Jonathan Fryer

Archive for September, 2010

Baku Past, Present and Future

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 29th September, 2010

A century ago, Baku was one of the greatest cities on earth, the old walled settlement on the banks of the Caspian Sea swelled by the ornate mansions of men who made fortunes from oil and the related economic boom. Communism largely put a halt to the city’s growth, as Moscow was wary of giving the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan too much clout and Western customers found their oil supplies elsewhere. But since Azerbaijan’s declaration of independence in 1991, the oil and gas industry has soared in importance once more. The smell of sulphur hits you in the nostrils as you drive into Baku from the airport. Huge skyscrapers are ging up around the old city core, more Dubai than reflecting Azeri heritage. Black Humvees with OTT car horns assert their right of way over chugging Ladas as they race along the new town’s broad avenues. The government is determined to put Azerbaijan firmly back on the map, despite the fact that it has a population of only 9 million and has a festering territorial dispute with neighbouring Armenia that shows no sign of early resolution. Meanwhile, foreign contractors from all over the globe are in town, sniffing for business, as Baku once again savours being at the crossroads of East and West, North and South.

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Jewish Boat to Gaza

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 27th September, 2010

Another vessel is attempting to breach the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip, only this time there is a difference: all the passengers are Jewish. The small catamaran, Irene, is sailing under a British flag and has various nationalities on board, representing several groups including the London-based Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JJP). The cargo includes prosthetic limbs for orthopaedic care in Gaza hospitals, as well as toys, musical instruments, text books and fishing nets. Richard Kuper of JJP commented, ‘Israeli policies are not supported by all Jews. We call on all governmens and people around the world to speak and act against the occupation and the siege.’ The 83-year-old Holocaust survivor Reuven Moskovitz, who is also on board, declared, ‘It is a sacred duty for me, as a survivor, to protest against the perseuction, the oppression and the imprisonment of so many people in Gaza, including more than 800,000 children.’ The boat will attempt to dock in Gaza, but if intercepted by the Israelis (as it surely will be), the people on board will not offer any resistance. Some people might think their gesture futile, even provocative. I find it immensely brave.

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Simon Hughes Backs JohnG4Mayor

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 26th September, 2010

The recently-formed Tower Hamlets Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats hosted a successful Eid event at the Spifford Centre in Stepney Green this afternoon to help John Griffiths’ campaign to become the borough’s first directly-elected Mayor. The guest speaker was the Liberal Democrats’ Deputy Leader, Simon Hughes MP, who has often crossed the Thames from his home base in Southwark to support Tower Hamlets LibDems. He gave strong backing to Ajmal Masroor in Bethnal Green & Bow at the general election in May, when Ajmal took the LibDems up from fourth to second place. It was good to see an excellent turnout of local Bengalis this evening to cheer on John’s campaign. The Mayoral election has been turned on its head by the utter disarray of Labour, which has now split into two factions, one supporting the ‘official’ Labour candidate, Helal Abbas, imposed by the national party, in defiance of the local members’ ballot, and the ‘independent’ Labour candidate, Lutfur Rahman, who was the man deselected. Up to nine Labour Councillors are thought to be siding with Mr Rahman, which may well mean that all are expelled from the party. John Griffiths has the advantage of not only being Mr Clean in the murky politics of Tower Hamlets but of also having served as a local councillor and being a community champion — a message he was putting across to the Bengali-language media who turned up for today’s event.

{You can follow JohnG4Mayor on twitter and on Facebook)

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Labour Lurches Left

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 25th September, 2010

Hot on the heels of Ken “let’s raise the top level of income tax to 80 per cent” Livingstone being chosen as Labour’s London Mayoral candidate (again!), the party has elected union-backed Ed Miliband — already dubbed ‘Red Ed’ by the more conservative tabloids — to be its new leader. This will doubtless warm the cockles of the Left and the Miriam Karlin “everybody out!” branch of trade unionism, but it is a disaster for Labour in its hopes of forming the next government. In his acceptance speech in Manchester this afternoon, Ed Miliband said that he will oppose the Coalition when he needs to but he will support it when he arees with it. But I don’t think those who backed him will let him. Meanwhile, it was interesting to see how many people in the hall at the Labour Party conference sat on their hands at key points in his speech, not just because they believe that the wrong Miliband won, but more importantly because they know that actually the party has fatally gone into the comfort zone of longterm opposition. Moreover, some of the more militant trade unions — such as Bob Crow’s RMT — will be calling for mass strike action — not something that is likely to endear Labour to the general public in the prevailing political climate of 2010.

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Ken Livingstone Is the Wrong Choice

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 24th September, 2010

As was widely predicted, Ken Livingstone has beaten Oona King to become Labour’s candidate for London Mayor in 2012. I have shared platforms with Ken several times, as well as taking part in joint photo-ops, and have always found him personally agreeable. But I know from political friends and colleagues — including many inside the Labour Party — that he can be a hard street-fighter as well as a cheeky chappie. One only has to think of the way he ousted Andrew McIntosh as Leader of the Labour Group on the GLC in 1981 to understand how ruthless he can be. But that’s not the reason I am disappointed that Labour has gone for Ken again in 2012. He is a 20th century politician and what we need in London is fresh vision. That’s one reason why Boris Johnson won in 2008. People were tired of Ken and wanted a change. I don’t think he will make a dramatic comeback. Besides, Oona King would have given Labour a very different face in the capital. And even if I don’t agree with everything she has done — for example, backing Tony Blair over the Iraq War — I would have given her my second preference vote. With Ken as the Labour candidate, however, that will now go to Boris instead.

