Jonathan Fryer

Posts Tagged ‘Liberal Democrats’

Simon Hughes Conquers Everest

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 21st July, 2015

Simon Hughes 4One of the key policy areas many Liberal Democrats will be focussing on now we are in opposition to the Conservatives is human rights, which have been prominent in the campaigning values of both the national party and our wider Liberal International family. So it was timely that Lewisham Liberal Democrats this evening hosted a dinner in Blackheath at which the speaker was the recently knighted Simon Hughes, who was Minister for Justice for a short period before the May election. A lawyer by training, Simon had an interesting slant on the subject to help us finesse our campaigning tactics in that he is not necessarily opposed to the idea of a British Bill of Rights so long as that retains the core principles enshrined within the European Convention on Human Rights (which was of course largely framed by British legal minds). As he told the gathering at the Everest Inn Nepalese restaurant, the Conservatives (with some noble exceptions) have been damning the Human Rights Act as a flawed Labour invention, which while technically true rather misses the point.

Nepal eathquakeSimon also pointed out that with the exception of unqualified rights such as that against being subject to torture and degrading treatment most of the articles in the ECHR do have qualifications, which are often ignored or misrepresented by the more unscrupulous sections of the British Press. Most of the ‘scandals’ highlighted in the Daily Mail and the Daily Express have been related to Article 8 of the Convention, in particular regarding the right to a family life, but it is perfectly possible for British courts to make sound judgments without offending the principles of the Convention. There seemed to be a feeling among members present — many of whom had campaigned for Simon in his sadly unsuccessful attempt to retain his parliamentary seat in Old Southwark and Bermondsey — that the Conservatives are in danger of wanting to throw the baby out with the bathwater on this issue, though they may find changing our relationship to the ECHR difficult to get through the House of Lords. It would be crazy as well as self-defeating for the UK to withdraw from the ECHR, but that message needs to be got over to the general public in an understandable way. At the end of the evening, instead of the conventional raffle, a collection was made for relief efforts in Nepal, in which the owner of Everest Inn has been involved, as the after-effects of the eathquake are still severe.

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Farron Calls for Visibility, Dynamism and Viability

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 20th July, 2015

Tim Farron 2The July meeting of the Liberal Democrats’ federal executive (FE) was put back a week to tonight so the new party leader could be present. As everyone now knows, that is Tim Farron, who certainly got lots of attention on the TV over the weekend. But with only eight MPs, can the Liberal Democrats maintain high visibility? That is going to be one Tim’s three priorities, he informed the FE, and as he won’t get the same opportunities in the House of Commons Chamber that his predecessor Nick Clegg had as Deputy Prime Minister, at the head of a far larger cohort of MPs in a Coalition government, Farron may have to use other possibilities, including Westminster Hall meetings and other public platforms. Of course, to get visibility the Liberal Democrats must have a distinctive message, and I believe he is right in seeing that at the moment as being partly a matter of having a coherent and morally defensible position on dealing with Islamic State and the complex web of issues relating to that.

dynamismSecondly, Tim argued, the LibDems must have dynamism — radiating an energy that enthuses people. Whether one was a Farron or a Lamb supporter in the recent leadership contest, I think all of us would agree that Tim is a kind of human dynamo, which is why he was such a successful party president. Given the many thousands of new members who have flocked to join the party since May, that dynamism is something that local parties have got to radiate, not just the leader. Finally, Tim stressed viability: which all comes down to money. One of the few consolations of being out of government is that the Liberal Democrats do now receive so-called Short money, designed to help opposition parties prepare their political arguments. But that is just a drop in the ocean when one thinks of the resources that will be needed to make the LibDem Fight-back a reality. The party doesn’t get large handouts from big business, like the Tories, or cash subsidies from the trade unions, like Labour. So it is going to have to be far more expert at crowd-funding, basically, including in the EU referendum YES campaign, when the LibDems will be championing the cause of Britain’s remaining a member of the EU.

