Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Willie Rennie’

Winning Here

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 10th April, 2018

0BC563C7-00F1-4254-A995-6EFB48B87F6DFor more than two decades, Chris Rennard was the Liberal Democrats’ campaign guru, masterminding successive by-election wins and astounding many media professionals by being able to predict results with uncanny accuracy (sometimes winning himself some useful cash with judiciously-placed bets at the same time). But as his memoir Winning Here (Biteback, £25) makes clear, he was something of a political anorak when he was barely out of short pants (and an orphan), cutting his teeth in the not always friendly environments of Liverpool and Leicester. His talents were soon recognised at the HQ in London, where he graduated from being a one-man campaign band to be the head of a team of 20. Ah, those were the days. Under his stewardship (later with the starring role of Chief Executive) he nurtured the growth of the Party until it won 62 seats in the 2005 general election, post-Iraq War, with Charles Kennedy as party leader. Willie Rennie’s by-election win soon after was the cherry on the top, taking the LibDems to an unrivalled 63 in the House of Coomons (and a hefty contingent in the House of Lords, too, including Chris Rennard himself).  But the wheels we’re beginning to come off the LibDem bandwagon, with Charles’s imminent resignation because of unchecked alcoholism, Simon Hughes’s sexual orientation confusion and Mark Oaten’s walk on the wild side. The book ends there, on a note of triumph, but with storm clouds gathering. But I am sure I cannot be alone in being a little perturbed by the fact that the cover says this is Memoirs Volume 1. Given the rumpus over Chris’s alleged inappropriate behaviour (unproven, a subsequent inquiry decided), maybe it would be wiser to call it a day here. As it is, for a longstanding campaigner and serial candidate such as myself, this book is a treasure trove of memories and anecdotes. I know/knew virtually everyone mentioned, and campaigned with many of them. Interestingly, the European elections get only scant coverage, confirming my suspicion that Chris (and some others in HQ) saw them as a somewhat irritating sideshow. The parliamentary by-elections were the things that kept him motivated — often working grotesquely long hours, detrimental to his personal health — and we can gloriously relive them all here and remember when for Liberal Democrats, the good times really were good.

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Seizing the Agenda of Hope

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 3rd December, 2016

img_1750One of the most enjoyable sessions so far at the ALDE Congress in Warsaw was last night’s panel discussion on Brexit and the Politics of Fear. Ever since the EU Referendum in June we British Liberal Democrats have been greeted by our continental counterparts with a degree of compassionate sympathy normally reserved for bereavements. And indeed for many of us losing the referendum did trigger a period of grieving. Winning the Richmond Park & North Kingston by-election on Thursday of course did give us a fillip, and we will continue to campaign to stay in the EU (at best) or to avoid a hard Brexit (at worst). At yesterday’s panel discussion, the leader of the Scottish LibDems, Willie Rennie, stressed how in the new political climate we need to express our liberal values in clear, simple messages. In a short statement from the audience I pointed out that although we on the Remain side of the Brexit debate perceive the nationalism that is on the rise in Britain and other member states as being part of the Politics of Fear, the Brexiteers framed their message as the Politics of Hope — a false hope, based on distortions and lies, to be sure, but it resonated with much of the public. Accordingly, I argued, we need to seize the agenda of hope and articulate it in our own terms, so that we enthuse voters as well as defending the European project.

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Stop Using Clegg as a Whipping-Boy!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 26th August, 2011

Yesterday in Glasgow a protestor threw blue paint into Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s face, splattering not only him but the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, Willie Rennie, and some policemen (the last of whom are expected to press charges). Clegg’s team laughed off the incident, saying that as Nick has small children, he’s used to getting splashed. The protestor was doubtless making the point crudely that some voters in Britain feel that Clegg has turned the Liberal Democrats into Tories by joining with the Conservatives in Coalition government. Anyone who hears Nick speak, or reads recent statements he has put out, for example in defending human rights legislation, cannot honestly believe that. It’s maybe true that he sometimes seems to get on too well with Prime Minister David Cameron, though a good working relationship is of course necessary for a functioning coalition. And of course the LibDems didn’t get all of their manifesto commitments into the government programme; they are the junior partner, after all, yet they achieved most of what they wanted nonetheless. The same could be said about the Conservatives. But what has become abundantly clear is that over the past year or so, Nick Clegg has become a whipping-boy for the Left, having every criticism of the government — however fair or unfair — hurled at him personally. At times it has appeared that some Conservatives are happy for that to be the case. They should stop, and so should Labour or other opposition supporters and actually take the trouble to find out what Nick Clegg the man is like, what he believes in, and why he felt it was right to take a radical party like the Liberal Democrats into the Coalition after last year’s inconclusive election.

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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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Water on the Brain

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 16th July, 2008

Oil has dominated the geopolitical agenda for the past three decades, not least since George W Bush and Dick Cheney have been in charge in Washington. But water could be the new oil, according to Ed Davey, Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs spokesman and MP for Kingston and Surbiton. He was the keynote speaker at the annual general meeting of the Liberal International British Group (LIBG) at the House of Commons this evening, presided over by Malcolm Bruce MP (Chairman of the all-party Select Committee on International Development). Ed underlined how important the issue of water is in relation to peace and security, not only in the Middle East, but in so many regions of the world. The party president, Simon Hughes MP, also put in an appearance at the AGM and underlined his support for LIBG and its internationalist work. Amongst the distinguished gathering was Emil Kirjas, (Macedonian) Secretary General of Liberal International, and the Canadian Liberal MP, Marco Silva.

At the subsequent dinner, at the National Liberal Club, we were able to thank David Griffiths, who has for many years served as either Chairman or Secretary of the group, as well as the outgoing Treasurer Ahmad Mallick. There is likely to be a generational change within LIBG over the next year or so, which is essential for the smooth functioning of any healthy organisation. In the meantime, LIBG will be hosting what promises to be one of the liveliest fringe meetings at the Bournemouth LibDem autumn conference, on the theme ‘Middle East: Is a Two-State Solution Still Viable?’, with speakers including Ran Gidor (Counsellor at the Israeli Embassy), Jeff Halper (from the Israeli Committee against House Demolition), a Palestinian academic (to be confirmed) and Willie Rennie, MP, who was recently on a fact-finding mission to Israel/Palestine.


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