By a spooky coincidence, while the House of Commons was debating the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, Liberal International British Group (LIBG), in collaboration with Liberal Youth, was holding a long-planned meeting on LGBT Rights in Russia, at the National Liberal Club. Through a skype link we had a long exchange with a brave young lesbian in Moscow, who for her own protection I shall simply call “A”, and who declared that essentially LGBT individuals have no fundamental rights in Russia. She is fortunate in having parents who accept her, as well as her boss at work, but the prevailing atmosphere is homophobic, from the government, the Orthodox Church and a large swath of public opinion. Neo-nazi groups are particularly hostile — a point Peter Tatchell also made, when he came to address the meeting, taking time out from following the House of Commons debate. Peter was of course badly beaten in Moscow some years ago when he was attending a Gay Pride event. Such events are now generally banned and Peter argued that probably there are other ways that LGBT groups can campaign for improvements in their situation. Earlier I had asked A whether LGBT individuals feel any common cause with political dissidents, journalists and others who are also suffering harassment, including death in the worst cases, so I was interested when Peter emphasized the point that human rights restrictions in Russia should be seen as a whole. He also made the point that many Russians reject Western values (a phenomenon I have noticed in parts of Asia and Africa), so what we may think of as universal rights or norms can appear to them alien and unacceptable. It is no coincidence that it is among the ultra-nationalists that one finds the highest levels of intolerance.
Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 21st May, 2013
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 20th May, 2013
David Cameron was elected Leader of the Conservative Party with a manifesto to modernise, though it would appear from the grassroots rebellion in the shires that a worryingly high percentage of Tory Party members have changed their minds. On issues like equal marriage this clearly has something to do with the high average age profile of the party’s membership, as well as the fact that Conservatives are by nature traditionalists. However, the really extraordinary feature of the past few months has been the slow-motion car-crash over Europe. The way that John Major’s authority was undermined over Maastricht in the 1990s should have served as a warning to Cameron that the EU was a potentially explosive issue yet however well he may have handled some other aspects of government — not least getting a Coalition with the Liberal Democrats swiftly in place after the 2010 general election — the way he has dealt with Europe has been a disaster. He has not only dismayed many of Britain’s EU partners by his posturing, instead of winning allies for necessary reforms; he has also failed to make clear what his government’s position on Britain’s role in the EU should be. One minute he is saying that he thinks EU membership is a good thing on balance, providing some reforms do take place, while the next he is pandering to the Europhobes and threatening to pull out. By throwing the red meat of an in-out referendum promise to his more rabid backbenchers he has only made them hungry for more. And he has given succour to UKIP, encouraging some of his more disaffected party members to defect there, while at the same time lambasting Nigel Farage and Co as clowns. As Leader he should have given clear guidance and then insist that the Party sticks to it — especially Cabinet Ministers, who have collective responsibility for government policy or else must resign their post. Instead, the Tory Eurocar is being steered by a driver who doesn’t after all appear to have passed his driving test.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 17th May, 2013
The European Union has a good story to tell; you don’t win the Nobel Peace Prize without one. But alas all too often the story gets lost in a mist of jargon and worthiness. Having covered the European project since Britain joined the then European Community in 1973 I am only too aware of the problem, even while being an ardent supporter of the European project myself. These thoughts came to my mind today at Europe House (the London HQ of the European Commission and European Parliament’s representation in London) when the British Section of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) held a lunchtime event for Richard Corbett, special adviser to the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy. Now Richard is a nice and intelligent man and it was a tragedy that he lost his seat as a Labour MEP in Yorkshire and the Humber in 2009 while UKIP noodle Godfrey Bloom hung on to his. Herman Van Rompuy is also a nice and even more intelligent man. But it is a sad fact that the vast majority of Brits ( and many other European citizens) have not the faintest clue what he does or indeed what the European Council is. Richard this lunchtime gave us a very fair and balanced appraisal of where things stand in the eurozone and the wider EU, stressing how Europe has avoided protectionism in no small part thanks to the single market. The major objection to putatative UK opt-outs is that it would mean Britain competing under unequal circumstances. Germany’s Angela Merkel has said she is keen to keep the UK in, but as Herman van Rompuy aptly commented re David Cameron’s position, when someone has one hand on the doorknob and is looking for his coat he can’t expect people to take him very seriously. Indeed, the message the Conservatives are giving, through the crackle of Cameron’s ambiguities, is not so much about an opt-out as about a walk-out. That is of course what UKIP wants. Now Nigel Farage has been getting more than his fare share of publicity recently, including on the BBC, but this is not because his rather vague policies are supported by the media. It’s because he fires witty rhetorical fireworks from every orifice; in short he entertains. So a big chunk of the public warms to him. What the proponents of the EU project — and defenders of Britain’s membership — need is to loosen up, to drop the jargon and worthiness and to present a narrative that will make people in the UK and beyond enthusiastic about being European citizens. Engage them!
