Jonathan Fryer

Posts Tagged ‘Liberal Democrats’

Shas Sheehan’s Plea for Refugees

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 12th February, 2016

Refugees are human beingsThis is the time of the year when Liberal Democrat local parties organise sessions to discuss the agenda for the Party’s forthcoming Spring conference, but Hackney LibDems decided instead at their Poppadoms and Politics last night to focus more directly on the burning issue of refugees, and in particular those who have been fleeing the last five years of carnage in Syria. Shas outlined the evolution of the Syrian conflict, which I have also been following on a day-by-day basis, and highlighted the fact that a quarter of Lebanon’s population is now made up of Syrian refugees, most of them housed in local peoples’ homes or out-buildings, or in makeshift accommodation. There are another million Syrian refugees in camps in Jordan and more than two million in Turkey, and tens of thousands continue to attempt a perilous crossing to Europe. The photos of the lifeless body of 3-year-old Syrian Kurd Alan Kurdi certainly brought home that reality to the British public, but David Cameron has only promised to take in 20,000 Syrian refugees, over a period of five years, and all from camps in the Middle East. As Shas said, the situation will only get worse, as Assad’s forces and the Russians further their advances into rebel-held districts of Aleppo. Moreover, this is a problem that is going to be with us for years not months, as happened with the refugee flows after the Second World War. That makes all the more necessary a coordinated and compassionate, long-term strategy on the part of the European Union.

refugees 1Inspired by her own trip to Dunkirk, Shas encouraged others to be part of relief efforts for people stuck there or in the Calais “Jungle”. But she was rightly insistent that only the right sort of aid should be delivered. Médecins sans Frontieres is working the the camps and absolutely does not want people self-miedicating on drugs brought over by well-meaning Brits. Similarly, most types of clothes and shoes are similarly not appropriate, nor tinned soup. What is needed, and could indeed be organised by local political parties or even at next month’s York LibDem conference, are items such as batteries, wind-up torches, sleeping bags, good quality tens and a limited range of foodstuffs and beverages, including tinned tuna, chickpeas, tomatoes, lentils, beans and fruit (preferably in ring-pull tins), cooking oil, spices, tea, sugar and salt.

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Liberal Democrats INtogether

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 10th February, 2016

Tim Farron at INtogetherThough the Liberal Democrats had a well-attended in-house launch for the LibDem European Referendum campaign at the party conference in Bournemouth last September, this afternoon a more public-facing event starring party leader Tim Farron, London mayoral candidate Caroline Pidgeon and Catherine Bearder MEP took place in central London at Bounce — a venue whose name the party can only hope has some kinetic effect. Against a backdrop of keen young people brandishing IN diamonds of various hues, Tim declared that the Liberal Democrats have always believed in EU reform, not the status quo. But that does not mean “IN, but”, he clarified. The party will be enthusiastically campaigning for reform with Britain firmly engaged in the EU, unlike half-hearted Labour and the divided Conservatives. Caroline Pidgeon stressed that whereas most of the issues likely to be raised on the doorstep between now and May 5 are likely to be more local issues, such as housing and transport, she is a convinced European who understands the value of London as Europe’s premier city. Catherine Bearder at one moment draped herself in a chiffon Union Flag scarf to make the point that a true patriot realises that it is in Britain’s best interests to be at the heart of Europe. The party’s INtogether campaign will now roll out across the country — and, one hopes, across social media. You can follow it, and indeed join in, via @LDINtogether.

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The Limehouse Declaration Anniversary Dinner

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 22nd January, 2016

Vince Cable at Limehouse dinnerThirty-five years ago, Labour’s “Gang of Four” — Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams, David Owen and Bill Rogers — met at Dr Owen’s home in Narrow Street, Limehouse, where they signed the Limehouse Declaration, which would soon lead to the formation of the Social Democrat Party, the SDP. Last night, just a few doors down the road from Dr Owen’s House, Liberal Democrats gathered to celebrate that anniversary and to give the City and London East GLA campaign a hefty boost. Though none of the three surviving Gang of Four was present, there was a stellar line-up of speakers, starting with Vince Cable, who had started his political life as a Labour councillor in Glasgow before joining the SDP and eventually getting elected as Liberal Democrat MP for Twickenham. He noted the parallels between the situation in the Labour Party in 1981 and that today under the respective leaderships of Michael Foot and Jeremy Corbyn, and said that many moderate Labour MPs now are running round like headless chickens, alarmed by the way things have developed within the party but unable to decide what to do about it. Moreover, in 2016 the dissidents lack figures of the gravitas of the Gang of Four who could be capable of organising a break-away. The fate of the SDP under Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system was also a dire warning. As Lord (Dick) Newby reminded us in his speech last night, although the SDP-Liberal Alliance polled 25.4% of the vote, compared with Labour’s 27.6%, the Alliance only bagged 23 parliamentary seats as opposed to Labour’s 209. Only five of the SDP MPs who had defected from Labour hung on to their seats and the party’s only gain was Charles Kennedy.

