Jonathan Fryer

Archive for January, 2013

South Hampstead High Girls Vote Yes to EU

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 25th January, 2013

David CoburnJF head and shouldersThis afternoon I took part in a very lively and civilised debate at South Hampstead High School against the Chairman of London UKIP, David Coburn (who was standing in for London’s UKIP MEP, Gerald Batten). The audience were girls from the sixth form (as I tend to still think of those senior years) and David and my 20 minute presentations were followed by some extremely vigorous questioning. David is a very affable chap who has had a distinctly international business career, so there was good-natured sparring from our respective positions, which were pretty much at the opposite ends of the European political spectrum. It was clear from many of the girls’ questions that they were already well-informed on political matters and that they were ready and willing to challenge what they heard. So it was especially gratifying that when there was a vote at the end of the afternoon on whether the girls would opt to stay in the EU or leave if there were a referendum tomorrow, only one voted to leave.

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David Laws Passes the Test

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 25th January, 2013

David LawsDavid Laws is so much associated in the political class’s minds with economic issues that there were eyebrows raised in some quarters when his governmental comeback from the wilderness proved to be in Sarah Teather’s old job at Education. But any doubts about his passion for his new brief were dispelled last night when he addressed a wine and canapé reception put on by Camden Liberal Democrats at Swiss Cottage School. It was hardly his fault that he arrived an hour late; he had been stuck on a train coming down from North East England where he had been visiting some turn-around schools that have benefitted from the Pupil Premium. The Pupil Premium is one of the most successful innovations of the Coalition government — and the result of Liberal Democrat pressure — with the transformational ability to help children from disadvantaged backgrounds or with other problems that might formerly have condemned them to failure. It deserves to be better known; in my home borough of Tower Hamlets it has made a huge difference. So much for the Opposition’s fatuous claim that this government only cares for the rich. It is also thanks to the LibDems, of course, that lowest earners in our society are being taken out of income tax altogether. But back to David Laws, who sometimes gets tarred with the accusation from social Liberals that he is a pseudo-Tory. It’s true that he is probably the Conservatives’ favourite LibDem Minister, but that is in recognition of his undoubted intelligence and capability. What came over clearly in Swiss Cottage last night was that he is a man of compassion and radical zeal as well.

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Cameron’s EU Schizophrenia

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 24th January, 2013

I have to agree with Petros Fassoulas of the European Movement UK that there was something distinctly schizophrenic politically in David Cameron’s much hyped Euro-speech. Read Petros’s verdict below:

 

A speech of contradictions.
David CameronThis has been a speech of contradictions. The Prime Minister tried to be all things to all men  and managed to fail on every possible count.

He stated that Britain should remain a member of the EU but he proudly listed all the things Britain is not part of. He said he wants an EU with the Single Market at its core but then declared his intention to unpick it, water it down and reduce it to a collection of bilateral agreements, based on the lowest common denominator. He exclaimed his wish to work with his fellow European leaders to reform the EU but then put a gun (or is it a water pistol) to their head. He argued that Britain should defend its interests and promote its vision of European integration but then raised serious questions as to whether Britain will continue being an EU member. He claimed to be speaking for the benefit of the EU as a whole but he was addressing a small portion of his own party alone, defending his own job.
His schizophrenic tendencies aside Mr Cameron is going about this entirely the wrong way.
If he is truly committed to Britain’s membership of the EU and wishes to ensure that the Union works even better for the benefit of all its member states he should join his European partners and engage constructively in efforts to continuously improve how the EU works. Trying to renegotiate Britain’s membership of the EU, in effect unpicking the Single Market, the very thing he professes he wants to strengthen, can only achieve the opposite result.
EU leaders have been for a while warning against such cherry-picking, stating clearly that a special kind of arrangement, tailor-made to afford a certain member state with all the benefits of EU membership but exonerate it from all its responsibilities and commitments is not possible. They have been quick to repeat that warning after the PM delivered his speech and caution that such an approach endangers rather than strengthens the EU and the Single Market. They are hence in no mood to indulge Mr Cameron in his descent towards Wonderland.
With a “renegotiation” unavailable, one is left wondering what the Prime Minister plans to put to a referendum. Having promised something he is not able to deliver he is actually putting Britain’s EU membership in real danger.
A Prime Minister confident of his position, responsible towards his people and honest with his partners must be working towards keeping Britain within the EU rather than putting its membership of the biggest common market in question. He should join other EU member states in common efforts to make the most of the EU, rather stand on the side-lines, threatening to unravel the process of European integration. If he wants others to take seriously his vision  of the EU, he should not force them to question whether Britain will be a member in a few years’ time.
This is a time for leadership and statesmanship and Mr Cameron’s speech proved that he is not able to display either.
Petros Fassoulas, European Movement

