and with 108 MEPs — a sharp rise from 2014 — constitute the third largest grouping, with considerable influence. But one of the healthy things about the ALDE Congress is to remind us all that Europe is far wider than just the EU and that all of us have a shared European heritage, despite our glorious diversity.

*link: https://www.aldeparty.eu

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Put It to the People

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 23rd March, 2019

Brexit march 1Today I went on the People’s Vote march against Brexit in central London, along with what the organisers say were more than one million people. I can’t authenticate that figure, but the demonstration was certainly bigger than the last one I went on. Liberal Democrats, unsurprisingly, were out in force. The front of the march had already reached Parliament Square before our section even got moving on Park Lane and it took me four hours to get from A to B. What was similar to previous events of this kind, however, was the good humour — not least in the home-made placards — and the great sense of solidarity even among those who would normally find themselves divided by politics or age. There was even a great samba drummers band to keep up the spirits. But there was also a sense of urgency, as Prime Minister Theresa May has so far continued to plough on with her bad Brexit deal, despite countless objections, and in principle Britain could crash out of the EU next Friday without a deal — though that possibility has mercifully been reduced by the willingness of the EU to give Britain an extension to Article 50 to try and sort things out.

Brexit march 2Next week in Parliament is going to be something to watch, as MPs try to seize greater control over the parliamentary agenda and various different possibilities are floated. At the moment, a People’s Vote or new referendum is not the most favoured option of a majority of MPs but it could develop into that as other options fall by the wayside. All those who witnessed the march must have been struck by the turnout and the passion. Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, pointedly absented himself for London, which is something I think he will very soon live to regret. Of course, if Article50 is prolonged beyond either of the two dates mentioned in Brussels on Thursday — 12 April or 22 May — then there will have to be European elections in the UK in late May, as indeed there should be. They will certainly be a good gauge of the popular mood if they happen. And having to closely got to being elected to the European Parliament twice, I shall certainly throw my hat in the ring.

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ALDE Congress in Madrid

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 10th November, 2018

DD89ADA8-523D-4525-8A5D-316420AD1B73For the latter half of this week I have been in Madrid for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) Congress. Our hosts were Cuidadanos, the still relatively new kid on the block in Spanish politics, yet according to an opinion poll published today, they are level-pegging with the conservative Partido Popular (PP), on 22%. Only a fortnight ago, ALDE had to hold an emergency Council meeting in Brussels, to refuse membership to a Catalan party, PdeCAT, for reasons too complicated to go into here, but surprisingly there was no fallout from that at the Congress. This was mainly because the central focus of the Madrid gathering was the ALDE manifesto* for next May’s European elections, which was duly passed this lunchtime. But there was a plethora of other issues discussed over the three days of the Congress. I successfully moved, on behalf of the UK Liberal Democrats, an emergency motion on Saudi Arabia, which I will post on this blog on Monday, when I shall return to London and have access to a desktop computer.

9291698F-7F08-4996-8D94-E3006FA5A636There were fringe sessions on various aspects of campaigning, including social media, and it was good to have one panel that brought together not only MEPs from several EU member states but also senior executives from Facebook, Google and Microsoft. The UK Liberal Democrat Leader, Sir Vince Cable,  came over for the day yesterday, to reinforce the message that Brexit is not a “done deal” and that the LibDems are at the forefront of the campaign for a People’s Vote on any Brexit deal, with an option to remain. The resignation of Orpington MP Jo Johnson from his junior ministerial position over this very issue could not have been better timed. For the first time, the LibDems, Fianna Fáil from Ireland and the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland worked as a coherent bloc in the Congress, which should be a good model to follow in future. Brexit, of course, hung like a big black cloud over the whole event, but at least we Brits left our continental colleagues in no doubt that we are doing everything we can to encourage the British people to stop it,

*The manifesto can be found on the ALDE website: https://alde.eu

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Bollocks to Brexit!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 9th October, 2018

Bollocks to BrexitThe founder of Pimlico Plumbers, Charlie Mullins, is to be congratulated for not submitting to pressure from (Labour) Lambeth Council to remove the giant sign over his company HQ saying Bollocks to Brexit! He has argued persuasively that Britain’s leaving the European Union — which it is scheduled to do on 29 March next year) will be bad for his customers and bad for his workforce, which has benefited from the Freedom of Movement that is part and parcel of the European Single Market. Rather than take down the sign he has instead invested in many more advertisements with the slogan posted near stations and other prominent places around London. After all, the Leave campaign was allowed during the EU Referendum campaign in 2016 to get away with driving a bus round with the lying slogan that the money the UK sends to the EU (itself a dodgy statistic) could be spent on the National Health Service instead. No surprise to learn now that that is not going to happen. In fact, Brexit is already costing this country hundred of million of pounds each week, and it hasn’t even occurred yet. And any increase in NHS funding (indeed needed) will probably have to come from higher taxation instead.

