Simon Hughes was Justice Minister in the tail-end of the Coalition government and already we are missing his Liberal voice in that department. Today, however, at the National Liberal Club, members of the Kettner Society and their guests were treated to a fascinating exposition by him on the legacy of the Magna Carta. He wisely avoided dwelling too much on the history of the document itself, apart from enunciating clearly the three elements of it that remain a part of the British constitutional landscape: freedoms for the Church, freedoms for the City of London and boroughs, and, most important, what these days we would call civil liberties, not least the right of people to be tried by their peers (juries). Simon then set out the major milestones of the intervening 800 years, including the Speaker of the House of Commons standing up to Charles I, the Great Reform Act of 1832, the extension of suffrage in the 20th century and the important incorporation of the principles of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act. These latter instruments the Conservatives would, of course, like to replace with a British Bill of Rights, despite the fact that much of the ECHR was largely framed by British jurists and leaving the convention would put the UK in a position not dissimilar to that of Belarus (as indeed the then Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, pointed out three years ago). Simon is nonetheless satisfied with most of the ways Britain’s constitutional framework and civil liberties have developed through history, though he thinks it would be useful to have a written constitution, if only so that schoolchildren would be able to learn the values and principles at the foundation of British society, as their counterparts in France and the United States do.
Posts Tagged ‘Simon Hughes’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 25th September, 2015
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 21st July, 2015
One of the key policy areas many Liberal Democrats will be focussing on now we are in opposition to the Conservatives is human rights, which have been prominent in the campaigning values of both the national party and our wider Liberal International family. So it was timely that Lewisham Liberal Democrats this evening hosted a dinner in Blackheath at which the speaker was the recently knighted Simon Hughes, who was Minister for Justice for a short period before the May election. A lawyer by training, Simon had an interesting slant on the subject to help us finesse our campaigning tactics in that he is not necessarily opposed to the idea of a British Bill of Rights so long as that retains the core principles enshrined within the European Convention on Human Rights (which was of course largely framed by British legal minds). As he told the gathering at the Everest Inn Nepalese restaurant, the Conservatives (with some noble exceptions) have been damning the Human Rights Act as a flawed Labour invention, which while technically true rather misses the point.
Simon also pointed out that with the exception of unqualified rights such as that against being subject to torture and degrading treatment most of the articles in the ECHR do have qualifications, which are often ignored or misrepresented by the more unscrupulous sections of the British Press. Most of the ‘scandals’ highlighted in the Daily Mail and the Daily Express have been related to Article 8 of the Convention, in particular regarding the right to a family life, but it is perfectly possible for British courts to make sound judgments without offending the principles of the Convention. There seemed to be a feeling among members present — many of whom had campaigned for Simon in his sadly unsuccessful attempt to retain his parliamentary seat in Old Southwark and Bermondsey — that the Conservatives are in danger of wanting to throw the baby out with the bathwater on this issue, though they may find changing our relationship to the ECHR difficult to get through the House of Lords. It would be crazy as well as self-defeating for the UK to withdraw from the ECHR, but that message needs to be got over to the general public in an understandable way. At the end of the evening, instead of the conventional raffle, a collection was made for relief efforts in Nepal, in which the owner of Everest Inn has been involved, as the after-effects of the eathquake are still severe.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 30th June, 2015
Tim 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.