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Has the UKIP Bubble Burst?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 20th January, 2013

Nigel FarageAn interesting opinion poll from YouGov this weekend, asking people how they will vote in next year’s European elections, has UKIP in fourth place, behind the Liberal Democrats (LAB 38%, CON 30%, LD 13%, UKIP 12%, SNP/PC 3%, Grn 3%, BNP 1%). That’s quite a bump down from even a week ago, but more significantly indicates that all the hoo-haa about UKIP over the past few months may actually have damaged the party’s prospects. Its leader, Nigel Farage, has been ubiquitous on the broadcast media, but that blanket coverage of him does not seem to have done UKIP much good. Maybe it has highlighted the fact that while Mr Farage may be an amusing cheeky chappie at times, others in the party are more disturbing. Or indeed simply that people actually don’t trust a cheeky chappie with running something important (think how Ken Livingstone ploughed in last years London Mayoral election). What does seem to be true — unless later developments prove otherwise — is that UKIP has peaked too soon. The Euro-elections are still nearly 18 months away, and public opinion appears to be becoming more objective about the benefits of Britain’s membership of the European Union, despite all the europhobic bile poured out by certain popular newspapers. Indeed, another opinion poll from YouGov released this weekend suggests that 40% of the public would vote to keep the UK in the EU as opposed to 34% who would vote to leave. That is a very dramatic turn-around from even a few months ago and gives one hope that the comments of prominent businssmen such as Richard Branson and John Browne are having some effect — despite the shilly-shallying of Prime Minister David Cameron.

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Boris Is a Barnacle

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 18th January, 2013

barnacleBoris Johnson 4Any formal function at the Mansion House in London is normally the Lord Mayor’s show, but the annual London Government dinner — always held in early January — offers the incumbent Lord Mayor  a challenge, as he is inevitably playing second fiddle to the Mayor of London, i.e. the man in charge of the whole city rather than just the City (financial district). The current Lord Mayor, Alderman Roger Gifford, acquitted himself far better than most, being skilfull in both cadence and content. That is no mean feat when one has the blond bombshell, Boris Johnson, to follow. What Boris had to say was hardly a surprise, as it had been extensively previewed in a leaked story to the Evening Standard. Basically, he was arguing that Britain should stay in the European Union — a rare bit of supportiveness for Prime Minister David Cameron, who is due to make what is billed as a “landmark speech” on Britain and Europe in the Netherlands tomorrow (how pleased he must be to be pre-empted by Boris) — but that we need to scrape the barnacles from the ship of Europe that are slowing us down. This is, frankly, bollocks, and I was pleased to see that many of the City figures predictably present on this occasion had their heads in their hands as Boris rambled genially on. It is simply not true, as Boris asserted., that the great outside world is just waiting for a dynamic Britain to go it alone, or at least situate itself in some far looser arrangement with our continental partners. As the Americans made abundantly clear the other day, they are interested in the UK precisely because it is a gateway to Europe. Close that door and we risk becoming an irrelevance. Of course Boris can be witty, and raise a laugh. But it was self-evident tonight at the Mansion House that he struck completely the wrong note. The City knows full well that it needs a prosperous Britain within a prosperous EU. And it is about time more City types stood up to be counted on the issue — and to blow Barnacle Boris a giant raspberry.

