Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Ros Scott’

Brexit Bites, Even in ALDE

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 2nd December, 2017

3079F192-03A6-4967-B73B-8C17AA5F88D2At the official buffet dinner reception at the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) Congress in Amsterdam this evening the results were announced for the President and Vice-Presidents of the Board. As Hans Van Baalen, a Dutch MEP, was the only candidate for the former, it was no surprise that he won re-election, with only a score of nay-votes. But the Vice-Presidential results are giving everyone here at the Congress food for thought, some negative, some positive. To start with the bad news first, Baroness Ros Scott — seeking re-election, as one of seven candidates for six posts — came bottom of the poll. This is certainly not an indictment of her record, as she has been tireless in her work for ALDE and the Liberal cause throughout Europe, as well as in the House of Lords. But it looks as if Brexit was a factor, for which Theresa May and her UKIPTory government are to blame. Britain has become the embarrassing member of the European Family, the drunk uncle who offends everyone and knocks the furniture over. Of course Ros has never behaved like that herself; far from it. But many of our EU partners are sick to the back teeth with Britain, not least the post-2004 newcomers of formerly Communist central and Eastern Europe, who were not around when Britain was a force for good in the EU (c.f. Lord Cockfield and the implementation of the single market). No, for the past decade or so, Britain, as misrepresented by successive governments, has been a pain in the arse, personified by Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson. That the latter should have been made Foreign Secretary, despite having been sacked by The Times for lying about Europe when he was a correspondent in Brussels, and subsequently insulting the peoples of so many countries, is something that leaves most continental Europeans open-mouthed with disbelief. Add to that the resentment caused by boorish British behaviour since the EU Referendum and you have the perfect storm of the marginalisation of a previously great country sinking into a cesspit of irrelevance and narrow-mindedness. That this probably contributed to Ros Scott’s defenestration from the ALDE Bureau is particularly sad. Guy Vehofstadt, former Belgian Prime Minister and currently both President if the ALDE Group in the European Parliament, as well as that Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator, pledgd in his short address to tonight’s dinner that the UK’s leaving the EU would not mean that the British Liberal Democrats would cease to be members of the family. But clearly we are not now in the inner circle. However, while this development saddens me greatly, for Ros personally, for the LibDems and for Britain, there is a more positive piece of news tonight. The person who topped the poll in the vote for Vice-Presidents was Ilhan Kyuchyuk MEP, a Bulgarian from that country’s Turkish minority community, and therefore a Muslim. The EU is moving forward, even if Britain now risks being left behind.

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Singalong Sound of Music at Snape

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 30th August, 2012

Serendipity adds spice to life and resulted in my finding myself at the Maltings at Snape in Suffolk last night, singing along with the Sound of Music. The outing was the result of a chance conversation with my old friends (Baroness) Ros Scott and her husband Mark Valladares when were standing in Republic Square in Yerevan, Armenia, earlier this year, watching a sound-and-lights display  by the fountains. In the middle of a medley of familiar tunes both classic and modern came a snatch from The Sound of Music, which prompted both Ros and I to declare that one thing we’d always wanted to do was to go to a singalong version. The one I’d heard of in the past was at a cinema off Leicester Square in London. But when Ros returned home, she discovered that the Maltings at Snape — usually a venue for serious music — was putting on a singalong concert version. Spooky. It was too good an opportunity to miss (especially as it gave me the chance of seeing Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears’ home town of Aldeburgh first). So after an excellent meal at an adjacent gastropub we joined several hundred other people, dozens of whom were dressed as nuns, quite a number as brown paper packages tied with string and one group cleverly outfited as a herd of goats. It sounds kitsch, I know, but it was fun. Moreover, the quality of the music was really rather good, with an excellent trio providing the backing and the Aldeburgh Singers the Abbey choir. The rest of us went through a rehearsal during the first half of the programme, then in the second half we sang the thing right through. Brill! And deliciously, Britishly bonkers.

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Lynne Featherstone on Being a Minister

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 10th July, 2010

Lynne Featherstone, LibDem MP for Hornsey and Wood Green and now the Minister of State for Equalities and Criminal Information (sic), was the guest of honour at Sutton Liberal Democrats’ annual garden party this afternoon, in the spacious garden of perennial host Jayanta Chatterjee. In keeping with the Coalition Government’s new age of austerity, she arrived not in a chauffeur-driven limousine, but by train, like me. And from her description of life in the Home Office (up at 5.30am and only to bed at midnight, day after day) her tasks are demanding, despite the assiduousness of her civil servants. Far from being under the kitten heels of Home Secretary Theresa May, Lynne has been doing her best to stamp a LibDem tinge on her department’s policies; bilateral relations with her boss are in fact very cordial. Lynne was suitably prominent in last Saturday’s Gay Pride March — seemingly part of a new girl band, half-dancing alongside London Assembly Member Caroline Pidgeon, Party President Ros Scott and London’s LibDem MEP Sarah Ludford. Lynne said that the only thing that impressed her children about her new status in life was the arrival of the first lead-lined wooden red ministerial box. The civil servants will be making sure those ministerial papers keep coming.

