Jonathan Fryer

Archive for March, 2009

On the Stump in Belsize Ward, Camden

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 31st March, 2009

jf-and-camilla-camvassing-belsizeI was out canvassing in the Belsize by-election in Camden this afternoon, in what is proving to be one of the closest fought recent contests in London. Alexis Rowell and two colleagues seized the ward from the Conservatives in 2006, to the Tories’ amazement and dismay — not least because the Tory group on Camden Council lost its leader in the process. The LibDem team has worked the ward hard since, but unfortunately one of its members had to resign on health grounds and the Conservatives have been throwing everything they can into the resultant campaign (in which an excellent young activist, Tom Simon, is the LibDem candidate).

Interestingly, Belsize ward has one of the highest concentrations of EU voters in London, notably French citizens, who can of course vote in both local and European elections. As I discovered when I did a stint on a street stall in the ward the other day, many of them are not impressed by David Cameron’s luke-warm attitude to Europe and his threats to pull the Conservative MEPs out of the EPP grouping in the European Parliament. Yet paradoxically the Tories have just lost one of their biggest donors, Stuart Wheeler, who has decided UKIP is more his cup of tea. Much mumbling in th Tory ranks about rats joining a sinking ship.

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Election Monitoring in Diyarbakir

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 30th March, 2009

I spent the weekend in Diyarbakir, in south-eastern Anatolia, monitoring the local elections. Turkey’s ruling AKP had hoped to make inroads into the Kurdish homelands, but in this they were largely disappointed. In Diyarbakir, a historic walled city that has seen more than its fair share of civil unrest and repression over the years, everyone assumed that the DTP — one of the few legal Kurdish political parties still operating – would win. The question was by what margin. There was quite a festive atmosphere at many of the polling stations (all of which were in schools) on polling day on Sunday, as people queued to vote, chatted to neighbours and then hung around outside for a good gossip. There was minimal police presence at the polling stations in the city, but in outlying areas there were reports of their intimidating presence and, more commonly, angry disputes between rival candidates for village chiefs and their families.

Polling was from 7am to 4pm (by noon at one village I went to, 95% of people on the electoral roll had already voted!), so results started to trickle in after 6pm. As the evenig went on, the city went crazy; thousands of supporters sang and danced outside the DTP headquarters and motor vehicles cruised the streets blaring their horns in celebration of the party’s 70% share of the vote. The atmosphere was like a world cup victory parade! The Kurdish question has by no means disppeared from Turkey’s political scene, despite some beneficial reforms and easing of some restrictions on the Kurds’ cultural rights by the government in Ankara. And for many of the people who turned out in their droves to vote in Diyarbakir and other predominantly Kurdish towns and cities, the election was all about their identity.

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Euro-hustings at the London Press Club

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 27th March, 2009

The London Press Club, at the St Bride’s Institute off Fleet Street, hosted a well-attended European elections hustings this evening, at which I was the LibDem representative, alongside fellow London candidates Jean Lambert MEP (Green), Gerard Batten MEP (UKIP), Jean-Paul Floru (Conservative) and Kevin McGrath (Labour). I was pleased to be called (alphabetically) after Gerard and Jean-Paul, as the audience was ready by then to hear some positive news about Europe after the two previous speakers’ attacks on how the EU has taken over our country. In contrast, Kevin McGrath was far more outspokenly pro-European than most Labour politicians, in the sense of stressing the good things that have come from European cooperation, rather than portraying European politics as a boxing match between Britain and the rest. Jean Lambert I have known for many years and we are regular cross-party panel fixtures. The LibDems and the Greens have many common environmental concerns, but the British Greens’ dogmatic rejection of economic growth, the euro and the leading role of the market economy, not to mention the anti-liberal views of some of their number, have always left me feeling uneasy.

