Simon Hughes was Justice Minister in the tail-end of the Coalition government and already we are missing his Liberal voice in that department. Today, however, at the National Liberal Club, members of the Kettner Society and their guests were treated to a fascinating exposition by him on the legacy of the Magna Carta. He wisely avoided dwelling too much on the history of the document itself, apart from enunciating clearly the three elements of it that remain a part of the British constitutional landscape: freedoms for the Church, freedoms for the City of London and boroughs, and, most important, what these days we would call civil liberties, not least the right of people to be tried by their peers (juries). Simon then set out the major milestones of the intervening 800 years, including the Speaker of the House of Commons standing up to Charles I, the Great Reform Act of 1832, the extension of suffrage in the 20th century and the important incorporation of the principles of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act. These latter instruments the Conservatives would, of course, like to replace with a British Bill of Rights, despite the fact that much of the ECHR was largely framed by British jurists and leaving the convention would put the UK in a position not dissimilar to that of Belarus (as indeed the then Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, pointed out three years ago). Simon is nonetheless satisfied with most of the ways Britain’s constitutional framework and civil liberties have developed through history, though he thinks it would be useful to have a written constitution, if only so that schoolchildren would be able to learn the values and principles at the foundation of British society, as their counterparts in France and the United States do.
Posts Tagged ‘National Liberal Club’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 25th September, 2015
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 1st July, 2015
Gunboat diplomacy was often the way that Britain asserted its presence on the global stage in the 19th Century, and even as late as 2003 in Iraq, thanks to Tony Blair. But the predominant school of thought in London these days is that “soft power” can be a more effective way of winning friends and influencing people. The term was the subject of a presentation this lunchtime for the Global Strategy Forum at the National Liberal Club by Sir Ciarán Devane, Chief Executive of the British Council (that organisation does not have a Director these days, which is an interesting reflection of a change of mentality). In fact, Ciarán Devane does not like the term “soft power”, preferring the much less assertive “cultural relations”, and in his speech he emphasized the aspect of mutuality: the work of the British Council (and by extension, the UK) should be as much about listening as it is about communicating.
Some people have criticised the fact that so much of the emphasis of the Council these days is on English-language teaching, but as Sir Ciarán said, teaching English is a way of enabling people to engage with the world, as English is currently the global language. As someone who has been covering the Middle East and North Africa for the past 25 years, since I was part of the BBC World Service’s 24-hour rolling news coverage of the first Gulf War, I was especially interested to learn of the Young Arab Voices programme that the Council is running, helping to engage younger people (who might be largely ignored by their elders in a society that is still age-hierarchical); they are the likely agents of change, as well as the leaders of tomorrow. In the discussion following Sir Ciarán’s speech, I pointed out that I was surprised to learn about this initiative for the first time today, and wondered whether it is deliberately “below the radar” or something that the Council should be “out and proud” about. The latter, he replied. So let’s shout about it! It sounds a fab idea!
[photo: Sir Ciarán Devane and Acting GSF Chair Lord Howell]
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 13th June, 2015
In 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.
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 Orpington 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.”
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Alan Paton, Cry the Beloved Country, David Steel, Eric Lubbock, Jim Wallace, Liberal Democrats, Liberal Party, National Liberal Club, Nick Clegg, Orpington, Roxburgh Slkirk and Pebbles, Shirley Williams | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 15th April, 2014
To most Liberal Democrats the name Nigel Jones means the former LibDem MP for Cheltenham and latterly Peer. But this lunchtime, thanks to the Kettner lunch club, another Nigel Jones spoke in the David Lloyd George room: the writer, broadcaster and historian Nigel Jones, who came to talk about his latest book: Peace and War – Britain in 1914 (which I hope to review shortly). The setting was appropriate, as Lloyd George figures prominently in the narrative of the run-up to and beginning of the so-called Great War, even though for a long time he thought war was unlikely, unlike some of his colleagues who had a dimmer view of the Kaiser’s intentions. Nigel Jones — who has recently been honing his performing techniques at literary festivals in Oxford and elsewhere — gave such a polished performance that the professor in the audience who asked the first question declared that it was quite the best lunchtime speech he had heard at the Kettner lunch. As someone who has spoken there myself, I am happy to agree. Nigel and I — who, we realised over lunch, had met previously at a Biographers’ Club event years ago — have largely produced works of biography (including literary biography) and history, both being fascinated by the real world, which can itself be subject to endless interpretations. I thoroughly enjoyed his “Through a Glass Darkly: A Life of Patrick Hamilton” some years ago. He tells me that whle living in Vienna he got the idea of writing a life of the painter Lucian Freud, but as with so many who have contemplated this task came up against something of a brick wall. I count myself lucky that in my case the prickly and litigious Freud merely demanded the withdrawal of the first edition of my book on Soho in the Fifties and Sixties because of an incorrect caption. His brother Clement (a one-time Liberal MP) wouldn’t speak to him, but I never got the chance to check the artist out at first hand.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 8th April, 2014
