Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Sutton and Cheam’

Tope’s Hopes

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 22nd May, 2013

Graham TopeGT A Life in PoliticsOver the past 40 years Graham Tope has served at almost every possible level within the British political system: MP (thanks to the famous by-election victory in Sutton and Cheam), local councillor, Leader of the Council, GLA member, Member of the House of Lords, member of the EU Committee of the Regions and more besides, but throughout all this he has avoided falling into pomposity. He still cooks a mean lasagne for local activists every autumn and dutifully goes out on the rubber chicken circuit — this evening as guest speaker at an Islington Liberal Democrats pizza and politics. The starting point for his very informal, extended presentation was the book that he wrote at his son Andrew’s bidding, A Life in Politics, recounting the highs and the lows of four decades at the political coalface (mainly the first part), most of it — as he confessed tonight — transmitted to his son through his Blackberry. As was the case with me, Graham was inspired to join the Liberal Party by Jo Grimond, a truly remarkable man of principle and vision. Indeed, I wondered aloud tonight whether one problem of the current political scene is that we are missing charismatic figures such as Grimond or indeed Jeremy Thorpe, who was truly magnetic in his heyday. That is not to criticise Nick Clegg, but it is true that there is a certain similarity between David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband; none pops and fizzes in the way that, alas, Nigel Farage or Boris Johnson does. Graham is himself not a showman, but rather a solid man, someone you can count on and someone who continues to give a great deal to the Party and to Sutton. He will not be standing again for the Council in 2014 — after so long he can be excused handing on to others. But in the Lords and on the Liberal Democrat social circuit he will doubtless continue to make his contribution and, as tonight, offer hope for the future — that basically Liberal values are as important today as they ever were. Next May will not just be about winning seats, at London borough council and European Parliament level (important though that is) but also inspiring people with Liberal vision.

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Sutton 40 Years On

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 9th December, 2012

1972 Sutton Focus leafletGraham TopeSutton is rightly hailed as London Liberal Democrats’ flagship council but of course the borough was put on the map politically some years before the (then) Liberal-SDP Alliance actually won control (on the Mayor’s casting vote). Indeed, 40 years ago the parliamentary constituency of Sutton and Cheam hit the headlines when young Graham Tope — at that time characterised by his cruel glasses and wicked sideburns — seized the seat from the Tories in a by-election on at 32.6% swing. I was in my final year at university at the time but remember the subsequent Liberal euphoria well. As was rightly recognised at a 40th anniversary buffet dinner at the Sutton Life Centre last evening, the Sutton & Cheam by-election was the first time Trevor Jones from Liverpool put into practice his concept of community politics — which meant pounding the streets to identify local issues and then trumpeting them in regular Focus leaflets — including the scary example illustrated here. Focuses are such old hat these days that it’s hard to imagine the huge impact this technique had. The Conservatives didn’t know what had hit them and Graham became not just a local celebrity but a national one too. Alas he was unable to hold the seat in the February 1974 general election, but he went on to become Leader of Sutton Council, a Member of theHouse of Lords, a London Assembly member and one of the Liberal Democrat representatives on the EU’s Committee of the Regions, at one time simultaneously. Apparently he can, like Margaret Thatcher, get by on very little sleep — though there the similarities end. Anyway, it was a splendid occasion last night, free of pomp but full of good humour and enlivened with tributes to Graham from a variety of people who have served with him in various guises, including Lynne Featherstone MP, (Baroness) Sally Hamwee, (Baroness) Sarah Ludford MEP and former Sutton Council leader Sean Brennan. There was even some audio-visual entertainment, including a replay of the 1974 election night TV coverage, which included a nice potted portrait of the man.



