Jonathan Fryer

Archive for December, 2012

2012 in review

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 30th December, 2012

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 43,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 10 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

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Remembering Ivor Porter

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 18th December, 2012

Ivor PorterMarilena Lica-MasalaI first met Ivor Porter, the British diplomat, writer and sometimes Special Operations operative, shortly after he had served as Ambassador to Senegal, at a time when I was Honorary Consul for the Islamic Republic of Mauritania to the Court of St. James’s, though the fact that we were both Liberal Democrats (as we call ourselves these days) tightened the bond. Ivor died earlier this year at the grand old age of 99 and this evening, at the Romanian Cultural Centre in Belgrave Square, a trilingual publication of tributes and his last interview — with Romanian scribe Marilena Lica-Masala — was launched in the company of his widow Katerina, various other family members, Romanian Ambassador Ion Jinga, numerous other Romanians and a good group of Kensington and Chelsea LibDems. Ivor first went to Bucarest as a lecturer at the university in 1939, but after a few months, as the Second World War took hold, he was absorbed into the British Legation, in the cypher department. He was at that time approached by the Special Operations Executive (SOE — a branch of the secret service that supported the resistance in occupied countries) before being returned to the UK in 1941, only to be parachuted back in with two intelligence colleagues in 1943. Unfortunately, they were captured, though their “imprisonment” was hardly uncomfortable, as they were held in a villa to which champagne and cavair were regularly delivered. After British planes bombed the city, Ivor’s Romanian “hosts” replaced the champagne with local firewater. The full account of his wartime exploits can be found in his entertaining memoir, Operation Autonomous. Later he would return to the country as UK Ambassador and he wrote a biography of King Michael, who had the surely unique distinction of carrying out a coup d’état against his own country’s pro-German dictatorship. Slight of build and diffidently erudite, Ivor — who liked to think of himself as training to be a Renaissance man — brought light into many people’s lives and it is good to have another slim volume to keep his memory bright.

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Tom Spencer’s In-Out Referendum

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 17th December, 2012

Tom SpencerTom Spencer is one of those rare birds: a green, federalist, pro-European Conservative. This meant that things were not always comfortable for him when he was leader of the Tory MEPs in the European Parliament, but in a sense it was as well that he stood down from his seat; he would have been hung, drawn and quartered (metaphorically speaking, of course) by the Party now. Tory MPs at Westminster — including government Ministers, who ought to know better — have been trumpeting the case for Britain’s leaving the EU. At least it was good to see The Economist, as well as the more predictable Observer, recently demonstrating why neither the Norway nor the Switzerland option is feasible for the UK. As guest speaker at the annual Christmas Dinner of the European Movement in London in an Italian restaurant in Bloomsbury this evening, Tom pointed out that Norwegians pay more per capita into the EU budget than Brits do, but have absolutely no say in the formulation of rules and regulations relating to the European single market, by which they must abide. He also declared with the sort of emphatic certainty that is his trademark that there EMiL logowill be an In-Out referendum on Britain’s EU membership in 2016 or 2017. And despite the efforts of political personalities such as London’s Mayor Boris Johnson — who Tom described as “highly intelligent, but not very nice” — he believes UK voters will vote to stay in once the case for the benefits of membership — and the perils of pulling out — is firmly put. That is certainly what happened in the 1975 referendum on confirming Britain’s then very young membership of the European Economic Community. At the start of the campaign, opinion polls suggested the voters were 2:1 against staying in, but the actual vote was 2:1 in favour. That was thanks to the efforts of political activists including a then much younger Tom, and heavyweight politicians from all three main national parties. Will the line-up next time be as impressive and as broad church? And will the European Movement — now definitely weaker — be a motor for the referendum campaign, or does a new body, like the one-time “Britain in Europe” need to be created? It’s not too early to be thinking of answers to those questions.

