Jonathan Fryer

Posts Tagged ‘Vince Cable’

May Mistaken on International Students

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 21st December, 2014

imageTheresa May has the unenviable task of trying to make irreconcilables add up when it comes to implementing the Conservatives’ rash promise to reduce net immigration to the UK to “tens of thousands”. But her latest idea of making international students leave the country after they graduate is wrong on do many levels. International students make a huge contribution to the UK economy, both with their fees and living costs, and those who then use their enhanced skills to stay on and work give added value. As far as I can see, May’s plan to force them to leave and then apply for a new visa back home is yet another short-sighted Tory attempt to appeal to UKIP voters. The problem is that it risks killing the goose that lays the golden egg. Britain has become a less welcoming place to foreign talent, including students, with the Conservatives in power, despite the strong efforts by LibDems such as Vince Cable to state the opposite case. Education is a global market and if international students decide the UK is now a less attractive option, they will go elsewhere and we in Britain will be all the poorer for it.

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The Second Nick versus Nigel IN/OUT Debate

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 2nd April, 2014

Nick Clegg 2Nigel Farage 1This evening saw Round 2 of the Nick Clegg-Nigel Farage IN/OUT debate over Britain’s membership of the European Union, this time hosted by BBC2 and that evergreen fixture of BBC political programmes, David Dimbleby. I made a short speech at the National Liberal Club before the screening there, highlighting what for me are the three greatest achievements of the EU: (1) peace in Western Europe, (2) the re-integration of formerly Communist states of central and eastern Europe into the European family, and (3) the European Single Market, including labour mobility, which we must resolutely defend. I also briefly touched on the three strands of Liberal Democrat campaigning in the current European elections: jobs (especially for young people), the environment, and crime & security — the last mentioned including the European Arrest Warrant, promoted by Sir Graham Watson, LibDem MEP for South West England but now threatened with being undermined by the Tories. As for the televised debate itself, I thought Nick performed really well for the first 40 minutes or so — much more strongly than last week — though Farage got the upper hand towards the end. As I said in a Q&A afterwards with Vince Cable and Michael Moore at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Blackfriars — where a Liberal Business Forum event was in full swing — I think Nick missed an opportunity to counter Farage’s jibe about laws being made in Brussels by unelected bureaucrats. Nick reposted that the number of European civil servants is on a par with those working for Derbyshire County Council, but he could fairly have argued that laws are actually passed by Ministers of the member states (most of them elected by popular mandate) and increasingly in co-decision with the European Parliament — directly elected, and surely something we should be pushing hard over the next eight weeks. Moreover, UKIP is vulnerable when it comes to the European Parliament as their attendance record at committees, in particular, is dire, and they often vote against Britain’s interest in plenary sessions. That fact needs reiterating time and again for people to realise that voting UKIP is actually wasting one’s vote if one wants to see the EU changing for the good.

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Vince Cable Faces up to Europe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 24th January, 2014

Vince Cable 1The Long Room at the Oval in London may normally be the scene for the relating of cricketing yarns, but last night it hosted a fundraising dinner for the London Liberal Democrats’ European elections campaign, at which Vince Cable was the keynote speaker. For a long time Vince was known as one of the least Euro-enthusiastic of LibDem MPs, but since being in Coalition government with a Conservative Party that seems ever more in danger of leading Britain to the exit door from the EU he has been one of the strongest champions of British membership. As Business Secretary that is hardly surprising. On a daily basis he has to deal with foreign companies and politicians, many of whom are getting increasingly alarmed by the possibility of a “Brexit”. As he said last night, this is seriously undermining investor confidence, and with the Tories failing to show proper leadership on the matter it is up to the Liberal Democrats to be unequivocally the party of “IN”. Of course, the Party recognises the need for certain reforms, but such reforms will only happen if we are fully engaged with our EU partners. Vince has been widely quoted as saying that there is a five per cent chance that the UK will pull out, but last night he acknowledged that the possibility was probably higher than that. UKIP is of course doing well in the European election opinion polls, and Vince acknowledged the conviviality of its leader, Nigel Farage. But he said we should be blinded to the fact that the “Faragists” appeal to some very unpleasant instincts, xenophobic and at time outright racist.