Brexit's Barking MadCharlie Mullins isn’t the author of the catchy Bollocks to Brexit! slogan, but it has gone viral, not only on social media, but also through sticky labels that have been appearing all over the place. On Sunday, I attended the Wooferendum march of Remainers and their dogs in Westminster, and many of the pooches were festooned with it as well. Over the coming weeks, in the run-up to a parliamentary vote on whatever Brexit deal is or is not agreed with Brussels, we can expect more campaigning activity, with a massive march in London on 20 October calling for a People’s Vote — i.e. a referendum on the deal, with an option to Remain — with support from people from every political party (except UKIP, probably) and none. Meanwhile, several local councils have been debating motions about whether to support a People’s Vote. I took part in a LibDem-led demonstration outside Camden’s temporary council offices last night, urging councillors to back such a motion, though sadly time ran out at the Full Council meeting before that part of the agenda was reached. I hope to attend a similar gathering outside Haringey Town Hall on Thursday. Both Camden and Haringey voted heavily Remain in 2016, yet the ruling Labour Party in both cases is divided on the issue. Conservative Brexiteers such as Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg have received massive media attention, but the Labour Party is home to “Lexiteers” as well, not just on the right (such as Kate Hoey) but also the left, including among some supporters of Momentum. Party leader Jeremy Corbyn was a Euro-sceptic for most of his 30-odd years in parliament, campaigned very quietly for Remain in 2016, but then called for Article 50 to be invoked immediately afterwards. He is still sitting on the fence over Brexit, though the Opposition Brexit spokesperson, Keir Starmer, did say clearly at the Labour conference in Liverpool that a People’s Vote should be on the table, including an option to Remain. He looked rather startled when this provoked a standing ovation, but it is not really surprising, as over 80% of Labour members reportedly support staying in the EU. Moreover, according to a poll-of-polls in the London Evening Standard last night, a large majority of the 150 recent opinion polls on the Brexit issue have shown a majority for Remain if a new referendum is held. In a democracy, it is a fundamental right for people to change their mind and maybe that is indeed happening as the complexity and cost of disentangling ourselves from the EU become clearer. So, yes, let’s have a People’s Vote. And let Bollocks to Brexit be our proud Remainer chant!

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The LibDems’ Anti-Brexit Weekend

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 8th September, 2018

Hampstead LibDems Brexit stallAcross Britain, Liberal Democrats have been out and about campaigning against Brexit this weekend — and the mood everywhere seems to be that people don’t like the way things are going. Theresa May’s Chequers plan is in tatters, yet the arch-Brexiteers among the Tories have failed to come up with an alternative of their own. Labour, meanwhile, is still stuck on the fence, apparently with superglue, but the chorus from Labour members calling for the party to back a People’s Vote when a deal is proposed later this year is now getting so loud that it is hard to imagine that it will not dominate the Labour autumn conference, with prominent moderates such as Chuka Umunna and Ben Bradshaw leading the charge. There is even a growing band of Conservative ex-Ministers now putting their heads above the parapet to call for a referendum too. The Liberal Democrats will go into our own Brighton conference next weekend knowing that apart from a tiny minority, party members are overwhelmingly in favour of an Exit from Brexit, which has indeed become something of Vince Cable’s signature policy. But what I found interesting, helping man a stall on Hampstead High Street this morning, is how passionately many ordinary voters are starting to feel about the matter, including previous Leavers who would now vote Remain. This is quite different from the mood only a couple of months ago, when there was a widespread feeling of “oh, just get on with it!” But as the realities become ever clearer and people understand just how painful disentangling Britain from more than four decades of economic integration with the continent is going to be, there is a new sense of urgency to halt things while it is still possible. Mrs May has of course stated that there will be no second referendum, but she may find if she is not careful that unless she softens her line on that, Parliament will give her such a bloody nose that her rule comes to an abrupt end. Boris Johnson is of course chomping at the bit in the wings, just waiting for Mrs May to be overthrown, but he may instead find himself in the political wilderness if sensible people from all of the parties (except perhaps the DUP) come together to Stop Brexit by campaigning for a People’s Vote with the option to Remain.