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.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 13th June, 2015
In general I don’t really favour titles and honours, but I can’t help but feel pleased by the award of a knighthood to Simon Hughes. It’s a tribute to the way he served the people of Bermondsey and the surrounding area for 32 years. I well remember an evening meeting of the old Liberal Party’s Europe committee, held at the National Liberal Club, a few years before his first election, when Simon announced that he was leaving the committee to go south of the river, at the urging of our mutual friend and mentor David Rebak, to try to convert the corrupt Labour borough of Southwark to Liberalism. Indeed, off he went and in he dug, and when the controversial parliamentary by-election came up in 1983, he won it with a huge majority — and then held the seat (despite various boundary and name changes) for over three decades. He was the ultimate constituency MP, tireless in his handling of case-work. Canvassing for him in various elections was a pleasure because local people clearly loved him and were grateful for what he had done for them. Alas, he was swept away in last month’s electoral tsunami, helped partly by the rapid turnover of population in that gentrifying part of London. Simon previously stood unsuccessfully for the leadership of the Liberal Democrats and as London’s Mayor; I supported him strongly in both instances, and I hope he won’t take those failures (or his recent parliamentary defeat) as a sign that he should give up. He still has a great deal to offer the Party, London and the country. So when he has had time over the summer to recover and relax and start making decisions and his future, I hope we will find him bouncing back in the quest of some new role.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 14th May, 2015
For me the saddest, and in many ways most unexpected, result last Thursday night was Simon Hughes’s ousting from Bermondsey and Old Southwark after 32 years as the area’s member of parliament. One knew that Labour had been absolutely flooding the place with campaigners for months — including shedloads of Labour MPs who were urged to make the short trip across the Thames when they had a few spare moments — but Simon could have hardly have worked harder for his constituents throughout his long tenure. I am sure that those people in the constituency who voted Labour in the hope of keeping the Tories out will soon realise what a mistake they made. Anyway, this evening, at The Grange in Grange Road, there was an election thank you party for all who helped in Simon’s campaign, as many hundreds did from all over London and beyond. Far from being a wake, the event was quite joyful, not least because of the more than 11,000 new members who have joined the Liberal Democrats this past week, over 100 are in Bermondsey and Old Southwark, bringing useful new blood to an already strong local team, who have already declared that the fight back has started. Simon helped the upbeat mood by quashing the Labour Party rumour that he will accept a peerage. But being Simon he then made a speech that took us all down memory lane, from the very first time he stood for election as a Liberal in the area, as a GLC candidate. I was interested to note that he no longer says “thirteenthly” when he enumerates the points in his speech, and has instead learned that if one starts at three and moves down to one, you can then move back up again to another three without many people noticing. Because he is so widely loved, we all view such tactics with affection. Most of us even agreed to sing a song he had heard on SmoothFM as he was driving out of the House of Commons car park in his signature yellow taxi for the last time earlier today. And it was gratifying to hear from the man who was until last week Minister of Justice that he could not have borne to be in the department with the new incumbent Michael Gove in charge.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 12th May, 2015
Last week’s general election results in Britain were a shock to almost everyone — including the opinion pollsters — but the cruellest blows were for the Liberal Democrats, who lost 48 of their 56 seats. Ministers such as Simon Hughes, Ed Davey and Vince Cable were among the casualties, as well as high flyers like Julian Huppert and Jenny Willott. In London, Labour crowed, though as their party was almost wiped out in Scotland and their leader Ed Miliband fell on his sword for failing to win the election, they had little real reason to do so. I lost count of the number of Labour supporters tweeting how the Liberal Democrats are “finished”, “destroyed”. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Though the eight LibDem MPs are now outnumbered more than tenfold by their counterparts in the House of Lords, the party’s membership base is expanding rapidly. Over 8,000 new members have joined the LibDems so far this month, most of those following last Thursday’s election. That is a remarkable affirmation not only the party’s resilience but also of the need for a strong liberal voice now that we have a purely Conservative government which will start implementing some of the things that LibDems prevented them doing in Coalition. The LibDem bird Libby is indeed like a phoenix, rsing from the ashes of last wek’s defeat. And it is the duty of every local party to engage with the new members and to get them involved, including those who left because of the Coalition deal with the Conservatives but who are now ready to return to the fold.