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Future Directions of Liberalism

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 19th July, 2015

Hackney LD garden partyThere is a certain satisfaction, not necessarily smug, among Liberal Democrats that we have got our leadership election over while the Labour Party is still facing a summer of grueling conflict between their various contenders. Actually, there was very little ‘conflict’ or indeed major difference between Tim Farron and Norman Lamb, despite their varying experience and style, as they are both Liberals to their core, so although I put Norman first on my ballot paper I am very happy to campaign with Tim, who is a brilliant communicator. Anyway, now the Leader is in place, what do the LibDems actually stand for? This is an important question for the electorate, given that the identity of the Party got blurred within the Coalition. And as a result, as Lynne Featherstone, formerly MP for Hornsey & Wood Green and Minister at DFID (and the Home Office) said at a garden party discussion put on by Hackney LibDems this afternoon on the theme ‘Future Directions for the Liberal Demorats’, the LibDems got toxified by the Tories while the Tories got semi-detoxified by us. Hence, in part, our electoral disaster, which saw Lynne and so many superb colleagues swept away. But as she pointed out, we did get through key LibDem policies while she was in office, such as Equal Marriage and the campaign against FGM. For such things we can be truly proud. Evan Harris, who unexpectedly got narrowly booted out of Oxford West & Abingdon in 2010 and was also a guest speaker at today’s Hackney event, issues of civil liberties were at the fore. After all, he has been at the forefront of the Hacked Off campaign since he lost his seat. Interestingly, the members present (who included several newbies from the post-election influx) highlighted the issue of BaME under-representation in the Party, something I wrote about after the recent Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats (EMLD) leadership hustings a while back. There is no denying the fact that we now have just eight MPs, all of whom are straight white males, though in fairness the candidates standing in many held and target seats this May were far more diverse than that. In London, especially, this is a major issue we have to face, perhaps the biggest issue of all; if we do not look like the city we aspire to represent, how can we expect people to vote for us? Knowing the candidates in the running for the London elections next year (Mayor and GLA members) I am confident that we are going to be putting forward a wonderfully diverse list, whoever finally gets selected. But can we then persuade the voters of London to back them? That is the question we need to ask if we are going to chart the direction of the Party henceforth.

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Tim and Norman Put on the Spot

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 30th June, 2015

EMLD hustingsTim Farron and Norman Lamb had to face what was probably the most difficult hustings of their LibDem leadership contest so far tonight at an event put on by Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats (EMLD) at the Draper Hall in Southwark. The meeting was chaired by Simon Wooley of Operation Black Vote, who had some pretty penetrating questions of his own about how the Liberal Democrats have failed to resonate with so much of the BaME community over the past five years — in contrast to the groundswell of support from Muslims in particular when Charles Kennedy bravely opposed the Iraq War. Both candidates acknowledged that the Party is currently in an unfortunate pace, in which there are only eight MPs, all of whom are white men. That means there are gender issues to be confronted. too. But it is the striking way that the LibDems fail to reflect the ethnic diversity of modern Britain at all levels, including membership, that needs to be tackled most urgently. Prominent LibDem politicians such as Nick Clegg and Simon Hughes have often referred to the problem, yet it self-evidently has not been solved (though Simon did establish an excellent relationship with the large African community in his constituency over the 32 years that he represented it). Indeed, it has got worse.

