Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Nick Clegg’

Liberals Embrace the Diplomatic Community

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 19th June, 2017

NLC terraceFor many years, Liberal International British Group (LIBG) hosted a winter reception for London’s diplomatic community at the National Liberal Club, but the cost of this became increasingly difficult for such a relatively small organisation to bear, despite occasional welcome sponsorship. So it was with huge relief all round that the National Liberal Club (NLC) itself, under the dynamic chairmanship of Janet Berridge, took over the responsibility. The Club had the brilliant idea of rescheduling the event for summer instead, and this evening the gods were with us as it was a perfect June evening for a reception on the Club’s magnificent Terrace [pictured empty, but packed at the event]. The New European weekly newspaper sponsored the venture and former LibDem Leader Nick Clegg (who sadly lost his House of Commons seat in this month’s general election) was the guest speaker, emphasizing the Liberal Democrats’ commitment to internationalism as well as to Europe. There was an eclectic range of Ambassadors and High Commissioners present, as well as numerous LibDem Peers and paying guests from both LIBG and the NLC. Diplomats are only too aware that social gatherings oil the wheels of diplomacy and it is to be hoped that many of those present tonight will cement their relations with this section of Britain’s electoral spectrum by attending the LibDems’ autumn conference in Bournemouth in September.

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Tim Farron Bows Out

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 14th June, 2017

Tim Farron 4Earlier today, Tim Farron stood down as Leader of the Liberal Democrats after barely two years in the job. He didn’t have to do so, as the LibDems increased their number of MPs by 50% last week, in contrast to 2015, when there was devastation for the party at the polls, and Nick Clegg had little alternative but to fall upon his sword; that was despite having achieved really rather a lot as Deputy Prime Minister of Britain’s only post-War Coalition government. I did not back Tim in his leadership contest with Norman Lamb, partly because of his seeming ambivalence over LGBT rights, despite the fact that LibDems had been instrumental in bringing about Equal Marriage during the Coalition government. But that wasn’t the only reason. I thought Tim had been absolutely brilliant as President of the Party and he can certainly wow an audience of the faithful, with a good line in jokes and self-deprecation. But could I see him ever as Prime Minister, or indeed Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition? The answer had to be “no”. Of course, there was little other choice on offer two years ago, as most of the so-called Big Beasts of the previous parliament had lost their seats. At least the situation now is better, as several of them have returned to the green benches, including Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Jo Swinson (as well as some brilliant new talent). Tim was brave to pin his pro-European colours to the mast in the election that was sprung upon the nation a few weeks ago by Theresa May; I could only applaud that. But at times during the campaign he did seem to be coming across (unfairly) as a one-trick pony. Moreover, catastrophically, for weeks he failed to address the issue of whether he considered homosexual sex to be a sin, despite urgent pleas from LibDems’ LGBT+. Similarly, though he was perfectly entitled to declare himself a true Friend of Israel (as many Christian Evangelicals are), he turned a deaf ear to appeals to balance that with an equally clear stand on justice for the Palestinians and against Islamophobia.

Brian PaddickThis afternoon, (Lord) Brian Paddick, who had been acting as the LibDems’ Shadow Home Secretary recently, resigned from that post because of the Leader’s apparent ambivalence on LGBT rights and other classic “liberal” issues. I support absolutely an individual politician’s right to hold strong religious or moral views, but as Tim made clear today in his dignified resignation statement, there was a perceived contradiction in his own situation which was played on mercilessly by sections of the media and the Labour Party. All of Tim’s constituents that I have met over the years praise him to the skies, even if his majority was slashed last week. I hope whoever takes over after the forthcoming leadership contest (which, according to party governance, must go out to the whole membership) will find an appropriate role for him as a policy spokesman. Tim’s two years at the helm saw a doubling of the party membership and without doubt he had a different, distinctive voice from that of either Mrs May or Jeremy Corbyn. So, thank you, Tim, sincerely, for all that you have done. Now we LibDems must brace ourselves to go onwards and upwards.