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Danny Alexander’s Diwali Dish

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 26th November, 2013

Diwali dinnerFor the British United Indian Liberal Democrats (BUILD) Diwali is a movable feast, and the fact that tonight’s dinner in the excellent Seasoning north Indian restaurant in Fulham took place long after most other Diwali celebrations were over in no way dimmed the light of the occasion, organised by my indefatigable fellow London LibDem Euro-candidate Anuja Prashar. In fact the timing was perfect, in that the keynote speaker, Treasury Secretary Danny Alexander, recently went on his first ever visit to India to help promote British trade, and duly loved the place (his colleague Vince Cable, incidentally, is virtually an old India hand). The way some UKIP and Tory Eurosceptics spin things you’d think the UK would need to leave the EU to do trade promotion with India effectively, but the opposite is true. Danny is of course also a thoroughbred Europhile, having worked in the not too dim and distant past for the European Movement, which means that both LibDem members of the Coalition Government’s core quartet (the other being Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, of course) are completely on message when it comes to the Liberal Democrats being the party of IN so far as the EU is concerned. In his speech, Danny did a fine balancing act, on the one hand justifiably claiming LibDem credit for helping get Britain in a healthier economic shape than it was in 2010 as well as bringing in fairer policies such as raising the tax allowance to £10,000 (as it will be in April), and saying that for all their obvious policy disagreements he gets on with the Chancellor, George Osborne well. But on the other hand Danny came out strongly on differentiation from the Conservatives, not just on Europe — though that is increasingly self-evident — but on a range of issues, as the Conservative Party is being tugged to the right by many of its backbenchers and Labour is once more being cosy with left-wing trade unions. We are the party of the centre ground, Danny declared — though I personally prefer one of Charles Kennedy’s old sayings: that we are neither left nor right but centre forward. Danny usefully trailed the ALDE (European Liberal Democrats) Congress which will be taking place in Canary Wharf later this week (which I will be attending) and at which he will of course feature, along with other UK government stars and some heavyweight delegations from across our wonderful, diverse continent.

Photo of Danny Alexander, Jonathan Fryer, Anuja Prashar and Geoff Payne (by Merlene Emerson)

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The City in Europe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 9th September, 2013

Vince CableVicky PryceGisela Stuart 1Jesse NormanA referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union isn’t expected until 2017, and may not happen then, but the arguments for both In and Out are getting more insistent. This evening, the magnificent Great Hall at the Guildhall in the City of London hosted a capacity crowd to hear a debate on the question “The City in Europe: Will the Square Mile Prosper if Britain Leaves the EU?”, organised by the Evening Standard newspaper and moderated by Jon Sopel of the BBC. The Lord Mayor of London, Roger Gifford, left no doubts as to where his sympathies lay when in his introductory remarks he stressed London’s importance as a centre for financial and other services and how some banks and firms in the City would pack up and leave if the UK withdrew from the EU. The Business Secretary, Vince Cable, pursued the same theme in one of the most pro-EU speeches I have heard him make; unlike many Liberal Democrats Vince does not have a particularly strong emotional attachment to anywhere on the continent; if any one country is close to his heart it is India. Nonetheless, he argued that EU membership is crucial for Britain’s economy and jobs. The UK is the third largest recipient of direct foreign investment (after China and the USA) and many of those investments are linked to Britain’s position in the EU. Gisela Stuart is unusual in being a Labour Eurosceptic (and MP for Birmingham Edgbaston), despite being born in what was then West Germany; but her line was indeed Eurosceptic rather than Europhobe. She felt that if some powers were repatriated (as David Cameron hopes) and the Eurozone’s economy picked up well then the British public might be likely to vote to stay in the EU. Jesse Norman, the Conservative MP for Hereford and South Herefordshire (just sacked by David Cameron for voting against the recent Government motion on Syria) took a different approach, answering the question of the debate directly by asserting that the City was strong enough to withstand the effects of Britain joining the EU. He was coy about whether he would vote Out now, but mildly optimistic that the Government will win some concessions in a renegotiation. Vicky Pryce, the Greek economist (and LibDem member) also thought that there might be some repatriation of powers, mainly because several other member states were thinking along similar lines. But she, of course, believes strongly Britain should stay a member. Had I had the opportunity to put a question to the panel, I would have reminded them of Herman Van Rompuy’s remark about people not winning arguments in a meeting if they have their coat on and one hand on the door — and I would have asked them whether the City might not benefit if David Cameron heeded that advice.