EMLD logo The great irony is that actually Liberal core values of inclusiveness, equality and respect for the individual should all chime in with a multicultural reality. Moreover, the Party has often taken stances on issues such as immigration and the rights of asylum seekers that are more progressive than those of either the Conservatives or Labour. But the predominantly BaME audience at the EMLD hustings was not ready to give either Tim or Norman an easy ride. They were both chided for not doing enough while the Party was in government to prevent the slashing of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s budget (and therefore its staff). Several members expressed frustration that sometimes they feel they are token ethnic members, useful for photographs, but often handicapped when it came to achieving political office. Interestingly, both Tim and Norman, when pressed, came out in favour of positive discrimination as a temporary measure to ensure that some BaME LibDems do get elected, though not all the EMLD members present favoured that. Both men pledged to reach out to diverse communities if they do become Leader, and Norman was able to point to relevant work he had done with regard to mental health and discrimination against ethnic minorities when he was Minister for Health and Social Care. Tim strongest personal narrative is that he does not fit the standard Westminster white male MP’s profile in having been brought up in relative poverty in Lancashire by a determined single mother, which gives him a certain natural empathy for the marginalised of society. Despite the quite rough ride that the two candidates had tonight, both came across as sincere and passionate and determined that whichever one of them wins, racial equality issues, including police stop-and-search and discrimination in the provision of public services, will be one of their prime concerns. Simon Wooley, resolutely non-partisan, acknowledged that and reiterated what many people in this country think: that Britain needs a principled Liberal party and that the Liberal Democrats need to fit for purpose to meet that challenge.

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History Will Be Kinder to Nick Clegg

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 24th June, 2015

Nick Clegg 6There’s a poignant piece in tomorrow’s Guardian revealing that Nick Clegg seriously contemplated resigning as Leader of the Liberal Democrats following last year’s disastrous European and local election results as he feared he had become a liability. Reportedly he was told by senior colleagues that he had to hang on in there until this May’s equally disastrous General Election, when the number of LibDem MPs was slashed from 56 to just 8. I understand the angst he went through and can only applaud the vivacity with which he bounced back after May 2014. It was true that he had become toxic on the doorstep in many Labour-facing areas, thanks to the tuition fees shambles, but I think that history will be a lot kinder to him than the electorate has been. He was undoubtedly right to take the LibDems into Coalition in 2010 (despite what my dear, late friend Charles Kennedy thought), though a bit less of a bromance with David Cameron in the Rose Garden would have been a good idea. I wonder if Nick really realised just how brutal the Conservatives (including Cameron) can be, as witnessed by their tactics re the AV referendum and the 2015 General Election. Whoever wins the current LibDem leadership election (and as I have said I will be happy to serve under either, as I admire both, though I will give Norman Lamb my first preference) is going to have to rebrand the Party on the basis of its core values. Having known Nick Clegg for many years, I do not doubt his sincerely held belief in those values. But the European elections and the General Election were not really fought on those values, and had some very iffy messaging. I said at the time that I thought the slogan “We’re the Party of IN!” for the Euros was misguided; it should have been “We’re IN it to Fix It!”. Similarly, the bizarre late leitmotif of “neither left nor right” in the General Elections was unlikely to inspire anyone other than someone whose job it is to paint those white lines in the middle of the highway. There is currently a profound review of the General Election taking place, and I hope that as a (new) member of the Party’s Federal Executive I can have some useful input into that. But one thing I am certain is that Nick should not be the token fall-guy. Yes, he was party Leader and had to fall on his sword after 7 May. But he will be seen by historians as a man of decency and of courage.

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What Next, Sir Simon?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 13th June, 2015

Simon Hughes 2In general I don’t really favour titles and honours, but I can’t help but feel pleased by the award of a knighthood to Simon Hughes. It’s a tribute to the way he served the people of Bermondsey and the surrounding area for 32 years. I well remember an evening meeting of the old Liberal Party’s Europe committee, held at the National Liberal Club, a few years before his first election, when Simon announced that he was leaving the committee to go south of the river, at the urging of our mutual friend and mentor David Rebak, to try to convert the corrupt Labour borough of Southwark to Liberalism. Indeed, off he went and in he dug, and when the controversial parliamentary by-election came up in 1983, he won it with a huge majority — and then held the seat (despite various boundary and name changes) for over three decades. He was the ultimate constituency MP, tireless in his handling of case-work. Canvassing for him in various elections was a pleasure because local people clearly loved him and were grateful for what he had done for them. Alas, he was swept away in last month’s electoral tsunami, helped partly by the rapid turnover of population in that gentrifying part of London. Simon previously stood unsuccessfully for the leadership of the Liberal Democrats and as London’s Mayor; I supported him strongly in both instances, and I hope he won’t take those failures (or his recent parliamentary defeat) as a sign that he should give up. He still has a great deal to offer the Party, London and the country. So when he has had time over the summer to recover and relax and start making decisions and his future, I hope we will find him bouncing back in the quest of some new role.

