Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘William Gladstone’

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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Tom Holland at the Authors’ Club

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 27th October, 2017

Tom Holland historianThe Authors’ Club (founded 1891) and the Literary Circle of the National Liberal Club held their annual dinner at the NLC this evening, with guest speaker, Tom Holland, the historian. He was pleased to be in a location so closely associated with the late Victorian Prime Minister, William Gladstone, whose statue gloriously presides over the main dining room. And it was largely because of Gladstone’s zeal on behalf of the oppressed — the Bulgarians at the hands of the Ottoman Turks, for example — that Tom Holland gave a more sombre and thought-provoking talk than maybe some might have expected on a Friday night. Though perhaps best known for his popular TV series and books relating to ancient Western cultures, Holland has also delved deeply into the Persian imperial past. And it was that Middle Eastern connection that led him to Sinjar, when it was liberated from ISIS, to learn about the Yazidis.

Yazidis Sinjar Denounced as devil-worshippers by many Muslims — by no means only Salifist fanatics — the Yazidis trace their religious origins to beliefs linked to reverence for the sun and the moon that pre-date the three Abrahamic “religions of the book”. Though thought of as pagan by other groups in the region, they have actually developed a faith that is quite eclectic. But for those like ISIS who assume both a literal and an extreme interpretation of the Koran and other Islamic texts, the Yazidis’ “heresy” merits death — or in the case of nubile young girls, sexual enslavement. They suffered terribly in what Tom Holland justifiably referred to as a modern genocide, yet one that received very little attention in the West. That lack of attention, he argued, was partly a matter of timing, as the worst moments coincided with the latest (2014) Israeli pummeling of Gaza, which is a conflict more familiar to European audiences. Moreover, the Yazidis do not have an extensive diaspora — though that situation is perforce changing — and therefore there were few people to speak up about their plight. Tom Holland did so eloquently this evening, however, and in true Gladstonian spirit, he was applauded for his seriousness and human concern by his audience at the NLC>

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Charles Dickens at the NLC

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 15th February, 2016

Jeremy ClarkeDickens groupiesCharles Dickens is often thought of as the quintessential Victorian novelist, though his career began before the young Victoria ascended the throne and he died in 1870. There was thus no way that he could ever have visited that most stylish of late Victorian edifices, Alfred Waterhouse’s National Liberal Club (NLC), which was founded in 1882 (though its magnificent premises on the north bank of the River Thames were not completed until five years later)  and to a degree remains a shrine to William Gladstone. However, the Kettner Lunch club — founded by Peter Boizot 42 years ago, originally at Kettner’s in Soho but latterly at the NLC –.has often doffed its cap in the direction of Dickens, but today it offered a special treat in terms of an illustrated lecture on My Boyhood’s Home: Dickens and North Kent by Dr Jeremy Clarke of the Dickens Museum in Rochester. It must be 20 years since I went down to Rochester specifically to see the Dickens collection at the Guildhall Museum and was pleased to know it is going great guns. Even better news was the revelation that Gad’s Hill, Dickens’s rather grand home at Higham, which has for some time been used as a school, may revert wholly to being a place for Dickens fans to make a pilgrimage. Though my own great literary love, Oscar Wilde, had a poor view of Dickens — thinking him old fashioned and at times mawkish — in fact the two of them were the real godfathers of modernism, at least insofar as we now see literature as much about the writer as about the text. Moreover, both were phenomenal self-promoters who also engaged directly with their public. No wonder Oscar was a little jealous of Charles, though I have to day that one’s admiration is somewhat dimmed by the fact that Dickens treated his wife even more shamefully than Wilde did his.

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Britain, Ireland and the EU

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 18th March, 2014

Ireland UK EUDan MulhallThe Irish in London have been in a fairly frolicking mood these last few days — perhaps not surprising considering St. Patrick’s Day. But there is more to it than that. As the (relatively new) Irish Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s, Dan Mulhall, put it at an event in the European Commission’s representation office, Europe House, this evening, the relationship between the UK and Eire has entered a whole new dimension by being fellow members of the European Union. That relationship has not always been easy in the past, given the resistance by certain English quarters to Irish home rule (the great Liberal Prime Minister William Gladstone being a significant exception). But the combination of the Good Friday Agreement over Northern Ireland and mutual interests within the EU have brought London and Dublin closer together now than ever in living memory. The Queen made what was generally regarded as a most successful visit to the Irish Republic in 2011, and the current Irish President,  Michael D. Higgins, is due here in London on the first ever state visit ere long. Ambassador Mulhall was in Europe House this evening for the opening of an exhibition of paintings by the Irish artist — long resident in London — Bernard Canavan, and naturally mused on the subject of Canavan’s work, which is largely about the Irish diaspora in the UK, from the Irish navvies working for Murphy’s to the nurses that helped keep the NHS afloat before more exotic helpmates arrived from elsewhere. Perhaps now some Brits could learn a thing or two from the Irish expats, not least a greater understanding of our common European identity, not only in culture but on a political level. All of the hundreds of thousands of Irish resident in the UK can vote here in the European elections on 22 May, of course, but so too can the residents of the other 26 EU member states other than Britain. The EU citizens, who make up such a vibrant part of London’s economy — as well as that in the UK as a whole — need to stand up and be counted, as to why Britain needs to be at the heart of the EU, not just for their future but for ours.

