Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Norman Lamb’

Britain’s Brexit Quagmire

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 2nd April, 2019

Ken Clarke in parliamentLast night MPs once again failed to find consensus around a serious of options regarding a way forward on Brexit, though Ken Clarke’s proposal for a customs union with the EU was defeated by only three votes. The highest indicative vote was actually in support of a confirmatory referendum on any Brexit deal, though a larger number of MPs voted against that. There were many abstentions throughout the voting process, not least from government Ministers; had all of them taken part, on a free vote, it would have highlighted just how divided the Cabinet is on Brexit, running the whole range from Hard Brexiteers who just want the UK to crash out of the EU on 12 April with No Deal to Remainers who are moving towards the idea of a People’s Vote, reportedly nudged on by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond. The Cabinet is meeting this morning to try to thrash out a common position, with the Prime Minister still wedded to the idea of bringing her Withdrawal Agreement to the House for a fourth time, though the indications are that it would be defeated yet again, even if the the Speaker allowed it to be voted on once more. Never in modern times has government been bogged down in such a quagmire.

MPs will have the chance to have another go at identifying a way forward tomorrow, but as the LibDem MP Norman Lamb said last night, they need to work with a greater spirit of compromise. However, indicative votes are not legally binding, so Theresa May could chose to ignore the outcome even if one proposition did manage to squeak through. Meanwhile the EU leadership is worried that a No Deal Hard Brexit is increasingly likely, which would be disastrous for both sides. But the only way the EU would agree to a further extension — perhaps to the end of 2020 — would be if the British government comes up with a coherent strategy of what it wants to achieve and how. That could include a general election or a further referendum, and if there is any sort of extension beyond 22 May, there would have to be participation in the European elections. No wonder so many MPs are running round like headless chickens, while others are seething with frustration. Nick Boles, the Conservative MP who was the architect of one of the options rejected by his colleagues last night, which would keep Britain in the Single Market and closely aligned to the customs union, was so infuriated by his fellow Conservatives that he resigned the whip in disgust. Meanwhile, the SNP, the LibDems and other smaller parties and groups still hold out hope that there can be a People’s Vote that might deliver us all from Brexit completely. But that outcome is far from certain as both the government and Parliament flounder about in the mud.

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It’s OK to Talk about Mental Health

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 11th February, 2018

mental health 1When I was a child I went through prolonged periods of what I now understand was mental depression. From the age of seven, I over-slept (when I was allowed to), over-ate when I was awake and withdrew into myself so fully that I was not just anti-social but barely conscious of the world around me at school, much less at “home”. I don’t need to rehearse the reasons why here, as I have written about them in my childhood memoir, Eccles Cakes*. But what is important to draw attention to is that (a) in the 1950s and 1960s, nobody acknowledged that children could have mental health problems, and (b) mental health was a matter of utter shame, to be kept out of view. If adults suffered some mental condition they tended to hide it and in extreme cases committed suicide as a result. Their families (with some noble exceptions, I am sure) shunned them, and covered over the facts of their illness — especially if they were sent to a “loony bin”, out of the way. Even Britain’s royal family did that. The French philosopher Michel Foucault wrote brilliantly about Western society’s self-declared need to incarcerate — and even punish — those who were mentally “abnormal” or who demonstrated odd behaviour.

mental health 2Though I wouldn’t wish on anyone what I went through as a child — with its distressing repercussions later in life — I draw comfort from the fact that these days it is recognised that children’s odd behaviour may have roots in some mental problem and that people of all ages can talk more openly about periods of mental illness. Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk, played an important role in mainstreaming mental health during the 2010-2015 Coalition government and some of those improvements have endured in the UK. There is still a way to go with regard to public perceptions and undoubtedly the education system at all levels needs to foster greater understanding as well as care. At SOAS these days lecturers are encouraged to spot what could be mental problems with students and to refer people accordingly. I hope that is the practice now in higher education everywhere. How much more sensible than just sending a child or young person to go and lie down in the sick-bay, which is what happened to me at school whenever I had one of my “turns”!

