Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Tim Farron’

LibDems Surge Past 100,000

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 24th April, 2017

LibDems EU Simon HughesTwo years ago, following a disastrous general election, many pundits were writing the Liberal Democrats off as a serious political force. But how things have changed! The party has now pushed UKIP down into fourth place in the opinion polls and has notched up an impressive series of local council by-election wins over the past year, not to mention Sarah Olney’s great triumph in Richmond Park & North Kingston. Moreover, despite the crushing disappointment (for Remainers) of last June’s EU Referendum, the LibDems have emerged stronger as the one sizable national party that has a clear line on Brexit: we believe Britain is better off inside the European Union, but if the Conservative government, with the active support of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, is intent on pressing ahead with a hard Brexit, removing Britain from the European single market and common customs area, then we will do everything to try to mitigate the damage. It would have been nice to have Labour singing from the same hymn-sheet, as former Prime Minister Tony Blair and some forthright MPs such as David Lammy have done, but nothing can hide the fact that Labour is deeply divided on the issue and is still trying to out-UKIP UKIP and the Tories in much of northern England. Sad. But the good news from the LibDems’ point of view is that a surge of people have joined the party since the Referendum, accelerating since Theresa May broke her promise and called a snap general election, in an egregious example of political opportunism.

LibDems 100,000So, today, Tim Farron was able to announce that party membership has topped 100,000 and it is still rising. That was a heartening message to deliver at his London general election launch, held in Vauxhall, where arch-Brexiteer Kate Hoey is re-standing as an MP (despite the fact that Lambeth had a phenomenally high Remain vote last June) and indeed has been endorsed by UKIP’s Paul Nuttall. So Vauxhall, previously way down the LibDem target hit-list, has now suddenly become very interesting for prospective parliamentary candidate, George Turner. It will be vital for London LibDems that we hold Richmond Park, as well as Tom Brake’s seat, Carshalton & Wallington, but there should be a good chance of recapturing places such as Old Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), Twickenham (Vince Cable) and Kingston & Surbiton (Ed Davey), to name but three. I’ll be flying the flag in Dagenham and Rainham, but also doing as much as I can to boost our chances in target areas.

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My New Year’s Resolution: Stop Brexit!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 31st December, 2016

stop-brexit-smallI don’t make a New Year’s Resolution every year; the last was two years ago, in Surinam, when I vowed to write and publish my childhood memoir, Eccles Cakes, which I successfully achieved this summer. But the Resolution I am making this time as I see 2016 out in Brazil is far more ambitious and is not something I can do alone: Stop Brexit! In June, the British electorate (or that part of it included in this particular franchise) voted narrowly in an advisory referendum that it would prefer to leave the European Union, and the Conservative government now presided over by Theresa May is pressing ahead with the Brexit process, despite warnings that this will cause a decade of disruption and billions of pounds worth of economic loss. She still has not made her “plan” public, which rather makes me doubt that she has one. But in principle she is sticking to her timetable of triggering Article 50 by the end of March, after which there would be two years of negotiations with our 27 EU partners. There is a difference of opinion over whether Article 50 could be reversed, once triggered, but clearly the chances of stopping Brexit would be greater if Article 50 is never triggered. So it is crucial that over the next three months the realities of Brexit, rather than the fantasies of much of the EU Referendum campaign, are set out and that the British electorate is then given the chance to answer the question: is that really what you want? That is essentially the position outlined by LibDem leader, Tim Farron, though in a longer time-frame. His Labour counterpart, Jeremy Corbyn, has alas sold the pass, by pledging to champion a “people’s Brexit”, whatever that might be. Of course, the LibDems can’t bring about such a Brexit reversal on their own. Everyone who understands that Brexit would damage both Britain and the EU can be part of a campaign, for which the European Movement is one of the cheerleaders. Nigel Farage notably argued that a 52:48 vote in June’s Referendum would be “unfinished business”, and for once I believe he was right. As nation we should have a second chance to set the course for the future. By my reckoning, that’s a fine New Year’s Resolution.