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Paul Burstow Champions Coalition Wins

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 4th February, 2012

When Nick Clegg planned a Liberal Democrat parliamentary away-day in Eastbourne this week he could hardly have known that the media hordes would descend on that seaside town, not to quiz MPs and Ministers about policy but rather about the fate of Chris Huhne. But if Plan A was to carry on as normal had the CPS decided not to prosecute Chris, Plan B quickly snapped into action when the opposite happened. Ed Davey, as widely rumoured, took over Chris’s Cabinet role as Energy Secretary, while Norman Lamb moved into Ed’s former position in the Department of Business, Industry and Skills. Norman’s slot has been filled by a goverment newcomer, Jenny Willott, MP for Cardiff Central — a welcome new female face on the front bench. Chris meanwhile left Eastbourne early to prepare his defence if that proved to be necessary. It should be stressed that he denies any wrongdoing and in keeping with the most basic principle of Britsh law, he should be presumed innocent unless proved otherwise. The Minister for Social Care, Paul Burstow, for his part, on Friday evening had a post-Eastbourne engagement to speak at Putney LibDems’ annual dinner, which he duly did after a warm-up introduction by the Merton and Wandsworth GLA constituency candidate Lisa Smart. For once Paul didn’t go into the minutiae of NHS Reforms (though this remains a hot topic), but rather stressed the messages that the Party needs to get out about LibDem wins inside the Coalition government’s programme, notably raising the tax threshold, rolling out the pupil premium and boosting apprenticeships. And of course he gave a big plug for people to go and help in the Worcester Park local council by-election in his own constituency of Sutton and Cheam; polling day 16 February. Being in government in coalition at such a difficult economic time is not easy, but I am impressed how chipper Ministers like Paul remain. As junior partners we do not get everything we would like, but it is remarkable how much has been achieved.

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Paul Burstow Whips up Support

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 28th June, 2009

Paul BurstowThe LibDem Chief Whip and and MP for Sutton and Cheam, Paul Burstow, was in upbeat mood at the annual summer party of Holborn and St Pancras Liberal Democrats this afternoon, saying that although we had failed to gain the second Euro-seat in London, the party’s performance in target and held Westminster parliamentary seats at the European elections had been encouraging. In Sutton borough there was actually a small swing from the Tories to the LibDems, which bodes well in the super-marginal Nonsuch ward by-election this coming Thursday, in which Gerry Jerome is the candidate. Obviously, when the general election comes round, the LibDems will be fighting hard to hold on to seats where Tories are the main challengers — in London’s case, basically in the ‘golden croissant’ of the boroughs of Kingston, Richmond and Sutton — while hoping to make some gains from Labour, including in Camden. By then the message might have got across to the electorate that in the recent (indeed, ongoing) expenses revelations, LibDems have fared pretty well. As Paul pointed out, not a single London LibDem MP has claimed a second home allowance, and none has been guilty of ‘flipping’ homes or claiming for phantom mortgages. The Conservatives, in contrast, might well find themselves hard pushed to justify their record. Over half of all Tory MPs have so far had to ‘own up’ to some excess or misdemeanour and pay some money back.


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Lord Tope’s Italian Revelations

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 4th October, 2008

  For the past few months, I have been encouraging LibDem local parties round London to organise European evenings, featuring the cuisine of one of the EU member states, as a way of reminding people of our rich European heritage and destiny — and of the European elections next year. But in Sutton’s case, I didn’t even have to urge, as Graham and Margaret Tope had fixed up an Italian evening at their house (from which I have just returned) off their own bat. It was hugely successful, raising over £700 for local party funds. I was able to circulate and meet several new activists, as well as encountering many old friends. The more I do this, the more London LibDems seem like an enormous extended family.

Ungallantly, I won the Italian general knowledge quiz (the prize being a suitably Italian bottle of wine). But I also picked up what for me was a nugget of new information: namely that Baron Tope of Sutton is half Bermudian. The delicious irony of this is that his political career really took off when he won the Sutton and Cheam by-election in 1972, when the sitting Tory MP, Richard Sharples, resigned his seat in order to become Governor of Bermuda. The following year, poor Sir Richard was assassinated, thereby winning his place in the history books, while Graham had ensured his by his by-election win. Graham lost the seat in 1974, but was later elevated to the Lords, while remaining a local councillor, serving on the EU’s Committee of the Regions and even sitting for two terms on the London Assembly. Such is the fickle finger of fate.

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