* https://www.amazon.co.uk/Eccles-Cakes-Odd-Tale-Survival-ebook/dp/B01II737EM/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1518382263&sr=1-1&keywords=Jonathan+Fryer

 

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Talking about the NHS

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 15th November, 2017

NHS Channel S debateLast night I was on Channel S TV’s “Let’s Talk” live debate show, hosted by my old friend Ajmal Masroor, discussing the state of Britain’s National Health Service (NHS). The NHS will celebrate the 70th anniversary of its foundation next year, but there is a widespread belief that it is showing its age, not in a complimentary way. The peg for the show was a BBC report suggesting that 280,000 more routine operations could be carried out in NHS hospitals each year if the theatres were managed more efficiently. The way that Croydon has improved its performance was cited as a template which others might follow. Of course, all sorts of factors come into play in efficiency in operatingtheatres, not just timetabling. A percentage of patients cancel, sometimes at the last moment, or even without informing the hospital. And a shortage of beds can aggravate the situation. But of course the TV debate — whose other participants were a retired GP from Newham, a solicitor specialising in clinical negligence cases and a Labour Party politician — ranged more widely over the state of the NHS. Everyone agreed that there is a funding shortfall; the Liberal Democrats, of course, included in our manifesto for June’s general election a pledge to inject a further £6bn into the NHS, paid for by raising income tax by 1p in the pound. A great idea which was theoretically popular, but did not actually encourage many voters to back LibDem candidates. In my remarks during the one-and-a-half hour programme, I highlighted the way that Brexit is hitting the NHS. In the UK we rely quite heavily on medical staff from other EU member states, but since last year’s EU Referendum, applications for nursing jobs from other EU states has fallen by 96%. To respond to that shortfall, nurses and being recruited from outside the EU, not least Asia, but the NHS has to pay £1000 each for their working visa, therefore costing the cash-strapped service many millions of pounds it can ill afford. There is also uncertainty over how tightly the UK’s research facilities will be able to stay plugged into EU-wide endeavours if we leave not only the EU but also Euratom. However, I did point out that not all is gloomy about the NHS. Technology continues to advance (though it is ever more costly) and mental health now receives much more serious attention (thanks largely to the work of Norman Lamb and other Liberal Democrat Ministers and MPs during the 2010-2015 Coalition government). Similarly, there is a greater awareness of the need to integrate the health and social care services. So, as the NHS prepares to turn 70, there is still much to praise, not least the dedication and quality of so many NHS staff, at all levels.

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Cypriots for REMAIN

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 14th June, 2016

Norman Lamb CypriotsGiven some of the depressing opinion polls about the EU Referendum over the past few days it was uplifting to be in a hall packed with Cypriots in north London this evening cheering on the campaign for Britain to Remain in the EU. There was a first rate line-up of politicians, including MPs Nicky Morgan (Conservative), Secretary of State for Education, Norman Lamb (LibDem) and Catherine West (Labour), all singing from the same song-sheet. As Commonwealth citizens, Cypriots registered in London can vote in next week’s referendum (as can Maltese and Irish) unlike other EU citizens, alas, and there are enough of them to make a difference. It was good to see the Cypriot High Commissioner (one of the most engaged members of London’s diplomatic community) sitting in the front row, in an audience that struck me as predominantly made up of businessmen and businesswomen (no bad thing). Norman Lamb stressed the positive aspect of immigration (including EU migration), whereas Nicky Morgan highlighted how many young Brits have benefited from Erasmus+, studying or getting work experience on the continent. Catherine West pointed out that the Labour Party has come out wholeheartedly in favour of EU membership (even if not all Labour voters agree). There is only a week to go before the vote, which means that it is vital that meetings such as this happen all over the country, to motivate those who back Remain to actually go out to vote, otherwise the Brexiteers could win by default.