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Floella Benjamin Revs up London LibDems

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 4th March, 2010

London Liberal Democrats rallied for success in the forthcoming general and local elections at our Spring Conference this evening. As I stated in my Chair’s remarks from the platform, we would hope to move into double figures for the number of London MPs we will have after the election, as well as gaining control of several new councils. The fight will be on two fronts, in a context in which neither of the larger parties is on a great roll, whatever David Cameron and his colleagues may claim. As Chris Huhne MP said in his opening address, the three-way TV debates are going to be crucial in determining the outcome of the parliamentary elections. Tom Brake MP emphasized how sitting LibDem MPs in London should benefit from the fact that (a) they came out smelling of roses in the MPs’ expenses affair (as testified by the Daily Telegraph, and (b) they work harder than most other London MPs (as testified by the Evening Standard). Party President (Baroness) Ros Scott said that she had found the party in good heart during her tours around the country. And in London we can celebrate having the fastest rising LibDem memership of any English region. But the star of the evening was undoubtedly Floella Benjamin, whose keynote speech revved up the delegates to go forth and win.

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To Be Or Not To Be? A Directly Elected Mayor.

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 25th December, 2009

The East London Advertiser is runing an online poll, asking Tower Hamlets residents whether they favour moving to a system of local government in which there is a powerful, directly-elected Mayor (as is the case in neighbouring Hackney and Newham). Next spring, local voters will be able to take part in a real referendum about whether they support that option or prefer a model in which there is a stronger leader at the head of the Council cabinet. Neither system is ideal, in my opinion; it was far more democratic when individual councillors had more power. And in the case of Tower Hamlets, even more so when there were devolved neighbourhood committees, under the old Liberal administration. Respect (which favours the Mayor option) has prompted the referendum through a petition. Among local Liberal Democrats, opinions are divided, which is why they have organised a public debate on the issue, to be chaired by national party President, Baroness (Ros) Scott, provisionally scheduled for 26 January. Watch this space. One thing is true, namely that the Mayor system can throw up some surprises (which is maybe what Respect is hoping). And the LibDems have notched up notable succeses in mayoral contests in Watford and Bedford.

Links: http://tower-hamlets-libdems.org.uk and www.eastlondonadvertiser.co.uk

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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 soirée 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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Why Is the LibDem Conference Still So Hideously White?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 20th September, 2009

Floella BenjaminLast night’s opening rally at the Liberal Democrat Conference in Bournemouth was a far slicker affair than usual and was held in the main hall for once, which meant that at last there was enough room for everyone. Introduced by party president (Baroness) Ros Scott and compered by Sarah Teather MP (who made some pretty near-the-bone jokes about her outgoing colleague Mark Oaten), the event featured not only the current leader Nick Clegg but also his predecessor-but-one Charles Kennedy plus two strong black women: the TV presenter Floella Benjamin (a LibDem supporter in Streatham) and the feisty PPC for the target seat of Birmingham Perry Bar, Karen Hamilton. So big ticks for the party giving prominence not just to women but Afro-Caribbeans as well.

bournemouth_international_centreHowever, it cannot have escaped the notice of Floella and Karen that they were talking to a great sea of (albeit appreciative) white faces, with only a tiny scattering of other ethnicities represented among delegates. To borrow the famous phrase that Greg Dyke used about the BBC, the LibDem Conference is still hideously white. If the LibDems are ever to be a credible party of government, that has got  to change.

Sarah TeatherThe leadership is well aware of the problem and there are groups such as Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats (EMLD) who are tackling it head on. In London and some of the other major cities, there have been real successes in recruiting BME members and indeed getting them to stand successfully as councillors. A whole raft of parliamentary candidates in predominantly urban areas are now Asian or black. But somehow local parties don’t seem to have managed to ensure that their delegates to conference are as diverse as the communities they come from. Perhaps some ethnic minority members feel conference somehow isn’t for them. The party cannot afford to let any such impression persist.

