Jonathan Fryer

A Night Tube for London, At Last!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 24th September, 2014

tube trainTransport for London has announced that from 12 September 2015, an overnight tube service will run on Fridays and Saturdays. So at last London Underground will be entering the 21st century, acknowledging the demands of the public in Europe’s premier city. In the past, all sorts of reasons were put forward why this was not possible; cleaning the tracks, for example. But I always suspected that some of these “reasons” were in fact excuses, and even if a 24/7 tube might not be feasible, given the antiquity of some of the infrastructure that shouldn’t stop a full weekend service. I imagine TfL must have got the relevant unions to agree to this; if so, hats off to them too. In London we are blessed with night buses (living on he very frequent No 25 route, I am particularly fortunate, but the buses are sometimes full or rowdy or both. And the tube will be much faster. So, thank you, TfL for some really cheering news. Less than a year to wait!

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Dr Jamal Nasir

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 23rd September, 2014

Under My WigI returned from Africa just in time to attend a condolences event in Knightsbridge with the family of Dr Jamal Nasir, former Minister of Justice and Acting Foreign Minister of Jordan, who has died, aged 92. I had been due to join him in Amman this autumn, to launch the Arabic edition of his autobiography Under My Wig*, which I ghost-wrote for him; the English edition came out last year and a kindle version is in the works. He had a fascinating life, being born near Jerusalem during the British Mandate of Palestine, studying at the American University of Beirut during World War II, then coming to England to do higher legal studies and being called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn in 1948. He retained chambers there until earlier this year, as well as offices in Amman, Muscat (Oman) and Beijing and at one time had a practice in Lagos, too. His energy was phenomenal, right up to the last. While Minister of Justice — appointed at the request of King Hussein, with whom he had a very close working relationship — he overhauled Jordan’s legal system, and while Acting Foreign Minister encountered everyone from Chairman Mao to the Shah of Persia and Mouammar Gaddafi. Throughout his life he was a passionate defender of the Palestinian cause. Indeed, one of his other books, on which I worked with him, was The Law of Belligerency and Israeli Occupation, clinically outlining how Israel has violated so many articles of the Geneva and Hague Conventions, and continues to do so. I shall miss him and our regular talks over lunch at Lincoln’s Inn.

[*Gilgamesh, £19.95]

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Remembering Donald Sinden

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 12th September, 2014

Donald SindenDonald Sinden 1Donald Sinden was one of those rare actors who excelled in both comedy and tragedy, and offstage he was a brilliant performer as well. He liked to assume the role of a scatty old man — while retaining his rich, fruity intonation — while in fact he kept his marbles more or less up to the end, succumbing to cancer at age 90. We first met when both of us were made honorary Patrons of the Oscar Wilde Society, which both produces scholarly articles on the Irish playwright and organises very special social events. But whereas I have only written about Wilde, Donald had a more intriguing connection, having as a young man befriended Oscar ‘s nemesis, “Bosie” Douglas. But I usually saw Donald at the Garrick Club, where he was the doyen of the actor members. Indeed, most unusually a room was named after him there while he was still alive. He enjoyed giving guided tours of some of the great pictures there, mixing real erudition with an impish sense of humour, which caught out many an unwary visitor. His impersonations of preposterous characters were a joy.

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Good for Britain, Good for Europe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 1st September, 2014

My LibDem colleague and friend Giles Goodall’s take on the top EU appointments I blogged about at the weekend:

The EU’s new faces: good for Britain, good for Europe
 
Giles Goodall is a member of the European Movement’s National Council and has been a Liberal Democrat MEP candidate for South East England
 
Giles GoodallIn the well-worn tradition of filling the EU’s top jobs, last week’s summit stands out as something of a mini-revolution. In a delicate and complex (s)election process – whereby 28 leaders must agree on a candidate whilst simultaneously satisfying multiple requirements ranging from political to geographical – merit is not always the primary criterion. This time though, it was different. In choosing Poland’s Donald Tusk as president of the European Council and Italy’s Federica Mogherini as the EU’s next foreign affairs chief, the system may just have worked. As a ticket, the new appointments successfully tick all the right boxes: centre right/centre-left, male/female, and east/west. Yet they are so much more than that too. 
 