Link: www.euromove.org.uk

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The EU’s Next Six Months

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 17th December, 2012

Ireland is scheduled to take over the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union on 1 January, followed by Lithuania in July 2013 and Greece in January 2014. Whilst the third, in particular, might raise some eye-brows in fact all three governments in Dublin, Vilnius and Athens are well advanced in their plans and priorities. Here’s what the European Movement has to say about it in its latest Euro-briefing:

Euro-move header

The Programme of the next 3 EU Council Presidencies.
European CouncilLast week the next 3 Presidencies of the Council of Ministers, the so-called ‘Trio’ of Ireland, Lithuania and Greece, presented in Brussels their work programme. In the next 18 months the main priorities of the Council are to further restore the economic stability across the EU and to build strong foundations for sustainable jobs and for long lasting economic growth. The Irish Presidency, which will take over the helm on 1 January 2013, will focus on issues related to the Digital Agenda, the EU’s Single Market, multi and bilateral trade agreements (such as EU-US Trade Agreement) and the Banking Union. The new Presidency will be working closely together with the European Council and the Commission in order to set up long-term plans and operational programmes. Due to the financial, economic and sovereign debt challenges of the past three years, the EU has been working on creating the conditions for economic recovery and to re-launch growth and investment. Support for job creation and social cohesion, with special emphasis on youth unemployment, will be the focus of the forthcoming Presidencies.
EU Irish presidencyStarting off, the Irish Presidency will be working to agree on the remaining proposals of the Single Market Act (SMA I) and to progress proposals for the second Single Market Act (SMA II). The aim is to improve the competitiveness of the EU’s industry. The Irish Presidency will put a strong emphasis on supporting the development and competitiveness of the SME sector, reducing red tape, as well as facilitating cross-border trade and access to finance. This is one of the aims of the EU’s new COSME initiative (Programme for the Competitiveness of Enterprises and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises) and of the Entrepreneurship Action Plan (to be published on 19th December 2012), which includes proposals on insolvency and second chance and entrepreneurial education.Top priority will be given to dossiers like public procurements and moving forward on the Digital Agenda, particularly in the areas of eCommerce (e-signatures and e-Identification), Intellectual Property Rights, cyber security and low-cost high-speed broadband. The implementation of the EU’s Digital Agenda and the better functioning of the Digital Single Market offer huge potential for job creation in a yet to be fully taped area of economic activity. The Digital Agenda can foster cross-border commerce as well as new developments within the IT sector.
EMUWith regards to the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), the upcoming Presidencies of the Council plan to work on completing the banking union and setting up a Single Supervisory Mechanism. The Council will also continue efforts towards fiscal consolidation and a better co-ordination of the Member States’ economic policies. The so-called ˜two pack” on economic governance will be one of the main priority areas (if final agreement with the European Parliament hasn’t already been reached under the Cypriot presidency). Ireland will steer the third European Semester of scrutiny of member states’ economic and fiscal policies and ensure that Member States, through the Annual Growth Survey process, stay on track to reach the objectives of sustainable economic growth and social cohesion as set out in the Europe 2020 Strategy.
Horizon 2020In recognition of the important role research, development and innovation play in achieving sustainable growth and improving the EU’s competitiveness, the Council aims to conclude negotiations on the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme (which is a key EU funding programme, supporting European growth and innovation efforts in the context of the Europe 2020 strategy) and will also work to advance the completion of the European Research Area.
On trade, opening new markets with third countries through Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) will be a priority. Ireland will organize an informal Council in April 2013, which will focus on trade relations ahead of a formal Council in June. The Presidency would like to see a mandate adopted during the next six months to launch talks for a free trade agreement with the United States. The Irish also hope that further progress could be made towards concluding FTAs between the EU and Japan, Singapore and Canada.
Last but not least, the multi-annual financial framework (MFF) for 2014-2020 will have to be discussed again by the European Council in February or March. Implementation of many of the Presidencies’ priorities depends on adopting a 7-year EU budget that is both fit for purpose and can support economic recovery and growth by underpinning areas such as regional cohesion and development and innovation.
For more details on the Presidential Programme, please visit:

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The Plight of Palestinian Detainees

