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!
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 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.
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).
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 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 by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 24th September, 2014
Transport 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!
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 23rd September, 2014
I 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.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 12th September, 2014
Donald 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.
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: