Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Paddy Ashdown’

The Challenge for the Liberal Democrats

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 16th September, 2016

tim-farronAs Liberal Democrats gather in Brighton this weekend for Autumn Conference, it’s a timely moment to consider the challenges facing the party. Despite the turmoil within Britain’s official opposition party, Labour (graphically illustrated on BBC’s Question Time last night by a cat fight between John McDonnell MP and Alastair Campbell), the LibDems seem stuck in the national opinion polls in the range 6-8%. Pretty pathetic for a party that was in government (albeit in Coalition) between 2010 and 2015. Yet the position is nowhere near as bleak as that headline figure might imply. There has been a whole series of very strong LibDem gains in local council by-elections over the past few months; there was another one yesterday, in Derbyshire. These suggest that the party has bottomed out electorally and is now on the road to recovery (as Paddy Ashdown argues in today’s Guardian). Moreover, there is what I see as a golden opportunity in the parliamentary by-election due to be held in Witney on 20 October. Witney was of course David Cameron’s seat. Just a year after winning an unexpected overall majority in the last general election, David Cameron’s fall from grace has been spectacular. In the wake of June’s Brexit vote, he resigned as Prime Minister and then on the eve of a highly critical Foreign Affairs Committee report on his handling of the Libyan crisis, he resigned his seat. Interestingly, in West Oxfordshire (in which Witney is the seat of local government) Remain triumphed in the EU Referendum, which means that there must be many thousands of disgruntled voters there who in a by-election situation might be persuaded to vote for an explicitly pro-European party. That certainly won’t be Labour, given Jeremy Corbyn’s self-evident ambivalence about the EU. But it could be the Liberal Democrats, if the party seizes the opportunity, selects a brilliant by-election candidate with the right credentials and pours members and supporters into the constituency for an intense month-long campaign. Tim Farron is expected to make the clarion call for pro-Europeans at Brighton this week. Let that also be the trumpet sound for Witney, which, if handled well, could be a milestone in the LibDem Fight Back!

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Digital Comms Is Only Part of the Answer

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 1st September, 2015

Rob Blackie LibDems in CommsThere was a very convivial meeting of Liberal Democrats in Communications this evening, hosted by Rob Blackie in the basement of a welcoming upmarket pub in Pimlico. Apart from networking the idea was to hear from two speakers: Richard Morris, a successful advertising executive and author of the popular A View from Ham Common blog, and the journalist and broadcaster Miranda Green (both LibDems themselves). The participants were overwhelmingly young, maybe partly because “taster” publicity for the evening suggested that it might help those who sought a career in Communications or the Media. But even an old hack like me found it interesting. Richard spoke particularly about how he views the applications of people who want to work for his agency; in a nutshell, they have to captivate with their introductory lines so that those hiring think “that person sounds interesting; I’d like to talk to them”. He told the cautionary tale of some poor sod who had the bright idea of writing their CV on the icing of a delicious cake sent to the interviewing penal. Unfortunately, they ate the cake before realising that there was no other copy of the CV or way of knowing who the person was.

Miranda GreenRichard MorrisMiranda — who served in Paddy Ashdown’s office in the days when the LibDem leader was up at 5am and wondering why everyone else was not already busy at work. focused more on the May election campaign , or debacle, as some of us now fondly refer to it. It is not enough to keep pushing dozens of leaflets through people’s doors any more, and while television is still extremely important (especially for older voters) digital media can have a big impact, as Obama’s campaigns in the United States have shown. It was unfortunate, to put it mildly, that having promoted the slogan “stronger economy, fairer society” for four and a half years of the Coalition government the LibDems suddenly switched to “neither left nor right”, leaving many activists, let alone the electors, wondering “Huh?” Obviously a very high digital media presence can have a big effect, especially in motivating younger people, but there is no use smothering Facebook or twitter with posts if there are no clear messages within. LDHQ please note. As Rob Blackie is running a very high profile digital media campaign in his effort to be selected with a chance of winning a seat on the London Assembly it was good of him to devote an evening to this worthwhile venture. One was also pleased to see fellow GLA contenders Merlene Emerson and Mark Platt present.

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LibDems’ Liverpool Rally

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 14th March, 2015

imageWith just eight weeks to go until polling day, the opening rally at the Liberal Democrats’ spring conference in Liverpool had one clear aim: to enthuse the troops in a campaign that is all about survival. Not that I believe the LibDems face annihilation, much as the more strident sections of the Labour party might wish. But the feedback from those who have been out on the doorsteps up and down the country suggests that providing enough work is put in the party should hold far more parliamentary seats than the headline opinion poll figures imply, and could even pick up a couple. Former leader Paddy Ashdown is the campaign supremo and he gave one of his trademark performances in setting out why it is so important that there should be Liberal Democrats in government again after 7 May, to curb the cutting of the Tories or the accelerated borrowing of Labour. Unusually, he and other keynote speakers, including party president Sal Brinton and Welsh LibDem leader Kirsty William, were introduced by some tongue-in-cheek song and dance acts that certainly created a warm feeling in the hall. There were also some video links to some of the party’s key target candidates — all women — including Lisa Smart in Hazel Grove and Jane Dodds in Montgomeryshire. Any worries some people might have had that number of conference-goers this time might be down were visibly confounded. And for any who might have felt guilty about not being out on the streets campaigning, there is a phone bank operating in the main conference exhibition hall, with everyone being urged to make at least 10 canvassing calls.