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 13th December, 2012

palestinian_children_prisonersThe State of Israel has a shameful record when it comes to violating International Law, not least the Geneva Conventions and other aspects of the Law of Belligerency, especially relating to its occupation and settlement of Arab lands conquered in 1967. It has got away with this because the United States refuses to take any action to stop it — a state of affairs Washington will one day come to regret. But one aspect of Israel’s policies which has received comparatively little attention has been its treatment of Palestinian and other Arab prisoners. This was the subject of an international conference organised by the Arab League, in cooperation with the government of Iraq, in Baghdad this week. Even someone as relatively well-informed on Middle Eastern affairs as myself was shocked by some of the evidence presented there, notably in testimonies from former detainees — men. women and children. Torture is not uncommon and other forms of abuse and humiliation are rampant in Israeli facilities housing Palestinian and other Arab prisoners. Young children are sometimes held in solitary confinement, as well as as being physically and psychologically abused, and adequate medical care for sick or injured prisoners is routinely withheld; the usual “treatment” for any ailment is one paracetamol tablet. It is time that the international community shamed or forced Israel into improving its behaviour, including further settlement building, the demolition of Arabs’ homes, the ethnic cleansing that is going on in East Jerusalem, the uprooting of Palestinians’ olive trees and the occupation of Palestine itself. Now that Palestine has been granted non-member observer status at the UN, it is in a stronger position  to seek redress through international institutions, but it will need strong support from European states and elsewhere, as well as its allies in the Middle East and North Africa, Civil society needs to be involved as well, as it was in the campaign against apartheid in South Africa. Netanyahu, Lieberman and other leaders of Israel’s current nasty, racist right-wing government need to make radical changes otherwise one day they will find themselves hauled before the ICC in The Hague, and rightly so.

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Sutton 40 Years On

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 9th December, 2012

1972 Sutton Focus leafletGraham TopeSutton is rightly hailed as London Liberal Democrats’ flagship council but of course the borough was put on the map politically some years before the (then) Liberal-SDP Alliance actually won control (on the Mayor’s casting vote). Indeed, 40 years ago the parliamentary constituency of Sutton and Cheam hit the headlines when young Graham Tope — at that time characterised by his cruel glasses and wicked sideburns — seized the seat from the Tories in a by-election on at 32.6% swing. I was in my final year at university at the time but remember the subsequent Liberal euphoria well. As was rightly recognised at a 40th anniversary buffet dinner at the Sutton Life Centre last evening, the Sutton & Cheam by-election was the first time Trevor Jones from Liverpool put into practice his concept of community politics — which meant pounding the streets to identify local issues and then trumpeting them in regular Focus leaflets — including the scary example illustrated here. Focuses are such old hat these days that it’s hard to imagine the huge impact this technique had. The Conservatives didn’t know what had hit them and Graham became not just a local celebrity but a national one too. Alas he was unable to hold the seat in the February 1974 general election, but he went on to become Leader of Sutton Council, a Member of theHouse of Lords, a London Assembly member and one of the Liberal Democrat representatives on the EU’s Committee of the Regions, at one time simultaneously. Apparently he can, like Margaret Thatcher, get by on very little sleep — though there the similarities end. Anyway, it was a splendid occasion last night, free of pomp but full of good humour and enlivened with tributes to Graham from a variety of people who have served with him in various guises, including Lynne Featherstone MP, (Baroness) Sally Hamwee, (Baroness) Sarah Ludford MEP and former Sutton Council leader Sean Brennan. There was even some audio-visual entertainment, including a replay of the 1974 election night TV coverage, which included a nice potted portrait of the man.

Link: http://sutton-libdems.org.uk

 

