Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 24th October, 2014
The next two years are likely to be a challenging time for the Liberal Democrats, both in the run-up to next May’s general election — when the Party is in danger of losing half its seats, on current poll ratings — and in reconnecting with an electorate that is disenchanted with Westminster politics and in a mood to blame the Liberal Democrats for some of the Conservatives’ harsher policies. We need to develop and communicate a fresh, radical Liberal narrative, as well as championing the real achievements that we have made as part of the Coalition government: raising the tax threshold, bringing in the pupil premium, highlighting mental illness as a health and social care priority, and so on. It’s essential that we have a Federal Executive that is up to the challenges of maintaining morale among members and Party staff, as well as efficiency in delivery, building on the recent welcome increase in membership and asserting the Liberal Democrats’ importance as a vibrant force in local, regional, national and European politics. We also need to boost our human and financial resources, to help level the political playing field. That should help us rebuild our councillor base, develop winnable parliamentary seats for the future and be ready and prepared to reverse our diminished force in the European Parliament in the elections of 2019.
I have served the Party in many ways over the years, as a candidate at local, regional, national and European levels (including being a London borough councillor for a while). I was on the Federal Policy Committee for several years and chaired two of its working parties, and I am currently a member of the International Relations Committee and the delegation to the ALDE Council (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe). I was Chair of London Liberal Democrats 2010-2012. I now feel tat the best way I continue that service would be as a member of the Federal Executive, helping steer the Party through troubled waters. I thus invite those who are able to vote in the Party’s internal elections to give me a high preference on the ballot.
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Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 21st October, 2014
Tim Farron is coming to the end of his four-year term as President of the Liberal Democrats, but he’s still juggling being the campaigning MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale with the demands of the rubber chicken circuit. This evening he was in Mortlake, to open the new constituency offices of Richmond Park LibDems, at 65a Sheen Road. Being Richmond, there were not only distinctly upmarket canapés with the rather good wine, but even a display of original artwork and Liberal memorabilia on the walls. In fact, the front room facing the street will act as a small gallery for local artists to show and sell their work, outside of election times. In his speech, with his usual humour Tim offered good cheer to the local party and the tireless PPC Robin Meltzer by pointing to the example of David Penhaligon, who won the previously safe Conservative seat of Truro in October 1974 at a time when the Liberal Party elsewhere was slipping back. Even more remarkably, Penhaligon vastly increased his majority in 1979, when the party was suffering from the fallout of the Jeremy Thorpe affair and Mrs Thatcher swept to power. Sometimes this phenomenon of bucking the trend is somewhat trivialised in the LibDem campaign slogan of “where you work, you win”, which isn’t always true, as many councillors defending their seats over the past four years have sadly discovered. But it is possible sometimes to pull off a remarkable victory with an inspirational candidate and a truly dedicated team behind him or her. Tim himself, of course, has made his own seat about as solid a LibDem fiefdom as it’s possible to be in England, so one hopes that in the run-up to next May’s difficult general election he will be able to get about around the country still, motivating people. Meanwhile, whichever woman wins the contest to succeed him as President on 1 January is going to have a hard act to follow.
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Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 19th October, 2014
Burgenland is the least populated of all Austria’s states, a jagged sliver of land bordering Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia. As such, it was the ideal location for this year’s Congress of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ), when our minds were turned to the fall of Communism in Central Europe 25 years ago. It was fascinating to hear the story of the Pan-European picnic organised on the Austrian-Hungarian border in the summer of 1969, which was one of the triggers for the reunification if the continent after four decades of Cold War. These days, there is plenty of cross-border regional cooperation between neighbouring districts. But that does not mean that everyone lives exactly the same way all across the European Union or indeed sees things the same way. It was particularly striking that some of the Hungarian participants did not share the deep concerns in Western Europe about the way that the ruling Fidesz party has drifted from liberal democracy to a degree of authoritarianism. Any complacency about Europe’s future was further shattered by an impassioned presentation from a representative from Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who spoke of the realities of War and of our need to stand up to the Russians.