Nicky Morgan Cypriots.jpg

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Bread Not Bombs for Syria

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 9th January, 2016

I was totally opposed to the recent decision by the UK parliament to bomb Syria, in the absence of a coherent strategy for bringing an end to the civil war in that country, and I was pleased that among the LibDem MPs, at least Norman Lamb and Mark Williams voted that way. Meanwhile, the situation on the ground has got much worse in many places, thanks partly to the Russian support for the murderous Assad regime, which is itself responsible for the vast majority of deaths in Syria, without mentioning the gross human rights abuses that it perpetrates in its prisons and detention centres. Now, there is a new, horrific spectre in the land, in which over 250,000 have died and millions have fled or been displaced. This has been most vividly illustrated by the harrowing images of starving children from Madaya, which has been under siege by regime forces for many weeks, and other places. The images are as awful as the pictures that came out of Bergen-Belsen at the end of the Second World War, and are similarly of the victims of a pattern of extermination. Quite apart from the adults who are dying on these appalling conditions, infants and babies are being fed on boiled leaves, watered-down jam and anything else that distressed parents can lay their hands on. So tell me, am I being unrealistically utopian in wishing that instead of dropping bombs on Syria, the RAF should be dropping food and medical supplies on Madaya and other communities in distress? I don’t think so. It is pain humanity. But that seems to have been lost in the noise of the anti-ISIS narrative. Of course, self-style Islamic State is repulsive and needs to be combatted, but can we really say we are on the side of the angels if that combat means we stand by and let innocents die?

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Why I Would Have Voted No to Syria Airstrikes

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 3rd December, 2015

Syria bombs 2Had I been a member of the UK Parliament I would have voted against airstrikes in Syria, as I was pleased to note LibDem MPs Norman Lamb and Mark Williams did last night. While I share the British public’s repulsion at the activities of self-styled Islamic State, I fear the decision to join airstrikes was a knee-jerk reaction to the recent Paris bombings without thinking through a coherent strategy first. It is often true that if bombs are the answer then you are asking the wrong question, but I feel that is particularly apt in the current case. Syria is in a state of civil war, with numerous groups fighting with different objectives and a vicious governing clique trying to hang on to power with the support of Russia, Iran and others. But Britain does not have a clear strategy for responding to that situation and most well-informed analysts believe that David Cameron’s claim that there are 70,000 “moderate” fighters lined up against the Assad regime is pie in the sky.

Syria bombs 1Moreover there is a fundamental question that has not been adequately addressed, let alone answered. That is, how do we best counter IS/Da’esh’s ideological warfare which is still managing to rally radicalised Muslim youth to its cause? Moreover, how can IS ever be persuaded to lay down arms? Bombing is not an answer to either of those questions and in my opinion it is only likely to recruit more young fighters ready to martyr themselves (as well as to slaughter others) for the perverse IS cause. I understand completely why Tim Farron and five other LibDem MPs wanted to demonstrate their determination to stand up to ISIS, but I fear they have made the wrong all. And bombing Raqqa and other places in Syria will only increase the suffering of the Syrian people, not reduce it.

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Norman Lamb Climbs Every Mountain

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 25th November, 2015

imageMost of the Liberal Democrats’ big beasts in the House of Commons were swept away in May’s nightmare general election, but one exception was Norman Lamb, MP for North Norfolk and former Minister of State for Care and Support. It was largely through his determination as a Minister in the 2010-2015 Coalition government that mental health moved into more of a position of parity with physical health in the British government’s priorities and perceptions. So that was inevitably one of the major topics for discussion when he came to speak to Lewisham Liberal Democrats at a dinner in Blackheath last night. However, the thrust of most of his remarks was forward-looking, not backward-looking, in particular highlighting the size of the mountain that the LibDems have to climb in order to become a political force with clout once again. There is a fine cohort of more than 100 LibDem peers in the House of Lords which are doing sterling work in trying to hold the Conservatives to account. But in the House of Commons, there are only eight LibDem MPs left, making them not even the third largest party and therefore depriving them of some automatic rights to speak in debates. The media are mainly ignoring the Party and therefore an arresting new narrative, based on Liberal principles, is needed to grab people’s attention. Norman spoke fondly of the legacy of the passionate radical Jo Grimond, who in the 1960s helped the then Liberal Party punch above its weight thanks to his principles and rhetoric — an observation that resonated with me as I was rallied to the Liberal cause by Jo Grimond personally when he came to speak to my school in the run-up to the March 1966 general election. We have to find both the issues and the passion, to hone a distinctive message, Norman said, suggesting that one topic that might attract younger voters would be reform of Britain’s antiquated drug laws. I also believe that the LibDem MPs should be prepared to take a stand against David Cameron’s call for more direct military engagement in Syria unless United Nations involvement and diplomatic activity aimed at a political settlement are to the fore.

