Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘William Wallace’

Brexit Briefing

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 24th January, 2019

sarah ludford and william wallaceLast night I was at the Liberal Democrats’ national headquarters for a briefing on Brexit organised by Southwark LibDems and addressed by three of the key party spokespeople in the House of Lords, Dick Newby, William Wallace and Sarah Ludford. Though only the House of Commons has the necessary clout to stop Brexit or significantly alter Theresa May’s “deal”, the Lords have been keeping the whole sorry Brexit saga under intense scrutiny and have been able to draw on the expertise of members with considerable knowledge on the subject, from the architect of Article50, John Kerr, to the former European Commissioner, Chris Patten. Sarah said there had been a noticeable shift in the attitude of many Conservative peers as the full complexity of disentangling the UK from 45 years of economic integration with Europe has become clearer.

dick newbyThe LibDem Lords team work closely with the Party’s MPs, especially Tom Brake, who is the national Brexit spokesperson. Next Tuesday is going to be a very important moment as the Commons will vote on amendments and motions including one from Yvette Cooper and Nick Boles which would, if passed, recommend extending Article 50 till the end of the year. That would in principle give time for any new approach to the Brexit impasse — for example, backing for a Norway-style deal (in which the UK would remain in the single market but have no say in formulating EU rules) or organising a fresh referendum, with an option to Remain. The three peers felt that at the moment there is probably not a clear majority in the House of Commons for what has been dubbed a People’s Vote, but more MPs and even Cabinet Ministers are warming to the idea. If Article 50 were to be extended beyond 2 July — the opening of the new European Parliament — then of course Britain would probably have to organise European elections in May, which would be both a challenge and an opportunity. Dick Newby told me that he thought no real contingency plans for that are in place within government institutions, but watch this space.

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Britain in the World

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 21st October, 2016

britain-in-the-worldThe Liberal Democrats pride themselves on being the most internationalist of Britain’s political parties and a liberal, internationalist voice is going to be needed more than ever as the United Kingdom and several other parts of the world seem to be heading towards narrow nationalism and illiberal tendencies. Buoyed by last night’s result in the Witney by-election — where the LibDem candidate Liz Leffman quadrupled the party’s vote share, standing on a pro-EU ticket in former Prime Minister David Cameron’s seat — the new LibDem working group on Britain in the World held its inaugural meeting at party headquarters today, to begin a process that will culminate in a policy paper being taken to next autumn’s party conference in Bournemouth, effectively marking out the LibDem approach to foreign affairs up to the 2020 general election. About 17o people had applied to join the working group and the members chosen from that pool are an impressive bunch, with a wealth of expertise in foreign policy studies, diplomacy, the armed servies and the media, as well as parliamentary and Euro-parliamentary experience. An impressive proportion of the group’s members are LibDem newbies: people who only joined the Liberal Democrats since last year’s general election, even if several had long voted for the party. The group will meet regularly to hear evidence from expert witnesses, both internal and external, and to discuss issues with them. Today, we heard from two LibDem members of the House of Lords, William Wallace and Judith Jolly, who both held junior ministerial posts in the 2010-2015 Coalition government. In keeping with “Chatham House rules”, who said what shall remain confidential within the group, but I will post in general terms any interesting developments or insights over the next few months.

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Europe Day in London

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 9th May, 2013

European Union Youth OrchestraIt was good to see Parliament Square in London ablaze with the flags of the 27 EU member states today; I hope some of more Eurosceptic MPs in the House of Commons opposite took note of where this country rightly belongs. Europe House (headquarters of the European Commission and European Parliament offices in London, in the old Tory HQ in Smith Square, hosted a drinks reception before the traditional Europe Day concert at St John’s. The theme of the latter was appropriately Irish, given that Ireland currently holds the six month rotating presidency of the EU Council of Ministers and indeed the Irish Ambassador, Bobby McDonagh — who is sadly coming to the end of his London posting — gave a fine and pertinent, succinct address at the beginning, reminding us all of how peaceful cooperation has transformed Europe, despite current economic woes. The concert that followed, performed by the European Union Youth Orchestra, under the baton of Laurent Pillot, was the best such event I can ever remember, with an eclectic mix of classical and more modern works by Percy Grainger, Charles Villiers Stanford, William Wallace and Aloys Fleischmann, as well as the more predictable Richard Wagner and of course ending with Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”. The singing was particularly fine, performed by soloists from the European Opera Centre: Elsa Benoit, Daire Halpin, Martin Piskorski and Wolfgang Resch. It’s true the musicians were playing and singing to the converted but nonetheless it is on occasions like this that I am once again reminded of the wealth and depth of European culture and how we, as European citizens, in our wonderful diversity, can be united in celebration of values and heritage that make Europe a living entity that has so much to offer the world.