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: AEJ, Angela Merkel, Conservatives, David Cameron, EU, Europe House, European Council, Godfrey Bloom, Herman Van Rompuy, Labour, Nigel Farage, Richard Corbett, UKIP | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 15th May, 2013
While far too many Tory MPs were obsessing in the Houses of Parliament corridors and bars about the ins-and-outs of an in-and-out referendum on the EU just over the road in Westminster Abbey friends and supporters of the Wyndham Place-Charlemagne Trust were celebrating the EU’s achievements at a Europe Day service. The volume of propaganda against “Brussels” that people are subjected to in Britain often masks the Union’s real achievements. Quite apart from the fact that the EU (along with NATO) has guaranteed peace in most of Europe for over half a century (for which it was justifiably awarded the Nobel Peace Prize) it has established a single market that is good for business and for consumer protection. Most people in the UK have, alas, absolutely no idea what the EU actually does, though occasionally snippets of positive news do get into the Press. Last night’s Evening Standard, for example, mentioned in passing that the raid on a predominantly Russian gang that had been trafficking women for prostitution and running brothels in Kensington and Chelsea was the first police operation to of its kind to get assistance (including funding) from the European Commission. Yet there are Tories (not to mention UKIPers!) who want to do away with European justice and home affairs cooperation! After the Abbey service last night many guests repaired to Europe House, headquarters of the European Commission and European Parliament’s representations in London for an exhibition of paintings by Luxembourg artist Fernand Bertemes — seascapes that were almost symbolic of the freedom of movement enjoyed by someone from a tiny and locked nation. Every fortnight during most of the year there is a fresh exhibition at Europe House, as well as meetings and events of all kinds. If the average Eurosceptic went to only a few of them they might have the blinkers removed from their eyes!
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 14th May, 2013
Tory Eurosceptics have been dominating the discussion about Britain’s relationship with the European Union, riding on the wave of populist sentiment engendered by UKIP. But it is wise to remember that they are a minority — albeit a sizeable one — within the parliamentary party. It’s a pity that David Cameron is unable or unwilling to make the case for Britain’s continued membership of the EU — a real failure of leadership, in my opinion. Fortunately there is some sanity re Europe around in the Conservative Party, as witnessed by recent remarks by figures such as Ken Clarke and Sir Malcolm Rifkind. And Robert Buckland, MP — Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on the EU and Joint Secretary of the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee — has added his positive voice, in the form of an article on the European Movement UK’s Euroblog:
Britain must resume a positive role at the head of the EU table and be clear that we are in to stay.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 12th May, 2013
After the ALDE (European Liberal Democrats) Council in Pula, Croatia, the Ralf Dahrendorf Roundtables held a seminar on “Illegal Immigration: The Crossing Point” with a thought-provoking initial presentation by Felicita Medved, the (Slovene) President of the European Liberal Forum. Although the main purpose of the ensuing debate was to focus on illegal — or, as Commissioner Cecilia Malstrom has rightly encouraged people to rename it, “irregular” — immigration, in fact the whole issue of immigration in general got debated, with a sharp division emerging between more left-leaning Liberal parties including the UK Liberal Democrats, D66 from the Netherlands and the Swedish Centre Party on the one hand and more right-wing Liberal parties, notably the VVD from the Netherlands and Venstre from Denmark. I was so alarmed by the degree to which one VVD speaker, Mark Verheijen MP, seemed to have wandered on to the territory of Geert Wilders (just as a depressingly large number of British Conservatives have lurched into the openly xenophobic, even racist, anti-immigrant domain of UKIP’s Nigel Farage) that I argued passionately for the urgent need for a new alternative Liberal narrative and vocabulary on immigration. Of course levels of immigration have to be managed, but the positive side to immigration needs to be championed and due recognition given to how it has helped the economies of many EU member states, including Britain. Indeed, thanks to our greying population continued immigration is going to be a necessity if Europe is going to play a significant economic role in the globalised world of the future. The ensuing debate in Pula was so lively that it was fortuitous that the UK LibDems had already suggested the issue could be the subject of another session, associated with the ALDE Congress in London this November. I believe immigration will be the top issue in the European elections next May, thanks to UKIP, and it is essential we LibDems have a persuasive counter-narrative in place by then.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: UKIP, EU, D66, Liberal Democrats, immigration, ALDE, Nigel Farage, VVD, Venstre, Geert Wilders, Mark Verheijen, Felicita Medved, European Liberal Forum, Pula, Folkpartiet | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 9th May, 2013
