Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Mark Pack’

A Leadership Election Postponed

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 28th March, 2020

Libera; Democrats balloonsEarlier this week, the Federal Board of the Liberal Democrats (on which I sit ex officio, as Chair of the Federal International Relations Committee) took the decision to postpone the party’s leadership election until May next year. The vacancy came about, of course, because former leader Jo Swinson unfortunately lost her seat in December’s general election. Since then, her deputy, Ed Davey, and the new Party President, Mark Pack, have been standing in as joint interim leaders, and the intention was to hold a leadership election — in which all party members can vote — immediately after this May’s local elections. Those elections have been postponed for a year because of the Coronavirus crisis and it is also because of COVID19 that the Federal Board took the decision (by an overwhelming majority) to delay the party leadership contest for a year as well. It was felt that the public would have little sympathy for a party that that was prioritising an internal contest when people are facing huge challenges, not least within the National Health Service (NHS). Indeed, many Liberal Democrat local authorities are on the frontline in delivering services in dramatically changed conditions and thousands of individual party members are involved in community support and other voluntary efforts up and down the country, so a leadership contest in the short term could be an unwelcome distraction.

Naturally it is frustrating for the five MPs who had indicated that they were interested in running for the leadership, some of whom already had teams in place. And there has been some grumbling on social media by party members who felt the Federal Board took the wrong decision. I don’t agree, as I think the party has shown a mature sense of responsibility at this difficult and still very uncertain time. COVID19 has profoundly affected all our lives, whether we catch the virus or not, with most work and indeed politics going virtual, online. Our society and the way we normally conduct business are being fundamentally challenged. So let’s see how that pans out and then focus on the massively important Scottish, Welsh, London and local elections in May 2021 before choosing who will have the task of steering the party forward after that.

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Conference Cancelled

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 12th March, 2020

YorkThe Liberal Democrats’ Federal Board (on which I sit ex officio as Chair of the Federal International Relations Committee, FIRC) last night addressed the awkward question of whether to cancel this weekend’s Spring Conference in York because of the growing fears of spreading coronavirus (COVID19) through large public events. After a lively and thoughtful discussion — which I was able to follow on my phone at a Newroz celebration in the House of Commons — a sizeable majority opted to cancel. As I wrote earlier to the Party President, Mark Pack, it was going to be a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” decision, but I think the Board made the right call. Interestingly, Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, today banned gatherings of more than 500 people. No such leadership has been shown in London by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who recently said regarding COVID19 that maybe Britain should just “take it on the chin”. His insouciance has been matched on the other side of the Atlantic by that of his bestie, Donald Trump. Trump did announce a 30-day ban on flights from Europe today, while bizarrely excluding the UK and Ireland. The illogicality of that is mind boggling. Meanwhile, over the Irish Sea, Leo Varadkar has ordered the temporary closure of all schools and nurseries. And the whole of Italy is in lockdown.

Of course, cancelling the York conference is going to be costly for the Liberal Democrats, as well as to the individual members who had signed up to go and to the city’s hospitality industry, which was all geared up for a weekend of bonanza business. As both my train fare and hotel have already been paid (non-refundable), however, I shall still make my way to York and will be happy to meet up with other LibDems who have made the same decision — all keeping ourselves at a respectful distance, of course!

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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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Your Liberal Britain

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 20th January, 2016

Your Liberal Britain 1Last night around two dozen Liberal Democrats from City and London East gathered at the View Tube in Stratford’s Olympic Park for a pilot event of Your Liberal Britain — a new format of relatively informal get-togethers at which party members, old and new, can thrash out how they would see a truly Liberal Britain, as well as identifying how the UK currently falls short of those ideals. Four speakers — Elaine Bagshaw, Mark Pack, Emily Tester and myself — were asked to prepare five minute presentations highlighting one particular issue or perspective, with questions and discussion following each. Everyone was then invited to fill in a pro forma sheet identifying their own priorities. Preceded by good food from the View Tube café, for those who wanted it, it was a lively and enjoyable occasion and the organisers will be at the Liberal Democrat Spring conference in York encouraging other local parties to try the model for themselves, with the end results contributing to an ongoing policy review.
Your Liberal Britain 2In my presentation, I focussed on Celebrating Diversity, arguing that Britain needed to move beyond tolerating different groups (ethnic, religious, sexual or whatever) to active engagement. In Tower Hamlets, where I live, and 40 per cent of the electorate is Bangladeshi, how many local none-Bangladeshis have bothered to learn even a few words of Bengali, for example? I also said that we need to widen our concept of diversity to include issues such as age and class; too often we socialise in a comfort zone of people just like ourselves. Liberals have long championed the claim that if you are Liberal you are International and the Liberal Democrats, like the Liberal Party before, have a fine record in inernatinalism and in support of Britain’s membership of the European Union. The EU itself officially celebrates diversity as one of its core principles — unsurprisingly fo a grouping of 28 countries, most of which have their own distinct language(s) and culture — but here in Britain we need to turn that aspiration into reality.