The Latvian European Commissioner-designate, Valdis Dombrovskis, reminded us of the stiff economic challenges still facing the eurozone, in particular, and a Spanish delegate pointed out that there are now about 15,000 unemployed journalists in Spain. Life is certainly not getting easier for the profession, not least given the pressures of censorship and self-censorship, intimidation in countries such as Russia and the misuse of anti-terrorism laws to curb media freedom in the UK, Turkey and elsewhere.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: AEJ, Austria, Burgenland, Fidesz, Hungary, Lativa, Neusiedl, press freedom, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Soain, Ukraine, Valdis Dombrovskis | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 14th October, 2014
Last night the British House of Commons voted by 274 to 12 in favour of a motion to recognise the state of Palestine. Though the vote has no binding implication for the UK Government (whose Ministers abstained, as is usual in such circumstances), its moral force should not be underestimated. Coming soon after Sweden’s announcement that it will indeed recognise Palestine, and ahead of similar parliamentary votes in France, Ireland, Denmark and Finland, the House of Commons vote is bound to influence EU thinking on the matter. Already, two-thirds of the member states of the United Nations have given Palestine full recognition, and it is well time that the EU and its members did the same. Israel’s government is, of course, furious, and even more contemptuous of Europe than ever. But Bibi Netanyahu should think hard about the fact that he and his colleagues have outraged even formerly pro-Israeli opinion in much of Britain by their flagrant violation of both the spirit and the letter of international law, not least by authorising ongoing Israeli settlement activity in the occupied West Bank. It is in Israel’s own interests to make sure a two state solution is viable, but time for that has almost run out. In the meantime, the British government should accept the clear feelings of parliament and of a large body of British public opinion that giving the Palestinians the dignity and diplomatic clout of state recognition is long overdue.
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Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 12th October, 2014
Although I was born and grew up in Manchester, having had rather an unhappy childhood I was only too pleased to see the back of the place when I went off to university and later never even thought of moving back to the city. But I’ve been pleased this weekend to reconnect with Manchester, partly because of the invitation to speak at my old school, MGS, which I blogged about previously, but mainly because of the opportunity to meet — for the very first time — my two sisters here. I was adopted and placed elsewhere, but they weren’t. It’s been a bit of an emotional roller-coaster, especially when I saw pictures of my Mother for the first time, but also quite exciting and the beginning of a new chapter in my life. Moreover, Manchester itself has never looked better. Far from the dreary grey drizzle of my memories, the city has been bathed in warm autumnal light this weekend. And of course the old buildings look so much more impressive now they are clean. The Metrolink (a sort of super-tram) is superb and people really are much friendlier up North. As I prepare to leve tomorrow, many daemons laid to rest, I can even imagine myself coming back more often. Reconnected? definitely!
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Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 10th October, 2014
Fifty years ago this year, the then leader of the Liberal Party, Jo Grimond, went to Manchester Grammar School (MGS, then a direct grant grammar school, rather than the independent establishment it is now) to talk to the boys in the lecture theatre. This was during the 1964 general election campaign, and was an extraordinary act of altruism, as none of us (I was 14 at the time) would be old enough to vote — the voting age those days was 21. But what he said inspired me: his passionate, radical vision of an internationalist society, in which Britain would be a core member of the then European Communities, but in which each individual person would be equal and respected and able to create their own future. I rushed off to join the local Young Liberals and for the next half century my political path was clear. And even if as yet I have not succeeded In getting elected to the European Parliament, Jo’s passion and commitment still drive me forward. I recalled all this this afternoon, when I spoke to sixth formers studying politics at MGS, through whose doors I had not passed since leaving school in March 1969. In my day, we were not allowed to study anything about politics or current affairs, so it was good to speak with youths who were both intelligent and engaged. I deliberately did not make a party political broadcast on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, as it really is for each of them to choose which ideology or indeed personalities that attract them most. Inevitably, on the day after UKIP’s impressive by-election performance, not only in Clacton but the more immediately relevant Heywood and Middleton, UKIP was in the air. but I hope my expounding the concepts of internationalism as opposed to narrow nationalism may have had some effect. And I did urge those who showed especial interest to get involved in their local constituencies, whichever party they choose to support.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Clacton, Heywood and Middleton, Jo Grimond, Liberal Democrats, Liberal Party, Manchester Grammar School, MGS, UKIP | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 7th October, 2014
