Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Michael Foot’

The Limehouse Declaration Dinner

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 24th January, 2018

THLDs Limehouse DinnerLast night a lively crowd of Tower Hamlets Liberal Democrats and friends gathered at The Narrow in Limehouse for a dinner to celebrate the Limehouse Declaration, which was really the launching pad for the short-lived SDP (Social Democratic Party). Roy Jenkins, David Owen, Bill Rodgers and Shirley Williams were the “Gang of Four” who led the breakaway from Labour, caused mainly because of the Labour Party’s drift to the left under Michael Foot’s leadership, its espousal of unilateral nuclear disarmament and a policy of withdrawing from the European Union. The Declaration was issued to the media from David Owen’s house further along Narrow Street from the gastropub where we gathered. Lord Owen was not present at our dinner (he opposed merger between the SDP and the Liberal Party to form the Liberal Democrats and now sits as a Crosssbech — i.e. Independent — peer, though rarely attends debates). But the other David, Lord Steel, was a keynote speaker at our dinner and was keen to point out that despite the rather cruel caricature of him on the popular TV programme, Spitting Image, tiny and in David Owen’s top pocket, the two men got on well together most of the time — especially if Dr Owen’s wife, Deborah, was present. Lord Steel drew inevitable comparisons between the state of the Labour Party today under Jeremy Corbyn, underwriting the Conservatives’ Brexit, to the situation 37 years ago. But it was the other guest speaker, Baroness (Sally) Hamwee who focussed her remarks on the future. Brexit is dominating parliamentary business at present and with only two days scheduled for the next Lord’s Debate on the European Union Withdrawal Bill, peers will have to be concise, though many are highly qualified to deconstruct the whole thing in great detail — far more qualified than most of Theresa May’s Cabinet, indeed. As Sally was talking I was reminded that in the European Parliament, MEPs are limited to one minute in Plenary speeches, which is a good recipe for conciseness — a bit like a tweet, as I said to her, not that she uses twitter herself. Like many local parties, Tower Hamlets Borough Liberal Democrats has benefitted from a great surge in membership since the EU Referendum and with nearly 30,000 citizens of the other EU member states resident in the borough, will be particularly reaching out to them in the run-up to May’s London local elections.

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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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Remembering Leo Abse

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 20th August, 2008

When the definitive history of the social liberalisation of 20th century Britain comes to be written, the name of my old friend Leo Abse, who has died aged 91, will be writ large. An indefatigable campaigner, both as a lawyer and as a South Wales Labour MP (of Polish Jewish extraction), he was largely responsible for changes such as the decriminalisation of attempted suicide, easier divorce in cases where a marriage had irretrievably broken down and homosexual law reform. His small size belied his immense vigour and his determination, but unlike many social reformers, he had a tremendous sense of humour. He was always somebody I was delighted to find myself sitting next to at lunch when we both members of the Savile Club, and the hospitality at his beautiful home on the riverfront at Chiswick — including at his 90th birthday party last year — was generous and warm.

Leo listed amongst his hobbies ‘psychobiography’, and among the various books he produced were three or four truly controversial probings into subjects such as Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and Daniel Defoe. He read widely in psychoanalysis and related fields, though some professionals thought his theories were a bit off the wall. One the most surreal evenings I ever spent was at the Freud Museum in Hampstead with Leo and Michael Foot, dissecting the personalities of Tony Blair and George Brown and the relationship between them.

Several years ago, after the death of his first wife Marjorie, Leo went into decline — so much so that he even sent out New Year cards bearing a drawing of the grim reaper. But a second marriage, to the Polish interior designer Ania Czepulkowska, 50 years his junior, literally gave him a new lease of life. He had always been fascinated by textiles and clothes — Marjorie designed several splendid outfits for him for Budget Days — and he was susceptible to human beauty in all its forms.

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