It was good to see Parliament Square in London ablaze with the flags of the 27 EU member states today; I hope some of more Eurosceptic MPs in the House of Commons opposite took note of where this country rightly belongs. Europe House (headquarters of the European Commission and European Parliament offices in London, in the old Tory HQ in Smith Square, hosted a drinks reception before the traditional Europe Day concert at St John’s. The theme of the latter was appropriately Irish, given that Ireland currently holds the six month rotating presidency of the EU Council of Ministers and indeed the Irish Ambassador, Bobby McDonagh — who is sadly coming to the end of his London posting — gave a fine and pertinent, succinct address at the beginning, reminding us all of how peaceful cooperation has transformed Europe, despite current economic woes. The concert that followed, performed by the European Union Youth Orchestra, under the baton of Laurent Pillot, was the best such event I can ever remember, with an eclectic mix of classical and more modern works by Percy Grainger, Charles Villiers Stanford, William Wallace and Aloys Fleischmann, as well as the more predictable Richard Wagner and of course ending with Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”. The singing was particularly fine, performed by soloists from the European Opera Centre: Elsa Benoit, Daire Halpin, Martin Piskorski and Wolfgang Resch. It’s true the musicians were playing and singing to the converted but nonetheless it is on occasions like this that I am once again reminded of the wealth and depth of European culture and how we, as European citizens, in our wonderful diversity, can be united in celebration of values and heritage that make Europe a living entity that has so much to offer the world.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Aloys Fleischmann, Bobby McDonagh, Charles Villiers Stanford, Daire Halpin, Elsa Benoit, Europe Day, Europe House, European Opera Centre, European Union Youth Orchestra, Ireland, Laurent Pillot, Ludwig van Beethoven, Martin Piskorski, Ode to Joy, Percy Grainger, Richard Wagner, William Wallace, Wolfgang Resch | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 5th May, 2013
The media frenzy over UKIP’s strong showing in Thursday’s county council elections has masked some important truths. Perhaps the most significant of those is that on the basis of Thursday’s votes, UKIP would not win a single seat at Westminster. Analysis by Rallings and Thresher, highlighted by Mike Smithson, concludes that the likely make-up of the House of Commons after the 2015 General Election, were those results to be repeated, would be: Labour 331, Conservative 243, Liberal Democrats 50, Others 26 — but not one single UKIP MP. I suspect the only way UKIP might get one seat — and probably just one seat — would be if Nigel Farage himself followed the Greens’ Caroline Lucas’s example and stood somewhere where UKIP polled well this week (maybe in Lincolnshire?) , though that would of course mean he would have to give up his seat in the European Parliament. Moreover, as just one MP in the House of Commons he would be unlikely to have much impact, once the novelty value wore off, as Caroline Lucas and Respect’s George Galloway have found. Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system is harsh to smaller parties that are not regionally based (unlike Plaid Cymru and the Scottish Nationalists). So even if UKIP does very well in the (proportionally-based) European elections next year — as it probably will — that does not mean it can make a Westminster breakthrough. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats can be pleased that according to the Rallings and Thresher analysis of Thursday’s results they would retain 50 of their 57 current Westminster seats in 2015 despite a serious slump in their national opinion poll ratings. Thursday’s results showed that in most areas with LibDem MPs the electorate remain supportive of the party. Or as the LibDem mantra goes, “where we work, we win”.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 4th May, 2013
The strong showing by the United Kingdom Independence Party in this week’s county council elections and recent parliamentary by-elections has been causing shudders in Britain’s other political parties and strengthens the hand of right-wing Conservative MPs who have been urging David Cameron to drift towards the UKIP agenda in an effort to stop the haemorrhage of traditional Tory voters. I trust we will not hear any such nonsense from Liberal Democrat parliamentarians. Even though sizable numbers of traditional LibDem voters also probably opted for UKIP this time I believe that was mainly as a form of protest. All three main political parties are suffering from voter disaffection and in particular the LibDems, as unfortunately many people in the UK don’t understand Coalition politics and the fact that as a junior partner in government the Liberal Democrats have only a certain degree of clout. But the really important thing, I believe, is that the Liberal Democrats must be bold enough to confront UKIP’s two main policy planks — anti-immigration and anti-EU — and tackle them head-on. I deliberately put immigration first, despite the fact that withdrawal from the EU is UKIP’s most well-known USP, as I believe the scare-mongering by UKIP regarding immigrants was more effective in garnering votes for the party than Nigel Farage’s attempts to ridicule Brussels. Opinion polls consistently show that for the vast majority