Tusk’s election marks the first time a central or eastern European takes one of the EU’s top jobs (though his compatriot Jerzy Buzek already successfully led the European Parliament). Mogherini is a bold (and young) new face for the EU, bringing strong communication skills to a role that has suffered from low visibility since it was created in 2009. The significance of Tusk’s appointment in particular is hard to overstate. It marks the coming of age both of Poland as a major player in Europe – after a decade as an EU member – and of an EU that has successfully reunited east and west. 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, foreign minister Radek Sikorski – himself a candidate for the foreign affairs role – heralded ‘a great day for Poland.’ 
 
But it isn’t just a good result for Poland – Tusk’s election also marks a notable diplomatic success for Britain. It crowns the achievement of EU enlargement, a policy devised, promoted and implemented by the UK. Learning perhaps from his ill-advised campaign against Jean-Claude Juncker as European Commission President, David Cameron realised the strategic interests at stake and publicly backed Tusk’s candidacy. He was right to do so. Tusk moved quickly to say he “cannot imagine an EU without the UK” and that many of the reforms put forward by Britain are “reasonable”. More importantly, the Polish prime minister is one of Europe’s star leaders, overseeing a hugely successful Polish economy and growing presence on the world stage in recent years. He is well connected with Germany and has strong credentials for standing up to Vladimir Putin in the Ukrainian crisis. 
 
He is also a convinced – and convincing – European. Launching Poland’s stint at the EU presidency in 2011, he departed from the usual downbeat, crisis-dominated script: “the European Union is great. It is the best place on Earth to be born and to live your life.” Bringing perspective to anti-Europeans, he said: “We were truly occupied by the Soviets. That’s why for us EU integration is not a threat to the sovereignty of the member states.” He has called the free movement of people “a great value” whose benefits some in ‘old Europe’ take for granted. Even on his weakest point – his supposedly limited language skills – Tusk successfully quipped (in fluent English) that he will “polish his English.” Finally, he promised to bring some much-needed central and eastern European energy to the EU. It will successfully complement Juncker’s experience and Mogherini’s communication skills. That’s good news for Britain, and good news for Europe.
 
This piece first appeared in the European Movement UK’s Euroblog
 
 

 

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A Stronger EU Leadership?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 30th August, 2014

Donald TuskFederica MogheriniI only met Herman Van Rompuy once, finding him courteous and professorial, which is maybe not surprising given his low-key personality and taste for composing haiku, but I always felt it unfair the way the British Press ridiculed the former Belgian Prime Minister once he became President of the European Council; even Jeremy Paxman on BBC2’s Newsnight couldn’t resist the red-tops sobriquet for him, “Rumpy Pumpy”. Anyway, his now nominated successor, Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk, is an entirely different creature and should give added weight to the EU Council role. Even David Cameron approves of Mr Tusk (though I shan’t hold that against him). Moreover, it is a good move to have a Pole in this position, as Poland is something of a modern EU success story, as well as being firm on the EU and NATO’s need to stand up to Vladimir Putin’s outrageous Russian expansionism. The other big change to emerge from Brussels today is the replacement for Cathy Ashton, the (British) High Representative for Foreign Affairs (in effect, a putative EU Foreign Minister). Baroness Ashton also came in for some stick in the British media, not least because she was an unelected politician, having previously been Labour’s Leader in the House of Lords, as well as not having much of a foreign policy background. In fact, she performed better than I was expecting — for example, succeeding in visiting the ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi in prison — but again I believe her successor will shine more brightly. This is Federica Mogherini, currently Italy’s Foreign Minister. It’s true she has only been in the job for six months, but at least she has political legitimacy. And it must help in her preparation for her new post that Italy currently holds the six-monthly rotating presidency of the Union. So these two new appointments are, I believe, largely to be welcomed, and may, possibly, stem some of the criticism targeted daily at the EU by the British media, which was far from happy at the accession of Jean-Claude Juncker to the presidency of the European Commission, where he might indeed find it difficult to make as much of an impression as the outgoing José Manuel Barroso. . 