Your Liberal Britain website link: http://www.liberalbritain.org/

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101 Ways to Win an Election

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 3rd March, 2013

101 Ways to Win an ElectionMark PackIf there was a magic formula to win elections it would have been patented and sold to the highest bidder long ago. Nonetheless, there are many practical tips from which a political campaigner can learn, from the late David Penhaligon’s “if you have something to say, put it on a piece of paper and shove it through the letterbox” to much more recent advice on how best to use social media. It is no surprise that many of the best tips have come from Liberal Democrats (or Liberals before them) as the third party in British politics has always had to fight harder and more imaginatively than the big two  in order to win seats. It was no coincidence that Trevor “Jones the Vote” in Liverpool largely invented community politics and exported it down south via the 1973 Sutton and Cheam by-election. Now, one of the Party’s campaigning gurus, Mark Pack — no longer working for the Party but still acknowledged as the mastermind behind much of Lynne Featherstone’s successful activities in Hornsey and Wood Green — has teamed up with former colleague Ed Maxfield to write an Everyman’s guide to successful campaigning: 101 Ways to Win an Election (Biteback, £12.99). It could all too easily have fallen into the trap of the Pippa Middleton school of How To books, i.e. stating the obvious as if it were a huge secret, but in fact the book is packed with very astute and useful advice, held together with an occasionally tongue-in-cheek commentary. The book is conveniently divided into 101 bite-sized chunks or chapters, each about the length of a BBC Radio 4 Thought for the Day. Grouped under five headings — A Good Message, The Team, The Resources, Communicating the Message, and Leadership —  they offer an A to Z of sensible guidelines as well as pointers to disaster avoidance. Reading the book carefully, ideally in small sections, won’t necessarily deliver victory to any aspirant candidate or campaign, but it will make it more likely. And as the authors say in the final chapter, the book can be usefully stored away to be referred to repeatedly when the need arises.

Link:  https://www.bitebackpublishing.com/

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Mulling over Cameron’s Misguided Move

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 11th December, 2011

This Sunday is traditionally the time when Liberal Democrats in London stop writing Focus leaflets and do a bit of festive socialising as a reward for working hard all year round. And today the parties did indeed take place — I attended a lunch put on in Barnes by the local branch, then a mulled wine and mince party in Hornsey — but the conversation at both was highly political. This is not just because two elections are due to take place next Thursday: the parliamentary contest in Feltham and Heston (where I ran into Ken Livingstone and a posse of Labour MPs, including my local MP Jim Fitzpatrick, while I was out delivering yesterday) and a double local council by-election in the Coombe Vale ward of Kingston borough. Most LibDem members, including me, are furious at the way David Cameron mishandled the Brussels EU Summit, pandering to his Eurosceptics but marginalising Britain in the process. The Tory Little Emglanders will doubtless cheer him to the rafters when he addresses the House of Commons tomorrow, but I hope LibDem MPs will blow him a giant raspberry. Certainly the comments from Nick Clegg, Vince Cable, Lord (Paddy) Ashdown and others have been pretty strong, as have the criticisms from the UK LibDem MEPs, most significantly Sharon Bowles. At the Barnes event this lunchtime, Susan Kramer — until 2010 the local MP and now a highly valued member of the House of Lords (as well as being President-elect of London Liberal Democrats) — gave an excellent short summary of what happened at the summit and its possible consequences. In Hornsey, local MP and Home Office junior Minister Lynne Featherstone preferred to concentrate more on the very real ‘wins’ on equality issues which the LibDems have managed to obtain since going into government. But most of us will be going to bed tonight thinking more of the big losses to Britain’s standing in the world that our misguided Conservative Prime Minister has inflicted on us.

[Photo shows blogger Mark Pack, Lynne Featherstone MP, Enfeld and Haringey GLA candidate Dawn Barnes and JF]

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Serenading South West London

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 23rd November, 2011

Liberal Democrats from Richmond, Kingston and Hounslow — plus a number of supportive interlopers from other parts of London, such as myself and the increasingly ubiquitous Mark Pack — took over the Park Hotel in Teddington last night, for a highly successful fundraising event for the South West London GLA constituency campaign, which embraces the three aforementioned boroughs. The event was compered by Munira Wilson, who will be flying the LibDem flag in the constituency next May, and who is well known in the area, not least for having fought the Feltham and Heston parliamentary seat in Hounslow at the 2010 General Election. The first of two guest speakers was party president Tim Farron, who welcomed the fact that the party’s poll ratings had recently gone up from ‘flipping awful to mildly depressing’. As I’ve noted in previous posts, part of his current role is encouraging party activists to hang on in there during difficult times and to keep reminding people of the plus points of Liberal Democrat participation in the Coalition government. That was naturally a line echoed by the other speaker, Ed Davey, MP for Kingston and Surbiton, who seems genuinely enamoured of the various junior ministerial projects he is currently involved with, such as greater paternity rights (and therefore more gender equality) for couples with a young baby, and saving the Post Office network. Three GLA List candidates were present — Caroline Pidgeon, Stephen Knight and Shas Sheehan — and the event raised several thousand pounds for the campaign fund — a consderable proportion of which came from the auction. It’s amazing how many LibDem members in South West London seem to have holiday homes in France or Spain, and even more amazingly, are prepared to auction off weeks in their properties for the cause!