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Vince Cable on Race Equality

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 1st June, 2013

Vince CableIt is one thing to hold noble principles regarding race equality, or even to formulate policies that aim to tackle disadvantage and discrimination. But it quite another to have to deliver a fairer society and equal opportunities — especially when one is a Liberal Democrat Minister in a Coalition government numerically dominated by the Conservatives. But in his key role at the Department of Business, Industry and Skills, Vince Cable deals with the nitty gritty of delivery as well as working with enterprises, both public and private, to improve their record on equality issues. The public sector is way ahead of the private sector in terms of racial equality, Vince told the Liberal Democrat Race Equality conference* in Shoreditch, London, today. But even in institutions such as universities, in which in principle people are in principle free of blatant prejudice they may not be aware of unconscious bias. There is no denying the fact that there is a disproportionate under-representation of ethnic minorities at senior levels in all sorts of organisations and institutions. Vince also noted that the old politics along left-right lines has largely given way to a kind of identity politics, which can itself have negative aspects. Picking up on the two key themes of the conference, education and employment, he urged British business to be more like German business regarding training opportunities. He has hauled some business leaders in to his department to get them to start thinking more critically about how they are dealing with related issues. Of course, no single Liberal Democrat Minister can solve problems overnight, much less overcome stereotypes and change people’s behaviour, especially when there are Tory Cabinet colleagues who question the whole race equality agenda. Indeed, the Tories would have liked to scrap the Equalities Commission, which is not something the LibDems could allow. Moreover, a great deal of work still needs to be done. Although many of us living in London may be lulled into the comfortable feeling that we live in a happy, secure rainbow nation the facts often speak otherwise.

*the conference was organised by the Social Liberal Forum and Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats   Links and

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Vicky Pryce’s Debt Write-offs

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 28th November, 2012

Though many — perhaps too many — Brits rub their hands in glee that the UK is not part of the troubled eurozone, and therefore may sometimes benefit from currency fluctuations, only UKIP MEPs and other delusionists could relish the thought of the single currency’s collapse. “Europe”, as so many in Britain continue to refer to the Continent, as if we are somehow not part of it, is still the biggest single market for British goods and is likely to remain so for some time, despite the rise of the BRICs — Brazil, Russia, India and China. Moreover, those who would like us to become another Norway, being part of the European economic area but having no say in the rules and regulations that govern it, are positively unpatriotic, in my view. I was glad that Vicky Pryce, former Chief Economist at the Department of Trade and Industry and later working with Vince Cable at the Department of Business and Skills, stressed, at a Pizza and Politics put on by Islington Liberal Democrats this evening, that the UK is far better in than out when it comes to the EU. The author of a recently acclaimed book, Greekonomics*, she has since her departure from government employment become something of a guru on what is happening in Europe’s economy, with particular in relation to Greece, whence she originally hails. Indeed, she is forever popping up on the TV and radio as the one commentator who knows what she is talking about on the subject, yet does not slag off her compatriots as good-for-nothing lazy tax-dodgers. That is, alas, the image still in the minds of many Germans, for example, though they would do well to acknowledge just how well Germany has done out of the single currency — selling goods left, right and centre — even if they are now expected to bail out the declining European periphery. I was struck by Vicky’s comments about the possibility of the need for a debt write-off for Greece and possibly some others, as their debt levels are unsustainable and will only drive them further into the sloough of despond. I was reminded so strongly as she spoke of the Latin American debt crisis that I used to commentate on for the BBC in the late 1980s. I asked her whether she could ever envisage Britain during the euro — as Peter Mandelson, amongst others, have suggested. She was cautious about the possibility — more so than myself — but she didn’t rule it out completely.

