Ed Fordham on Jonathan Fryer, Tony Greaves and Derek Barrie

They come along in three’s: but none of us expected to put Jonathan Fryer, Tony Greaves and Derek Barrie in the same sentence in such a short period of time. Three liberals who now feature in our hearts, in our memories and in our stories. But if we do them justice they will feature in our actions, our principles and that will keep them alive in our hearts.

LDV has published obituaries for Tony Greaves and Derek Barrie. Jonathan Fryer is terminally ill and has sadly written his last Facebook post.

These were three very different people.

I, like many others in the Liberal family, had the good fortune to call all three a friend.

In 2006 Jonathan and I didn’t win the ward of Hampstead Town in Camden for the Liberal Democrats. We failed in that short term objective but that campaign saw the Liberal Democrats emerge as the largest party on the Council and for the first time ever we led the Council under Cllr Keith Moffitt. Camden Liberal Democrats under the tutelage of Cllr Flick Rea had mastered politics and sociability. This was the principle of an army marches on its belly and under the organisation of Janet Grauberg, Louise Malin and others we fed and watered our army through a dazzling array of discussion and events. Jonathan, himself living in Bow for much of the time, was always present. I quizzed him on why he always attended: “grassroots politics” was his simple and, for me, utterly compelling answer.

A Quaker and European, a writer and traveller, homosexual and a campaigner Jonathan understood that you must be there and he always was. Jonathan is still with us but he has posted his farewell. It is perhaps the most compelling and shocking Facebook message from any friend I have ever read. He captured his own bravery, his radical soul and his clarity of thought.

Derek Barrie was a very different character – almost elvish and puck-like in his mischief. That beard and scowl combined with his stature managed to exude a determination and a stubborn nature. He was dogged in his passion for liberalism and elections and fairness. In the 1999 Hamilton South election we came sixth, that seemed bad enough, but I can still hear Derek Chuckling at the Campaigns and Elections Team meetings when he reported how good a result that was as we had subsequently come 7th in a by-election behind the football supporters club.

Sitting on a wall in Leamington Spa as we broke for lunch during ALDC standing committee now over 20 years ago I would quiz Derek on Scottish politics. He would bring me sets of leaflets from by-elections that others had forgotten, would tell me in detail why you had to contend every ward and division with a candidate and how, losing candidates had to be nurtured and thanked. “Handling winning was fairly easy,” Derek would say, “it was making the losing fun so they come back for more that really mattered.” It was making the losing fun – it was from Derek that I adopted my own Election mantra: if it’s not fun, don’t do it. When the Stoke on Trent central by-election came along a few years back, I was reluctant to return to an old stomping ground, nervous about going back to places left. I rang Derek, he was very clear: “get the train and help, the campaign will use your knowledge, and if you don’t like it, leave.” I went and I stayed and it effectively re-fired my willingness to stand again for public office.

Last night I finished canvassing early (I was cold and had not worn enough layers) and dashed home, cutting off a phone call from my mate Paul Trollope (Organiser for South Lakeland and much of Cumbria) so I could get home and watch the full Council meeting of Pendle Borough Council live on YouTube. Councillor after councillor, from all parties, spoke of the man so many of us knew, a councillor who was so experienced, so dedicated, so stubborn that he was worth listening to: Cllr Lord Tony Greaves.

A lot has been said and more besides about the contrarian that was Tony. For me it was the teacher and mentor that he became. In 1988, I got a train to Blackpool to Party Conference to be a steward and to learn. I met three formative characters. Mike Harskin, then editor to Liberal News, now sadly gone. I was attached as a steward to assist the late Lord Mark Bonham Carter (foreign affairs Spokesman for the Party) and decades later was to work with his widow and children as their parliamentary candidate in Hampstead and Kilburn. And Cllr Tony Greaves who was on the ALC stand. I was young and keen to learn and wiling to carry things. In no time at all I was helping Tony carry boxes of books from training room to training room. There was a booklet he had for sale on Liverpool: “love Liverpool, vote Liberal” it screamed from the front page. I will never recall the price but I couldn’t really afford it. I gazed at it often enough that Tony realised I wanted it. When it came to the end of Conference, I helped Tony and Mike load up their cars after the exhibition closed, said my farewell and headed for the train station.

Weeks later, I was called to the head’s office at school in Spalding, Lincolnshire and was handed an envelope that had arrived there addressed to me, care of the school. It was a photocopy of the booklet from Tony with a note: “let me know what you think.” I was hooked. Reading that booklet, and then the account of merger and then the ALC and ALDC guides, and more besides, I learnt from Tony that community politics was not a tactic, we didn’t do leaflets because people liked them and because they voted for them, we did leaflets because it was the right thing to do. My philosophy since has been community politics. Liberalism was slow and awkward, but with community politics, it carried people forwards together and achieved better solutions.