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Clegg’s Brexit Mission

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 11th February, 2017

This week has been particularly depressing for those of us Brits who are true Europeans, with the House of Commons giving its backing to the triggering of Article50, which the Prime Minister has said will happen before the end of March. To rub salt in our wounds, Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn has sent warning letters to those of his MPs who voted against, underlining that he has become a cheerleader for Theresa May’s Brexit strategy. It was therefore something of a relief to hear Nick Clegg speak to a packed gathering of Liberal Democrats in Business at the National Liberal Club, outlying the LibDem strategy for dealing with Brexit as it unfolds over the next couple of years. The party still believes Britain would be better off staying within the EU, but the sad reality is that the unholy alliance that has gathered behind Mrs May will do everything in their power to make Brexit happen, even though new forecasts predict it will hit the UK economy hard for years to come. So Nick’s main mission now is to campaign to keep Britain in the single market, which would at least cushion the blow, as well giving a lifeline to U.K. Companies whose main market is on the Continent. At the same time, Nick and other LibDems are campaigning for a reassurance to Non-British EU citizens living in Britain that their future is secure, as should be that of Brits living on the Continent or in Eire. It is utterly shameful that the Conservative government continues to see EU migrants as bargaining chips in the forthcoming negotiations with our 27 EU partners. But then the inhumanity of Mrs May and her UKIP-leaning Tory government no longer surprises in its inhumanity, having just shut the door on child refugees. This all leaves me feeling very bleak, and increasingly alienated from my home country. But it is important that Nick Clegg and the LibDem Brexit team behind him are not giving up in despair but instead are campaigning hard to try to prevent the government throwing the baby out with the bath water in its lurch towards a hard Brexit.

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Equal Ever After

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 18th March, 2016

imageOne of the greatest achievements of the 2010-2015 Coalition government in the UK was the legalisation of same-sex marriage, thus underlining the fact that despite the country’s periodic embrace of conservatism, Britain today is an essentially liberal country. A large part of the credit for the safe passage of the Bill that enabled equal marriage (as many of its supporters prefer to call it) must go to Lynne Featherstone, former Liberal Democrat MP for Hornsey and Wood Green and a junior Minister at the Home Office under Theresa May for the first period of the Coalition. Lynne pushed it as her pet project, but of course with the full support of Prime Minister David Cameron and the LibDem leader, Nick Clegg. A rainbow coalition of NGOs and MPs of different parties rallied to the cause, while ranged against them were predominantly Tory politicians who wished to defend ‘traditional marriage’ between a man and a woman, as well as major religious communities (though not, I am pleased to say, the Quakers, Unitarians or Liberal and Reform Jews. The story of how the Bill became law makes gripping reading, in the book about it, Equal Ever After (Biteback, £14.99) that Lynne has taken the opportunity of writing following her defeat, along with most of the other LibDem MPs in last May’s general election. It’s a very personal story, passionately recounted, but also drawing on the speeches of parliamentarians on both sides of the argument, in both the House of Commons and in the House of Lords, plus extracts from anonymised correspondence (some of it vituperative) that Lynne received over the issue. For many people who did not follow the cause of equal marriage closely, perhaps the two biggest shocks will be the fact that for a long time the Labour-leaning Stonewall LGBT+ Rights group actually opposed equal marriage, and Mr Cameron refused to extend civil partnerships to heterosexual couples, threatening to scupper the whole deal unless this part of the package was dropped. As someone who is forthright in her views, Lynne pulls no punches in her criticism where she feels criticism is due. Fortunately, she is now in the House of Lords, so as long as that anachronistic institution exists, she can use it as a platform to promote causes still dear to her heart, including LGBT rights in Africa and elsewhere, and curbing violence against women.

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Women in Politics

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 11th November, 2015

Lynne FeatherstoneThere were many tragic aspects to the Liberal Democrat rout in May’s UK general election, but perhaps the most tragic of all was that not a single female MP was returned. Although there are many fine, strong women on the LibDem benches in the House of Lords, our House of Commons contingent is uniformly male (and pale). Something obviously has to be done about this, which means that not only do we need to have good women candidates in place soon in winnable seats but also that they are aided, as necessary, to fulfill the role. The challenges facing women in politics (including child care) formed the core of a presentation this evening to Islington Liberal Democrats (and some friends, including myself) from Lynne Featherstone, who was successively a local councillor in Haringey, then a GLA member, then a backbench MP and finally a Minister in the last Coalition government, before being swept away in the electoral tsunami. Unlike most of her former female LibDem MP colleagues, however, she will be returning to Parliament soon when she is inducted into the House of Lords.

key_freedom_and_equalitiesI am one of those who believe that an unelected House of Lords is a grotesque anachronism, but so long as it exists, it is good that there are people of Lynne’s calibre to sit in it. In her speech tonight, Lynne chided Nick Clegg fairly for not appointing a single woman LibDem MP to the Cabinet during the whole five years of government, though Lynne herself was fortunate in being given a ministerial post (at DFID) which she really loved. But the main thrust of her remarks was really a checklist of things that women in politics need to do in order to succeed. That includes not being shy about putting themselves forward and similarly not being afraid to stand up first to speak. Team-building is crucial she argued (as it is indeed for male candidates as well), as is serious fundraising. But in the House of Commmons, as in industry and so many other spheres of British public life, women are grossly under-represented. It was good to see some in the audience tonight who have been councillors or stood for Parliament. But the Party has to do far more to support women like them, and to make damned sure we actually get some elected in 2020. In the meantime, I am delighted that we have a first class woman candidate, Jane Brophy, in the Oldham West and Royton by-election. And if a more promising opportunity arises over the next four-and-a-half years we should try to ensure that it is a woman who fights that seat as well.