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Future Directions of Liberalism

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 19th July, 2015

Hackney LD garden partyThere is a certain satisfaction, not necessarily smug, among Liberal Democrats that we have got our leadership election over while the Labour Party is still facing a summer of grueling conflict between their various contenders. Actually, there was very little ‘conflict’ or indeed major difference between Tim Farron and Norman Lamb, despite their varying experience and style, as they are both Liberals to their core, so although I put Norman first on my ballot paper I am very happy to campaign with Tim, who is a brilliant communicator. Anyway, now the Leader is in place, what do the LibDems actually stand for? This is an important question for the electorate, given that the identity of the Party got blurred within the Coalition. And as a result, as Lynne Featherstone, formerly MP for Hornsey & Wood Green and Minister at DFID (and the Home Office) said at a garden party discussion put on by Hackney LibDems this afternoon on the theme ‘Future Directions for the Liberal Demorats’, the LibDems got toxified by the Tories while the Tories got semi-detoxified by us. Hence, in part, our electoral disaster, which saw Lynne and so many superb colleagues swept away. But as she pointed out, we did get through key LibDem policies while she was in office, such as Equal Marriage and the campaign against FGM. For such things we can be truly proud. Evan Harris, who unexpectedly got narrowly booted out of Oxford West & Abingdon in 2010 and was also a guest speaker at today’s Hackney event, issues of civil liberties were at the fore. After all, he has been at the forefront of the Hacked Off campaign since he lost his seat. Interestingly, the members present (who included several newbies from the post-election influx) highlighted the issue of BaME under-representation in the Party, something I wrote about after the recent Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats (EMLD) leadership hustings a while back. There is no denying the fact that we now have just eight MPs, all of whom are straight white males, though in fairness the candidates standing in many held and target seats this May were far more diverse than that. In London, especially, this is a major issue we have to face, perhaps the biggest issue of all; if we do not look like the city we aspire to represent, how can we expect people to vote for us? Knowing the candidates in the running for the London elections next year (Mayor and GLA members) I am confident that we are going to be putting forward a wonderfully diverse list, whoever finally gets selected. But can we then persuade the voters of London to back them? That is the question we need to ask if we are going to chart the direction of the Party henceforth.

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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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History Will Be Kinder to Nick Clegg

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 24th June, 2015

Nick Clegg 6There’s a poignant piece in tomorrow’s Guardian revealing that Nick Clegg seriously contemplated resigning as Leader of the Liberal Democrats following last year’s disastrous European and local election results as he feared he had become a liability. Reportedly he was told by senior colleagues that he had to hang on in there until this May’s equally disastrous General Election, when the number of LibDem MPs was slashed from 56 to just 8. I understand the angst he went through and can only applaud the vivacity with which he bounced back after May 2014. It was true that he had become toxic on the doorstep in many Labour-facing areas, thanks to the tuition fees shambles, but I think that history will be a lot kinder to him than the electorate has been. He was undoubtedly right to take the LibDems into Coalition in 2010 (despite what my dear, late friend Charles Kennedy thought), though a bit less of a bromance with David Cameron in the Rose Garden would have been a good idea. I wonder if Nick really realised just how brutal the Conservatives (including Cameron) can be, as witnessed by their tactics re the AV referendum and the 2015 General Election. Whoever wins the current LibDem leadership election (and as I have said I will be happy to serve under either, as I admire both, though I will give Norman Lamb my first preference) is going to have to rebrand the Party on the basis of its core values. Having known Nick Clegg for many years, I do not doubt his sincerely held belief in those values. But the European elections and the General Election were not really fought on those values, and had some very iffy messaging. I said at the time that I thought the slogan “We’re the Party of IN!” for the Euros was misguided; it should have been “We’re IN it to Fix It!”. Similarly, the bizarre late leitmotif of “neither left nor right” in the General Elections was unlikely to inspire anyone other than someone whose job it is to paint those white lines in the middle of the highway. There is currently a profound review of the General Election taking place, and I hope that as a (new) member of the Party’s Federal Executive I can have some useful input into that. But one thing I am certain is that Nick should not be the token fall-guy. Yes, he was party Leader and had to fall on his sword after 7 May. But he will be seen by historians as a man of decency and of courage.

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