To join the party go to: http://www.libdems.org.uk/join
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 7th March, 2015
With just two months to go to the UK’s parliamentary elections Liberal Democrats in the capital gathered at Southbank University this morning for a campaign lift-off featuring Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Justice Minister Simon Hughes. Nick’s capacity to remain bright-eyed and bushy-tailed despite all the vitriol poured over him by political opponents, on top of having a very demanding job, never ceases to amaze me, and (Baroness) Floella Benjamin paid just tribute to him in introducing him. He reminded us all — as we in turn will have to do on the doorstep between now and 7 May — of the real achievements Liberal Democrats have clocked up during five years in government, including raising the tax threshold, introducing the pupil premium for disadvantaged schoolchildren and the implementing the “triple lock” pension reforms. Nick and Simon Hughes also cited some of the things that LibDems have managed to stop the Conservatives doing, including sacking people at will and bringing in the Snoopers’ Charter. The British economy is performing better than any of its European competitors and at least some of the legacy of Labour’s financial mismanagement has been rectified. But huge challenges remain, including the need for accelerated building of affordable homes, not least in Great London. Simon pledged that housing will be at the heart of his own campaign to hold the Old Southwark and Bermondsey seat that he has represented for over 30 years. And after just one-and-a-half hours of speeches and Q&As, everyone piled out of the conference for a quick sandwich lunch at the nearby Ministry of Sound before hitting the streets, canvassing and delivering to hekp get Simon returned, blessed by some premature warm spring sun.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 27th February, 2014
Like many longstanding friends of Turkey I have been dismayed by some of the developments in recent months, several of which seem retrogressive rather than progressive. The way the Gezi Park protests were handled by the police and security forces — water cannon to the fore — was cack-handed and the fact that most of the mainstream media in Turkey –not least the TV — ignored them at first was a worrying indication of the way that self-censorship in the country is now rife. Moreover, scores of journalists have found themselves sacked, imprisoned or with the threat of prosecution hanging over them, which has resulted in Turkey now figuring way down the list of states in the world when it comes to freedom of the Press. So it was timely that this evening the Zaman newspaper group organised a meeting on Press Freedom in Turkey in the House of Commons, which I chaired. The parliamentary sponsor was Simon Hughes MP, recently appointed as Justice Minister in the UK’s Coalition Government and therefore in a position to make important representations on an international level, though as I pointed out one of the most disconcerting things about the current situation is the way that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has raised the spectre of foreign plots and conspiracies, which is a narrative that resonates with his supporters when they reject criticisms from abroad. The main speakers at tonight’s meeting were the Turkish journalist and blogger Yavuz Baydar — who was sacked from his position Ombudsman on the newspaper Sabah for political reasons — and William Horsley, formerly Europe Correspondent of the BBC, currently Chairman of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) UK Section and a key player in freedom of press issues at the Council of Europe and elsewhere. All of us were distinctly downbeat in our analysis of the current situation, which is made more complex by the fact that Mr Erdogan is under heavy scrutiny because of allegations of corruption based largely on recordings which he declares are fakes. There is a common argument that maybe he has suffered from the Ten Year Test (a la Thatcher and Blair), but as I pointed out there will be a real power vacuum in Ankara if he falls or the AKP does really badly in upcoming elections, as no opposition party seems ready and able to seize the moment. I still love Turkey, but I worry increasingly for its short-term future, as the Prime Minister and his administration become more authoritarian and ever more removed from common European values.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 12th November, 2012
Being a Liberal in Russia is a risky vocation, as putting one’s head above the parapet politically is an invitation to harrassment, arrest, criminal proceedings and heafty fines or imprisonment. High profile anti-establishment activists such as Pussy Riot get lots of foreign media attention and noises of sympathy from the outside world, of course, but even in their case that did not stop two of their number being sentenced to two years detention each in different gulags. Alas, as the leader of Russia’s Liberal Party Yabloko, Sergei Mitrokhin, detailed in a speech at Westminster this lunchtime, the long arm of President Putin’s law is getting firmer. He highlighted three aspects of particular concern regarding the current political situation in Russia and the crackdown against Liberal forces. First, there are the political reprisals, which have seen key Yabloko activists charged — often on false evidence — for demanding action against high-level corruption, for example. Second, Sergei stressed the hardening of laws and the suppression of civil rights under various amendments to the legal and civil codes. One good (i.e. bad) example is an amendment which will mean that Russian NGOs receiving grants from international bodies must now register as “foreign agents”. And last but not least in the litany of adverse developments, is what Sergei called the “clericalisation of the state”, in other words the way that a very conservative form of Russian Orthodoxy has now been melded into a state ideology which is dangerously nationalistic, anti-Western and anti-Liberal. Today’s gathering, at Portcullis House, was sponsored by Simon Hughes MP, Lord Alderdice and Liberal International, and in the discussion period after Sergei Mitrokhin’s speech I inquired exactly what helpful actions groups such as LI and the British Liberal Democrats can take to help Yabloko, without jeopardising its activists. Training in election strategies and techniques is something that I and others from the LibDems have done in various parts of the world, through the all-party Westminster Foundation for Democracy, and that may be the best answer — other than heartfelt moral support.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Liberal International, John Alderdice, Liberal Democrats, Simon Hughes, Russia, Yabloko, Vladimir Putin, Westminster Foundation for Democracy, Sergei Mitrokhin, Pussy Riot | Leave a Comment »