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Refugees and Brexit

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 24th October, 2015

YEM panelSeveral recent opinion polls relating to Britain’s forthcoming IN/OUT EU referendum have shown a swing to the “leave” side, though still predicting that “remain” will win. One explanation mooted for the shift in opinion has been the current refugee and migrant crisis, to which the response from EU member states has been mixed, to put it mildly. Angela Merkel rolled out Germany’s welcome mat, while Hungary (shamefully, given how other European nations welcomed Hungarian refugees in 1956), slammed the door in the refugees’ face. Britain’s Conservative government refused to be part of an EU-wide response and not for the first time the EU got blamed for the chaos that was actually a failure of its member states to pull together. So will public concerns over the refugees and migrants lead to a British withdrawal from Europe? That was the question at the centre of debate last night at a well-attended meeting put on by the London branch of the Young European Movement in King’s College last night. With unfortunate timing the fire alarm went off just just as the meeting was about to get underway, as if a UKIP gremlin had put a spanner in the works, which meant that we had to evacuate into the street, but later we reconvened to hear Nick Hopkinson (Chair of London4Europe), Anjuja Prashar (a Liberal Democrat candidate in May’s general election) and Elliot Chapman-Jones (from British Influence) share their views. As a Canadian, Nick could draw some comfort from Justin Trudeau’s sweep to power in Ottawa the other day, showing that hope can overcome fear and Conservative isolationism, while Anuja, originating from East Africa, emphasized the positive contribution immigrants have made to Britain, not least to London. Elliot interestingly predicted that the “leave” side in the Brexit referendum campaign will not focus on immigration, as one might assume, as they have the anti-immigration votes already in the bag; instead, he believes, their arguments will be economic. Economic arguments, of course, involve statistics, and as we saw in the TV debates between UKIP Leader Nigel Farage and the then UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, it is hard to combat lies, damned lies and statistics in political debate. Rather, I maintain, we will need to focus on emotions, showing why we in Europe are stronger together and poorer apart, especially in the globalised world of today.

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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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Farron Calls for Visibility, Dynamism and Viability

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 20th July, 2015

Tim Farron 2The July meeting of the Liberal Democrats’ federal executive (FE) was put back a week to tonight so the new party leader could be present. As everyone now knows, that is Tim Farron, who certainly got lots of attention on the TV over the weekend. But with only eight MPs, can the Liberal Democrats maintain high visibility? That is going to be one Tim’s three priorities, he informed the FE, and as he won’t get the same opportunities in the House of Commons Chamber that his predecessor Nick Clegg had as Deputy Prime Minister, at the head of a far larger cohort of MPs in a Coalition government, Farron may have to use other possibilities, including Westminster Hall meetings and other public platforms. Of course, to get visibility the Liberal Democrats must have a distinctive message, and I believe he is right in seeing that at the moment as being partly a matter of having a coherent and morally defensible position on dealing with Islamic State and the complex web of issues relating to that.

dynamismSecondly, Tim argued, the LibDems must have dynamism — radiating an energy that enthuses people. Whether one was a Farron or a Lamb supporter in the recent leadership contest, I think all of us would agree that Tim is a kind of human dynamo, which is why he was such a successful party president. Given the many thousands of new members who have flocked to join the party since May, that dynamism is something that local parties have got to radiate, not just the leader. Finally, Tim stressed viability: which all comes down to money. One of the few consolations of being out of government is that the Liberal Democrats do now receive so-called Short money, designed to help opposition parties prepare their political arguments. But that is just a drop in the ocean when one thinks of the resources that will be needed to make the LibDem Fight-back a reality. The party doesn’t get large handouts from big business, like the Tories, or cash subsidies from the trade unions, like Labour. So it is going to have to be far more expert at crowd-funding, basically, including in the EU referendum YES campaign, when the LibDems will be championing the cause of Britain’s remaining a member of the EU.