As this year’s LibDem autumn conference was held unusually later this year — to make way for the Scottish referendum — and the SOAS university term has already started, I was only able to spend the first three days up in Glasgow, which confirmed my impression from last year of being a really lovely and friendly city. There seemed to be fewer conference reps present this time, but that didn’t dampen the enthusiasm, much to the frustration of journalists keen to do the whole thing down. There were some excellent debates, for example on overcoming poverty worldwide, as well as a raft of set-piece speeches by government Ministers. I spoke in the debate on the sensitive subject of tackling child abuse, a bit emotionally perhaps, but I was grateful for the huge sense of support in the hall. As always the fringe offered the best parts of conference and I deliberately went to a few that were outside my usual policy comfort zone, learning a lot from the session on the proposed Nature and Well-being Act, in particular. Of course, next May’s election was at the back of Conference-goers’ minds, but although everyone expects it to be quite difficult the party is nonetheless braced to bring in the best results possible.
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Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 2nd October, 2014
The painter Mark Edwards, who has a solo exhibition at the Catto Gallery in Hampstead until 21 October, has been exploring a mysterious imaginary landscape, the White Wood, for the past seven years, the result of which is a captivating, eerie series of images of stark trees, empty buildings, steam trains, crows and a black Scottie dog, along with a cast of anonymous men dressed in long coats and wearing bowler or Homburg hats, sometimes singly, sometimes in pairs or small groups, occasionally chatting, but more often staring up at something out of shot or down on the ground. The couples inevitably remind one of the Thompson Twins in Hergé’s Tintin, and there are other Belgian echoes — of Magritte and Delvaux, though all nonetheless in Mark Edwards’ own singular voice. Photographic reproductions do not justice to the complex texture of the originals, with their trademark snow, piled on with a palette knife so thick one could reach out and touch it. The artist lives in Scotland, staring out at the North Sea from his kitchen widow, but his landscapes are set in nowhere and everywhere in Europe, wild and desolate. The Danish flag that produces a bright flash of red in one picture is mere happenchance, for tonal effect. This is not a nod to Nordic noir, but a lighter and yet still somewhat disturbing reality. Well worth a visit (and a purchase).
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Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 29th September, 2014
This article first appeared in the online edition of InterLib, the magazine of Liberal International British Group (LIBG).
The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) is a past master at inventing Orwellian names for its military operations. “Protective Edge” sounds so reassuring and 100% defensive, but for the people on the receiving end in Gaza this summer it was anything but. The completely disproportionate response to Hamas provocation led to well over 2,000 Palestinian deaths, two thirds of them civilians (according to the UN), including several hundred children. Many more were injured and over half a million displaced; the psychological trauma, particularly of the very young, has been incalculable. Whole districts were flattened, homes demolished; even some UN schools and facilities were attacked. Night after night we had to witness the sickening spectacle of the region’s foremost military power pounding a people trapped in a narrow strip of land from which there was no escape. It was like shooting fish in a barrel.I
I curse Hamas and whichever other militant group was responsible for firing rockets into Israel, for that was itself a terrorist act, albeit on a far more limited scale. There can be no justification for targeting civilians in that way, though the rockets were so primitive that it is maybe absurd to use the word “targeting” anyway. Six civilians were killed in Israel, including a child and one Thai national. That’s six too many. 66 Israeli soldiers also perished in the conflict, some from “friendly fire”. I curse Hamas and other militant groups for undermining attempts at getting some sort of negotiated settlement to the Israel-Palestine dispute. But I also curse them for letting Israel portray itself once again as the victim, whereas for decades it has increasingly been the oppressor.
