Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Roy Jenkins’

The Limehouse Declaration Dinner

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 24th January, 2018

THLDs Limehouse DinnerLast night a lively crowd of Tower Hamlets Liberal Democrats and friends gathered at The Narrow in Limehouse for a dinner to celebrate the Limehouse Declaration, which was really the launching pad for the short-lived SDP (Social Democratic Party). Roy Jenkins, David Owen, Bill Rodgers and Shirley Williams were the “Gang of Four” who led the breakaway from Labour, caused mainly because of the Labour Party’s drift to the left under Michael Foot’s leadership, its espousal of unilateral nuclear disarmament and a policy of withdrawing from the European Union. The Declaration was issued to the media from David Owen’s house further along Narrow Street from the gastropub where we gathered. Lord Owen was not present at our dinner (he opposed merger between the SDP and the Liberal Party to form the Liberal Democrats and now sits as a Crosssbech — i.e. Independent — peer, though rarely attends debates). But the other David, Lord Steel, was a keynote speaker at our dinner and was keen to point out that despite the rather cruel caricature of him on the popular TV programme, Spitting Image, tiny and in David Owen’s top pocket, the two men got on well together most of the time — especially if Dr Owen’s wife, Deborah, was present. Lord Steel drew inevitable comparisons between the state of the Labour Party today under Jeremy Corbyn, underwriting the Conservatives’ Brexit, to the situation 37 years ago. But it was the other guest speaker, Baroness (Sally) Hamwee who focussed her remarks on the future. Brexit is dominating parliamentary business at present and with only two days scheduled for the next Lord’s Debate on the European Union Withdrawal Bill, peers will have to be concise, though many are highly qualified to deconstruct the whole thing in great detail — far more qualified than most of Theresa May’s Cabinet, indeed. As Sally was talking I was reminded that in the European Parliament, MEPs are limited to one minute in Plenary speeches, which is a good recipe for conciseness — a bit like a tweet, as I said to her, not that she uses twitter herself. Like many local parties, Tower Hamlets Borough Liberal Democrats has benefitted from a great surge in membership since the EU Referendum and with nearly 30,000 citizens of the other EU member states resident in the borough, will be particularly reaching out to them in the run-up to May’s London local elections.

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The Limehouse Declaration Anniversary Dinner

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 22nd January, 2016

Vince Cable at Limehouse dinnerThirty-five years ago, Labour’s “Gang of Four” — Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams, David Owen and Bill Rogers — met at Dr Owen’s home in Narrow Street, Limehouse, where they signed the Limehouse Declaration, which would soon lead to the formation of the Social Democrat Party, the SDP. Last night, just a few doors down the road from Dr Owen’s House, Liberal Democrats gathered to celebrate that anniversary and to give the City and London East GLA campaign a hefty boost. Though none of the three surviving Gang of Four was present, there was a stellar line-up of speakers, starting with Vince Cable, who had started his political life as a Labour councillor in Glasgow before joining the SDP and eventually getting elected as Liberal Democrat MP for Twickenham. He noted the parallels between the situation in the Labour Party in 1981 and that today under the respective leaderships of Michael Foot and Jeremy Corbyn, and said that many moderate Labour MPs now are running round like headless chickens, alarmed by the way things have developed within the party but unable to decide what to do about it. Moreover, in 2016 the dissidents lack figures of the gravitas of the Gang of Four who could be capable of organising a break-away. The fate of the SDP under Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system was also a dire warning. As Lord (Dick) Newby reminded us in his speech last night, although the SDP-Liberal Alliance polled 25.4% of the vote, compared with Labour’s 27.6%, the Alliance only bagged 23 parliamentary seats as opposed to Labour’s 209. Only five of the SDP MPs who had defected from Labour hung on to their seats and the party’s only gain was Charles Kennedy.