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London Liberal Democrats’ Autumn Conference

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 22nd October, 2011

From 1979 onwards, Britain endured 31 years of centralising government, but since May 2010 a new doctrine has been in place, as yet little referenced by the political commentariat, bedazzled as they are by distractions such as the putative EU referendum. With Eric Pickles, no less, the Minister in charge, the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition government has espoused the philosophy of Localism: bringing decision-making down to an appropriately lower level (something the EU’s principle of subsidiarity also promotes). This was the key theme of today’s London Liberal Democrats’ Autumn Conference, held at the University of West London in Brentford. Former local councillor Andrew Dakers reminded those of us who were present of some of the ideology and analysis behind Gordon Lishman and Tony Greaves’s mantra for Community Politics a generation ago. And a session moderated by Terry Stacy, Leader of the Opposition on Islington Borough Council, provided us with some examples of best practice from places such as Sutton (Ruth Dombey) and Liverpool (Richard Kemp). Dr Mark Pack also added his weight and experience to the subject. Listening to speeches about both localism and the London Mayoral and Assembly elections brought to my mind Chairman Mao’s dictum about walking on two legs — in this case one local, one regional. Team London, the concept that London Liberal Democrats successfully launched last year and is now integral to regional activity, understands the wisdom of that two-legged strategy — and also manages to keep one eye firmly focussed on May 2012 and the other on the borough council elections in 2014.

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Dr Pack’s Instant Remedy

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 4th September, 2011

Hackney Liberal Democrats must be unique in London in having organised four garden parties this summer. The latest, this afternoon, was a bit unusual, in that both the host, Dave Raval, and the booked speaker, Andy May, were unable to attend because of pressing family concerns. But the show must go on and organiser Geoff Payne had quickly found a replacement attraction in the new media guru Dr Mark Pack, who gave an interesting, discursive presentation taking as its starting point the Guardian correspondent Nick Davies’s book Flat Earth News, about media distortion and malpractice. There was a lot of discussion about where ultimate responsibility lies: the journalist, the editor, senior management or the owner? Media ownership has shrunk in this country, in the sense that independent newspaper companies (often run by families) have almost all been bought out by great enterprises, like Archant vis-a-vis local newspapers. But Mark raised the interesting point that many ordinary people, including LibDem voters, without realising it often have a stake in newspapers or broadcasting outfits through direct or indirect shareholding. A third of us, he estimated, probably have a stake in the Daily Mail, if only through the holdings of pension funds etc. One area in which I dd disagree somewhat with him was over the effect of modern media diversity and new media on the variety of people’s sources of information. I tend to think that as more and more specialised TV channels and websites get created, people narrow down their range of input, for example relating to political bias, whereas Mark believes that through Twitter, Facebook etc one gets to interact with a cross-section of viewpoints. While this may be true of people like him and me, who deliberately find out about what others think, and have ‘friends’ and ‘followers’ from all political parties, I’m not persuaded that this is the case for most people, who tend to keep linked in with people with views like their own. Anyway, this afternoon’s event was a provocative introduction to a massive subject that is currently going through a state of flux.

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Looking Forward to the Liverpool Conference

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 9th September, 2010

For the first time for many years I won’t be at the LibDem Autumn Conference next week, which might seem perverse, given that this is the first time in my lifetime that my party has been in government. However, I was offered a lecturing tour of the Arab world (including a part of Sudan that I have never been to), starting next Wednesday, which was just too good to turn down. So I shall be following and enjoying Conference vicariously. And, in fact, I have been previewing it quite a lot these past few days, first at an interesting Pizza and Politics put on by Chingford & Woodford Green (a constituency that straddles the boundaries of Watham Forest and Redbridge), at which Dr Mark Pack spoke, then this evening at one of Islington’s famous Pizza and Politics, at which the speaker/facilitator was local member Andrew Wiseman, recently elevated to Chair of the Federal Conference Committee following his predecessor Duncan Brack’s being appointed a government special advisor (SPAD). Interestingly, at both events, the issue which caused the most debate was how the party can or should address the problem of under-representation of ethnic minosirites (BME) in the parlimaentary, Euro-parliamentary and London Assembly parties, and to a lesser degree among the party’s membership. Actually, Islington has a rather good record at embracing and engaging people of different cultures, so there is much ‘best practice’ that can be shared, London-wide and maybe beyond. The other contentious issue related to Free Schools, though actually the motion before conference is rather critical of Michael Gove’s policy, so it will be interesting to see what transpires in Liverpool. I’m sad to be missing the real thing, but doubtless even in Arabia Deserta, I’ll be able to keep in touch.

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