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Diversity and the Liberal Democrats

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 8th November, 2016

The 2015 general election devastated the ranks of Liberal Democrat MPs, reducing the House of Commons cohort to just eight, straight, white men — cruelly accentuating the lack of diversity in the parliamentary party (though the situation is a little better in the House of Lords, to which individuals are periodically appointed on the party leader’s recommendation). So if Sarah Olney is elected as the new MP for Richmond Park and North Kingston in the by-election on 1 December, the addition of a woman will be an important step in the right direction, but only a step. The issue of a lack of ethnic diversity will be acute as ever. Despite the fact that Britain’s very first BAME MP was a Liberal, the Liberal Democrats have only ever successfully elected one in modern times, in a by-election in Leicester, though he lost his seat at the following general election. Compare that record with those of both the Conservatives and Labour and one sees why the party hierarchy is so embarrassed about the situation. Even in multicultural London, the disproportionately small number of BAME faces at conferences or on local party executives is striking. The Party says it is determined to do something about this, but seems incapable of putting an effective strategy in place. That is a huge challenge for the new Federal Board that will take office in the New Year. Tim Farron did say all the right sort of things at a recent event in London highlighting the Party’s relationship with minority communities. But I totally understand the frustration of many Black and Asian LibDems at the lack of visible progress. Even when an opportunity arises, it is sometimes missed. For example, recently a Shadow Cabinet was appointed by Tim, drawing on talents from both Houses of Parliament as well as including Catherine Bearder MEP and Caroline Pidgeon, the excellent but sole LibDem member of the London Assembly. Some great people in there, but how does it look to the outside world, especially in London? Baroness Shaz Sheehan is the only non white face. Not a single Afro Caribbean in the mix, which looks crazy from a London perspective such as mine. I suppose the Party could say there is no sufficiently senior black LibDem in elected office, but even if that might be true, surely a talented non elected person could have been brought in? People such as Simon Hughes have been saying for years that the Liberal Democrats need to resemble the people they seek to represent. Well, let us start doing something concrete to fix the problem, rather than just talking about it!

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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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Brexit: Groping in the Dark

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 18th September, 2016

img_1421it’s almost two months since the British electorate voted by a slim majority to leave the European Union, but even though the new Prime Minister Theresa May emphatically declared “Brexit means Brexit”, no-one seems any the wiser what Brexit will entail — least of all the three men who have been chosen to deliver it: David Davis, Liam Fox and Boris Johnson. Last night, at the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton, a panel that included Jacqueline Minor from the European Commission’s London Representation, Timmy Dooley from Ireland’s Fianna Fáil and Manfred Eisenbach from Germany’s FDP grappled with the possible outcomes. EU leaders have made clear that Britain cannot expect to enjoy access to the European Single Market unless it accepts freedom of movement, and it’s difficult to see how that circle can be squared. Outside of the EU the U.K. may therefore have to apply to join the World Trade Organsiation and abide by WTO rules, but that would mean it having to negotiate bilateral trade deals with most of the rest of the world, as well as with the EU. First, though, it would have to disentangle itself from EU membership. It took Greenland (technically part of Denmark) three years to withdraw and they only had to deal with fishing. The UK’s withdrawal would be infinitely more complicated and is likely to take much longer. Only after that could new trade deals be finalised, which could take many years as well as adversely hitting the UK economy. Everyone on last night’s panel agreed that one has to respect the outcome of the EU Referendum; one couldn’t just run it again, in the hope of getting a different outcome. But it would be perfectly feasible to put the new trade deal — whenever it is reached — to the vote, at which point people might realise Britain would be better off staying in the EU. That is indeed the line being premoted by the LibDem leader Tim Farron, who got a standing ovation at a packed rally earlier in the evening.

