Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Richmond Park’

Exit from Brexit

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 11th February, 2018

Catherine Bearder 3Yesterday Catherine Bearder MEP hosted a rally in Richmond-upon-Thames as part of the LibDems’ campaign to Exit from Brexit. As the Party’s London spokesperson on Brexit, I gave a short speech of welcome, underlining the importance of two dates this year. First is May 3rd., when there will be all-out elections for councillors in all 32 London boroughs. Though obviously local issues will be at the fore, these elections can also serve as a verdict on the Conservative government’s chaotic performance so far in relation to Brexit. Moreover, for citizens of the other 27 EU member states who are resident in the UK, this is a chance (maybe their last) to make their voice heard through the ballot box. So local parties need to be encouraging those who are not yet on the electoral register to get on, and to make clear to EU voters that the Liberal Democrats are the only major party in England campaigning for an Exit from Brexit. The second important date is October, by which time, in principle, the UK and EU will have mapped out their proposed new trading relationship, and a public vote on the details of that deal would be timely. So we need to persuade the public as well as Parliament over the next six months or so that such a vote is desirable, so they can pass their verdict on “Is this really what you want?”

Sarah Olney Catherine Bearder Costanza de TomaFittingly at a time when Britain is celebrating the centenary of the extension of the franchise to women (over 30, initially), the rest of yesterday’s event was entirely in the hands of women. Catherine Bearder gave a speech outlining many of the practical problems that will occur if Britain does leave the Customs Union, as the Government maintains. Many things will be more expensive, choice will be reduced and there will inevitably be delays, threatening the viability of many businesses. Sarah Olney, LibDem MP for Richmond Park and North Kingston until last June’s general election, gave an update on the progress (or otherwise) in Parliament regarding the EU Withdrawal Bill and other related legislation. The House of Lords is currently proving its worth by critically analysing what is before it. But there is a growing feeling that the timetable the Government has set for Brexit is impossibly short. The third principal speaker yesterday was Costanza de Toma of the 3 Million group, which lobbies for the rights of EU citizens here (and liaises with representatives of UK citizens on the continent and in the Republic of Ireland, who will also be impacted by Brexit, if it goes ahead). Much of her testimony highlighted the gross injustices and absurdity of the way the situation is developing, as well as the frequent incompetence of the Home Office. The 3 million are encouraging EU citizens to vote in local elections in May, so they could make a real difference.

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London LibDems’ Autumn Conference

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 5th November, 2016

tim-farron-4The shadow of Brexit hung over the London Liberal Democrats’ autumn conference in Hammersmith today, though the mood was far from downcast. Buoyed by a string of local by-election wins across the UK, as well as a very strong performance in the Witney parliamentary by-election last month, London LibDems are gung-ho for the contest now on in Richmond Park and North Kingston, for which polling day is 1 December. Although the Tory MP Zac Goldsmith brought about this contest as a protest against Heathrow Airport expansion, it is Brexit that most constituents want to talk about. About 70% of local residents voted Remain in the EU Referendum in June, but Zac — who is standing in the by-election as an “Independent”, though the Conservatives are not putting up a candidate against him — is an arch-Brexiteer. If Sarah Olney wins, she will add a much needed female face to the Party’s depleted MP line-up.

catherine-bearder-2As Catherine Bearder MEP, who was one of the speakers at the conference today, stressed, Prime Minister Theresa May’s policy on Brexit is little more than “I want this, or I leave!”, which has gone down like a lead balloon with our continental partners. Already the negative impact of a potential Brexit is being felt, with the fall in the pound and warnings of rising inflation and future labour shortages in key sectors such as the NHS. Both Catherine and party leader Tim Farron, who was the keynote speaker at the conference, referred to the landmark decision by the High Court this week, which ruled that Parliament must have its say before Article 50 is triggered — also condemning the vitriolic abuse leveled at the three judges by some Brexiteers and the rabid right-wing media. Tim has carved out a distinctive position for the LibDems, calling not only for parliamentary scrutiny of the Government’s Brexit plan (when it has one), but also for the proposed deal to be put before the British electorate in a referendum. That is certainly a line supported by most party members in London, including a majority of “newbies”, who have swelled our numbers by nearly a half. During his speech, Tim also made reference to the disgraceful post-EU Referendum attack on the Polish Centra in which today’s conference was held, as well as other xenophobic incidents. The political atmosphere in the UK has soured badly since 23 June, but the LibDems must stand up for decency and the rule of law, as well as holding true to our European credentials. Fortified by that message (and a splendid buffet lunch) most conference attendees then headed off to Richmond Park to campaign, or else did clerical work for the by-election on the spot.