Link: www.londonpressclub.co.uk

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A Hustings in Hampstead and Kilburn

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 26th March, 2009

The general election is probably at least a year away, yet the Roslyn Hill Chapel in Hampstead held a four-party parliamentary hustings this evening which drew in over a hundred people. Perhaps it is not surprising that in these troubled times, people are in the mood to voice their fears, even their anger — and to put politicians on the spot. This febrile atmosphere could make the forthcoming European election campaign considerably more interesting than previous ones.

I had never seen Glenda Jackson in the flesh before (though of course I am of a vintage to have seen plenty of her flesh on celluloid) and it’s true that she is impressive as a performer. She was on a sticky wicket having to defend Gordon Brown and the Labour government, however. It’s not surprising that many Labour MPs with slender majorities (and indeed, some MEPs) are putting out feelers for other careers. Meanwhile, Ed Fordham, the LibDem prospective parliamentary candidate for the new constituency of Hampstead and Kilburn, is growing in confidence in his speeches and is starting to get a few laughs — always an important asset in getting an audience on one’s side. The Tory, local Councillor Chris Philp, comes across as being a bit wet behind the ears, but ambitious enough to move on to somewhere more worthwhile after the next election. The UKIP man, Magnus Nielsen, was good for a giggle — claiming at one point to be partly Conservative, partly Labour and partly Liberal Democrat — though like most UKIP wannabes, playing a single-track record of Euroscepticism.

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Tom Brake, Facebook and the Snoopers’ Charter

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 25th March, 2009

The Labour government is making plans to monitor people’s Facebook traffic, in its latest move to turn Britain into an Orwellian society. The Home Office has told the BBC this surveillance is necessary to tackle criminal gangs and terrorists who might use Facebook and other social networking sites for their own nefarious ends. Our phone calls, emails and details of the Internet sites we visit are already deemed by Labour to be of legitimate government interest, in the name of national security. But as Tom Brake, Liberal Democrat MP for Carshalton and Wallington, rightly points out, ‘it is deeply worrying that they now intend to monitor social networking sites which contain very sensitive data like sexual orientation, religious beliefs and political views.’  Thank God the Liberal Democrats are there in the Houses of Parliament to protest each time Labour chips away at our civil liberties. Public opinion now needs to be mobilised, before we are led blindfold by Gordon Brown and Jacqui Smith into a police state.

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Peace and Justice for Sri Lanka’s Tamils

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 22nd March, 2009

This afternoon I spoke at a large gathering of London-based Tamils in Alperton (Brent), who were there to hear what Liberal Democrats had to say about the appalling humanitarian situation in the Vanni area of Sri Lanka. Though there has been comparatively little coverage in the British media (partly because the Sri Lankan government has kept journalists out), the Tamil civilian population there has come under horrendous and protracted bombardment as the government has tried to crush the separatist LTTE. Colombo says it believes the rebels are almost beaten, but as I said in my speech, there can never be a permanent military solution to the Tamil question on the island. That can only be resolved through negotiated/political means, which means delivering peace with dignity and justice and a substantial degree of self-rule to the predominantly Tamil areas, whether that is as an autonomous region within a federal state, or a separate entity; it is not for an outsider like me to judge.

I was dropped into the deep end of Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict in the summer of 1983, when, by sheer fluke, I flew into Colombo on the very morning when the anti-Tamil incidents flared up. As I was driven into the city from the airport, Tamil businesses and homes were literally going up in flames and later I saw gangs of youths being disgorged from minibuses, armed with machetes, knives, sticks and other improvised weapons, ready to lay into anyone of the wrong ethnic group. It is a tragedy that more than a quarter of a century later, the issue has not been satisfactorily resolved. Britain as the former colonial power must engage more proactively in the situation and the EU itself should use its undoubted clout to promote true democracy and human rights on the island.