The Global Strategy Forum can hardly have realised just how topical today’s lunchtime event at the National Liberal Club would be by focusing on “Crisis in Ukraine, Crisis in Russian-Western Relations: What Next?”. There was an interesting line-up of speakers, including my old BBC World Service colleague, Oleksiy Solohubenko, a SkyNews reporter and presenter, Andrew Wilson, a former British Ambassador to Moscow, Sir Andrew Wood, and Labour’s last Europe Minister, Chris Bryant MP. Diplomats from both the Russian and Ukrainian embassies also chipped in from the floor, not surprisingly seeing what has been happening recently in Crimea and eastern Ukraine very differently. The West is still protesting about the de facto annexation of Crimea by Russia, though unofficially accepting this as a fait accompli. But the real concern is how much further Russian encroachment could go, in response to the declaration of “independence” by pro-Russian activists in Donetsk, unrest in other parts of Ukraine and indeed in other regions in Russia’s orbit, including Moldova (Transdniester), Belarus and maybe even Kazakhstan. Most speakers on the panel painted Vladimir Putin as the villain, though Chris Bryant told the rather chilling anecdote that a Russian diplomat had told him that Putin is “not yet mad”, the implication being that he could well become so if he sticks around much longer. In the meantime it does seem likely that Putin is now one of the richest men on the planet, if not the richest, though he manages to hide his assets from public view. Sir Andrew Wood made the point that Russia is weakened by the fact that it relies so heavly on hydrocarbons and indeed could at some stage run out of money. So even if Putin and his at the moment largely adoring compatriots may be on a roll at the moment, things may deteriorate for Moscow quite quickly. The panel side-stepped the question put by the Ukrainian diplomat as to whether the EU and US should now impose the third and far more serious range of sanctions it has threatened against Russia. Certainly, the limited sanctions against a small group of named targets have proved little more than a gentle slap on the wrist. But the ball is currently in the court of the Russians and their supporters in eastern Ukraine, and what they do will now determine what happens next.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Andrew Wilson, Belarus, Chris Bryant, Crimea, Donetsk, Global Strategy Forum, Kazakhstan, Moldova, National Liberal Club, Oleksiy Solohubenko, Russia, Sir Andrew Wood, Transdniester, Ukraine, Vladimir Putin | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 2nd April, 2014
This evening saw Round 2 of the Nick Clegg-Nigel Farage IN/OUT debate over Britain’s membership of the European Union, this time hosted by BBC2 and that evergreen fixture of BBC political programmes, David Dimbleby. I made a short speech at the National Liberal Club before the screening there, highlighting what for me are the three greatest achievements of the EU: (1) peace in Western Europe, (2) the re-integration of formerly Communist states of central and eastern Europe into the European family, and (3) the European Single Market, including labour mobility, which we must resolutely defend. I also briefly touched on the three strands of Liberal Democrat campaigning in the current European elections: jobs (especially for young people), the environment, and crime & security — the last mentioned including the European Arrest Warrant, promoted by Sir Graham Watson, LibDem MEP for South West England but now threatened with being undermined by the Tories. As for the televised debate itself, I thought Nick performed really well for the first 40 minutes or so — much more strongly than last week — though Farage got the upper hand towards the end. As I said in a Q&A afterwards with Vince Cable and Michael Moore at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Blackfriars — where a Liberal Business Forum event was in full swing — I think Nick missed an opportunity to counter Farage’s jibe about laws being made in Brussels by unelected bureaucrats. Nick reposted that the number of European civil servants is on a par with those working for Derbyshire County Council, but he could fairly have argued that laws are actually passed by Ministers of the member states (most of them elected by popular mandate) and increasingly in co-decision with the European Parliament — directly elected, and surely something we should be pushing hard over the next eight weeks. Moreover, UKIP is vulnerable when it comes to the European Parliament as their attendance record at committees, in particular, is dire, and they often vote against Britain’s interest in plenary sessions. That fact needs reiterating time and again for people to realise that voting UKIP is actually wasting one’s vote if one wants to see the EU changing for the good.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Crowne Plaza Hotel, European Arrest Warrant, European Parliament, European Union, Liberal Democrats, Michael Moore, National Liberal Club, Nick Clegg, Nigel Farage, Sir Graham Watson, UKIP, Vince Cable | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 11th February, 2014