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Nick Clegg’s Boost for Richmond Park

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 15th October, 2013

Nick CleggRobin MeltzerRobin Meltzer’s campaign to win the Richmond Park constituency in south-west London back from the Conservatives in May 2015 recevied a boost last night when Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg spoke at a fundraising dinner at the Russell family’s old home of Pembroke Lodge. Apart from singing the prospective parliamentary candidate’s praises, Nick particularly emphasized the pro-European message of the Liberal Democrats. Though the Party believes the EU would benefit from reform, it would, in Nick’s words, be a disaster for the UK to leave. This means that the Liberal Democrats really will pin their European colours to the mast in next May’s European elections — for the first time ever, if truth be told, despite the fact that the electorate knows where the Party stands on the issue. Because of the nature of Richmond Park constiuency and, let’s be frank, the affluence of most of the people attending last night’s dinner, there were some sharp questions about the proposed “mansion tax” on properties worth over £2 million pounds. But Nick held his ground on this and insisted that it was only right that the most wealthy help pay for the government policies that have been lifting millions of the poorest people out of tax all together. The junior Education Minister, David Laws, was the back-up speaker, not surprisingly highlighting the pupil premium and other Coalition government policies aimed at th less wll-off — and all Liberal Democrat initiatives. Robin Meltzer should get a pointer as to how the mood amongst voters in the constiuency is developing next May, when the borough elections take place alongside the Euro-poll. But the many thousands of pounds raised at the dinner will give him and the local party a shot in the arm and will lead to a campaign office being set up in Richmond once again. 


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Changing Gear in London

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 2nd January, 2013

fireworks-New YearThe fireworks over the Thames that signalled the New Year in London symbolically coincided with a handover of the chairmanship of London Liberal Democrats, as I ended my three years at the helm and Mike Tuffrey – until last May a leading Member of the London Assembly – took over. My time in office was quite a roller-coaster, from the inflated national euphoria of Cleggmania just before the 2010 general election – when in the event we managed to hold on to seven parliamentary seats, but alas lost Richmond Park – to the frankly dire city-wide vote we received in the London Mayoral and GLA elections last May. At least we managed to return Caroline Pidgeon (rightly recognised in the New Year honours) and Stephen Knight to the Assembly. Of course, the kicking we received from the electorate then – at least some of it a protest at George Osborne’s Budget, as well as unhappiness over Coalition cuts – was not unique to London. Moreover, we have had some excellent local by-election results, which showed that the old mantra “where we work, we win” can still hold true.

Less visible, but significant, has been the way the regional party has become more professional over the past three years, including a move into larger and more flexible office space in Brixton and the appointment of a full-time Campaigns Manager, Chris Butler (backed up by the indefatigable Campaigns Chair Pete Dollimore and his team). Even if the results last May were disappointing, the campaign itself was much slicker than anything we’ve done before and indeed the candidates themselves were impressive and for the first time truly reflected the diverse nature of our capital city.

Team LOndon logoSo what can Mike Tuffrey look forward to? Undoubtedly more needs to be done not just to recruit new members but particularly to retain the ones we have. And given Mike’s particular expertise in London-wide policy-making, honing a credible, attractive and specific London Liberal Democrat narrative is going to be crucial to future success. 2013 is a year with no major scheduled elections in London, though local council by-elections continue to come up thick and fast. But this provides a golden opportunity not only to strengthen the Party further in the capital but to lay the groundwork for the 2014 city-wide borough elections and the Euro-elections, which will almost certainly fall on the same day. That coincidence poses several new challenges not least how to integrate a local campaign in which ruthless targeting is going to be essential with a London-wide European campaign when the Liberal Democrats are likely to be the only party putting out an essentially positive message on Europe – and rightly so. At least the eight London Euro-candidates – who have been in place since 1 December – are already part of the integrated team. Those of us who have not gone abroad for New Year will be joining the first regional action day of the year this Saturday in North Kingston (Richmond Park).

Jonathan Fryer is the immediate past Chair of London Liberal Democrats and is Number 2 on the London Euro-list.  