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Fanny, Stella and Mr Gladstone

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 13th July, 2013

William GladstoneFanny & StellaThough the Oscar Wilde trials are often seen as the archetypal Victorian scandal, there was an earlier cause for outrage, even more titillating to the general public: the 1870 trial of the transvestite and occasional prostitute Ernest Boulton and various of his associates, on the then extremely serious charge of sodomy. For years “Stella” — as Ernest called himself — and his bosom pal, “Fanny” (Frederick Park), cruised London’s theatres and strutted their stuff around town, turning heads and, in the case of the decidedly prettier Stella, winning hearts right across the social spectrum. Indeed, Stella at one time entered a sham marriage with Lord Arthur Clinton, MP, godson of the Liberal Prime Minister, William Gladstone. Not surprisingly, Fanny, Stella and many of those involved with them ended up having problems with the law, but it was interesting that when the net closed round them (save for Lord Arthur, who had conveniently died of scarlet fever — or so it was claimed) their actual trial showed British justice at its best, in that defence counsel (much aided by Boulton’s adoring mother, who was Stella’s biggest fan) demolished the prosecution’s case and the jury of 12 good men and true took less than an hour to declare all the defendants not guilty. Perhaps that is one reason why Oscar Wilde assumed wrongly 25 years later that he would get off too. If as a teenager in Ireland he didn’t hear of the crossdressers’ case he would almost certainly have heard of Stella or even seen her perform — still in drag — on the stage in London, where she acted in coy entertainments with one of her brothers for many years, after a short period of exile in America. Interestingly, these shows were far better received up North than they were in the South. The extraordinary tale of Boulton, Park and their cohorts is amusingly, even shockingly, recounted in Fanny and Stella by Neil McKenna (Faber & Faber, £16.99). As with his earlier provocative book on the “secret life” of Oscar Wilde, McKenna is not afraid of over-egging the pudding for dramatic effect or of speculating, but the core of the book is founded on serious research. Obviously, he cannot have known exactly what was going through Stella’s mind in her outrageous guises and adventures, but he takes the reader along as a willing accomplice, not sparing us even the most lurid medical details at times. I would love to know what Gladstone himself actually thought about Stella and her ilk; he must have come across some of the female impersonators who loitered in the West End along with the ladies of the night, who he liked to invite back to his home in Carlton House Terrace for a wholesome talk. There is no record that he ever invited Stella back, but it is a deliciously transgressive thought.

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So Who Was the Liberal Party’s Real Daddy?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 20th July, 2009

Lord PalmerstonA hundred and fifty years ago, about 280 British MPs gathered at Willis’s Rooms in King Street, St James’s, London, to discuss uniting to oppose the continuation in office of the then Tory Prime Minister, Lord Derby. The majority of Members present were Whigs, but there were also Radicals like John Bright and Peelite Tories at this memorable occasion — though not, interestingly, the celebrated Peelite Tory William Gladstone, who would go on to be the champion of Victorian Liberalism. Gladstone’s government starting in 1868 is often cited as giving birth to Liberal England, but  as Professor Anthony Howe from the University of East Anglia argued in a drily witty keynote speech at a National Liberal Club dinner this evening, the Willis’s Rooms’ occasion nine year’s earlier was the party’s conception — hence the Liberal Democrat History Group’s decision to hold the 150th anniversary event this summer, in collaboration with the NLC. The President of the Liberal Democrat History Group, Lord (William) Wallace of Saltaire compered the evening, with turns by Liberal Democrat Party president, Baroness (Ros) Scott, and former Liberal Party leader, Lord (David) Steel. Two other former party (SDP and Liberal Democrat) leaders. Lord (Bob) Maclennan and Charles Kennedy, MP, were in attendance.

As a well informed questioner pointed out, the term ‘Liberal’ really came into political currency in Spain earlier in the 19th century. Moreover, the aristocratic Radical Lord John Russell used the term Liberal Party a whole 20 years before the Willis’s Rooms conclave. But according to Professor Howe’s analysis, full of fascinating detail and cheeky asides, Russell’s paternity of the party was denied by the inferiority of his wife’s salons compared with those of the wife of Viscount (Henry) Palmerston (pictured above), the conservative renegade Irish Tory, who nonetheless had flashes of radical zeal and became the first ‘Liberal’ Prime Minister when he assumed office for a second time. Confused? One might well be. And the young Queen Victoria’s diaries suggest she got fatigued by the ins and outs of what some of the Old Men of British politics were up to. But the seeds of British Liberalism were indeed sown that summer’s evening in 1859 and the plants they brought forth have grown and mutated — narrowly surviving extinction in the years after the Second World Wat — to blossom once again as the hybrid Liberal Democrat Party of today.

Link: www.liberalhistory.org.uk

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