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The Benefits of European Economic Integration

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 22nd March, 2009

One of the questions I sometimes get asked on the doorstep or over a drink is ‘What has Europe ever done for us?’, the very framing of which reflects the Euroscepticism of a substantial proportion of the British population, fuelled by the myths and lies of the Daily Mail, the Sun and other less respectable organs of the national media. So it was useful to have an excellent presentation yesterday in Brussels from lobbyist Kai Lucke (whom I had last met years ago when he was active in LSE LibDems) on how the implementation of the single market and the adoption of the euro by a majority of the ‘old’ EU member states has benefitted not only those businesses with the ability to adapt and grow, but also, vitally, consumers.  One of the myths he dispelled was the old chestnut that the European Commission wants to harmonise everything, whereas the truth is very different, partly because of the principle of ‘mutual recognition’ established following the famous ‘cassis de Dijon’ case. French cassis had been barred from Germany because of  its low alcohol level, until the rules were changed so that products legally produced in one member state can be legally sold in another (with a tiny number of exceptions, such as Swedish chewing tobacco). Minimum standards have to be set to guarantee consumer protection, but otherwise we can and should celebrate diversity in the European market.

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Inside Look into the European Parliament

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 20th March, 2009

Friday afternoons in the European Parliament buildings in Brussels tend to be low-key affairs, as the MEPs have gone back to their constituencies and their researchers are winding down for the weekend. So it was an ideal time to begin the two-day in-depth briefing for 30 of us prospective new MEPs, organised by the European Liberal Forum. We had major presentations by both the Secretary General of the European Liberal (ALDE) group, Alexander Beels, and Dutch MEP Jules Maaten on what Liberal MEPs and what the European Parliament as a whole have achieved over the past five years — all useful stuff for the campaign trail. Tomorrow we’ll be getting into the nitty-geitty of policy, from the economy to climate change, as well as getting helpful hints on how to organise our lives if we do indeed get elected. Better to be forewarned! 

Link: http://europeanliberalforum.blogspot.com

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Human Rights, Turkey and the EU

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 19th March, 2009

This evening I was one of the speakers at a big meeting at the LSE, focussing on aspects of the European media’s coverage of Turkey’s progress (or otherwise) towards EU membership. Quentin Peel of the Financial Times was in the Chair at the event, which was organised by the British-Turkish Business Network, BizNET. The other panelists were William Horsley, former European affairs correspondent of the BBC, Ayca Abakan Duffrene of the BBC World Service’s Turkish Service and Ruth Mandel from University College London (UCL). I concentrated on the human rights angle to the subject, pointing out how the EU’s Copenhagen criteria for prospective members puts serious obligations on their governments to make progress in the field of democracy and human rights. To his credit, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has made quite a number of positive reforms since he came to power, though dismayingly these seem to have slowed rather. Moreover, last year there was actually a marked increase in the number of prosecutions against writers and journalists who fall foul of the country’s notorious Article 301, which makes criticising Turkey, Turkish identity or Turkish institutions a crime. Many of these prosecutions are maliciously brought by ultra-nationlist lawyers and others with an axe to grind — not a few of whom would be delighted if Turkey’s road to EU membership were blocked.

Link: www.biznet-uk,org

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London Region Spring Conference

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 19th March, 2009

London Liberal Democrats filled the large lecture hall of the Polish Centre in Hammersmith last night, at the regional Spring Conference. The undoubted draw of the evening was Vince Cable, MP, the party’s own Delphic oracle. As someone pertinently asked him in the question time after his speech, how can the Mail on Sunday readers’  love for him be translated into love for the Liberal Democrats? In my own speech, I pitched the line that people out there are hungry for a message of hope: good news, against a backdrop of rising unemployment and financial collapse. And as a party we can provide that good news, by stressing positively how closer European cooperation can help Britain emerge from the current recession, just as it can help to combat climate change and other environmental hazards, as well as cross-border crime.

Earlier in the day, Liberal Democrat Friends of Poland had its official launch in the Centre’s basement café, at a session chaired by Islington’s LibDem Mayor, Stefan Kasprzyk. There as many as a million Poles or people of Polish decent in this country, and their votes could well make a difference in a region such as London where the LibDems so narrowly missed a second European parliamentary seat in 2004.

Link: www.posk.org  and http://libdems4london.org.uk

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