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The Kurdish Genocide in Iraq

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 17th January, 2013

Halabja victimsSaddam Hussein2013 is a year of remarkable anniversaries so far as Kurds in Iraq are concerned: the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War (opposed by many, including me, in Britain, but viewed bythe Iraqi Kurds as a Liberation), the 25th anniversary of Saddam Hussein’s Anfal genocide operation and the 30th anniversary of the régime’s killings of men from the Barzani tribe. But those are only milestones — however gross and tragic — in a long journey of suffering that has been the Calvary of Iraq’s Kurds. No wonder they have an ancient saying that their only friends are the mountains. But even the mountains could not protect Kurdish villagers when Saddam’s airforce dropped a cocktail of chemical weapons on them in 1987-1988. First-hand testimony of the effects of those assaults (delivered at an International Conference on the Kurdish genocide, held at Church House in Westminster today) came from Dr Zryan Abdel Yones, who was a medic in the region at the time and had to deal with hundreds of victims dying in front of him, including preganant women whose bodies expelled their foetuses in a pool of blood. Saddam Hussein was indeed a monster — and a megalomaniac, as I had cause to remember when I spent two days in his palace in Baghdad last month. But the Iraqi Kurds do not yet have closure on their suffering; they want the international community to recognise that what was done to them amounted to genocide, as the Norwegian and Swedish parliaments have already done. We are talking about hundreds of thousands of casualties — many of whom simply disappeared without trace — in one of the most sustained and horrific crimes against humanity in modern times. It was really only after the Rwanda genocide of 1994 that the international community began to realise that there was a international moral reponsibility to protect which over-ruled the usual priunciple of non-interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state. But it is not too late and a petition to 10 Downing Street has already attracted many thousands of signatures. To sign yourself click on the following link: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/31014

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The Impossible

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 13th January, 2013

The ImpossibleEwan McGregorI was in Bahrain on Boxing Day 2004, when the tsunami hit the coast of Thailand. The TV was full of shocking footage over the next few days, but I found it hard to imagine what it must have been like to be caught up in the terrifying havoc. This evening I feel I can imagine that much more clearly, having watched Juan Antonio Bayona’s remarkable film, The Impossible. The special effects used in the recreation of the giant tidal wave and its destructive aftermath are stunning and the cast is quite simply brilliant. Ewan McGregor, as the young father of a family literally sewpt up in the disaster puts in what I consider to be his greatest performance to date. Naomi Watts is also fine as his wife and the three boys who play the children are totally credible. The film is based on the true story of what happened to a Spanish family, whose picture appears during the final credits: dark-haired and very Iberain, whereas the film family is very British and ginger/blond. I guess to raise the huge amount of money needed to make such a movie it was ncessary to shoot it in English, with international stars, but as so many of the people involved in its production are Spanish, I assume they were happy with that. Certainly, it is hard to fault the end result and there wasn’t a dry eye in the cinema this evening.

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Montenegro’s EU Aspirations

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 12th January, 2013

Montenegro flagAleksandar Andrija PejovicWhen the former Yugoslavia broke up in the early 1990s,  the immediate concern of the new states created was to secure their boundaries and to establish the apparatus of a national government. But most also dreamed of the day when they could complete the transition from Communist province to full member state of the European Union. Slovenia — which has always thought of itself as being in central Europe rather than the western Balkans — was the first to achieve that goal, in 2004; Croatia will follow suit this year. But the next is likely to be tiny Montenegro, which only declared independence (from a rump Yugoslavia made up mainly of Serbia) in 2006. Last night, the tiny republic’s chief negotiator for Montenegro’s accession to the EU, Aleksandar Andrija Pejovic, joined London Tory MEP Charles Tannock — who is the relevant rapporteur in the European Parliament — at Europe House to give a presentation on Montenegro’s progress. The government has managed to put together an impressive array of committees and structures in Podgorica to manage the adjustment of Montenegro’s laws and practices to fit in with the EU’s massive acquis communautaire. Interestingly, a sizeable majority of the key people in that process are women. Moreover, local NGOs have been integrated into the deliberations, which is a first. Nonetheless, it is unlikely that Montenegro will complete the accession process before the end of the decade. This is partly because the EU is going through a difficult time at present but also because there is general recognition that Romania and Bulgaria were unwisely fast-tracked into membership in 2007 before they had sorted out some serious deficiencies. As Charles Tannock warned, Montenegro also needs to tackle some issues around corruption and organised crime. But it should become the 29th EU member state one day — or the 30th, if Iceland gets its act together and races past on the inside track.