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Remembering Charles Kennedy

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 2nd June, 2015

Charles KennedyCharles Kennedy 1Few politicians inspire as much warmth as Charles Kennedy generated during his time as leader of the Liberal Democrats. But then few politicians are as engaging, witty and profoundly human — in their strengths and their weaknesses — as Charles was. He was a joy to work with, even if you couldn’t always rely on him turning up on time, and although he came to the Alliance from the SDP he was Liberal to his core. He inspired huge loyalty among people he worked with — the main reason people tried to cover up his drinking problem — and he also connected with the general public to a remarkable degree. Political opponents sometimes derided him as Chatshow Charlie, but in reality they usually fell under his spell as well, as witnessed by the tributes that have been pouring in all morning from across the political spectrum. Charles Kennedy was also a brave politician, as shown when he stood his ground in opposition to the Iraq War, despite odious vilification from both Labour and Conservative MPs in the House of Commons. The abuse and the heckling deeply upset him, as he was in many ways a sensitive man, but he never wavered. I have never felt so proud of a party leader as when he joined a million of us on the London march against the War and spoke so passionately about it. His inevitable fall from the leadership and the breakdown of his marriage were twin tragedies that wounded him deeply; losing his parliamentary seat in last month’s SNP tsunami was a final cruel blow. It was obvious from his last appearance on Question Time that he was a diminished man, yet he was someone we continued to love. I considered it a privilege to work with him when I was on the party’s Federal Policy Committee and later through our involvement with the European Movement, of which he was President. When I received an SMS early this morning telling me Charles had been found dead it was if I had been punched in the gut. We have lost a great Liberal Democrat, a great Scotsman, a British politician of unique talents, a true European and above all a wonderful human being.

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No, Simon Hughes Doesn’t Want a Peerage

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 14th May, 2015

Simon Hughes 1Simo0n Hughes thank you partyFor me the saddest, and in many ways most unexpected, result last Thursday night was Simon Hughes’s ousting from Bermondsey and Old Southwark after 32 years as the area’s member of parliament. One knew that Labour had been absolutely flooding the place with campaigners for months — including shedloads of Labour MPs who were urged to make the short trip across the Thames when they had a few spare moments — but Simon could have hardly have worked harder for his constituents throughout his long tenure. I am sure that those people in the constituency who voted Labour in the hope of keeping the Tories out will soon realise what a mistake they made. Anyway, this evening, at The Grange in Grange Road, there was an election thank you party for all who helped in Simon’s campaign, as many hundreds did from all over London and beyond. Far from being a wake, the event was quite joyful, not least because of the more than 11,000 new members who have joined the Liberal Democrats this past week, over 100 are in Bermondsey and Old Southwark, bringing useful new blood to an already strong local team, who have already declared that the fight back has started. Simon helped the upbeat mood by quashing the Labour Party rumour that he will accept a peerage. But being Simon he then made a speech that took us all down memory lane, from the very first time he stood for election as a Liberal in the area, as a GLC candidate. I was interested to note that he no longer says “thirteenthly” when he enumerates the points in his speech, and has instead learned that if one starts at three and moves down to one, you can then move back up again to another three without many people noticing. Because he is so widely loved, we all view such tactics with affection. Most of us even agreed to sing a song he had heard on SmoothFM as he was driving out of the House of Commons car park in his signature yellow taxi for the last time earlier today. And it was gratifying to hear from the man who was until last week Minister of Justice that he could not have borne to be in the department with the new incumbent Michael Gove in charge.