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The Challenge for the Liberal Democrats

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 16th September, 2016

tim-farronAs Liberal Democrats gather in Brighton this weekend for Autumn Conference, it’s a timely moment to consider the challenges facing the party. Despite the turmoil within Britain’s official opposition party, Labour (graphically illustrated on BBC’s Question Time last night by a cat fight between John McDonnell MP and Alastair Campbell), the LibDems seem stuck in the national opinion polls in the range 6-8%. Pretty pathetic for a party that was in government (albeit in Coalition) between 2010 and 2015. Yet the position is nowhere near as bleak as that headline figure might imply. There has been a whole series of very strong LibDem gains in local council by-elections over the past few months; there was another one yesterday, in Derbyshire. These suggest that the party has bottomed out electorally and is now on the road to recovery (as Paddy Ashdown argues in today’s Guardian). Moreover, there is what I see as a golden opportunity in the parliamentary by-election due to be held in Witney on 20 October. Witney was of course David Cameron’s seat. Just a year after winning an unexpected overall majority in the last general election, David Cameron’s fall from grace has been spectacular. In the wake of June’s Brexit vote, he resigned as Prime Minister and then on the eve of a highly critical Foreign Affairs Committee report on his handling of the Libyan crisis, he resigned his seat. Interestingly, in West Oxfordshire (in which Witney is the seat of local government) Remain triumphed in the EU Referendum, which means that there must be many thousands of disgruntled voters there who in a by-election situation might be persuaded to vote for an explicitly pro-European party. That certainly won’t be Labour, given Jeremy Corbyn’s self-evident ambivalence about the EU. But it could be the Liberal Democrats, if the party seizes the opportunity, selects a brilliant by-election candidate with the right credentials and pours members and supporters into the constituency for an intense month-long campaign. Tim Farron is expected to make the clarion call for pro-Europeans at Brighton this week. Let that also be the trumpet sound for Witney, which, if handled well, could be a milestone in the LibDem Fight Back!

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London’s March for Europe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 3rd July, 2016

Tim Farron on Europe marchI was so shattered by last week’s EU Referendum outcome that I haven’t been able to write my blog, but yesterday’s March for Europe in central London lifted my spirits. An estimated 50,000 people congregated at Hyde Park Corner, before marching to Parliament Square, waving UK and EU flags and holding aloft hand-made signs, many bearing witty puns. There was a large Liberal Democrat contingent, with Tim Farron leading; both he and the party got numerous cheers, as having campaigned overtly for Remain. What I found most encouraging was the response of the public as the march went past: waves and yells from visitors on the London Tour buses and lots of honking horns from motorists. There was a carnival atmosphere, aided by the sun and spontaneous outbursts of song, yet there was no ignoring the fact that many people in the crowd (including me) were angry that Britain may be taken out of the EU on a narrow referendum vote at least partly influenced by the lies of the Leave campaign. Having brought about this disaster, by calling an unnecessary referendum, Prime Minister David Cameron has now washed his hands of all responsibility, though he will stay in office over the summer, a lame duck while five contenders of varying degrees of charm/repulsiveness slug it out to succeed him. All, alas, are committed to going ahead with Brexit, though many on the march yesterday hopes that the almost inevitable failure to come up with a desirable post-Brexit plan might change some minds. Other marchers were demanding an election. And where was Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition? At an event in his constituency, apparently; having been lukewarm at best in backing Remain he had doubtless been advised that he risked getting booed if he turned up on the march.

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Syria: Think of Reconstruction Now

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 14th March, 2016

Syria destructionIt was striking that in his speech to the Liberal Democrat spring conference in York, Tim Farron devoted a lot of time to the refugee crisis and in particular the Conservative government’s failure to step up to the plate adequately in meeting the needs of the most vulnerable people, especially those fleeing the carnage in Syria. This is something Tim clearly feels passionately about and is also a fine issue on which Liberals can campaign. Moreover, an emergency motion on Syria won the ballot for debate early yesterday morning, emphasizing that the subject is uppermost in people’s minds. The fact that six of the eight LibDem MPs voted in favour of the UK joining in the US-led Coalition’s bombing of ISIS/Daesh in Syria is still a sensitive matter; both Paul Reynolds and I outlined our opposition to that at a fringe meeting of the Liberal Democrat Peace and Security Group the previous evening.