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Tim and Norman Put on the Spot

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 30th June, 2015

EMLD hustingsTim Farron and Norman Lamb had to face what was probably the most difficult hustings of their LibDem leadership contest so far tonight at an event put on by Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats (EMLD) at the Draper Hall in Southwark. The meeting was chaired by Simon Wooley of Operation Black Vote, who had some pretty penetrating questions of his own about how the Liberal Democrats have failed to resonate with so much of the BaME community over the past five years — in contrast to the groundswell of support from Muslims in particular when Charles Kennedy bravely opposed the Iraq War. Both candidates acknowledged that the Party is currently in an unfortunate pace, in which there are only eight MPs, all of whom are white men. That means there are gender issues to be confronted. too. But it is the striking way that the LibDems fail to reflect the ethnic diversity of modern Britain at all levels, including membership, that needs to be tackled most urgently. Prominent LibDem politicians such as Nick Clegg and Simon Hughes have often referred to the problem, yet it self-evidently has not been solved (though Simon did establish an excellent relationship with the large African community in his constituency over the 32 years that he represented it). Indeed, it has got worse.

EMLD logo The great irony is that actually Liberal core values of inclusiveness, equality and respect for the individual should all chime in with a multicultural reality. Moreover, the Party has often taken stances on issues such as immigration and the rights of asylum seekers that are more progressive than those of either the Conservatives or Labour. But the predominantly BaME audience at the EMLD hustings was not ready to give either Tim or Norman an easy ride. They were both chided for not doing enough while the Party was in government to prevent the slashing of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s budget (and therefore its staff). Several members expressed frustration that sometimes they feel they are token ethnic members, useful for photographs, but often handicapped when it came to achieving political office. Interestingly, both Tim and Norman, when pressed, came out in favour of positive discrimination as a temporary measure to ensure that some BaME LibDems do get elected, though not all the EMLD members present favoured that. Both men pledged to reach out to diverse communities if they do become Leader, and Norman was able to point to relevant work he had done with regard to mental health and discrimination against ethnic minorities when he was Minister for Health and Social Care. Tim strongest personal narrative is that he does not fit the standard Westminster white male MP’s profile in having been brought up in relative poverty in Lancashire by a determined single mother, which gives him a certain natural empathy for the marginalised of society. Despite the quite rough ride that the two candidates had tonight, both came across as sincere and passionate and determined that whichever one of them wins, racial equality issues, including police stop-and-search and discrimination in the provision of public services, will be one of their prime concerns. Simon Wooley, resolutely non-partisan, acknowledged that and reiterated what many people in this country think: that Britain needs a principled Liberal party and that the Liberal Democrats need to fit for purpose to meet that challenge.

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Liberal Democrats’ Federal Executive Away-Day

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 27th June, 2015

Sal BrintonI tend to be rather sceptical about the value of organisational away-days, not least when it’s a glorious summer’s day outside and the London Pride street party with a million people enjoying themselves is going on just a couple of miles away. But today’s LibDem Federal Executive gathering showed just how useful such events can be when properly run, as we were able to thrash out in detail reflections on such matters as delivering the Party’s last 5-Year Strategy Plan (or not), our ability to deliver in future and the political landscape post May 7th. Despite the dire general election results, the mood at the meeting was far from downcast, as there are so many lessons to be learned and plans for the future to be made. As there was an almost full house of FE members, we were able to split up into four working groups to consider ways the Party can be revitalised (having 16,000+ new members since the election has been a good start!), what our strategic priorities should be and how we can make the Party more accountable to members, among other things.

LibDem Fightback 1I was especially pleased with the recommendation that candidate selections should proceed promptly, not just for the upcoming Police and Crime Commissioner elections and the Scottish, Welsh and London polls in 2016 but also for the European elections. We need to have strong Euro-teams in place across the country to help win the IN/OUT Referendum that David Cameron has said he will deliver. Not for the first time, I was critical of the messaging in the 2014 Euro-election campaign, and many other FE members similarly gave the thumbs down to messaging in May’s general election — not least the sudden last minute change from “Stronger Economy, Fairer Society” to “Look Left Look Right, Then Cross”. Neither slogan could be said to convey the true values and potential of Liberalism. An overhaul of the way the Party is governed is also now underway, though obviously most of that review can only take place after the new Leader has been installed. It was agreed that whoever that may be the Leader should attend Federal Executives (Nick Clegg, unlike most of his predecessors, rarely did). The workings of the Executive will also be made more widely available to members, not just through the Party’s website, but also via articles and blogs such as this. Pauline Pearce made the excellent simple suggestion that we also ought to have a Federal Executive Facebook page which will be another step in the right direction towards better two-way communication and a healthy debate.

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