Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Liberal Party’

Remembering Eric Avebury

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 14th February, 2016

Eric AveburyLord Avebury, who died earlier today at the age of 87, was better known to many in politics by the name he had before inheriting a peerage: Eric Lubbock. In 1962, Eric won for the Liberal Party one of the most famous by-elections of modern times in the suburban seat of Orpington, just down the road from that of the Conservative Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, hastening Macmillan’s political demise. By chance, Orpington was a favourite dormitory town for Fleet Street journalists as well as printers, because of the excellent commuter train service, and they really went to town by identifying a new breed of voter: Orpington man. People tend to forget that Eric hung on to the seat at the next two general elections before succumbing to the Tory tide that swept in Ted Heath in 1970. This defeat was given sweet recompense by the timely inheritance of his peerage (which would have forced him to resign from the House of Commons, had it happened earlier — or else try to imitate Tony Benn in trying to renounce  it). Though the Lubbock family was well-known in north-west Kent, Eric was not a natural member of the still rather fusty House of Lords, but both he and the Liberal Party realised that he could use new position as a platform to promote Liberal causes. Over the years, he would increasingly focus on human rights internationally. He and I often found ourselves at the same events not just because I stood for Orpington in the 1987 general election but also because increasingly our human rights issues were the same. We took a perverse delight in the fact that both of us had been banned from Bahrain because we highlighted some of the excessive actions of the Sunni monarchy against predominantly Shia dissidents. Eric’s own religious beliefs were essentially Buddhist and he provoked a degree of derision in the tabloid Press when he suggested he should leave his body to be recycled as animal food. In several ways he was ascetic, and in the timeworn phrase of obituarists, he did not suffer fools gladly. But he was a man of immense humanity, driven by a thirst for justice, and he will be much missed.

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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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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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Michael Bloch’s Jeremy Thorpe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 28th March, 2015

Jeremy Thorpe 1Thorpe biographyJeremy Thorpe was the Liberal Party’s most charismatic leader since David Lloyd George, whom in many ways he tried to emulate. I first met him when he came to speak at the Oxford Union while I was Secretary of the university’s Liberal Club and I was dazzled by his wit, his talent for mimicry and his genuine interest in everyone he spoke to. All those charms, and more, are evident in Michael Bloch’s magisterial biography (Jeremy Thorpe Little, Brown £25), which means that the reader gets a good idea of the substance of the man before his catastrophic downfall in 1979, when he was a co-defendant in a trial on a charge of conspiracy to murder. The supposed target of this plot was the sometime model and horseman Norman Scott (né Josiffe), with whom Thorpe developed a most unfortunate relationship, which he then spent many frustrating years trying to shake off. His constituency association in North Devon adored him, as did much of the electorate until his disgrace — and even after that, many friends and political acquaintances stood by him. Very soon after the trial — at which he was acquitted — it became obvious that he was suffering from Parkinson’s disease, but it is tribute to his fortitude (one might even say his cussedness) that he lived for another 25 years, mostly confined to the beautiful house in Orme Square which his second wife Marion received as part of her divorce settlement from Lord Harewood with trips to their other two homes in North Devon and Suffolk. Marion’s loyalty to Jeremy was quite extraordinary and is rightly acknowledged as such in Michael Bloch’s book. Neither Jeremy nor Marion were particularly happy about the book’s being written, and having read it in draft nearly two decades ago, Jeremy insisted that it not be published while he was alive. That was a pity in many ways, as he could not have wished for a fairer and more scrupulous biographer, who over 500 impeccably researched pages gives a brilliant picture of the man, warts and all, critically but ultimately affectionately.

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David Steel’s Golden Orpington Dinner

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 11th March, 2015

Each year the National Liberal Club in Westminster hosts a fundraising dinner for Liberal Democrat by-elections, named after one of the most famous of all: Orpington, seized from the Conservatives by the then Eric Lubbock in 1962. But last night’s over-subscribed David SteelOrpington dinner had a special slant as it marked the 50th anniversary of David Steel’s victory at a by-election in Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles. Steel went on to become Leader of the Liberal Party, a presiding officer of the Scottish Parliament and an active member of the House of Lords. But in the tributes to him in speeches from such luminaries as (Baroness) Shirley Williams and (Lord) Jim Wallace, it was David’s internationalism that was highlighted, including his role in the anti-apartheid struggle. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg used the opportunity to make the most political speech of all, rallying support for the current general election campaign, while stressing the need for Liberalism in a worryingly illiberal world. When David Steel first told the then Liberal Party to “prepare for government” he was much mocked, but Nick was able to say realistically last night “prepare for government — again!”. But for many at the dinner, the most stirring quotation was from the late Alan Paton’s classic South African novel Cry, the Beloved Country: “By Liberalism, I don;t mean the creed of any country. I mean a generosity of spirit, a tolerance of others, an attempt to comprehend otherness, a commitment to the rule of law, a high ideal of the dignity and worth of man, a repugnance of authoritarianism and a love of freedom.”