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Liberal Democrats Abroad

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 23rd September, 2010

I have long thought it odd that the UK Liberal Democrats haven’t had branches overseas, given the number of liberal-mided expatriates there are. The one exception has been the Brussels and Luxemboug local party, which found fertile recruiting ground amongst Eurocrats and Europhiles and which often organises good events (including for visiting LibDem politicians from Britain), as well as raising funds for election campaigns. The (US) Democrats Abroad, for example, is a formidable operation, which in many ways the LibDems could long have emulated. But at last the lacuna has been filled, with the launch today of Liberal Democrats Abroad, a network that will be coordinated out of the International Office of the party at 4, Cowley Street, London SW1P 3NB. Hong Kong looks like being one early branch, but I supect Spain, Portugal and other retirement havens may prove fruitful, as well as busy international centres such as Paris, Frankfurt and New York. The contact for the new network is paul.speller@libdems.org.uk .

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Leonard Downie Jr and ‘The New News’

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 22nd September, 2010

The veteranm foreign correspondent James Cameron died 25 yeara ago and the world of journalism has changed unrecognisably in the interim. That fact was marked in a lecture by the Vice-President at Large of the Washington Post newspaper, Leonard Downie Jr, at City University, London, this evening. It is not just the speed of news transmission which has changed (actually something Downie hardly touched on), but the decline in the dominance of discrete media such as newspapers, radio and television and the seemingly unstoppable rise of online (‘new’) media. There are good sides to that, as others have pointed out, relating to so-called ‘citizen journalism’. But there are also bad aspects, not least the unreliability or shere bias of so much that is available online. Moreover, those people fortunate to be paid, full-time journalists or broadcasters these days are expected to multitask across a wide range of media and outlets. I suspect that had James Cameron been alive today, he would have packed up his journalist’s kit and written more books intead. There was quite a lot that was interesting in Downie’s lecture, but nothing especially new or thought-provoking. And it was so long that he had to canter through it at such a pace that it allowed little time for thought, let alone reflection; a bit of judicious editing would have helped.

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Remembering Eden Mulliner

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 21st September, 2010

Eden Mulliner, Romford stalwart of Havering Liberal Democrats, was a larger-than-life character in every sense. Her physical presence was imposing, accentuated by striking looks which she attributed to Cherokee roots on her paternal side. She was a teacher by vocation — notably in adult education, building the self-confidence and abilities of people who were often coping with some difficulty with the world — but she was also passionate about politics and the Arts. She succombed recently to cancer, aged just 46, and many of the loving friends and colleagues who joined her family at her funeral service at the exquisite Art Nouveau Church of St Mary the Virgin at Great Warley in South Essex this afternoon were amazed to discover that she was a sensitive water-colourist of rural idylls, as well as a trenchant critic of plays, films and other entertainments that she attended. In her dress she favoured bright colours, OTT shoes and flaboyant handbags, and she built up a wicked collection of fridge magnets. She was someone who was sweet and generous, but also quite ready to call a spade a f***ing shovel, when needs be. She married her secondary school sweetheart Graham and was, in the words of her two children, the rock in the family. I knew her for many years, but my abiding memory of her will be of our going out to Rainham Marshes on a rainy day during one European election campaign. We stopped the car in the midde of nowhere, in the forlorn hope of getting some suitable pictures, but a very bedraggled mongrel dog clambered in when I opened the door. The poor creature had obviously been dumped in the marshes by some callous owner and had been living off grass and waste for some time, as the bitch’s spittle was green and she farted and burped all the way to the animal shelter we drove her to. No photos were taken that day, of course, but Eden was someone who knew how to prioritise.

Link: www.haveringlibdems.org.uk

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Nick Clegg: Delivering for Britain?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 20th September, 2010

It’s two-and-a-half years since Nick Clegg stood on the platform of the Liverpool Conference Centre as the new, fresh-faced leader of the Liberal Democrats and promised to confront the challenges ahead. But as he said himself in his leader’s speech, once more in Liverpool, this afternoon, there was no way he could have imagined then that he would be speaking to us now as Deputy Prime Minister in a Coalition government that is dedicated to delivering change in Britain. Much of his speech was sombre, as it had to be, given the cuts that the Government says are necessary to implement in order to bring Britain back from the brink of bankruptcy after years of Labour profligacy. And as is inevitable in any coalition arangement (familiar on the Continent, and even in Scotland and Wales, even if it is a novelty at Westminster), neither partner has got exactly the policies it wanted or campaigned on. There are some difficult areas for Liberal Democrats, not least the speed of the cuts and the thorny issue of free schools. But as I said on BBC News, when a TV reporter caught me coming out of the conference hall, we are proud of where Nick Clegg has taken us and we are determined to make this government and the new style of British politics work.

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Art Malik at the LibDem Rally

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 19th September, 2010

The actor Art Malik compered the Rally at the Liberal Democrat conference in Liverpool last night, introducing with humour and verve the Man in the White Suit, Martin Bell, the political reform campaigner Pam Giddy and a trio of LibDem stars: Jo Swinson, Tim Farron and Nick Clegg. Charles Kennedy had been billed to perform but was reportedly prevented by travel problems, which meant that his last-minute replacement, Tim Farron, had to wing it — rather successfully, with a few spicy political jokes. Nick Clegg also had a good gag about Eric Pickles and a stalker, though I suspected that the short standing ovation he got at the end was more dutiful than heart-felt. There were clearly many in the hall who still feel a little nervous about some aspects of the Coalition government. However, the real theme of the evening was electoral reform reform and why we must all campaign hard for a Yes vote in the AV referendum next May, so from the moment Art Malik set out his passionate belief in reform (and support for the LibDems), the mood was upbeat.

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