Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Tom Brake’

The London Liberal Democrats Conference

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 29th October, 2017

Ed Davey sockThough the Party has been bumping along for too long at seven per cent in the national opinion polls, the Liberal Democrats’ membership has grown remarkably. There are now more than 20,000 LibDem members in London — making it the most successful LibDem regional party — so maybe it was not so surprising that yesterday’s London autumn conference was the best-attended ever. A very high proportion of those attendees were “newbies”; a woman from Brent who sat next to me had defected from the Conservatives just last week! The venue was fresh: the beautiful new University of West London complex in Ealing, where staff really looked after us well — including the food. But of course it was the food for thought that was the important thing, and we were treated to fine speeches by the capital’s three London MPs, Tom Brake, Ed Davey and Vince Cable. Ed Davey captured everyone’s attention by taking off one of his socks (to make an environmental point, apparently) while Tom Brake, as the party’s Brexit spokesman, gave a rather dispiriting account of the dog’s breakfast that is the Conservatives’ Brexit. A high percentage of new LibDem members joined the Party in their anger or frustration over Brexit and inevitably fighting for an Exit from Brexit will remain a major focus for LibDem campaigning for the next year and probably well beyond. But as Vince Cable made clear in a thoughtful speech that ended the formal business, this is not a one-issue Party. He spoke about the economy, but also health and education, and demonstrated the great quality that distinguishes him from both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn: wisdom. It was a great relief that the voters of Twickenham returned him to parliament with a majority of nearly 10,000 in June, following two years in the political wilderness. He noted that he was the first London MP to lead the Liberal Democrats since William Gladstone’s period as MP for Greenwich (1868-1880), and so maybe it’s not surprising that London LibDems like me tend to think of him as “our Vince” and are rallying behind him to bring about the Party’s national revival.

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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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Brexit and the Baltic States

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 26th September, 2016

Baltic States flags.jpgA few days before June’s EU Referendum invited to Riga to give a lecture on Brexit at the University of Latvia. The mood among the audience (and other speakers) was one of total mystification: why would Britain want to leave the EU after more than 40 years, when other countries are knocking on the door to get in? Three months later, the attitude of the Baltic States to the Brexit vote is one of sorrow and dismay, partly because they believe Britain’s departure (if it happens) will weaken the EU but also because they feel it will affect them. The possible return home of Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonia migrants currently working in the UK is one outcome, but as the Lithuanian Ambassador to the Court of St James’s, Asta Skaisgiryte, said at a Political and Economic Circle Forum at the National Liberal Club this evening, a major concern is about security, in particular the way that the EU will or will not continue to stand up to Russia. All the Baltic states are nervous about Vladimir Putin, following the Russian encroachment into Georgia and Ukraine, not to mention the dreadful decades of Soviet occupation, human rights abuses and deportations. But the Ambassador also highlighted a specific potential threat from the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, arguing where would its growing naval and military might be focused if not westwards to Europe? Baroness Judith Jolly, a LibDem spokesperson on defence in the House of Lords. also concentrated on security matters in her comments from this evening’s panel. Although Britain will remain a member of NATO, pulling out of EU cooperation could weaken the North Atlantic Alliance. Moreover, Brexit could be a prelude to other political events that would have been unthinkable only months ago, such as a possible Donald Trump victory in the US presidential election in November or the triumph of the Front National’s Marine Le Pen in next year’s French elections. It was interesting that an unusually large turnout had registered for the seminar, which also heard from Tom Brake MP, LibDem Foreign Affairs spokesman in the Commons, Vytis Jurkonis from the Freedom Association office in Vilnius, and the Chairman, Lord Chidgey.

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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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London Liberal Democrats’ Autumn Conference

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 25th October, 2013

Team LondonStephen KnightCreating jobs was the central theme of London Liberal Democrats’ autumn conference held in Camden last night, with inputs from the borough council, national and European levels. Both Sutton MPs, Tom Brake and Paul Burstow, were on hand to champion the work they and their colleagues are doing in the Party’s flagship London borough, with some interesting new information about how they are relating to some of Sutton’s “hidden gems”, such as the Royal Marsden and related centres for excellence looking at cancer. Housing was also high on the conference agenda, with Stephen Knight, one of the two LibDem members of the London Assembly, presenting his report on how the capital’s critical housing shortage can be tackled by building more homes, which would also bring many thousands of the currently unemployed qualified construction workers back into the labour force. Anood al-Samerai, Leader of the Opposition on Southwark Council, highlighted the need for more genuinely affordable homes and accused the Council’s current Labour ruling group of failing to ensure these are being provided by developers. Sarah Ludford MEP — whose trip to the US had been cancelled, meaning she was present after all, gave a brief summary of what she has been achieving at the European Parliament level, notable in her chosen field of Justice and Home Affairs. As many speakers emphasized, including Robin Meltzer, PPC for Richmond Park, in his closing speech to the conference, with all-out London borough elections taking place on the same day as the European elections in London next year (22 May), there must be an integrated campaign and it is a matter for celebration that the Liberal Democrats really will be fighting the European election next year on European issues — as the party of IN. It was heartening to not only see the numbers who turned out for the conference on a Thursday evening but also to feel the real buzz in the hall, which bodes well for the energy of the campaign next year.