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Jo Grimond, MGS and Me

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 10th October, 2014

JF at MGSJo GrimondFifty years ago this year, the then leader of the Liberal Party, Jo Grimond, went to Manchester Grammar School (MGS, then a direct grant grammar school, rather than the independent establishment it is now) to talk to the boys in the lecture theatre. This was during the 1964 general election campaign, and was an extraordinary act of altruism, as none of us (I was 14 at the time) would be old enough to vote — the voting age those days was 21. But what he said inspired me: his passionate, radical vision of an internationalist society, in which Britain would be a core member of the then European Communities, but in which each individual person would be equal and respected and able to create their own future. I rushed off to join the local Young Liberals and for the next half century my political path was clear. And even if as yet I have not succeeded In getting elected to the European Parliament, Jo’s passion and commitment still drive me forward. I recalled all this this afternoon, when I spoke to sixth formers studying politics at MGS, through whose doors I had not passed since leaving school in March 1969. In my day, we were not allowed to study anything about politics or current affairs, so it was good to speak with youths who were both intelligent and engaged. I deliberately did not make a party political broadcast on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, as it really is for each of them to choose which ideology or indeed personalities that attract them most. Inevitably, on the day after UKIP’s impressive by-election performance, not only in Clacton but the more immediately relevant Heywood and Middleton, UKIP was in the air. but I hope my expounding the concepts of internationalism as opposed to narrow nationalism may have had some effect. And I did urge those who showed especial interest to get involved in their local constituencies, whichever party they choose to support.

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Tope’s Hopes

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 22nd May, 2013

Graham TopeGT A Life in PoliticsOver the past 40 years Graham Tope has served at almost every possible level within the British political system: MP (thanks to the famous by-election victory in Sutton and Cheam), local councillor, Leader of the Council, GLA member, Member of the House of Lords, member of the EU Committee of the Regions and more besides, but throughout all this he has avoided falling into pomposity. He still cooks a mean lasagne for local activists every autumn and dutifully goes out on the rubber chicken circuit — this evening as guest speaker at an Islington Liberal Democrats pizza and politics. The starting point for his very informal, extended presentation was the book that he wrote at his son Andrew’s bidding, A Life in Politics, recounting the highs and the lows of four decades at the political coalface (mainly the first part), most of it — as he confessed tonight — transmitted to his son through his Blackberry. As was the case with me, Graham was inspired to join the Liberal Party by Jo Grimond, a truly remarkable man of principle and vision. Indeed, I wondered aloud tonight whether one problem of the current political scene is that we are missing charismatic figures such as Grimond or indeed Jeremy Thorpe, who was truly magnetic in his heyday. That is not to criticise Nick Clegg, but it is true that there is a certain similarity between David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband; none pops and fizzes in the way that, alas, Nigel Farage or Boris Johnson does. Graham is himself not a showman, but rather a solid man, someone you can count on and someone who continues to give a great deal to the Party and to Sutton. He will not be standing again for the Council in 2014 — after so long he can be excused handing on to others. But in the Lords and on the Liberal Democrat social circuit he will doubtless continue to make his contribution and, as tonight, offer hope for the future — that basically Liberal values are as important today as they ever were. Next May will not just be about winning seats, at London borough council and European Parliament level (important though that is) but also inspiring people with Liberal vision.

Related link: http://www.libdemvoice.org/graham-tope-a-life-in-politics-25133.html

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Being a Junior Partner in a Coalition

