Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Tom McNally’

Tom McNally on the Near Perfect Storm of 2010

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 16th February, 2010

The Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords, Tom McNally, was the guest speaker at the Kettner’s Lunch in the National Liberal Club today, giving an overview of where the party stands in the run-up to the General Election. He asked for Chatham House rules to be respected regarding some of the fine detail (probably very wisely, given all the media-driven speculation about hung parliaments), but the broad, publishable message he had was that the 2010 General Election presents a ‘near perfect storm’ for the LibDems, given the the public’s weariness with this Labour government and its distrust of David Cameron and his crew. Indeed, this could be the best opportunity Britain’s third party has had since 1983, when the Liberal-SDP Alliance scuppered its chances by spreading itself too thinly, so that it only emerged with 23 seats despite getting over 25 per cent of the vote. Much has been learnt about targeting since then. Were the party to poll over 25 percent this time, it should reap anything up to 100 MPs. If such an eventuality happens (quite possible given the party’s usual increase in voter appeal during an election campaign), then the impetus towards a fairer voting system would be considerable.

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A Changing China in a Changing World

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 23rd September, 2009

Fu YingAmbassador Fu Ying became the first Communist Chinese head of mission to address Liberal Democrats at their autumn conference in Bournemouth this lunchtime, at a crowded fringe meeting on ‘A Changing China in a Changing World’, alongside LibDem Lords Tom McNally and Tim Clement-Jones, foreign affairs spokesman Ed Davey MP  and Professor Hugo de Burgh, Director of the Chinese Media Centre at the University of Westminster. Ambassador Fu is both rather glamorous (more silver-haired than in her official photograph) and very impressive; the days of baggy Mao suits among Chinese diplomats have long gone. Having studied in England and served as Ambassador to Australia, she is used to dealing robustly with critical questioning, of which, as one might expect, there was quite a lot at this meeting. Among issues of concern raised by party members were China’s continued use of the death penalty for a very wide range of offences and the continued imprisonment of Tiananmen protestors from 20 years ago.

Tianmen SquareOn 1 October, the People’s Republic will be celebrating its 60th anniversary. Interestingly, the Ambassador said that this has prompted many older Chinese to look back nostalgically at the advances made. It is easy to forget just how underdeveloped and strife-ridden the country was in 1949. Unquestionably, China has made huge strides, as well as some mistakes (the biggest of all being the Cultural Revolution). As New China enters its seventh decade, it is playing a role on the international stage more in keeping with its size and power. The 19th century was in some ways a British century, the 20th even more so an American one. History will judge whether the 21st turns out to be China’s.

Ambassador Fu ended the fringe meeting with a pertinent comment which reflected what I have been told recently by several of my Chinese students at SOAS, namely that while there are aspects of China which sometimes give it a negative image in the West, similarly aspects of countries like Britain sometimes generate a negative image in China too. So any work on image improvement needs to be a two-way process.

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The LibDems’ Secret Bestseller

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 22nd September, 2009

Paddy AshdownShirley WilliamsWhat should have been the (free) bestseller event of the Bournemouth Liberal Democrat conference fringe this afternoon attracted just three dozen blessed souls instead of the three hundred the room could have accommodated, because someone forgot/failed to put the event into the conference directory. Whoops. The party’s leader in the House of Lords, Tom McNally, chaired a panel of the LibDems’ three top-selling authors, Paddy Ashdown, Vince Cable and Shirley Williams. Undeterred by rows of empty seats, great troopers that they are, they put on a bravura performance, providing tempting tasters of their tomes, their lives and the world (including one or two anecdotes thought not quite appropriate to put into print).

Vince CableIt was all hugely enjoyable and a good few books were sold. But how sad that what should have been a tremendous event was to a certain extent a damp squib.

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Remembering the Lib-Lab Pact

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 14th July, 2008

The Lib-Lab Pact of 1977-1978 got an almost uniformly bad press at the time and the short-term electoral consequences for the Liberal Party were pretty dire. During the 18 months or so of the pact’s existence, the Liberal vote plummeted in local elections and parliamentary by-elections, as if in protest at David Steel’s baker’s dozen of MPs keeping Jim Callaghan’s government in power. Coalition politics might have been the norm on the continent for a long time, but the British public, it would appear, weren’t ready for it. Some Liberal Party members were pretty peeved too, not least because David failed to win in return the concession from the government to have a PR system for elections to the first directly-elected European Parliament in 1979. Had Jim Callaghan not wobbled, and gone for an election in the autumn of 1978, then things might have been different, of course. But he played cautious and the following May Mrs Thatcher swept into power. The rest, as they say, is history.

Earlier this evening, at a meeting of the Liberal Democrat History Group in the National Liberal Club, the now ennobled David Steel and his colleagues in the House of Lords, Tom McNally (30 years ago, the Head of Callaghan’s Political Office in 10 Downing Street, but now Leader of the LibDems in the House of Lords) and Geoff Tordoff (Chairman of the Liberal Party at the time) joined psephologist (and the other day winner of a council by-election in Canterbury) Michael Steed recalling the Lib-Lab Agreement (as it was more properly termed). With hindsight, the episode can maybe be viewed more sympathetically and it was probably a step in the direction of the ‘reliagnment of British politics’ that David Steel would try a few years later with the SDP’s Gang of Four, Roy Jenkins, David Owen, Shirley Williams and Bill Rodgers. They did not break the mould of British politics then, as they had hoped (partly because of the Falklands War). But the two-party political system that dominated so much of the 20th century was over-turned.


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