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Turkey and the Arab Awakening

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 11th January, 2013

Kerim BalciMiriam Francois-CerrahEver since the revolutionary train swept across North Africa and the Middle East (MENA) pundits have been asking whether Turkey could offer a model for post-Revolution Arab states to follow, so maybe it was not so surprising that the Turkish Review (for which I occasionally write) should highlight the issue at its UK launch at the House of Lords earlier today. Three very diverse speakers were on the panel (chaired by the LibDem peer and former President of Liberal International, John Alderdice): the journalist Kerim Balci, the young Oxford academic and political writer Miriam Francois-Cerrah and Gulnur Aybet, who teaches at the University of Kent, as well as in Turkey and the United States. Each put a Gulnur Aybettotally different slant on the subject, Kerim Balci claiming (with some justification) that the so-called Arab Spring actually started earlier than in Tunisia in December 2010, in Kyrgyzstan, and that it is mirrored in various parts of Central Asia, China and India. What we are dealing with has a universal dimension, he argued. Miriam Francois-Cerrah declared that the majority of Arabs do see Turkey as a role-model, largely because it is a secular state that has nonetheless accommodated a variety of parties, including the AKP, with its Islamic origins. Gulnur Aybet emphasized that Turkey is seen by the West as a strategic partner in dealing with the MENA region, which maybe leads to a certain degreee  of wishful thinking as to how much of a model it can be. More a source of inspiration, stated Miriam Francois-Cerrah, echoing a line I have often taken. But in the meantime Turkey has itself all sorts of internal contradictions to overcome; Gulnur Aybet deplored the growing polarisation she has noticed. Certainly Turkey has an enviable economic growth rate and has many things going for it, but it is by no means a perfect state that others might necessarily try to emulate.

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Andrew Duff’s Eurovision

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 11th January, 2013

Andrew Duff 3While far too many people in Britain are pondering the question “Should the UK leave the EU?”, our continental neighbours are more concerned with debating the issue of how the European Union should now evolve. Evolve it must, as the prolonged crisis in the eurozone has highlighted that the current methods of governance are no longer fit for purpose. Probably they never were. Instead, there will have to be a form of fiscal and banking union, though that is something Britain is likely to remain detached from for the forseeable future. Last night, at a Federal Trust seminar at Europe House in Westminster, arch-federalist and LibDem MEP for the East of England, Andrew Duff, set out his vision for the future, arguing that the EU’s treaties need to be revised as soon as possible, as the Lisbon Treaty is being stretched to breaking point by the current crisis. He predicted that there will be a Convention kicking off the new treaty process in the Spring of 2015 (once the European elections are out of the way and a new Commission is in place). It falls to the federalist movement to draft a new constitutional treaty for a federalist EU, Andrew said — and of course he would normally be part of that, having been intimately involved in preparations for the last draft Constitution, which had to be dropped because of public opposition in several member states.

Federal Trust logo Andrew also once more floated the idea that in future there will need to be a group of MEPs in the European Parliament who are elected from transnational lists. And more controversially, he developed his concept of associate membership of the EU, describing four possible categories: (1) Norway and Switzerland, (2) Serbia and other aspirant member states which still have a lot of changes to make domestically, (3) Turkey, and (4) the UK and any other member state which feels it does not wish to be part of a federal union. This all led to a lively debate; as ever Andrew was thought-provoking and the discussion was far more intelligent than what one hears in the House of Commons or reads in most of the British Press.

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