* Biteback Publishing

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Gareth Epps on Fairer Tax

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 22nd October, 2012

The Liberal Democrats are currently carrying out a consultation on tax and admirably it really is a consultation, in that views are being sought not only at the national level (for example at last month’s Federal Conference in Brighton) but also at the grassroots. This evening, Gareth Epps — a former leader of the LibDems on Reading Council and parliamentary candidate in Reading East at the last general election, as well as a leading light in the Social Liberal Forum — came to sound out opinion among Hammersmith and Fulham LibDems in London, though the subject drew in attendees from other boroughs. The key principle at the heart of the Party’s review is fairness, but as the discussion tonight made abundantly clear, fairness is a subjective rather than an objective factor when it comes to tax. Not surprisingly, given the preponderance of members from West-Central London, Vince Cable’s proposed ‘mansion tax’, which would see people who inhabit houses worth over £2 million paying an annual tax on the figure over that amount — was unpopular. The concept of land tax won more favour, with others preferring a rebanding exercise of council tax which would take into account the fact that an absurdly high percentage of London homes all figure in the current top band; higher bands are obviously needed if we keep that system. I pointed out that London really does need special measures when it comes to tax-raising, not just because of the relatively high value of property but also because of the disturbingly high and accelerating cost of renting in the capital, which puts the Government’s cap on housing benefit into perspective; poorer families are already being chased out. There was also quite a lot of discussion this evening about the wisdom of continuing with national insurance as a separate item from tax — far too complex to go into here. But the Fairer Tax working group of the LibDems is still collecting evidence!

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It’s the Message Not the Man That Matters

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 2nd September, 2012

Today’s papers and the blogosphere are full of speculation about whether Nick Clegg will or will not face a leadership challenge from within the Liberal Democrats before the next General Election. This is a predictable topic in the run-up to the party’s conference due to be held in Brighton later this month, but the Deputy Prime Minister has been coming under heavier fire than might be expected, with some activists even calling for him to go now and to be replaced by Vince Cable. Now had Vince Cable stood in the last leadership election I would almost certainly have voted for him, and he would quite likely have won. But he was reluctant to put himself forward because of fears he would be considered too old, given the mauling poor Ming Campbell got in the Press on that score. I know Vince sometimes regrets his decision and were an opening to arise he might well put himself forward this time. But I can’t help feeling that people are misreading the situation when they try to analyse why the LibDems have slumped in the opinion polls and ponder what can be done to reverse that trend. It seems to be a classic case of wanting to shoot the messenger rather than critically examining the message. It’s not the man at the top who is the problem, though he is facing an extraordinary amount of flak. Rather, voters don’t really know what the Liberal Democrats stand for anymore, which is why only the core support of around 10 per cent of electors is standing by us. To build on that afresh we need not only differentiation from the Tories but also a clear statement of what Liberal Democrats believe, as well as an exposition of how those beliefs are being put it into practice at local, regional and national levels. So the top priority is to get the message right. Nick Clegg has the communication skills to put it across as long as he has the right script. But the script itself is what is important, whoever takes the Liberal Democrats into the general electon and beyond.

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Vince Cable’s Question Time

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 29th June, 2012

One good aspect of Britain’s political system is that when MPs become Ministers they retain their seats in the House of Commons as well as their constituency responsibilities. That is particularly important for Liberal Democrats, many of whom got into Parliament because they made their mark as community champions. So even if their Ministerial diaries are bursting at the seams, they must carve out time to be among the people who elected them. This is very noticeable in London, where five of the seven LibDem MPs are Ministers (and a sixth, Simon Hughes, is deputy leader of the Party). And as government is based in London, their constituents expect to continue to see a lot of them, however important their portfolio. This is some ways unfortunate for someone like Vince Cable, whose ministerial responsibilities at the Department of Business, Industry and Skills take him not only all round the United Kingdom but also on frequent overseas trips, drumming up orders and investment. Yet the voters of Twickenham, Vince’s seat, are lucky, as he is regularly available at his constituency surgeries, and sometimes — like tonight — is the star of a Q&A session organised by the Twickenham and Richmond local party. This evening an audience made up mainly of party members — including me — had the pleasure of watching Vince field almost 20 varied questions, ranging from Trident replacement to an EU referendum. It was a tour de force, and he was not afraid to say in a couple of instances that the subject was out of his area of activities or expertise (too many politicians, when asked a question on a subject they know nothing about just spout whatever comes into their head; that is fatal, as usually the questioner knows more about the subject than they do, and will be only too happy to point out the hapless politico’s ignorance). This evening’s event was held at the big Baptist Church in Teddington, scene of many a Liberal Democrat meeting and community gathering. It was a pity there was no coffee or other light refreshment available, so that people could mingle afterwards. Instead, we wandered off into the still light night to reflect on what Vince had said.


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