Gaza itself has been under a tight blockade by Israel, denying the territory true autonomy. Even Gaza’s fishermen have regularly been prevented from going out to catch their fish, often risking arrest or attack when they do so. Over in the West Bank, the Occupation continues unabated. Palestinians there are regularly harassed and humiliated by the IDF and militant Israeli settlers, some of whom have stated overtly that their aim is to push all the Arabs out of Palestine into Jordan. Water is diverted to serve Israeli settlements, Palestinian olive groves are frequently uprooted, houses demolished, building permits for Palestinians routinely refused. Moreover, for several years now, what can only be described as ethnic cleansing has been going on in East Jerusalem. The Palestinians want to have East Jerusalem as the capital of their dreamed-of Palestinian state. But the Israeli government is doing everything it can to prevent that happening, instead working to claim all Jerusalem as the undivided capital of the Jewish State, despite the fact that the city is holy to all three Abrahamic faiths.
There are noble Jews in Israel, as well as in the diaspora outside, who are horrified by the way that what started out as an idealistic vision after the genocide of the Holocaust has turned into a nightmare. They are sickened how successive Israeli governments have acted in contravention to the very teachings of the Jewish religion. Israel has become a rogue state, violating both the Geneva and Hague Conventions on a daily basis. It uses targeted assassinations, subjects Palestinian prisoners to torture and inhuman treatment, incarcerates children, and is steadily making the creation of a viable independent Palestinian state impossible. Binyamin Netanyahu puts two fingers up to the United States and the rest of the West, because he knows he that so far he has been able to get away with murder. The settlements expansion continues apace; immediately after the Protective Edge operation, the biggest land-grab by the Israeli state for 30 years took place, near Bethlehem.
For me, Protective Edge was the final straw. The callous indifference of the Israeli government – and, I regret to day, of a significant proportion of the Israeli population – to the suffering wrought on the people of Gaza made me want to vomit. As the brave Israeli journalist Gideon Levy wrote, it was if they considered killing Palestinian children no more important than killing insects. Accordingly, I believe it is time for Britain officially to take a principled stand, as increasingly large numbers of Britons are doing. The UK should recognise the state of Palestine now. And individuals should seriously consider whether the time has not come to boycott Israel, and Israeli produce, as I have decided to do, until the blockade of Gaza is lifted, the Israeli settlements in the West Bank removed, the disgusting apartheid barrier (“security wall”) is pulled down and Palestine is set free.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Hamas, IDF, InterLib, Israel, LIBG, Operation Protective Edge, Palestine | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 28th September, 2014
The resignation of the Tory Minister for Civil Society, Brooks Newmark, after he sent a sexually explicit photo of himself to an undercover reporter from the Sunday Mirror has produced a salacious backdrop to today’s opening of the Conservative Party conference, but I feel Mr Newmark deserves more sympathy than condemnation. He says himself that he has been very foolish, but the Mirror journalist — who posed as a flirtatious Tory PR woman — effectively stitched him up in a deliberate sting operation. Had he been a blackmailer, he would have committed a criminal act. Had he been a policeman, it would have amounted to entrapment. But because he is a journalist and Mr Newmark is a politician the accepted view is that it is OK. Well, I do not accept that interpretation — and I am a journalist. One had hoped that with the demise of the disgusting News of the World, Sunday newspapers would drop some of their more dubious practices in their search for sensational stories. But the antics of the fake Sheikh — whose mtehods have recently been somewhat discredited –have shown that other newspapers are prepared to fill the gap. In the Sunday Mirror’s case, there is also a political motive, as it is Labour-supporting, and Mr Newmark’s indiscretion leaves egg on the face of the Conservatives. The journalist concerned will probably get a pay rise because of his scoop, but I believe he should be criticised, not praised. Not only has he ruined Mr Newmark’s career for the time being. he will have caused immense distress to the MP’s family. Brooks Newmark has certainly been a very silly boy, but then so are millions of men when it comes to sexual desire. He is now in disgrace, but to my mind, it is the journalist and the sort of gutter journalism that he represents that should be.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Brooks Newmark, Conservative Party, journalism, News of the World, Sunday Mirror | 3 Comments »