SDP logoTom Brake — London’s sole-surviving Liberal Democrat MP — warned that we must not assume that the Party will just bounce back in 2020 and that it is vital that we consolidate our hold on the eight seats we still have, as well as building in the targets. The compere for the evening, Dr Mark Pack, gave his own thoughtful commentary on the rise and fall of the SDP as well as providing some colourful memorabilia, which did indeed bring back memories among those of us old enough to remember the heady days of 1982, when the Alliance was leading in the opinion polls, only to have our hopes dashed on the rocks of the Falklands War, which saved Mrs Thatcher’s political skin. Interestingly, many of the guests at the Limehouse Declaration anniversary dinner were too young to have such memories, including the GLA constituency candidate Elaine Bagshaw who rounded off the evening and highlighted the remarkable rise in membership and activities in the local parties of Tower Hamlets, Newham and Barking & Dagenham.

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The Yawning Centre Ground

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 27th December, 2015

Jeremy CorbynCameron EU 1With Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn widely being predicted to purge his Shadow Cabinet of several right-wingers and Britain’s Conservative government rapidly becoming the most intolerant and anti-progressive since the dark days of Mrs Thatcher, there is a yawning centre ground in British politics. In principle, this offers an ideal opportunity to the Liberal Democrats as a third force. But to occupy that ground successfully won’t just happen; it has to be engineered. The way NOT to do it was illustrated in the final stages of May’s disastrous general election campaign, when a party political broadcast was aired showing a woman driving a car (while not wearing a safety belt, as thousands of TV viewers noted with disapproval) wondering whether to turn left or turn right but in the end deciding to go straight ahead. A neat idea from a PR firm’s point of view, perhaps, but as a political message totally vacuous. The LibDems were suddenly neither one thing nor the other, and nothing in particular; no wonder many of our wavering supporters went elsewhere.

Tim FarronThe late, lamented Charles Kennedy understood that the Party must not be seen as the soggy centre, and was good at articulating a narrative of being “actively forward”. That is something Tim Farron needs to emulate. Tim has rightly seized on human rights as a core Liberal principle, highlighting in particular the humanitarian crisis relating to refugees and migrants on the one hand and the disgraceful record of Saudi Arabia and some other badly performing countries on the other. But human rights — and indeed wider civil liberties — are always going to be a minority discourse, so the LibDems need to craft a “radical forward” political platform that draws more people away from left-leaning Labour and right-leaning Tories. With the Green Party wilting, environmental issues can be reclaimed by the Party. And so must the issue of fairness, often talked about in LibDem literature but as yet not turned into a campaigning message — one that is passionate, one that is angry about the growing inequalities within British society and one that challenges the Conservative head-on. The Tories may have been our Coalition partners between 2010 and 2015, but there is no doubt that they are our political opponents now.

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Israel and Palestine: What Next?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 1st December, 2015

Last night I was at the National Liberal Club for a meeting organised by Liberal International British Group (LIBG) on Israel and Palestine, addressed by the former British Consul General in Jerusalem, Sir Vincent Fean. Since retiring from the diplomatic service, Sir Vincent has been an eloquent advocate of the Palestinian cause, in particular calling for recognition of the State of Palestine as a necessary step on the way to a viable Two State Solution. In summating after Sir Vincent’s talk and a range of often vigorous questions from the audience and proposing a vote of thanks, I said:

Sir Vincent FeanA few years ago, I made a documentary in the West Bank which focussed on two young families: a Jewish couple and their small daughter, who had immigrated from Australia because they believed it was God’s will that they should be part of Jewish “re-settlement” of Judea and Samaria, and a Palestinian businessman (and his teacher wife), whose business was basically going down the pan because of the continued Israeli occupation. These two families were physically separated by only a couple of kilometres, yet they were worlds apart and seemingly irreconcilable. The temptation for many of us therefore is to give up on trying to find a peace settlement in the Middle East and just accept the status quo. But as Sir Vincent has said, the status quo in this case is not static; it is dynamic and the movement is going dangerously in the wrong direction, which will ultimately probably lead to catastrophe unless something is done to change it.