of British voters Europe is way down their list of political priorities. But Farage and his colleagues have been steering the anti-immigrant bandwagon in a way that used to be more the role of the BNP and National Front. Farage’s repeated warning about the UK “opening its doors” to 29 million Bulgarians and Romanians from 1 January not only ignore such realities as the fact that the more favoured destinations of Romanians who do want to emigrate are Italy and France, and for many Bulgarians Germany is seen as more desirable because of low housing costs and a growing economy but also propagate the distinctly racist implication that all Romanians — and particularly Roma — are criminals. The LibDems — who currently have a working group looking at immigration and related issues — need to stress how much the British economy has benefited from immigration (which of course has to be controlled but not in an arbitrary fashion). Moreover, with regard to the EU the Liberal Democrats need to be brave enough to stand up and proclaim why leaving the EU would be disastrous for Britain. Certainly some reforms of the EU are needed, but you do not reform an organisation by leaving it. The European debate has been hijacked by UKIP and it is urgent that the alternative case is put strongly — by the LibDems.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 30th April, 2013
Liberal Democrat peer Hugh Dykes sets out his (and mainstream LibDem) understanding of the vision that is needed for the whole of the European Union, not just filtered through the spectacles of apparent short-term national interest. This piece was originally published on the European Movement’s Euroblog:
What we need is a vision for the whole of the European Union.
by Lord Dykes
A few weeks after the PM sadly refused to attend the Nobel Peace Prize award to the European Union in Oslo, I had the chance to ask my noble friend Baroness Warsi, Minister of State at the Foreign Office, what further opt-outs we would now seek in Brussels. She very kindly stated that ”the Government always seek outcomes that are in the national interest … our priorities include … the single market and … fair competition”. I spend a lot of my time in France and have the opportunity to observe public life and politics there at close quarters. It is interesting that such a proud, indeed, sometimes overly patriotic country, sees absolutely no contradiction between its own direct interests and those of the European Union. It considers them intimately connected and pursues one as an expression of the other. As in Berlin and Madrid, and most other EU capitals, the EU flag flies proudly in Paris alongside the national tricolour. They do not feel the one cancels out the other. The UK is the only major member state where government buildings never, ever fly the European flag. Why are we so nervous about the EU? Why are we so immature?
It is very self-defeating if leading Conservative Ministers and politicians refer to the over-repeated phrase “the British national interest” as if that were wholly different from our membership of the European Union and in opposition to that of all the other member states. The explanation for the use of such language is simple; an unusually large number of old-fashioned nationalist Conservative MPs have a notion of national sovereignty which is, literally, at least 100 years out of date. The fundamental premise upon which the European project is based is one which argues that pooling sovereignty by way of signing EU treaties, achieved by unanimity, is not a loss of real sovereignty, it is a means to protect it and enhance it. We have done so through other international treaties and membership of international organisations like the UN, WTO, NATO, even FIFA, all over the world, to no ill effect. It is quite extraordinary that the blind commitment in our so-called “special relationship”, which has led us to go into rather questionable military adventures in the not so distant past (which we usually later regret), is rarely questioned, while we suffer hot flushes when confronted with a perfectly sensible measure of consensus-based EU co-operation.
Mr Cameron is now launching a risky plan which is designed to appease these wilder anti-EU MP colleagues, and which could quickly get out of control. His wish to renegotiate our terms of membership, in effect to get Britain out of its Treaty commitments, which have been voluntarily agreed and dully ratified by our own Parliament, can only cause resentment across the EU and raise questions among our international partners about how committed we are to our membership of the biggest economy in the world. It comes after Mr Cameron made himself unpopular through a series of tactical mistakes. The bitterness felt by the European People’s Party, the biggest, and incidentally, centre-right political family in the EU, about the Conservatives deciding to set up their own group in the European Parliament still lingers. Vetoing the Fiscal Compact and complicating efforts to address the sovereign debt crisis in certain parts of the Eurozone has not been forgotten either.
As Peter Ludlow said recently “The argument that the rest of Europe will simply acquiesce in whatever kind or arrangement (we) opt for, because … our partners need us … more than the UK needs them, is a total illusion”.
The European Movement UK is Britain’s longest standing pro-European organization, campaigning for decades to inform the debate around the benefits of EU membership.
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