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Being a Junior Partner in a Coalition

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 27th March, 2012

For half a century and more the Liberal Party and its successor, the Liberal Democrats, languished as the high-minded, principled oppositional alternative to both Conseratives and Labour, and I have to say that most of us found that situation pretty comfortable, although we spoke wistfully of one day having the chance of getting into power. But I think¬†we realised that the only way that would happen in the post-modern age was as a junior partner in coalition with one of the two ‘major’ parties, which could well result in a shrinkage in our level of public support (as indeed Chris Rennard long ago warned). We looked at examples such as Germany’s FDP and saw that even on a small share of the vote one could nonetheless wield quite a lot of influence (admittedly under a system of proportional representation in Germany’s case), and even aspire to having a few Cabinet Ministers. I suppose most of us imagined that if that opportunity arose, it would almost certainly be in a Coalition with Labour; indeed, Paddy Ashdown and some of his closest colleagues imagined that could happen with a Blair-led government, before Britain’s warped electoral system gave Tony Blair a humungous majority and he veered away from social democracy to become seriously illiberal and a George W Bush groupie. So it was with some surprise that after the May 2010 election the arithmetic meant that only a Tory-led Coalition in Britain was possible. But did that inevitably mean that the LibDems as the junior partner would be screwed? This was the subject of a fascinating seminar put on at Westminster’s Portcullis House yesterday by the Centre for Reform, moderated by former LibDem Chief Executive¬†Lord (Chris) Rennard. Ben Page, Chief Executive of Ipsos-MORI was somewhat disheartening in his analysis of the way that sacrificing full independence had inevitably led to the LibDems’ sharp decline in the opinion polls. But his pessimism was counter-balanced by the Deputy Leader of the party, Simon Hughes MP, who — despite getting into a bit of a muddle with his statistics — managed to reassure the audience that the LibDems, far from crashing to oblivion are still alive and kicking and actually doing better than at many times in their recent history, as well as winning real victories on policy within the Coalition government. Martin Kettle, the acceptable face of the Guardian’s political columns, was also fairly upbeat; unlike Polly Toynbee he does not feel we have sold our soul to the devil, and moreover he believes that¬†even in the North — from which, like me, he hails — there is a future for the party. In the ensuing discussion I pointed out that being the junior partner in a Coalition government is rather like travelling down¬†a road¬†full of¬†hidden sleeping poliemen. The tuition fees d√©bacle was probably predictable; the NHS Bill less so. But I warned that the Tory rethink on the Heathrow third runway could be a third bump that could shake the Coalition and cause a fall in support for the LibDems unless the party came out firmly against once again. I didn’t get quite the ringing endorsement of this line that¬†I’d hoped for from Simon Hughes (or indeed Lord Rennard), but I think the point was taken.

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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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Paddy Ashdown Is Frightened

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 9th November, 2011

The London Liberal Democrats’ fundraising dinner at the National Liberal Club this evening of course featured Brian Paddick and Caroline Pidgeon (hot-foot from the Evening Standard’s 1000 most influential Londoners awards), who¬†both spoke of the importance of next year’s London elections. But the keynote speaker was former party leader Paddy Ashdown — now apparently carving out a career for himself as the sane alternative to David Starkey as a TV presenter — who instead focussed on the state of the world. After a well-rehearsed joke about George Brown in Peru, Paddy gave us a pretty bleak overview of short-term prospects. He said he was ‘frightened, very frightened’ by the way that the stakes are being raised in the West’s standoff with Iran. If Israel launches a pre-emptive strike against supposed nuclear weapons installations in Iran, the situation could become very dangerous, he said. On this I felt he was being quite mild; I fear it would bring about¬†Armageddon — for the Israelis. Intriguingly, Paddy was barracked, if not exactly heckled, by one member present about¬†the LibDems’ failure to engage with the people protesting outside St Paul`s (Occupy LSX). Brian Paddick popped up and said he had been to speak to them, but whereas he sympathised with what they were protesting about (corporate greed and bankers’ mismanagement and overpayment), he could not detect a clear message from the protestors about any solution. Perhaps that is the job of the Liberal Democrats, though it will not be easy from within the Coalition government.

 

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The Rise and Fall of David Laws

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 29th May, 2010

When a Sunday newspaper¬†contacted me earlier today to ask what I thought about the unfolding David Laws affair, I said I thought he had been silly but not dishonest. Since then, he has resigned following revelations in the Daily Telegraph that he claimed allowances for accommodation in the London home of his male lover, and the Prime Minister, David Cameron, has accepted his resignation. I think this is a pity. The more sensible thing would have been for David Laws to tender his resignation and for David Cameron and Nick Clegg to have graciously refused it.¬†David Laws¬†was — and is — the perfect man for the job of Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the fact that he got into a pickle over his second home allowances because he felt unable to admit publicly the nature of his relationship with his landlord is as much a reason for sympathy as for condemnation. Several prominent members of the previous Labour government had behaved far more heinously with their expenses.