Israeli occupationOne attendee tonight said he could not understand how Liberal Democrats today speak so differently about Israel than Liberals used to when he first joined the Party; at the time, every single Liberal MP was a member of the Liberal Friends of Israel. The answer to that query is contained in one word: occupation. Nearly 50 years of often brutal occupation, coupled with ever increasing Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, has shifted liberal opinions radically. I know that because it is a journey I have made myslf. As a teenager I was a keen supporter of Israel, thought the kibbutzim movement was fantastic and when Arab states attacked Israel I was out in the street protesting. But what has happened since 1967, with the persistent violations by Israel of the Geneva Conventions and other instruments of international law, has made me a passionate champion of justice for the Palestinians. That must include recognition of the Palestinian state (as 130 countries have already done). There can be no true negotiations between parties as unequal as Israel (the occupying power) and the Arab people of the occupied territories.

Israel PalestineBritain has a moral duty to further this cause, both for historic reasons (as the mandatory power of Palestine from the end of the First World War until 1948) and because of its position on the UN Security Council. The Obama administration appears to have given up hope in trying to promote a settlement, so as Sir Vincent has argued, Britain and other EU countries should take a lead. The two state solution is dying, indeed it is almost dead. But we must make a last, determined effort to resuscitate it before it is too late, in the interest of both the Palestinians, who suffer so much injustice and humiliation on a daily basis, and of Israelis, who understandably desire to live in security.

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Tim Farron and the HIGNFY Challenge

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 21st November, 2015

Tim FarronThe much missed late, great leader of the Liberal Democrats, Charles Kennedy, was routinely mocked by political opponents as “Chatshow Charlie”, because of his readiness to go on popular TV programmes, including and especially the BBC’s Have I Got News for You (HIGNFY). But as with schoolboys, this mocking often masked jealousy on the others’ part, as Charles was such a warm and witty person who remained so utterly himself on camera that he endeared audiences, even those who normally have no time for politicians. And although Charles’s principled stance over the Iraq War (for which he was viciously heckled by MPs on both sides of the House of Commons) was certainly the major reason the LibDems did so well in 2005, winning 62 seats, another explanation was Charles Kennedy’s humanity. The excuse for bringing this up now is that next Friday, 27 November, the current LibDem leader, Tim Farron, will be occupying one of those HIGNFY hot-seats. Sir Humphrey Appleby would doubtless have dubbed this a “bold” move and it is indeed quite brave. Some politicians have ended up looking right plonkers on HIGNFY, particularly if they try to be “clever”. My advice to Tim is this: be prepared for some rigorous ribbing (de rigueur for any politician on the show), including and especially for your religious beliefs and the smallness of the LibDems’ cohort in the House of Commons. Do your homework on what are the sort of subjects likely to come up in the questions. But above all, be yourf usual relaxed, even cheeky self. Don’t try to be anything else but but Tim Farron, the lad from Preston who made good, and maybe, one day, when viewers see you on TV they’ll say, “Oh, there’s that Tim from Have I Got News for You”, in the way that they hailed Charles and learned to love him.

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Tim Farron Hits the Spot

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 23rd September, 2015

Tim Farron 2When Tim Farron was elected Leader of the Liberal Democrats earlier this year there were many, both inside and outside the party, who wondered whether he would be able to cut the mustard. From his period as President we knew he was a brilliant speaker, and that he was the perfect warm-up man for rallies, including federal conference. But would he have the gravitas of his predecessors, given that he had never held any higher public office than being the (extremely effective) MP for Westmoreland and Lonsdale? That question was swirling around in the hall at the LibDem conference in Bournemouth this week, not least because the former leader, Nick Clegg, gave such a masterful, polished performance in a speech that rightly brought the delegates to their feet. One newbie member (of whom there were a lot in Bournemouth) sitting next to me at the time whispered in my ear, “Now, that’s a leader!” But Tim’s speech to conference this lunchtime, closing what was the best-attended ever LibDem conference, will certainly have laid any fears to rest. It was passionate and it was Liberal and there cannot have been anyone in the hall who doubted that it was totally, utterly sincere. Tim chastised David Cameron for his shoddy response to the current refugee crisis, as well as for his dangerous flirtation with Brexit. The Liberal Democrats are European and internationalist and Tim is firmly in that tradition, with a gritty northern directness that commands attention. He also mentioned core domestic issues, such as the environment and the need for social housing, showing that he can indeed be the voice of the reasonable but principled opposition to the Conservatives. As David Cameron has been dragged to the right by his Eurosceptics and elitist chums and Jeremy Corbyn takes Labour on a magical mystery cruise to we-know-not-where, so Tim Farron has staked out the Liberal Democrats’ political ground, in the radical, compassionate centre, underlined by his heartfelt plea for a more humane approach to refugees. In a nutshell, he has hit the spot.