Link: www.libdems4london.org.uk

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London LibDem Conference

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 20th October, 2012

London Liberal Democrats descended on Croydon today for our autumn conference, which also featured a Question and Answer session with nine of the ten shortlisted London Euro-candidates. The full hustings will be at Friends House, Euston Road, on Sunday 4 November. But the star turn of the day today was guest speaker Elif Shafak, the Turkish novelist who writes in both Turkish and English, including penning articles for The Guardian from time to time. She read an extract from her latest novel and also spoke on the theme of identity and belonging, especially in the context of a migratory life. While no model of multiculturalism is perfect, she feels London is an amazing place to be, and rather regrets that Kemalist Turkey modeled itself on France, laicité and all. Today was also special as it provided a platform to launch the by-election campaign for the newly-selected Croydon North Liberal Democrat candidate Marisha Ray. By a coincidence that Dame Edna Everage would undoubtedly have termed ‘spooky’ we had chosen Croydon as the venue for this year’s autumn conference long before there was any inkling that the poor Labour MP for Croydon North — the much-respected Malcolm Wicks — would pass away, leaving a vacancy. In the extended lunch-break, accordingly, most of us set off to the constituency to do some delivery and surveying, and a very friendly reception we got too. In the afternoon, Tom Brake MP, newly appointed Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, explained entertaingly what that job entails. Brian Paddick made an excellent power-point presentation on leadership and then the man who will succeed me as regional Chair when I step down at the end of the year, Mike Tuffrey, gave a speech which proved why he is a very sound choice.

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London Liberal Democrats’ Spring Conference

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 1st April, 2012

With just over a month to go to the London Mayoral and GLA elections, London Liberal Democrats had their minds firmly focussed on campaigning when we gathered in the East Wintergarden at Canary Wharf yesterday, chaired by (Baroness) Susan Kramer. The mayoral candidate Brian Paddick alongside Caroline Pidgeon, head of the GLA list, presented a summary of their manifesto, which had largely been drawn up my outgoing GLA member Mike Tuffrey, who also gave a presentation on housing. There were several innovations at the conference, including a speech on Extremism by Maajid Nawaz of the Quilliam Foundation and some stunning unaccompanied singing by Pauline Pearce, the “heroine of Hackney” who is the Party’s candidate in the Hackney Central council by-election that will take place on the same day as the main London poll, 3 May. There was also a “trialogue” question time which I chaired with a panel comprising London MEP (Baroness) Sarah Ludford, (Baroness) Sally Hamwee and Caroline Pidgeon. Ed Davey, the Secretary of State of Energy and Climate Change, spoke about his role in government and MPs Tom Brake and Simon Hughes shared their views on the current state of play. A central message was that Liberal Democrats should be proud of what we have achieved as the junior partner in Government but we will be campaigning in these elections on a purely Liberal Democrat platform, even if that sometimes diverges from Coalition policy. At the drinks reception at the end of the busy day several participants said it was the best London Liberal Democrat ever, for which thanks must go to Conference Committee Chair Jill Fraser and her team, including Pete Dollimore, who facilitated the training sessions going on in parallel with the plenary.

(photo by Merlene Emerson)

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When Nick Clegg Came to Worcester Park

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 27th January, 2012

As Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg has more than enough to fill his diary, but it is good that he continues to meet with LibDem members from time to time, to hear their concerns and field their questions. He seems to relish the latter, not only at party conferences, but also at gatherings such as the one organised at short notice in a school hall in Worcester Park in Sutton this afternoon. The event was cleverly timed so that those activists with a free hour or so afterwards could join Roger Roberts and  his campaign team in the forthcoming Worcester Park council by-election. Flanked by the borough’s two LibDem MPs, Paul Burstow and Tom Brake, as well as London Mayoral candidate Brian Paddick, Nick was bowled a series of difficult balls, including queries about a possible war with Iran, the replacement (or not) of Trident and the future of the euro (what an internationalist party we are!). Actually, on that last issue, the questioner asked whether Nick could ever envisage Britain joining the euro, to which he rightly replied (here I paraphrase) that one should never say never but it was hardly a likely scenario in his political lifetime. In the meantime, he stressed, it is important that Britain is not isolated from the EU. I can imagine he must have some free and frank discussions with the PM on this, but I hope in the run-up to the Euro-elections he will champion the benefits of Britain’s membership, as well as the need for some reforms. Otherwise, given the Eurosceptic drift in the Tory Party, the nature of the popular Press and Labour’s weak stance on European issues, the matter will go by default, with serious longterm consequences for Britain (as well as for the Liberal Democrats).

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Tom Brake Outlines the Deal

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 14th May, 2010

About a hundred Liberal Democrats from across South East London gathered at the St John’s Church Hall in Downham (Lewisham) this evening, to hear and ask questions about the agreement the party has made to enter into government with the Conservatives. Originally, Simon Hughes was scheduled to speak, but he was reportedly asked onto the BBC’s Any Questions programme at short notice, so his fellow MP Tom Brake ably took his place. I was expecting some unhappy voices among party members and activists, but actually the tone of the discussion was very positive and Tom’s argument that a full deal with the Conservatives was really the only viable option, particularly given Labour’s lack of genuine interest in a deal, was persuasive. One questioner expressed dismay at the appointment of Theresa May as Home Secretary, given her record on equality issues, but I was able to share today’s news that LibDem Lynne Featherstone has been appointed Minister of State at the Home Office, with special responsiblity for Equalities, which is a much more reassuring prospect. The big question, really, is how William Hague will behave as Foreign Secretary, but even on Europe, it looks as though the Tories have been tamed somewhat by the LibDems. There are issues (such as Trident replacement) on which there was no agreement between the two sides, so LibDem MPs will have to abstain on any related vote, but Tom Brake assured us that that won’t stop us arguing the case against, both in parliament and in the country.

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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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