SDP logoTom Brake — London’s sole-surviving Liberal Democrat MP — warned that we must not assume that the Party will just bounce back in 2020 and that it is vital that we consolidate our hold on the eight seats we still have, as well as building in the targets. The compere for the evening, Dr Mark Pack, gave his own thoughtful commentary on the rise and fall of the SDP as well as providing some colourful memorabilia, which did indeed bring back memories among those of us old enough to remember the heady days of 1982, when the Alliance was leading in the opinion polls, only to have our hopes dashed on the rocks of the Falklands War, which saved Mrs Thatcher’s political skin. Interestingly, many of the guests at the Limehouse Declaration anniversary dinner were too young to have such memories, including the GLA constituency candidate Elaine Bagshaw who rounded off the evening and highlighted the remarkable rise in membership and activities in the local parties of Tower Hamlets, Newham and Barking & Dagenham.

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Closet Queens

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 8th June, 2015

imageimageCloset queen” was a somewhat derogatory term much in vogue in Britain after the Second World War to describe homosexuals who kept their sexual orientation secret, not least politicians and other men in public life. The need for secrecy was obvious, as until 1967 male homosexuality was illegal (unlike lesbianism) but many politicians, in particular, remained in the closet long after that, fearing that revealing their true nature would jeopardise their careers. Some, such as the Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe, nonetheless continued to satisfy their instincts, even recklessly. According to Thorpe’s biographer Michael Bloch, who has now published a new book, Closet Queens (Little Brown, £25), the danger of illicit encounters explained much of their attraction, even though exposure sometimes led to men’s downfall, blackmail or even suicide. Inevitably, a book that involves a romp through more than a century of British political history means that some of the characters who appear in it get cursory coverage, while others get their due. Though stories about outrageous figures such as Tom Driberg will be familiar to many, other elements, such as the intense friendship between Roy Jenkins and Tony Crosland will not. The thing that really holds the book together is the thread of changing public attitudes (fortified by legislation) which led to a situation in which the current House of Commons has over 30 “out” gay and lesbian MPs. However, one shortcoming for me is that the book brings together a motley cast, many of whom I would not consider to have been closet queens at all, either because they were open about their sexuality (like the pioneering Chris Smith) or because they were genuinely bisexual. Though the book is an enjoyable and often amusing read, largely avoiding prurience, Bloch never really comes to terms with the reality and complexities of bisexuality, which in my opinion is our age’s “love that dare not speak its name”.

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A Day for Celebration

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 29th March, 2014

Harimgey equal marriage wedding partyequal marriageAt one minute past midnight last night the first same-sex marriages took place in England and Wales and today the sun is shining on many such ceremonies. What a long way this country has come since 1967, when Home Secretary Roy Jenkins oversaw the decriminalisation of consensual homosexual relations between adult men, helping end nearly a century of persecution, prosecution, imprisonment and blackmail, not to mention countless suicides. It is to the credit of the Coalition government — not least the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, David Cameron and Nick Clegg, for pressing ahead with legislation on equal marriage despite opposition from traditionalists and some religious groups. There have been heroes in all the political parties in this struggle, both inside and outside the Houses of Parliament, including men such as Peter Tatchell, who was vilified when he first championed the cause. Special mention should go to LibDems Lynne Featherstone in the Commons and Liz Barker in the Lords, who did so much to further the legislative process. This morning, Lynne was a guest at a same sex wedding party (see picture) in Haringey, which for me sums up the brilliance of Britain’s modern diversity. Brilliant, too, has been the wave of enthusiasm and congratulation from heterosexual, as well as bi and gay, Britons. There is a festive air in England and Wales today, and surely it can’t be long before Scotland and maybe even Northern Ireland follow suit. As a teenager I lived in dread of being a “criminal” in the eyes of English law. But today I can truly say how proud I am to be British.

Link: http://news.sky.com/story/1233797/first-gay-weddings-pm-hails-equal-marriage

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Matthew Oakeshott Keeps the Faith