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A Cool Look at Burma

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 5th December, 2012

Burma - photo Nic Dunlop

Burma – photo Nic Dunlop

Nic Dunlop is a Bangkok-based photographer and author who has spent most of the past two decades covering my old stomping ground, South East Asia. But this evening he was the guest speaker at a Liberal International British Group (LIBG) Forum at the National Liberal Club, giving his take on what is happening in Burma. He has recently completed a book which uses many of the striking black-and-white images he took in Burma, particularly in the mid-1990s but also since. Many of the photographs are chilling, including a series of a former political prisoner acting out the stress positions he was forced to adopt while he was being tortured. There is sullen resignation on the faces of peasants drafted in to do forced labour building roads and so forth. As Nic said inNic Dunlop his commentary to a slide show tonight, there was no need for armed guards to watch over them because they have been conditioned by years of fear. He had some good shots of Aung San Suu Kyi — including one of her at Oxford, receiving an honorary degree — but he is not starry-eyed about ‘The Lady by the Lake’. He pointed out that the woman who was rightly hailed as a political inspiration by many in the West has nonetheless deeply disappointed many human rights activists since her release from house arrest by refusing to condemn outright violence against specific ethnic minorities. Nic also made the interesting observation that it is not just the military, who have in principle now handed over to a civilian government after decades in power, who are firm believers in superstition and astrology. It is deeply engrained in the Birman people. I was struck that many of the scenes shown in his pictures, even in the capital Yangon/Rangoon, look exactly how I remember it on my one and only visit there in the summer of 1969. It is as if Burma is frozen in aspic, though under tropical rain. But now the country is opening up that is likely to change fast, in that some people with the right connections will make a killing by funding new developments, rather as happened in post-Communist states, though the poor masses are unlikely to benefit for the foreseeable future. Link: www.nicdunlop.com

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Ludford Calls for Strong LibDem Euro-message

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 3rd December, 2012

Sarah LudfordIn her first local party engagement since being re-elected to the top of London Liberal Democrats’ Euro-list, Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP told the Tower Hamlets Liberal Democrats’ AGM in Bethnal Green this evening that the Party must be quite clear in its pro-EU stance in the 2014 Euro-elections and she pointed out that we are likely to be the only party that is. That doesn’t mean saying that everything coming out of Brussels is rosy; there are things that need reforming. But the electorate knows where the LibDems stand on Europe and it would be madness to obfuscate. Local member David Hall-Matthews — a prominent figure in the Social Liberal Forum — argued from the floor that if, as expected, the Euros coincide with the London borough elections (and in Tower Hamlets’ case a mayoral election as well) then it is essential that the Euro-campaign is indeed about Europe and not about British domestic issues, as has sometimes been the case in the past. I added the comment that we will need a strong regional and national campaign on Europe London-wide to complement the more targetted campaigning for the local elections, and highlighted the fact that among many Tory voters in Tower Hamlets and beyond there are those who realise that elements of the capital’s prosperity — and in some cases their jobs — depend on Britain’s being a full member of the EU. There are just 18 months left for Sarah, myself and the other six members of the London Euro-candidate team to get our messages across. And those must indeed be strong and simple and persuasively argue the benefits of being part of Europe.

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Turkey in a Fast Changing World

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 2nd December, 2012

Ibrahim KalinOmer CelikOne of the most striking developments of the past decade has been the rise of Turkey, not only as a regional power but increasingly as a global player. The AKP government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has stated that it wants to see the Republic amongst the top 10 world economies by 2023 — the centenary of its foundation. This is no idle boast, as Turkey enjoys growth rates that European states can only envy. On the diplomatic front, Ankara has seized the opportunities offered by the Arab Awakenng to recalibrate and extend its relations in the eastern and southern Mediterranean. Of course the goal of EU membership remains elusive, though officially Turkey still wishes to accede, even if many Turkish voters have become disenchanted with the idea. All these issues were discussed earlier this week at a seminar organised by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), moderated by Jonathan Eyal, at which Omer Celik, the AKP’s Vice-Chairman with responsibility for Foreign Relations, and Ibrahim Kalin, Senior Advisor to Prime Minister Erdogan, spoke. Omer Celik pointed out that before the AKP won its first landslide election victory in 2002 the economy in Turkey had collapsed and inflation was rampant. There was no effective foreign policy. Some in Turkey have described what then happened as a Silent Revolution as the country was turned around. Ibrahim Kalin stressed how the rise of a comopolitan world has offered new challenges, not least to th eurocentrism of recent centuries. He thought the evolving relationship between Turkey, the new government in Egypt and the rest of the Middle East coul be a crucial turning point. Mr Celik said that Mr Erodgan has lobbied Bashar al-Assad to help Kurds in Syria gain equal rights, though this rather begs the enormous question of why no workable settlement with Turjkey’s own Kurds has yet been achieved.

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