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Europe Day 2018

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 9th May, 2018

Europe Day 2018In recent years I have always celebrated Europe Day (9 May) at a concert in St John’s, Smith Square. But this year was different. London4Europe, the London branch of the European Movement, put on a celebratory occasion this evening, which I would have loved to attend, but I felt I ought to be at the post-Council election wash-up and planning meeting of the London Liberal Democrats at Party HQ — not least because a parliamentary by-election has been triggered by the resignation today of the Labour MP for Lewisham East, Heidi Alexander, so she can take up the position of Deputy Mayor of London with special responsibility for Transport. Ms Alexander is on the more sensible end of the Labour Party, at a time when far-left Momentum has tightened its grip, and has been sound on Europe. So it will be very interesting to see who Labour chooses to stand as a candidate for the seat. According to a friend in the Labour Party, Momentum have the selection sewn up, so watch this space. This by-election, by its very timing, will inevitably feature Brexit prominently; Lewisham was strongly pro-Remain in the 2016 EU Referendum and that situation is not likely to have changed. So a strong pro-European campaign — calling for a People’s Vote on the proposed deal between Britain and the EU27 — is a natural position for the Liberal Democrats to adopt. It’s all being called very quickly, with voting on 14 June — so just five weeks to send a message, not only to Theresa May in 10 Downing Street but also to Eurosceptic Jeremy Corbyn too.

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Winning Here

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 10th April, 2018

0BC563C7-00F1-4254-A995-6EFB48B87F6DFor more than two decades, Chris Rennard was the Liberal Democrats’ campaign guru, masterminding successive by-election wins and astounding many media professionals by being able to predict results with uncanny accuracy (sometimes winning himself some useful cash with judiciously-placed bets at the same time). But as his memoir Winning Here (Biteback, £25) makes clear, he was something of a political anorak when he was barely out of short pants (and an orphan), cutting his teeth in the not always friendly environments of Liverpool and Leicester. His talents were soon recognised at the HQ in London, where he graduated from being a one-man campaign band to be the head of a team of 20. Ah, those were the days. Under his stewardship (later with the starring role of Chief Executive) he nurtured the growth of the Party until it won 62 seats in the 2005 general election, post-Iraq War, with Charles Kennedy as party leader. Willie Rennie’s by-election win soon after was the cherry on the top, taking the LibDems to an unrivalled 63 in the House of Coomons (and a hefty contingent in the House of Lords, too, including Chris Rennard himself).  But the wheels we’re beginning to come off the LibDem bandwagon, with Charles’s imminent resignation because of unchecked alcoholism, Simon Hughes’s sexual orientation confusion and Mark Oaten’s walk on the wild side. The book ends there, on a note of triumph, but with storm clouds gathering. But I am sure I cannot be alone in being a little perturbed by the fact that the cover says this is Memoirs Volume 1. Given the rumpus over Chris’s alleged inappropriate behaviour (unproven, a subsequent inquiry decided), maybe it would be wiser to call it a day here. As it is, for a longstanding campaigner and serial candidate such as myself, this book is a treasure trove of memories and anecdotes. I know/knew virtually everyone mentioned, and campaigned with many of them. Interestingly, the European elections get only scant coverage, confirming my suspicion that Chris (and some others in HQ) saw them as a somewhat irritating sideshow. The parliamentary by-elections were the things that kept him motivated — often working grotesquely long hours, detrimental to his personal health — and we can gloriously relive them all here and remember when for Liberal Democrats, the good times really were good.

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Full LibDem Slate for Tower Hamlets

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 5th April, 2018

THLDs 1Tower Hamlets Liberal Democrats are running a full slate of borough council candidates for the election on 3rd May, for the first time since 2010 (when I was the parliamentary candidate for the constituency of Poplar & Limehouse). Elaine Bagshaw is our Mayoral candidate. This time I’m standing for Council in my home ward of Mile End, along with Richard Macmillan and Tabitha Potts. As in much of the country, the local party was hit badly by the fallout from the 2010-2015 Coalition government with the Conservatives (despite the fact that several positive LibDem policies were introduced during that time, including the pupil premium, a substantial rise in the personal tax allowance and same sex marriage). However, in common with most other London borough local parties, Tower Hamlets LibDems have experienced a great surge in members (now well over 700) and keen young activists. Many of these have been motivated by the shock of the 2016 EU Referendum result (for which London as a whole did not vote Leave, Tower Hamlets markedly so) and the linked fact that under the leadership of Vince Cable the LibDems have firmly established themselves as the party of ExitFromBrexit, in sharp contrast to Theresa May’s Conservatives and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour. That is a message that is going down well on the doorstep, not least among the thousands of (non-UK) EU citizens — many of them married to or living with Brits — who are alarmed by the threats to their situation post March 2019. Of course, EU citizens can vote in local elections (but not in national ones, unless they are from Ireland, Cyprus or Malta) and their participation in this May’s vote could have a decisive effect on the outcome. Both for them, and for UK and Commonwealth citizens resident in Britain who are not yet on the electoral register, do please register by the deadline of 17 April. It’s a quick and easy process to do online through the government website:

https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIodGxhKKj2gIVir_tCh3SDAO1EAAYASAAEgLmV_D_BwE

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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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