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 14th July, 2013

Matthew OakeshottSince standing down as Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman in the House of Lords in 2011 after describing the Coalition Government’s Project Merlin as “pitiful”, Matthew Oakeshott has made full use of his political freedom. Journalists and broadcasters often turn to him for a meaty quote and he has starred on BBC1’s Question Time. Having worked closely with the late Roy Jenkins he is a keen European and he had early working experience in Kenya. Despite being an investment manager he is often identified as being on the left, or at least Social Democratic, wing of the Party. He also does his fair share of the rubber chicken circuit, though certainly that would be an unjust description of the splendid Dulwich and West Norwood LibDems’ garden party this afternoon, all of whose funds raised were dedicated to the Evelina Children’s Hospital Appeal. In his short speech, as guest of honour, Matthew urged activists present to Keep the Faith in next year’s combined European and London borough elections. Being in coalition with the Conservatives was never going to be easy, but it was the right thing to do and there have been several major Liberal Democrat wins — for example the raised tax threshold — which would never have happened if a purely Conservative government were in office. Matthew lives in Lambeth and there is of course close cooperation between LibDems in Southwark and Lambeth (which together form a GLA constituency). Moreover, it was clear from conversation with councillors present this afternoon that the current Labour administrations in both boroughs deserve criticism. Mainstream political parties in general have been haemorrhaging  members over the past few years, but with just 10 months to go till polling day it is vital LibDems get out on the doorstep and sell what we have been doing and what we have to offer.

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

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St Matthew’s Epistle on the Economy

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 17th February, 2012

Since Matthew Oakeshott stood down as the Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman in the House of Lords — almost exactly a year ago — he has enjoyed the luxury of saying exactly what he thinks about the way the Coalition government is approaching the ongoing financial and economic crisis, not least regarding the shortcomings of the Project Merlin approach to banks which have not been lending enough to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which would be a key element in any sustainable recovery. He has thus attracted a great deal of media attention. In fact, it has been rather useful for the LibDems to have Matthew as an ‘insider-outsider’, with a proven track record in investment management in the City (particularly relating to property), as he is able to speak out about issues in a way that no LibDem Minister could. Matthew comes from the Social Democrat branch of the Liberal Democrat family and still holds his one-time boss and mentor, the late Roy Jenkins, in high regard. He is an enthusiastic supporter of Vince Cable’s proposed ‘mansion tax’ (a tax on homes worth more than £2 million pounds) as a step in the direction of moving taxation away solely from earned income towards wealth. Indeed, a substantial chunk of his speech at tonight’s dinner of the Gladstone Club, at the National Liberal Club, was about taxation, as well as broader financial and economic issues. He said he was a supporter of the Coalition Agreement, but he does not think it has been totally adhered to. And he was very pleased about the work of the Vickers Commission on Banking, but obviously feels more needs to be implemented. Matthew is an ardent European, but interestingly told the Gladstone Club dinner that he thought that Greece ought to be allowed to leave the eurozone and then devalue.

http://gladstoneclub.org

 

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The Iron Lady

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 9th January, 2012

I have never met Margaret Thatcher one-to-one, but I did get a close look at her a few years ago at Roy Jenkins’s Memorial Service, when she arrvied late and swept down the aisle of St Margaret’s Westminster swathed in black and looking as if she was auditioning for a part in the next Harry Potter film. So I got quite a jolt in the opening scene of Phyllida Lloyd’s film ‘The Iron Lady’ this afternoon, when a large but frail old woman goes into a corner shop to buy a pint of milk, because, yes it was her (unrecognised by the man behind the counter or other customers, however) — except that is wasn’t because it was Meryl Streep. The impersonation is uncanny and during the course of the film, as Lady Thatcher, trying to fight off dementia while hallucinating that her dead husband Denis is still around, recalls her political life through the warped prism of her sometimes faulty memory. This is a stunning device, brilliantly executed; in fact the whole film is quite extraordinary and left me emotionally drained. Anyone who has had to deal with someone at close hand slipping into dementia, as I have, will understand the somewhat clueless and panic-stricken looks that cross the face of Carol Thatcher, the daughter (splendidly portrayed by Olivia Colman) and the surreal atmosphere inside the house in Belgravia to which the Thatchers moved after abandoning their suburban experiment in Dulwich. I can understand why some people feel that the film is premature (the lady is still alive, after all)  and some will quibble about the histroical inaccuracies and whether it portrays Thatcher in too favourable/too unfavourable (delete as appropriate) a light. But that misses the point. This is an amazing piece of cinema that cries out to be seen. Doubtless Meryl Streep will get a Best Actress Oscar for her performance, and Phyllida Lloyd deserves an Oscar too. But that is also not the point. This is one of those films that moves one profoundly, and however distant one may have felt from Mrs Thatcher the politician, one cannot help but empathise with the eponymous central character in The Iron Lady.