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UKIP Gets Its “First” MP

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 28th August, 2014

Douglas CarswellHaving debated against the eloquent Euro-sceptic Conservative MP for Clacton, Douglas Carswell, during May’s European election campaign, I am not particularly surprised by his defection to UKIP. In a sense it is odd he didn’t do it before — indeed, during that campaign — but maybe UKIP’s strong showing in May persuaded him that it is now a risk worth taking. Honorably he is causing a by-election, though precedent suggests that might be a double-edged strategy. When Bruce Douglas-Mann, Labour MP for Mitcham & Morden, switched to the newly-formed SDP and caused a by-election in 1982, the seat was seized by the Conservatives. However, Mr Carswell may feel that his personal vote will bring over many Conservative supporters. His 12,000 majority over Labour in 2010 was pretty healthy and Clacton is the sort of Essex coastal constituency where UKIP is currently popular. Interestingly, UKIP didn’t field a candidate in 2010 (though a BNP candidate almost saved his deposit). The Conservatives are bound to throw everything they’ve got at this by-election; if they were really brave, they’d field Boris Johnson. But if they fail to hold the seat and Douglas Carswell becomes UKIP’s first elected MP it doesn’t mean he’ll hang on in May next year. Anyway, he has certainly put a bit of vim into the pre-Party Conference season’s politics. And may the best man (or woman) win!

(NB: Bob Spink MP defected from the Conservatives to UKIP in 2008, but was later reclassified as an Independent, as there was no UKIP whip in the Commons. He lost his seat in the 2010 general election, standing as an Independent with UKIP support)

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Egypt: The Elusive Arab Spring

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 26th August, 2014

Wafik MoustafaWafik Moustafa bookDuring the first few weeks of 2011 I was glued to Al Jazeera’s English-language TV channel as the revolution in Egypt unfurled and President Hosni Mubarak eventually stood down from power. But this proved to be a hollow victory for the predominantly liberal and often secular young demonstrators who had been so visible in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Elections led to Mohammed Morsi of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood becoming the new president, but the new government’s swift moves to islamise the state led to renewed mass protests and Morsi’s ousting in a coup. Now Egypt is led by Field Marshal Abdel Fatah El Sisi, who many critics see as a sort of Mubarak Mark II. In fact, the repression against dissent is even worse now than it was in Mubarak’s final years. But all this was predictable, of so argues the British-Egyptian doctor Wafik Moustafa, in his thought-provoking book Egypt: The Elusive Arab Spring (Gilgmesh, £24.95). Dr Moustafa is unique in having stood for both the Egyptian presidency (against Mubarak) and as a prospective UK MP (for Bootle) — both lost causes, as Mubarak made sure for 30 years that the veneer of democracy eventually applied to quieten criticism from Washington would not threaten him through the ballot box, and Dr Moustafa is a Conservative who had little chance of ousting Labour in Britain’s industrial north west. His book is a very personal take on events, both during the three years of the so-called Arab Spring and in his recounting of Egypt’s modern history, from a liberal, cosmopolitan perspective. He obviously thinks Egypt is the poorer for losing former IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei from frontline politics (not a view particularly widely shared among ordinary Egyptians) and he is (probably justifiably) harsh on the record of the late Colonel Nasser, whose standing in the Egyptian street nonetheless seems to be rising again, with a little help from El Sisi. The author ranges wider than the Egypt of the title, looking at events across the whole Arab world, as well as specific issues such as the media. The order of chapters is at times a little strange — an account of the Egyptian monarchy coming towards the end of the book, for example — but the late alterations and additions made necessary by political developments in 2013 are reasonably well integrated into the whole, and all in all this is a stimulating read, which will be particularly appreciated by those who are not already Middle East experts and want an accessible and literate overview of Egypt’s situation and the multitude of challenges facing the country’s future.