Victorian Britain was associated with gunboat diplomacy and there are still some people in this country who think of power in terms of military might. But since the Second World War, Britain’s “soft power” has been more in evidence, not least through the work of the British Council and the BBC World Service. The Council’s Director, Sir Martin Davidson, was the guest speaker at a Global Strategy Forum event at the National Liberal Club this lunchtime and underlined how the teaching of English abroad and the fact that so many foreign students come to the UK to study both help this country’s economy as well as its global presence. Without overtly criticising the Government for not increasing the Council’s presence around the globe (in stark contrast to China’s Confucius Institutes, for example) Sir Martin did nonetheless point out that the negative coverage in the Indian Press of the immigration and visa debates in the UK had directly led to a fall in the number of students from India applying to study here. I asked him what the British Council is doing or could be doing to counter the pernicious influence of the Daily Mail, Daily Express and UKIP on our reputation not just in India but globally, without getting an entirely satisfactory answer; but of course to be seen publicly to criticise influential British media might be difficult in Sir Martin’s position. Politicians and journalists need not operate under such constraints, however, which is why I spend so much of my time offering an alternative British narrative to that served up in the right-wing red-tops or the Faragistas’ pubs. The UK does still have a degreee of soft power, though it is redcued because of reductions to the budgets of the British Council and the ludicrous decision to integrate the World Service into the main BBC new and current affairs output. That soft power is increased by our membership of the European Union and is often a force for good in the wider world, which is why those of us who believe that need to stand up and say so.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: BBC World Service, China, Consfucius Institute, Global Strategy Forum, India, National Liberal Club, Sir Martin Davidson, The British Council, UKIP | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 5th December, 2012
Nic Dunlop is a Bangkok-based photographer and author who has spent most of the past two decades covering my old stomping ground, South East Asia. But this evening he was the guest speaker at a Liberal International British Group (LIBG) Forum at the National Liberal Club, giving his take on what is happening in Burma. He has recently completed a book which uses many of the striking black-and-white images he took in Burma, particularly in the mid-1990s but also since. Many of the photographs are chilling, including a series of a former political prisoner acting out the stress positions he was forced to adopt while he was being tortured. There is sullen resignation on the faces of peasants drafted in to do forced labour building roads and so forth. As Nic said in his commentary to a slide show tonight, there was no need for armed guards to watch over them because they have been conditioned by years of fear. He had some good shots of Aung San Suu Kyi — including one of her at Oxford, receiving an honorary degree — but he is not starry-eyed about ‘The Lady by the Lake’. He pointed out that the woman who was rightly hailed as a political inspiration by many in the West has nonetheless deeply disappointed many human rights activists since her release from house arrest by refusing to condemn outright violence against specific ethnic minorities. Nic also made the interesting observation that it is not just the military, who have in principle now handed over to a civilian government after decades in power, who are firm believers in superstition and astrology. It is deeply engrained in the Birman people. I was struck that many of the scenes shown in his pictures, even in the capital Yangon/Rangoon, look exactly how I remember it on my one and only visit there in the summer of 1969. It is as if Burma is frozen in aspic, though under tropical rain. But now the country is opening up that is likely to change fast, in that some people with the right connections will make a killing by funding new developments, rather as happened in post-Communist states, though the poor masses are unlikely to benefit for the foreseeable future. Link: www.nicdunlop.com
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 7th November, 2012
There were many sleep-deprived eyes in the David Lloyd George room at the National Liberal Club this lunchtime when the Global Strategy Forum held a panel debate on US Foreign Policy perspectives the day after the presidential poll. At least we knew the election result, which would not have been the case 12 years ago. And not surprisingly, most of the people present — including many foreign diplomats –were pleased that Barack Obama has been returned. But will this make much difference to US Foreign Policy, now that he doesn’t have to worry about re-election? Dare he be brave? Panelists Anatol Lieven (King’s College London), Michael Cox (LSE) and Mark Fitzpatrick (IISS) didn’t really think so. I raised the point that Obama had raised high hopes in the Arab and wider Muslim worlds when he made a speech in Cairo in 2009 shortly after his inauguration suggesting he would be more responsive to the concerns of that region, but he has deeply disappointed most people there since. The panel’s view was that not only does any US President personally come under great pressure from AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, but also Congress would never stomach a fundamental realignment of US policy in the Middle East. It was significant that in the Obama-Romney foreign policy TV debate, Israel was mentioned 34 times (and the UK precisely once). The issue of how America is ‘pivoting’ away from the transatlantic relationship to be more concerned about links to East Asia was raised at the Global Strategy Forum event and a couple of the speakers uttered the word that usually dare not speak its name in discussions about US politics: decline. Personally, I believe the US will hasten that decline from the undoubted Number 1 global spot if it does continue to stand so firmly behind right-wing Israeli governments, to the detriment of its reputation almost everywhere else. So we left the NLC gathering this afternoon discouraged by the lack of any hope for real, positive change in Washington’s world view — but also relieved by the understanding that a Romney victory would have been so much worse.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: AIPAC, Anatol Lieven, Barack Obama, Global Strategy Forum, Israel, Mark Fitzpatrick, Michael Cox, Middle East, Mitt Romney, National Liberal Club, US Foreign Policy | 1 Comment »