N.B. This post first appeared as an oped on LibDemVoice:

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A Mansion Tax for Oligarchs?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 29th July, 2011

When Vince Cable launched his plan for a ‘mansion tax’ on homes worth more than £1 million, there were howls of dismay from LibDem activists in places such as Richmond Park and Kensington & Chelsea, where even quite modest dwellings are now worth well in excess of a million, thanks to London’s absurdly over-priced property market. There was then talk of a £2 million threshold instead, but the scheme was still unpopular and some Liberal Democrat party members actually resigned in protest. However, the LibDem Deputy Leader, Simon Hughes, last night unveiled at a Lewisham LibDems supper an intriguing variation which has gone to his colleagues in government for consideration: a Mansion Tax for non-doms, inlcuding oligarchs from the former Soviet Union — billionaires whose hunger for prime London property has been a major factor in house price escalation. Boris Johnson, London’s Tory Mayor, will doubtless scoff at the proposal, saying it will drive the super-rich foreigners away. But for the super-rich the ‘pain’ will be minimal, whereas the government’s coffers will get a useful boost and UK residents who happen to live in what is now a very expensive part of town will not be ‘fined’ for doing so.

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Stan Hardy’s 90th Birthday

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 21st February, 2010

Every political party has its Golden Oldies, vintage stalwarts who have not only put in many years of service to the party but continue to soldier on. But few such have as long a record and as much energy left as Stan Hardy from Dulwich, whose 90th birthday was celebrated at a joyfully noisy gathering taking up the whole second floor of Kettner’s Restaurant in Soho last night. Speeches of tribute came from Susan Kramer, MP or Richmond Park (and candidate in Dulwich and West Norwood in 1997) and Simon Hughes, MP for North Southwark and Bermondsey, as well as a response from the birthday boy hinself. Over the years of Stan’s involvement, Southwark borough has shifted from being something of a desert for Liberal Democrats (and predecessor parties) to having one LibDem MP with a majority of nearly 5,500, and second places in Dulwich and West Norwood (achieved for the first time in 2005 by Jonathan Mitchell, who is currently PPC) and in Camberwell and Peckham (Richard Porter in 2005, but now having as its PPC a popular former Mayor of Southwark, the Sierra Leonean Columba Blango).

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Kew Question Time

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 13th March, 2009

Richmond Park constituency has one of the most highly educated electorates in England, as well as an unusually strong concentration of media types. But even so, the local Liberal Democrats did well to assemble a Question Time panel at St Luke’s in Kew this evening that included Lord (Richard) Harries, former Bishop of Oxford (who by coincidence had done Thought for the Day on Radio 4 this morning), my old BBC World Service colleague Jackie Ashley (who now has a regular column in the Guardian), and Richmond Park MP Susan Kramer (who had been on the real, televised Question Time only last night). I made up the quartet of panelists. Just as on the TV programme, the questions were topical: would we have sacked Sharon Shoesmith, the Haringey Social Services Director; have recent killings in Northern Ireland shattered the peace accord there; can we do anything about Israel/Palestine… and so on? Though neither Lord Harries nor Jackie Ashley is a Liberal Democrat, it was interesting to see what a degree of consensus there was along ‘liberal’ lines. We were hardly a group of Sun or Daily Mail readers, of course. When one questioner cheekily asked whether we thought that Vince Cable was a genius, Jackie replied deftly, ‘No, he’s a saint!’, at which the Lord Bishop commented that by Catholic rules, at least, someone had to have performed two attested miracles before being granted sainthood, adding that the Liberal Democrats’ winning the general election would probably count as one.


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Nick Clegg, the Economy and the Environment

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 8th January, 2009

Nick Clegg, Susan Kramer (MP for Richmond Park) and the environmental campaigner Tony Juniper attracted a full house at the Duke Street Baptist Church in Richmond (Surrey) this evening, for a Question Time on the economy and the environment, chaired with characteristic panache by ‘University Challenge’s’ Bamber Gascoigne. This was a variation on the town hall meetings that Nick has been doing up and down the country, reaching out to many thousands of electors. Richmond being Richmond, it was all very well behaved (apart from the slight irritation of the three young women helpers of Richmond Conservative candidate Zak Goldsmith sitting immediately behind me, who chattered throughout the whole event).