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William Wallace’s World View

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 18th October, 2012

‘We in Britain are stuck in the narrative of June 1940,’ (Lord) William Wallace declared at a meeting of Putney Liberal Democrats this evening. ‘At the Remembrance Day celebrations, for example, there is a “we are in it alone” mentality.’ Some on the right of the Conservative Party, including Daniel Hannan MEP, would like to see the UK become a form of Switzerland and right-wing historians like Andrew Roberts and Niall Ferguson are championing a narrative of Empire, while the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph pour out anti-European sentiments. ‘We need to shift our narrative on Europe,’ William said. ‘We have got to engage with and challenge the world view of the Conservatives.’ He has just been appointed to an advisory board on the 2014 centenary Commemoration of the start of World War I, and I stressed in the Q&A that as the European elections will fall in the run-up to that commemoration we should put across the message that the so-called Great War was disaster, a masssive failure on the part of the European powers to solve their differences diplomatically, with the result that millions of lives were sacrificed for nothing. ‘Never again’ was a popular refrain in the 1920s, though the polarisation of Communism and Fascism in the 1930s led inexorably to renewed conflict and destruction. The EU rightly won the Nobel Peace Prize recently for its role in bringing and sustaining peace in Europe. This is a message we Liberal Democrats should trumpet, as others won’t, and we only have 18 months or so to undermine the eurosceptics’ narrative.

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Simon Hughes @ Troia SE1

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 6th April, 2010

London’s (Turkish) Kurdish community hosted a fundraising dinner for Southwark and North Bermondsey’s Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes at the Troia Restaurant opposite County Hall on the South Bank this evening. (Lord) William and (Lady) Helen Wallace — both experts in international and European affairs respectively — were also guests. Simon, who was a lawyer before becoming one of Britain’s most hard-working constituency MPs, spoke about the need to encourage further political and constitutional change in Turkey to facilitate greater rights for the country’s minorities. He said that both the British parliament and the EU should be doing more to encourage the process which Recep Tayyip Erdogan has initiated, in the face of fierce oppsition from ultra-nationalists and many in the military. Of course the issue also concerns the Kurdish situation in Syria, Iran and Iraq, though paradoxically Kurds in Iraqi Kuridstan have won the greatest freedoms, under the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), as I outline in my contributions to a book on the region that is due to be published by Stacey International in June. 


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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.


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Is a Two-State Solution Still Viable?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 17th September, 2008

Liberal International British Group (LIBG) maintained its tradition of stimulating lively political debate by holding a fringe meeting at the Liberal Democrats’ Bournemouth Conference last night on the question of whether a two-state solution in the Middle East is still viable. This is a taboo subject in some quarters — indeed, I am not aware that any other major British political party has dared address it — but given the fact that most peace plans see a two-state solution as essential, it’s a vital question to ask. Thanks to the continued growth of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the division of the Palestinian territories into Gaza and the West Bank under mutually hostile administrations, the notion of a coherent Palestinian state seems increasingly in doubt.

That was certainly the line taken by star speaker Jeff Halper, from the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions, who is currently on bail for the ‘crime’ of going to Gaza as an Israeli citizen. Not surprisingly, Ghada Karmi, the distinguished Palestinian writer and academic also though things were heading towards a de facto one-state situation. Ran Gidor, from the Israeli Embassy, put up a spirited defence of Israeli determination to see a two-state solution work, while Willie Rennie, MP, who was recently on a parliamentary fact-finding mission to the region, highlighted some of the problems on both sides of the Israeli/Palestinian divide. Lord (William) Wallace provided some wise and firm chairing in a session that understandably roused some passions among some of the attendees. There was no clear conclusion — it would have been surprising if there had been — but it was important that this ‘forbidden’ question be raised.

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Celebrating the Liberal Revival

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 14th June, 2008

It was a joy to take a break from work and active political campaigning today, in order to attend a seminar on ‘Torrington 58: Liberal survival and revival 1958-1979’ at the London School of Economics (LSE). Supported by the Scurrah Wainwright Charity and the Liberal Democrat History Group, the event served up a scintillating array of speakers, including Lords Navnit Dholakia, William Wallace, Tony Greaves and Archy Kirkwood, as well as former MP Michael Meadowcroft and the Northern Editor of the ‘Guardian’, Martin Wainwright. The title was cheekily misleading, as there was actually very little about the Torrington by-election, which propelled Mark Bonham-Carter briefly into the House of Commons 50 years ago. But there was lots of fascinating historical material and analysis, as well as many delicious anectodes, about how the Liberal Party escaped extinction and revived, albeit in fits and starts.

I hadn’t realised until today that the LSE holds a fine collection of Liberal/Liberal Democrat documentation in its archives, including the papers of Paddy Ashdown, William Beverdige, Nancy Seear, David Steel and Richard Wainwright et al. The catalogue can be found at: .


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