Over the decades any chance to speak to Tony was a chance to learn and I never missed that opportunity. I went on more recently to become the Head of the Liberal Democrat Office at the Local Government Association. Tony was now in the House of Lords. Lunch with Tony was a chance to exchange gossip about local councils. I would take focus leaflets from wards otherwise forgotten, written accounts of Councils we were running. He would share stories from his time travelling round the county helping, assisting and campaigning. I shared what I could and learnt the lessons of the past from him.

Jonathan was a friend, Derek was a colleague, but I don’t think I exaggerate when I say that Tony Greaves was a titan of community politics and campaigning. He was gruff, blunt, rude, sometimes wrong – but he was genuine, passionate and resolute in his liberalism. No other single person has such a claim to having embedded the grassroots liberalism that enabled this party to survive and thrive. And it is thanks to Tony that people across the UK get FOCUS week after week, month after month. In the rollcall of great Liberals, let the name of Cllr Lord Tony Greaves be called late and possibly even last. He led from the front, stood happily at the back and with a pint and a wry smile, he loved seeing us learn and lead for ourselves. We, and the communities we seek to serve, owe him a debt that is incalculable. My community is better for his teaching, thank you, Tony.

Now the task falls to those of us who believe that we should be the party of local government to decide how best to honour him. I’m sure the Party will have a view and I will follow the lead of ALDC – the organisation he worked for, cared about and nurtured.

* Ed Fordham is a councillor on Chesterfield Borough Council and runs Brockwell Books of Chesterfield, selling many thanks, not least ephemera he bought from Liber Books over the last 25 years.

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6 Comments

  • George Crozier 26th Mar '21 - 12:49pm

    That’s a wonderful tribute Ed. Three great liberals who all, I think (though I didn’t really know Derek), recognised the value of genuine local campaigning – not only for winning elections (though of course we need to do that in order to change things) but for empowering communities and making their voices heard. I can’t think of anyone in the party who better epitomises than Jonathan the combination of localism and internationalism that is, for me, at the heart of liberalism. Such sad news.

  • It’s been a bad few months recently and Ed’s comments are very much appreciated.

    It’s no time at all since David Shutt died, and I’d like to add David to Ed’s list of the sixties generation of Liberals who never stopped striving for their principles.

  • Joseph Bourke 26th Mar '21 - 3:51pm

    Sad news about Jonathan Fryer. Jonathan was a regular speaker at our local party events and an ardent European. Jonathan posted this message earlier this month:
    “There was a strong line-up to be elected the new Chair of the European Movement, Britain’s main pro-European campaigning body. True, they were all white males of a certain age but between them Dominic Grieve, Andrew Adonis and Peter Kellner had a wealth of different experience. Brexit may have happened, alas, but it is more important than ever that Britain has a positive relationship with our European neighbours, not just on trade — especially as.the Johnson government and its cheerleaders in the media are determined to blame the EU for all that is wrong. I watched the campaign videos that the three candidates prepared and confess that I changed my mind as a result. I had thought that having a well-connected former Tory MP was what the EM needed now (though his predecessor Stephen Dorrell had been that too, despite defecting to the Liberal Democrats). Peter Kellner has widespread experience, too, not least as the former Head of YouGov. But Andrew Adonis has kept up the fight for Britain to be European, not just in the House of Lords and at public meetings up and down the country but also in his columns until recently in The New European and nowadays for Prospect. More important, he is determined to involve younger people in the campaign for a more European Britain — and he has an unequivocal commitment to making this a step by step march towards rejoining the EU. Britain should be at the heart of Europe though it may take some years before the public and the two major political parties accept that that is where we should be.”

  • Richard Underhill.., 26th Mar '21 - 3:55pm

    Lancashire County Councillor Tony Greaves could operate the printer at the Ribble Valley bye election . He also laughed at my jokes. In the Lords he could laugh at a Thatcherite hanger and flogger former MP as the Heselteenies made a Major review of the poll tax. As a radical Young Liberal he did admit to helping in the Orpington bye-election. I remember him for his comments in the Liberal News about his northern obsession with millstone grit falling on Southerners. I was born in Margate and live in Kent.
    Jonathon had been an aid worker to whom the most important thing was an adequate supply of clean water, but too young. We should remember when that had been true of England. He led a delegation of Liberal Democrats to Belfast which John Alderdice arranged as LI President which was attended by the PM of Zimbabwe, who returned to his country despite the risk to his life and health from his then President and coalition partner.

  • My generation is passing away, not many of us left.

  • Neil Hickman 28th Mar '21 - 12:54pm

    Hearing of the passing of Tony Greaves was bad enough, but it is very sad to learn that Jonathan Fryer will be leaving us as well.
    I knew him rather distantly long ago at university. I didn’t value him as I should have done. My loss. A good man and a true Liberal.

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