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Yes to Europe, Great for Britain!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 21st September, 2015

imageimageTim Farron positioned the Liberal Demcrats firmly at the fore of the campaign for Britain to remain a member of the European Union in a rousing speech to a packed fringe meeting at the Party’s Bournemouth conference today. He described himself as a patriot who loves his neighbours and said that the forthcoming EU referendum was the most important challenge that Liberals in this country face. About a third of the population is resolutely anti-EU and a third is keenly aware of the benefits of EU membership. That means that victory or defeat depends on persuading the other third, who are not sure either way — and getting them out to vote. Nick Hopkinson, Chair of the Liberal Democrat European Group (LDEG), opened the meeting by recalling his own childhood in Canada, at a time when Quebec separatists were effectively forcing anglophones like his family out of the province. Laura Sandys, a former Conservative MP and Chair of the cross-party European Movement, produced a resounding rallying call of “Yes to Europe, Great for Britain!”, while Catherine Bearder wrapped herself in a Union flag shawl to emphasize that staying in the EU is the most patriotic thing Brits can do. While UKIP seeks to take Brutain back to an England of the 1950s, the LibDems are now committed to moving the country forward with Europe, but no-one should under-estimate the challenges of the political battle ahead, with a Tory Prime Minister who seems to be sleep-walking towards the Brexit door and a new leader of the Opposition who is Luke-warm on his support for the EU at best.

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EU Migrants Welcome Here!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 21st September, 2015

Europe and Britain’s continued membership of the European Union were centre stage at the Liberal Democrat conference in Bournemouth yesterday morning, as we debated (and passed overwhelmingly) a motion calling for a vigorous campaign in favour of remaining in the EU in the referendum that is forthcoming, probably in the Autumn of next year. There were some powerful speeches, including from the mover, Peter Price (one of a number of former Conservative MEPs who defected to the LibDems over Europe) and the summator, former London MEP Baroness Ludford. I spoke in favour of four lines in the motion school which referred to freedom of movement. Though the LibDems are massively in favour of Britain’s EU membership (with a few exceptions, such as the speaker from Somerset and Frome, who spoke against the motion) I am under no illusion that the British public as a whole has yet been persuaded. So although I relish the prospect of the referendum campaign we should not fool ourselves that it is going to be easy. It’s not just the Faragistas who will be campaigning all out to take Britain out, even some Tory MEPs, such as Daniel Hannan, openly advocate withdrawal. Moreover, they will fight a scare-mongering campaign, pandering to some of the worst fears and prejudices of sizeable sections of the public, not least regarding free movement — which is a central pillar of the EU single market, from which Britain has benefitted enormously. Recently, along with tens of thousands of other people, I marched in London under the slogan “Refugees Welcome Here!” As I said in my speech, the LibDems need to have the courage over the coming months to also argue”EU Migrants Welcome Here!” Just as more than two million Brits have enjoyed the benefits of studying, working or just living in other EU member states so EU migrants have brought new dynamism to the UK economy. We must stand up and be proud in our defence of the EU case. We are all Europe!

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The LibDem Conference Rally

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 20th September, 2015

imageThe Liberal Democrat conference in Bournemouth is reportedly the best-attended ever, and certainly the traditional opening rally last night was packed, including many new faces. One of the thousands of new party members, a 19-year student from Bristol called Amy, followed party president Sal Brinton as a speaker, describing her own journey into membership. In contrast, the candidate for Mayor of London, Caroline Pidgeon, has been in the party for 25 years and has been making waves as a member of the London Assembly, holding Mayor Boris Johnson to account. In her speech, she emphasized how the elections next May in London, Wales and Scotland can be the springboard for the LibDemFightBack, which is the slogan of this conference. One of her GLA running mates, Zack Polanski, provided the rally’s main entertainment, along with the multiracial London gospel choir that he sings in. Tim Pickstone from the Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors (ALDC) reminded us that many council seats up and down the country will also be up for grabs next May. He then introduced someone he had signed up as a young student, Tim Farron — now transformed into Leader, rather than the comedy warm-up act that he has been in previous conferences. He particularly mentioned the forthcoming EU referendum and claimed for the Liberal Democrats the role as the radical but sensible opposition to the Conservative government, which in just four months has overthrown many if the good things brought in over the past five years when the LibDems were part of the Coslition government.

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