Jonathan Fryer’s Diary of a Euro-candidate

Each autumn, I’m invited by Public Affairs International to give a briefing in London to foreign civil servants about relations between British political parties, the public and the media. A majority of the participants this afternoon are from Qatar and the UAE, which is an interesting reflection of current global realities. As their government ministers are almost all members of the ruling family, the Westminster system must seem very strange. I am left pondering what things would be like if Prince Andrew were our Minister of Defence. In the evening, I am the guest speaker at the AGM of Ealing Liberal Democrats, where I give a pep talk on making the Euro-elections work for you. Several people present left suitably enthused, though when I get home I find a long and abusive email from one Ealing member who is distinctly off-message.

To Kensington at lunchtime for the Czech Embassy’s National Day reception. Later I’ll be asked to interview the Ambassador for ‘Diplomat’ magazine, but as always at these events, there’s a solid hour of so of frantic networking, handing out business cards like confetti and (where appropriate) reminding resident EU nationals that they can vote here next June if they choose. In the evening, I’d hoped to join the LibDem Leader in the House of Lords, Tom McNally, at a Hackney LibDem dinner discussion on the Obama Phenomenon, but instead I am summoned to do a live review of the papers on PressTV – a real litany of gloom, what with the eastern Congo and George W Bush’s latest prank of launching a helicopter attack on Syria.

To City Airport – a mere 30 minutes from my house by public transport – for a morning flight to Stockholm, where the European Liberal Democrat (ELDR) Congress is to take place. It’s a particularly important gathering this year, as the common manifesto for next June’s elections is being debated. The two Swedish Liberal parties (the Central Party and Folkspartiet) are both in government at the moment, so they are keen to make it a success. The Brits, as ever, have the largest delegation, being by far the largest Liberal Party in Europe, though by no means the most powerful. The Conference hotel is awash with Ministers from various countries, as well as MPs and MEPs by the score, though only two British MEPs have signed up to come and our single Westminster parliamentary representative will be the party president, Simon Hughes. In the evening, there is a welcome reception in the Swedish parliament building, As I tuck into the crayfish and salad, I reflect on how mean British hospitality often is to visiting foreign delegations in comparison. Cold sausage rolls, anyone?

I corner the Danish Prime Minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who is currently trying to persuade his compatriots that Denmark should now adopt the euro. Opinion polls suggest the Danish public is warming to the idea, as Danish interest rates are so much higher than in the eurozone. Rasmussen is immensely charming, if a little right-wing for British LibDem tastes. When I quiz the leaders of the two Swedish Liberal parties, I’m told three out of the four parties in Sweden’s ruling coalition are in favour of euro membership. With all the new EU member states adopting the euro as they become ready, will Britain eventually be the only country left outside? In the evening, there is a tremendous reception in the stunning Golden Hall of Stockholm City Hall, where the Nobel Prize dinners are held. There’s a rather imposing middle-aged lady standing on her own, so I go up to chat. She turns out to be the European Commissioner for Agriculture, Mariann Fischer Boel. Cue for a discussion on CAP reform.

The highlight of the day for me is the Congress debate on the EU and Russia, in which recent events in Georgia figure large. The leader of the Georgian opposition Republican Party, Davit Usuapashvili, is on the panel, as is the new leader of the Russian Liberal party Yabloko, Sergey Mitrokhin, the sort of man who makes one feel Moscow is not completely beyond hope after all. Less predictable is the presence of former Russian Prime Minister, Mikhail Kasyanov, who fell out spectacularly with Vladimir Putin a while back and is now portraying himself as a Liberal. Well, I suppose everyone has the right to a Damascene conversion.

After three days of cold and rain, suddenly the sky is blue and Stockholm glows in autumn sunshine. As the ELDR delegates – over 500 of us, the highest number ever – disperse, we are feeling pretty glowing as well, having successfully battled our way through numerous amendments to the Euro-manifesto before passing it unanimously. I return to London briefly to sort out various administrative matters relating to both my work and politics and then board the Euro-star for Paris. I suppose if I do get elected next June, this is what life will be like.

For the first time for months, I have a day off from campaigning and working and just enjoy the sights and seeing friends in the city where I lived long ago. Every candidate needs to just chill out once in a while, or else one would go mad.

Jonathan Fryer is a writer, lecturer and broadcaster, and is second on the party’s list for the European Elections in London in 2009. His blog has featured on Lib Dem Voice’s Golden Dozen lists over a dozen times.

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