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So Who Was the Liberal Party’s Real Daddy?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 20th July, 2009

Lord PalmerstonA hundred and fifty years ago, about 280 British MPs gathered at Willis’s Rooms in King Street, St James’s, London, to discuss uniting to oppose the continuation in office of the then Tory Prime Minister, Lord Derby. The majority of Members present were Whigs, but there were also Radicals like John Bright and Peelite Tories at this memorable occasion — though not, interestingly, the celebrated Peelite Tory William Gladstone, who would go on to be the champion of Victorian Liberalism. Gladstone’s government starting in 1868 is often cited as giving birth to Liberal England, but  as Professor Anthony Howe from the University of East Anglia argued in a drily witty keynote speech at a National Liberal Club dinner this evening, the Willis’s Rooms’ occasion nine year’s earlier was the party’s conception — hence the Liberal Democrat History Group’s decision to hold the 150th anniversary event this summer, in collaboration with the NLC. The President of the Liberal Democrat History Group, Lord (William) Wallace of Saltaire compered the evening, with turns by Liberal Democrat Party president, Baroness (Ros) Scott, and former Liberal Party leader, Lord (David) Steel. Two other former party (SDP and Liberal Democrat) leaders. Lord (Bob) Maclennan and Charles Kennedy, MP, were in attendance.

As a well informed questioner pointed out, the term ‘Liberal’ really came into political currency in Spain earlier in the 19th century. Moreover, the aristocratic Radical Lord John Russell used the term Liberal Party a whole 20 years before the Willis’s Rooms conclave. But according to Professor Howe’s analysis, full of fascinating detail and cheeky asides, Russell’s paternity of the party was denied by the inferiority of his wife’s salons compared with those of the wife of Viscount (Henry) Palmerston (pictured above), the conservative renegade Irish Tory, who nonetheless had flashes of radical zeal and became the first ‘Liberal’ Prime Minister when he assumed office for a second time. Confused? One might well be. And the young Queen Victoria’s diaries suggest she got fatigued by the ins and outs of what some of the Old Men of British politics were up to. But the seeds of British Liberalism were indeed sown that summer’s evening in 1859 and the plants they brought forth have grown and mutated — narrowly surviving extinction in the years after the Second World Wat — to blossom once again as the hybrid Liberal Democrat Party of today.

Link: www.liberalhistory.org.uk

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Why I Have Voted for Ros Scott

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 15th October, 2008

The manifestos and ballot paper for the LibDem presidential election arrived this morning and in my case, the latter has already been filled in and sent off. I gave (Baroness) Ros Scott my first preference, as I had declared I would do, as I think she has both the proven single-minded dedication and the calm, even reassuring disposition that the party President will need over the crucial next couple of years. These will see both a set of European elections (where we ought to increase our number of MEPs, providing the campaign is given the focus and resources that it needs) and a crucial general election (that could either be a breakthrough or a fall-back for the Liberal Democrats, depending on how things go). We need a sound person in the presidency, who can improve party management and enthuse the membership, but not one who is going to draw too much attention away from the leader, who must be the figurehead of the political campaigns.

I have known both Ros and Lembit Opik for nearly 20 years, meeting both of them shortly after they became involved in the party. When Lembit first stood for the Federal Executive many years ago, I was happy to enthusiastically endorse him as having ‘vim and verve’ to contribute to that body.That is still true. He is an immensely likeable character and he has had an exemplary attendance record on the Executive. His celebrity status and knack of attracting publicity (not all of it positive, of course) are certainly assets from which both the party and he as an individual can benefit, though in a world of cruel media, these things also have the potential to be a liability. The party celebrates our individualist MPs — think Clement Freud and Cyril Smith — but would I have wanted either to be party president at a time like this? Humm. Both, interestingly, got a knighthood instead, so maybe we will have Lembit deservedly down on one knee in front of the Queen one day.

Chandila Fernando was a surprise late entrant into the race, but it is clear from his manifesto that he has some interesting, even provocative, views about party management and focus, which I hope will be considered seriously. We should all welcome that debate. He is a bright and ambitious young man whom I have got to know over the past two years and by putting his head above the parapet he has clearly put down a marker, even if at the moment I am not quite sure what for!

Whoever wins, of course the party must rally behind them and I will do so happily. This is an important contest at a particularly important time in British politics, so I hope not only will party members ensure that they use their vote, but that they give the matter due consideration before they do.

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Lembit Woos Loughton

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 8th October, 2008

  My zone 1-6 Oyster card took me to Debden this evening, where Epping Forest Liberal Democrats hosted a pizza and politics addressed by Lembit Opik, MP, who is on the party presidential campaign trail, but also being motivational — or inspirational, as he put it. He had Stephen Kearney, our candidate in the recent Henley by-election, with him and their joint message was about reaching out to people in local communities, listening and using language that they can understand. Inevitably, media issues came up — no, Lembit is not going into the Big Brother house in January, as the Sun confidently reported — but Lembit maintained that celebrity can be useful in opening up channels of communication with people who are usually switched off from politics and politicians. Of course, George Galloway said the same thing, though he DID make the mistake of going on Big Brother.

Lembit argued that the next President — whether it is him, Ros Scott or Chandila Fernando — should not be concerned with policy matters, which should be the province of the Leader. But there were appreciative rumbles round the room when he indicated that he would like to rattle the bars at the Cowley Street party HQ sometimes. He also championed the value of fun — which I suspect may prove to be either his making or his undoing.

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