Bashar al-AssadBut in the emergency motion debate in the main hall I stressed how important it is that thought be given already to the reconstruction of Syria, which some UN estimates suggest could require up to US$4 trillion. There will be a difficult period of reconciliation to go through but my impression is that the vast majority of Syrian refugees would like to return to their homeland when it is safe to do so, always presuming the cities are made habitable. The situation is very complex and it is true that some areas of the country, notably those under the Assad government’s control, are relatively intact. But Assad and the Russians have bombed much of the rest to oblivion. I argued that Britain and France have a particular historic responsibility for helping resolve the Syrian mess, preferably as part of an EU diplomatic effort, which would lead to all interested parties being involved, including Russia and Iran. Understandably, much of the debate on the motion centred on short-term measures, but I underlined how vital it is that we learn from the lessons of Iraq and Libya and make sure that there is a proper, workable plan in place for what happens if or when Assad goes.

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The York LibDem IN Rally

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 11th March, 2016

imageThe Liberal Democrats’ Spring conference in York got off to a rousing start this evening with a rally underscoring the Party’s almost unanimous support for Britain to remain in the EU. The sole remaining LibDem MEP, Catherine Bearder, highlighted how her brand of patriotism involves Brutain at the heart of Europe, but some of the most impressive interventions from the platform this evening were from young newbies to the party, notably a young Muslim criminal lawyer from Walthamstow called Mohsin, and 18-year-old Lauren, who fought a brilliant campaign in a difficult ward in the London borough of Southwark recently. Tim Farron rounded off the proceedings; he is at his best in this sort of friendly environment, half serious, half jokey, but totally committed to Britain’s future in the EU. There was also a video of messages of solidarity from MEPs from continental sister parties in the ALDE Group in the European Parliament, all basically stressing that an EU without Britain will be diminished. Personally, I believe the turnout is going to be crucial in the EU Referendum on 23 June, with a higher turnout favouring Remain. That is why it is so important that some of the impressive youngsters we saw at the rally tonight get out motivate their peers, both to register and to vote.

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Cameron’s Shameful Saudi Arms Sales

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 26th February, 2016

Yemen strikesWhen he visited the BAE Systems factory in Preston yesterday UK Prime Minister David Cameron boasted of his success in helping promote “brilliant” arms sales top Saudi Arabia, whereas he should have hung his head in shame. Of course the Desert Kingdom and other Gulf states have the right to defend themselves and it is natural that Britain, as a major arms producer, should wish to corner an important part of a lucrative market. However, Saudi Arabia is not a normal case, for at least two reasons. The first is the air campaign it has been waging in Yemen, which has caused not only immense physical damage — including, reportedly, to all the country’s universities — but serious civilian loss of life. All this in by far the poorest country on the Arabian peninsula, in which hundreds of thousands of people, especially children are suffering from acute malnutrition. The second reason for Britain to balk at its cosy relationship with Saudi Arabia, rather than bask in it, is the Kingdom’s egregious human rights record. Since King Salman came to power, far from reducing the number of executions Saudi Arabia has accelerated their number. Medieval punishments are carried out under the false flag of religion, while women are still denied a full place in society and those who dare criticise the system, such as the liberal blogger Raif Badawi, face imprisonment, flogging or worse. The European Parliament rightly called for an arms embargo against Saudi Arabia this week, because of the Yemen conflict, though Mr Cameron’s Conservative MEPs failed to back that resolution. Labour politicians Jeremy Corbyn and Hilary Benn, to their credit, have spoken out in Britain and Tim Farron and other Liberal Democrat figures have also made their revulsion known. But the spotlight needs to be turned on David Cameron, who is presiding over a government that has put human rights concerns on a back burner and which celebrates making billions from arms that are not for legitimate defence but for offensive action beyond Saudi’s borders and sometimes for domestic oppression as well.

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