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 27th March, 2012

For half a century and more the Liberal Party and its successor, the Liberal Democrats, languished as the high-minded, principled oppositional alternative to both Conseratives and Labour, and I have to say that most of us found that situation pretty comfortable, although we spoke wistfully of one day having the chance of getting into power. But I think we realised that the only way that would happen in the post-modern age was as a junior partner in coalition with one of the two ‘major’ parties, which could well result in a shrinkage in our level of public support (as indeed Chris Rennard long ago warned). We looked at examples such as Germany’s FDP and saw that even on a small share of the vote one could nonetheless wield quite a lot of influence (admittedly under a system of proportional representation in Germany’s case), and even aspire to having a few Cabinet Ministers. I suppose most of us imagined that if that opportunity arose, it would almost certainly be in a Coalition with Labour; indeed, Paddy Ashdown and some of his closest colleagues imagined that could happen with a Blair-led government, before Britain’s warped electoral system gave Tony Blair a humungous majority and he veered away from social democracy to become seriously illiberal and a George W Bush groupie. So it was with some surprise that after the May 2010 election the arithmetic meant that only a Tory-led Coalition in Britain was possible. But did that inevitably mean that the LibDems as the junior partner would be screwed? This was the subject of a fascinating seminar put on at Westminster’s Portcullis House yesterday by the Centre for Reform, moderated by former LibDem Chief Executive Lord (Chris) Rennard. Ben Page, Chief Executive of Ipsos-MORI was somewhat disheartening in his analysis of the way that sacrificing full independence had inevitably led to the LibDems’ sharp decline in the opinion polls. But his pessimism was counter-balanced by the Deputy Leader of the party, Simon Hughes MP, who — despite getting into a bit of a muddle with his statistics — managed to reassure the audience that the LibDems, far from crashing to oblivion are still alive and kicking and actually doing better than at many times in their recent history, as well as winning real victories on policy within the Coalition government. Martin Kettle, the acceptable face of the Guardian’s political columns, was also fairly upbeat; unlike Polly Toynbee he does not feel we have sold our soul to the devil, and moreover he believes that even in the North — from which, like me, he hails — there is a future for the party. In the ensuing discussion I pointed out that being the junior partner in a Coalition government is rather like travelling down a road full of hidden sleeping poliemen. The tuition fees débacle was probably predictable; the NHS Bill less so. But I warned that the Tory rethink on the Heathrow third runway could be a third bump that could shake the Coalition and cause a fall in support for the LibDems unless the party came out firmly against once again. I didn’t get quite the ringing endorsement of this line that I’d hoped for from Simon Hughes (or indeed Lord Rennard), but I think the point was taken.

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Remembering Viv Bingham

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 6th March, 2012

Viv Bingham, President of the Liberal Party 1981-1982, who has died, was one of those politicians who never quite made it, in the sense of succeeding in getting elected . He tried often enough, standing for Parliament in Heywood and Royston (February and October 1964), Hazel Grove (1979), Derbyshire West (1983) and Stalybridge and Hyde (2005). He also had a stab at the European Parliament in 1979. In the days of the old Liberal Party Council, he was often a thorn in the leadership’s side and at later Liberal Democrat conferences he often found his natural allies among the young. He was granted an OBE in recognition of his political activities but never got the peerage he felt he richly deserved, having toiled away for decades in furthering the Liberal and Liberal Democrat cause. Despite his eye on the ermine and his experience in the business world, he was remarkably unstuffy and saw himself very much on the Left of British politics, actively supporting CND. Viv summed up his passion for Liberalism in one word: Freedom, and he raged against injustice. He could at times be a charicature of a gruff Northerner and at others the total gentleman, rooted in family and community, but with a non-Conformist compassion that embraced the whole of humanity.

RIP Vivian (Viv) Bingham 1932-2012

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Don’t Forget the Western Sahara

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 1st November, 2011

I spent the weekend at a spa hotel outside Algiers at the Second International Solidarity Conference with the Sahraoui people, which drew two or three hundred participants from countries as diverse as Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Ethiopia, France, Lebanon, Mexico, Namibia, Russia, South Africa and Tunisia. The Algerian TV and other media wee there in force, as the Algerian government has been the firmest friend of the Western Sahara and its independence movement, the Polisario, since Morocco ocupied the phosphate-rich western half of the territory after it ceased to be a Spanish colony. It is often wrongly said that Namibia was the final African country to gain independence, whereas actually the Sahraouis have been struggling for theirs for nearly 40 years — almost as long as the Palestinians. The Sahraoui Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), as the Western Sahara is formally known, is a full member of the African Union and has been recognised by a growing number of countries round the world, though not as yet by Britain. I shall be arguing that Britain should raise the status of the Polisario representation in London to that of an Embassy — as HMG has already done for the Palestinians — which would be an important step towards statehood. There have been numerous UN resolutions about the Sahraouis’ right to self-determination, but the Moroccans have dragged their feet for many years, thereby preventing a referendum of the people of the territory that is meant to settle the issue one way or the other. Libeal Democrats (and the old Liberal Party before) have had longstanding relations with the Westen Sahara; the late Chris (Earl of) Winchilsea was a particularly active campaigner and organiser of aid to the Sahraoui refugee camps deep in the Algerian desert. And I was pleased that LibDem MEPs — not least Andrew Duff — recently opposed the renewal of the EU fisheries agreement with Morocco because it also covers the waters off the Western Sahara. Indeed, the Coalition government has taken a more progressive line on related issues than its Labour predecessor did, but it still has the task of standing up to France in the European context, as the French are staunch supporters of Morocco and its colonial occupation. But standing up to the French is something Brits have often done rather well in the past, so perhaps on this issue we should return to our traditions!

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