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The Bridge

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 24th August, 2014

The BridgeI have only seen the second series of the TV crime drama The Bridge, but it made me an instant convert to Nordic Noir. The dynamic between the two mismatched detectives, one Danish, one Swedish, is quite special, as is the observation of their dysfunctional private lives. For those who haven’t seen the programme, its plots span the narrow divide separating Copenhagen from Malmo, and the Oresunds Bridge that provides both a rail and road link between the two cities also provides the title of the series, as well as being one of its most striking stars. The bridge didn’t exist the last time I was in Copenhagen for more than just a stopover, so of course I had to make a pilgrimage over it — by tran, in my case, which was remarkably simple, as even on a Sunday there seemed to be trains every ten minutes or so, and the journey takes just over half an hour. I found Malmo this morning packing up from the Malmo Festival, which ended on Friday, but that meant that there were no great crowds. In fact, the city was virtually empty and I easily found a table in the sun at the Gustav Adolf restaurant for lunch. The bridge has really boosted Malmo, which used to belong to Denmark, but then became something of a backwater when absorbed into Sweden. There are some lovely buildings and squares, and a beautiful cemetery garden right in the centre of town. Well worth a day trip from Copenhagen (and, no, I didn’t see any criminal activity of any sort, least of all a kidnapping or murder).

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Christiania

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 23rd August, 2014

ChristianiaWhen a community of hippies and eco-warriors settled in Copenhagen’s garden suburb of Christiania over 40 years ago they were hailed as Europe’s equivalent to San Fracsisco’s peaceniks. But whereas many American drop-outs returned to the conventional fold after a couple of years or so, becoming stockbrokers on Wall Street and the like, the alternative lifestylers of Christiania largely stayed, and the community thrives, despite the attempts over the years of some of Denmark’s more conservative governments to close the place down — or at least curb the open sale and consumption of marijuana (technically illegal) — as well as the potentially more dangerous threat from developers keen to get their hands on what is potentially hugely valuable real estate, not far from the city centre. On the advice of an Arab dancer friend who lives in Copenhagen, I spent the morning in Christiania and was charmed. It’s true that some of the larger old industrial buildings on the site are pretty run down, and not all the murals and graffiti sprayed around is good Art by any means. But to my surprise, I found some charming outdoor cafés, the hashish tents were festooned with white lace and flowers (and, no, I didn’t buy any), and if one wanders just a bit deeper into Christiana you come across lanes bordered with gardens and lovely old wooden houses, painted dark green (presumably previously the summer cottages of Copenhagen’s bourgeoisie?) and the atmosphere is so tranquil that one can forget modern life exists. There are no cars inside Christiana, of course, only bicycles of various types and the inhabitants go about their business discreetly ignoring visitors from outside, as they would like to be discreetly ignored. There are signs in the main thoroughfares warning NO PHOTOS! and this is indeed a place not be snapped but to be savoured. Long may it last.

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“Islamic State”: Pure Evil

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 20th August, 2014

IS FoleyI have not watched the video of American journalist James Foley being beheaded by a militant from the so-called Islamic State, IS (previously known as ISIS). I don’t need to, in order to share the revulsion and anger felt by most people in Britain, especially as the masked “executioner” in the video would appear to be British, from his accent. Foley was a war correspondent, not a soldier, who had been held in captivity for the past two years before his gruesome death. His only “crime”, in the eyes of his captors, was his nationality, but nothing can possibly excuse his death and the manner of it. It comes hard on the heels of horrific stories of mass executions by IS of Yazidis and other civilians in Iraq and the terrorising of populations. I am not a Muslim, but I have studied enough about the religion over the years to know that this barbarity is as remote from the true teaching of Islam as was the Spanish Inquisition from that of Christianity. There is nothing noble or heroic in the action of IS militants, nor the cause they espouse. The Islamic State is pure evil, and must be condemned as such, by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. That means not only action on the ground in Syria and Iraq — which is already seeing some unusual alliances forming against IS — but especially in the mosques and madrasas, and through social media, where the poisonous message of IS must be challenged and exposed for what it truly is.   

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