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Liberal Democrat Resilience

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 12th May, 2015

LibDems join usLast week’s general election results in Britain were a shock to almost everyone — including the opinion pollsters — but the cruellest blows were for the Liberal Democrats, who lost 48 of their 56 seats. Ministers such as Simon Hughes, Ed Davey and Vince Cable were among the casualties, as well as high flyers like Julian Huppert and Jenny Willott. In London, Labour crowed, though as their party was almost wiped out in Scotland and their leader Ed Miliband fell on his sword for failing to win the election, they had little real reason to do so.  I lost count of the number of Labour supporters tweeting how the Liberal Democrats are “finished”, “destroyed”. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Though the eight LibDem MPs are now outnumbered more than tenfold by their counterparts in the House of Lords, the party’s membership base is expanding rapidly. Over 8,000 new members have joined the LibDems so far this month, most of those following last Thursday’s election. That is a remarkable affirmation not only the party’s resilience but also of the need for a strong liberal voice now that we have a purely Conservative government which will start implementing some of the things that LibDems prevented them doing in Coalition. The LibDem bird Libby is indeed like a phoenix, rsing from the ashes of last wek’s defeat. And it is the duty of every local party to engage with the new members and to get them involved, including those who left because of the Coalition deal with the Conservatives but who are now ready to return to the fold.

To join the party go to: http://www.libdems.org.uk/join

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The BBC Leaders Debate

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 1st May, 2015

Leaders Debate 2Television debates have now firmly established themselves as part and parcel of the British political process, even if Prime Minister David Cameron has tried to avoid a repeat of the 2010 head-to-heads with Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg, at which the Liberal Democrat leader established himself as the exciting new kid on the block. Cameron, Clegg and the new Labour leader, Ed Miliband, provided an hour-and-a-half of stimulating entertainment on BBC1 last night, in a Question Time special, even if the format was a series of half hour sessions with each in turn facing David Dimbleby and a feisty studio audience in Leeds rather than a genuine debate. Cameron went first, but as so often when he is interviewed he looked uncomfortable, even petulant at times. He avoided answering the question about exactly where a Conservative government would find an extra £12bn in welfare cuts and kept on insisting that the Tories were aiming for an overall majority on 7 May, even though not a single opinion poll in recent months has suggested that is possible. He is unlucky in that his face is so smooth that it looks somehow unhuman, though I’ve always thought the Guardian cartoonist’s caricature of him wearing a condom over his head somewhat cruel.

general election 2015Miliband was the most eagerly awaited, to see how he would fare, but I am sure I was not the only viewer astonished when he categorically ruled out any “deal” (let alone a Coalition) with the Scottish Nationalists — something the opinion polls suggest is almost inevitable if he is to get to No 10 Downing Street. He even said he would rather not be Prime Minister than have an arrangement with the SNP — a statement he may well live to regret. He echoed a phrase of David Cameron’s about secret Coalition talks in darkened rooms, similarly ignoring the fact that most of the British electorate has realised that we have moved into an era of Coalition politics in Britain, whatever the Labour and Tory leaders might wish. As he left the tiny raised stage Miliband slipped and almost fell onto a member of the audience. Metaphorically, he had indeed tumbled, and I suspect this will be the last time he is seen on a Leaders Debate.

Nick Clegg had the great advantage of coming last and even if he no longer has the novelty appeal of 2010 he is a consummate performer. An inevitable hostile question about tuition fees started off his interrogation, but he swiftly turned his response into a catalogue of the good things Liberal Democrats have done in government. He spoke eloquently about why he believes Britain must remain a member of the European Union (winning loud approval from The Economist on twitter) and came over not only as the only true internationalist of the three but also the only really human being. He was also the only who managed to make a joke that got the audience laughing, by suggesting that Cameron and Miliband ought to go and lie down in a darkened room if they thought they were capable of getting an outright majority. I may understandably be accused of bias but I do feel he “won” the debate. And it was definitely Ed Miliband who came off worst.

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