But who is this David Laws, who was a total stranger to most of the British public, before being propelled into high office¬†by the Coalition? Born in 1965, he grew up in Surrey and was educated at a Roman Catholic school before going to King’s College, Cambridge, where he got a double first in economics. He went into the City, being immediately recognised as a high flyer, working at J P Morgan and Barclays de Zoete Wedd. In 1994, having already made a packet, he gave way to his political bent, becoming an economics advisor to the Liberal Democrats. He fought Folkestone and Hythe (against the Tory Home Secretary, Michael Howard) before becoming the Liberal Democrats’ Director of Policy and Research. His big political break came with Paddy Ashdown’s decision to stand down in Yeovil and his adpotion for the seat. Once in Parliament, he became the LibDem ‘shadow’ Chief Secretary to the Treasury, little realising that the real thing would soon be in sight. He is much respected within the party, though his strait-laced demeansour and permanent suits give the impression of unapproachability. Of course, now we know that behind that facade there is a different reality. Perhaps now he has been brought down, he can let his other side develop more naturally. In the meantime, our continental neighbours will laugh at yet another case of perfidious Albion getting its knickers in a twist over a scandal involving both sex and money. But in truth, it is no laughing matter and the Daily Telegraph should be ashamed of what it has brought about. It is nothing short of a tragedy and the last thing the country needed when the new government has to try to get it out of the current economic mess.

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Paddy Ashdown chez Chris Rennard

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 14th December, 2009

Few local party fundraisers attract three members of the House of Lords, even when one of them is the host, but (Lord) Chris and (Lady) Ann Rennard opened their house in Stockwell this evening for a soir√©e in honour of Vauxhall’s LibDem¬†PPC, Caroline Pidgeon, GLAM, at which the star attraction was former Liberal Democrat leader (Lord) Paddy Ashdown (whose London base is in Kennington)¬†— and at which the Party President, (Baroness) Ros Scott,¬†was also present. Paddy was eloquent over the cocktail sausages about the three challenges he believes are facing Britain: financial, international and existential. Perhaps the last needs a little explaining, before people run for their Jean-Paul Sartre: in other words, the environmental threats to our planet. As world leaders haggle over climate change-related targets in Copenhagen, the Conservatives under David Cameron are trying to paint themselves green, but unconvincingly so, in Paddy’s opinion.¬†He also, for what it is worth, thought Gordon Brown will go right through to May, rather than risking a March general election. Either way, there will be many thousands of leaflets for activists to deliver in Lambeth and beyond.¬†

Link: http://vauxhall-libdems.org.uk

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The LibDems’ Secret Bestseller

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 22nd September, 2009

Paddy AshdownShirley WilliamsWhat should have been the (free) bestseller event of the Bournemouth Liberal Democrat conference fringe this afternoon attracted just three dozen blessed souls instead of the three hundred the room could have accommodated, because someone forgot/failed to put the event into the conference directory. Whoops. The party’s leader in the House of Lords, Tom McNally, chaired a panel of the LibDems’ three top-selling authors, Paddy Ashdown, Vince Cable and Shirley Williams. Undeterred by rows of empty seats, great troopers that they are, they put on a bravura performance, providing tempting tasters of their tomes, their lives and the world (including one or two anecdotes thought not quite appropriate to put into print).

Vince CableIt was all hugely enjoyable and a good few books were sold. But how sad that what should have been a tremendous event was to a certain extent a damp squib.

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Ashdown’s Law

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 30th June, 2009

Paddy Ashdown 1Sweltering temperatures did not deter the expectant crowd that attended the second Tim Garden memorial lecture, delivered this evening at Chatham House by Lord (Paddy) Ashdown, following wine and twiglets in the RIIA’s St James’s town house. The basement lecture hall itself — though windowless — is actually one of the few¬†places in the capital that has functioning air-conditioning, so those who had survived the reception were given a chance to recover and be entertained at the same time. Paddy was on fine form, declaring that three factors have fundamentally altered the world we live in today: (1) the pattern of world power has shifted, from a monopolar, US-dominated reality to¬†a multipolar situation¬†in which¬†new superpowers such as China, India and Brazil are rightly asserting their importance; (2) there has been a horizontal shift of power away from nation states and their governments to non-state actors, NGOs, communities and individuals; and (3) globalisation means everything connects with everything else. He also propounded an Ashdown’s Law: that one can only achieve results if you work with other people. None of this¬†may sound¬†very profound, perhaps, but he expressed it beautifully and the gist was all very sound.

However, Baroness (Shirley) Williams stumped Paddy with a two-pronged question — the latter part about global elites — during the question time, prompting him to suggest that she should be invited to give the Tim Garden lecture next year. Liberal International British Group, which sponsors the event, could certainly do worse, though there is no reason now that the event seems to have become an instant institution why LIBG shouldn’t look abroad for¬†future speakers as well.

Link: www.libg.org.uk  and www.chathamhouse.org.uk

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