Opp0sition to the third runway at Heathrow (in which Susan Kramer has been hyper-active) not surprisjngly surfaced as an issue almost immediately, but soon the evening settled down to a serious discussion of how we can marry economic and social justice with environmental responsibility at this time of financial retrenchment. Tony Juniper was particularly eloquent in expressing how proper environmental management (including house insulation) and changing one’s lifestyle can actually improve one’s quality of life, even when economic conditions are tight. Nick rightly endorsed Tony’s comment that we need to show China and India how to develop more environmentally by example, rather than by finger-pointing.

One questioner asked why the three main political parties don’t work together on vital issues such as climate change, to which Nick responded that the LibDems had in fact encouraged this as a strategy, but it failed. The only agreements possible were on the lowest common denominator, whereas the LibDems, as the most environmentally-friendly of the mainstream parties, wish to set higher standards. Altogether, the evening was a worthwhile exercise, which may well be repeated elsewhere in Britain, not necessarily with the same subjects (though they are two of the core themes of the forthcoming European election campaign).

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Susan Kramer’s Devotion to Duty

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 16th October, 2008

  There is no greater sacrifice that a politician can make than to speak at a lunch, yet not have time to eat even a mouthful herself. OK, I exaggerate. But that is exactly what Susan Kramer, LibDem MP for Richmond Park, had to do today when she came to talk to the Kettner Lunch at the National Liberal Club. The Chairman, Peter Whyte, had told her that she could talk about anything she liked, so given her background and current events, she homed in on the financial situation. Although her neighbouring MP (for Twickenham), Vince Cable, tends to get all the limelight on such matters (and has been performing brilliantly in it), Susan was herself a banker before she went into politics. As she joked at lunch, she had never thought politics would prove to be the more secure profession!

Of course, her parliamentary seat is not that secure, as it is high on the list of Tory targets and the Conservative candidate, Zac Goldsmith, and his backers have been pouring tens of thousands of pounds into the constituency in order to try to unseat Susan at the next general election. That would be a great shame, to put it mildly, as she works phenomenally hard. The reason she had to leave the NLC without even a taste of the food this lunchtime was because she had to go to Ham in her constituency to open a children’s centre.

Moreover, she demonstrated a far greater understanding of the current economic situation than the Tories’ putative Shadow Chancellor, George Osborne, who looks more than ever like a frightened rabbit, with not the foggiest clue about what is going on. I almost feel sorry for him. But I am angry at David Cameron for showing such contempt for the British electorate that he should hand the most significant political portfolio to a young chum who is probably charming but unqualified.

Susan highlighted a number of vital issues as well as giving her own, experienced take on things. She echoed Vince Cable’s remarks (which I reported on recently) that the Bank of England needs to revise its inflation target. Interestingly, she called for a sharp decrease in interest rates, as she said what happened in Japan in the 1990s showed that a series of gradual cuts do not do the trick. She also chimed in with what Chris Huhne has been saying with regard to the cash-rich energy companies, namely that the sector should be shifting its focus towards being paid to save energy rather than being paid to sell energy. On this, as on many other points, the LibDems are ahead on the green agenda — and no amount or huffing and puffing by Zack Goldsmith will persuade me otherwise.

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The Kettner Lunch

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 22nd August, 2008

Yesterday I attended the AGM of the Kettner Lunch (of which I am a Vice-Chairman), at the National Liberal Club on the Embankment. This venerable lunchtime institution, as its name suggests, used to meet at Kettner’s Restaurant in Soho — which had been the scene of many of Oscar Wilde’s intimate suppers with his dangerous ‘panthers’, but was relaunched in the late 20th century by the Pizza Express and Peterborough magnate Peter Boizot (a generous donor to the Liberal Party and its successor). The luncheon club (what a deliciously outmoded yet splendidly ongoing concept) transferred to the NLC after another Peter, Peter Whyte took over — and it has flourished ever since. Even in 2008, there are not only ‘ladies who lunch’ but gentlemen too. Lord (Alan) Watson of Richmond has agreed to be its new President.

I think a major reason for the ongoing success of the group has been Peter Whyte’s decision to move outside the box of Liberal Democrat speakers to include a wide range of prominent people in public life and service. This has provided eclectic entertainment and indeed instruction — which is why it will be entirely appropriate if the Kettner’s Lunch now transmogirifies itself into a charitable enterpise, as is intended. Events to look forward to in the autumn include talks by Susan Kramer, LibDem MP for Richmond Park, and General Nick Parker.

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