 

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Voting for Change?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 9th February, 2010

The British House of Commons will be voting later today on whether to hold a referendum on changing the country’s first-past-the-post system of electing Westminster MPs with the Alternative Vote (AV), which would give voters a slightly greater say in choosing their representative as they could order the preferences — 1, 2 etc. For most supporters of proportional representation — which includes a majority of Liberal Democrats — AV falls far short of the ideal. The Single Transferable Vote (used in Nothern Ireland, amongst other places) gives a much fairer outcome. Moreover, the AV system being suggested falls short even of AV-Plus (which involves a top-up list to ensure a more proportional outcome) which was recommended by the late Roy Jenkins and his Commission way back in 1998. That Commission was largely a result of Labour’s 1997 Manifesto commitment to consider introducing PR, but of course fairer vtoes then disappeared off the government’s agenda and have only been resuscitated by Gordon Brown in the twilight of the Labour administration in the hope that this might somehow assuage public anger at the MPs’ expenses scandal. Some bloggers argue that AV would be even worse than first-past-the-post, but I hope the vote in the House today does approve a referendum, as this will then open up the whole issue of electoral reform. Those of us who want STV will then have an opportunity to make our case on a matter previously dismissed by the mainstream British media as ‘marginal’. Indeed, I’ll be taking part in a workshop at the Friends Meeting House in London next week aimed at taking the debate further.

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Lord Lipsey on Electoral Reform

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 15th October, 2009

Lord LipseyThe Labour peer and former political editor of The Economist, David Lipsey, spoke on electoral reform at the Kettner lunch at the National Liberal Club today. As one might expect, he was largely preaching to the converted. As he was a member of the Jenkins Commission on electoral reform — whose findings have, alas, largely been  ignored by the Labour governments ever since — he was able to blend authority with anecdote. I loved his story about one  meeting of the Commission, at which Roy ordered a bottle of claret for the members, and then a second one just for himself. Despite this, he gave a lucid and brilliant summary of what had been said, ordred a gin and tonic when he got on the train back to London, then promptly fell fast asleep. It’s more than a pity that Lord Jenkins is not still around to weigh into the discussion now, at a time when most of the Brtish public seems to think that politics is broken and that bringing in electoral reform is maybe one part of the solution to mend it. Unfortunately, despite the good efforts of people such as Lord Lipsey, the Labour government has only agreed to put the offer of a referendum on electoral reform in its manifesto for the next general election, which it is most unlikely to win.

I have always been uncomfortable with the Jenkins Commission’s recommendation for the adoption of the AV+ system of voting in general elections for the House of Commons, rather than the more proportional STV (with which the electors of Ireland cope well). But David Lipsey is no fan of STV himself, mainly, he says, because it weakens the link between voter and parliamentarian. Anyway, it looks as if  any future change would be to AV+ (in which voters list candidates in a single-member constituency in order of preference, then the bottom ones successively drop out and have their first preferences redistributed, until one candidate achieves more than 50% and is declared elected. The ‘+’ bit would be a top-up list to ensure that parties come out of the whole elction with an overall share of representation more or less proportional to their total vote). But maybe this discussion still remains academic. As David Lipsey said, the likehood of it happening anytime soon is very slim.

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The Last Furlong

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 31st May, 2009

LibDem vote on 4 JuneThis lunchtime I addressed about a thousand Spanish-speaking Latin Americans at the Fusion leisure centre in Elephant and Castle in South London, alongside Jean Lambert (the current Green MEP) and a Filipino independent. Interesting how both the Tories and Labour seem to have given up on the European elections. This is the fourth hustings in a row at which the Tories have failed to field a candidate, and the third at which there has been a Labour no-show. What are they afraid of?

Meanwhile, it was good to see The Observer coming out clearly in an editorial today, advising people to vote LibDem on 4 June. That recommendation is both because the party has the only credible agenda for real engagement with our partners in the European Union, but also because Nick Clegg has set out a plausible schema for the sort of radical reform that the British political system needs. Politics in this country is indeed broken, as Nick has been arguing for ages, long before all the expenses sleaze stuff oozed out. Roy Jenkins must be chuckling in his grave now that the public realises that it really is time to break the mould.

Link: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/may/31/european-elections-liberal-democrats

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