Jonathan Fryer

GDIF 2014 at the Cutty Sark

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 20th June, 2014

GDIF 2014GDIF MuaréThe Greenwich and Docklands International Festival (GDIF) has relatively quickly established itself as one of Britain’s premier outdoor cultural events, all the remarkable because it is FREE. Artistic Director Bradley Hemmings has a keen eye for what’s hot in Continental Europe and beyond and the Festival makes brilliant use of the diverse historic and contemporary venues on offer in the Royal Borough of Greenwich, as well as over the river in Tower Hamlets and Newham. This evening, as I made my way to the GDIF opening reception at the Cutty Sark (impressively reborn after the terrible fire of 2007 and now exposed in all its copper-bottomed glory in a fine exhibition space) I watched a company of dancers from Antwerp performing on the surrounding piazza, in front of a mirrored mobile van in which 20 privileged spectators had a keyhole view of the action from the inside. At the reception, fitting tribute was played to sponsors, including the Royal Borough of Greenwich, Arts Council England and this time the Flanders representation in London. Whilst we invitees swapped notes over canapés and wine, a select few were wired into another dynamic experience, their perception controlled by computer, which gave them the impression of walking through the streets of Brussels, including at one stage carefully stepping along a narrow balustrade in front of Belgium’s Palais de Justice. Later, the guests moved to the Greenwich Maritime Museum to watch Muaré, a psychadelic extravagance involving aerial theatre by artists from Spain and Argentina descending from giant revolving optical art mobiles. The Festival runs on until 28 June and I am particularly looking forward to events in Mile End Park, just along the road from my home, and at the Olympic Park in Newham.

Link: http://www.festival.org/festival/overview/12/2014/

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Do Not Lose Euro-heart!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 17th June, 2014

The following first appeared in yesterday’s London Liberal Democrats’ weekly email bulletin:

JF at homeThe result of the recent Euro-elections was deeply dispiriting, not least because for the first time ever the Liberal Democrats pinned our pro-European colours to the mast — the only major party to do so. Yet we lost all but one of our MEPs (the exception being Catherine Bearder in South East England), including London’s Sarah Ludford, who has done so much good over the past 15 years, especially in the field of Justice and Home Affairs. At least we do not “lose” Sarah completely, as she can now return to the House of Lords and play an active role there, with all the benefits of her Euro-experience.

The important thing now is to learn from the May 2014 experience and to rebuild, so that we ensure we once again have at least one LibDem MEP for London in 2019. I believe there are two main lessons, though other people may suggest more. First, although being the Party of IN was the right strategy, the message was wrong: it should have been “We’re IN it to Fix It!”, as we are the party of EU reform, not of the status quo. Second, whereas I understand the argument for targeting held seats and strong boroughs (especially when there were local elections on the same day), we cannot just ignore two-thirds of London’s electorate in a PR election. So we need somehow to raise the funds for a London-wide Freepost in 2019.

On Friday, I was in Brussels for the governing Council of the Alliance of European Liberals and Democrats (ALDE), our “family” in the European Parliament. Despite the dire results in Britain and Germany the mood was good, as ALDE member parties had done well elsewhere. So I am returning to London re-energised and ever more determined to make 2019 a year for London Liberal Democrat Euro-celebration!

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Ming Campbell’s View of Britain and Europe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 6th June, 2014

Ming CampbellNeither hard nor soft power by NATO and the EU can be as effective as when carried out in tandem, the Liberal Democrat MP Sir Menzies Campbell declared in his Tim Garden Memorial Lecture at Chatham House last night. He stressed that there are no plans to create a European army, despite claims to the contrary, but said there is much to be gained from European military cooperation, not least in cost effectiveness. Most of Ming Campbell’s text was about the political benefits of British membership of the EU (as one might expect from one of the grandees of the Party of IN), and included a mea culpa that he and his parliamentary colleagues had not done enough over the past four decades at promoting those benefit to the British public. If people had listened to the Liberal Party in the 1950s and enabled Britain to join what evolved into the EU at the beginning, we would have had more chance to shape it, Ming said. He was scathing about the Conservative obsession with an EU Referendum, declaring this is not the time to be scaring away foreign investment from those for whom Britain’s place in the EU is considered value added. However, Ming will have disappointed the federalists in the audience (of whom there were undoubtedly some, as the event was organised by Liberal International British Group) by stating flatly that Jean-Claude Juncker (the European People’s Party candidate for President of the European Commission) would be completely the wrong choice at the moment, as he is a man from another time, when ever closer political union was a driving force within the EU. Stephen Sacker, the presenter of BBC World’s Hard Talk, who was moderating the event, asked some probing questions of the speaker, but I for one was disappointed that Ming did not go into greater detail about what sort of reforms the Liberal Democrats would like to see happening in the EU. I am happy to be in the Party of IN, but one of the reasons we did so poorly in the recent European elections was because we did not explain that we are the Party of  IN because we are “in it to reform it” — and how.

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Egypt: Where Next?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 3rd June, 2014

Egypt elections 1Egypt elections 2Last night at the National Liberal Club, Liberal International British Group hosted a panel discussion on the political situation in Egypt, with former Nile TV presenter Shahira Amin, democracy activist Ahmed Naguib (via skype), the Treasurer of Liberal International, Robert Woodthorpe Browne (who has been involved in a lot of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s recent work in Egypt) and myself. As the discussion was (rightly) held under the Chatham House Rule, I cannot divulge what any of the others said, but I can share some of the things I talked about. As the two Egyptian participants gave such a comprehenesive and coheremnt picture of today’s political realities and challenges, I complemented their presentations by reminding people about the highs and lows of the mood on Cairo’s Tahrir Square in January/February 2011, including the prominent role played by brave women and the way that Muslims and Christian Copts protected each other when they were at prayer. But those who dubbed the phenomenon that started in Tunisia the previous December “The Arab Spring” were always way out on their time-frame. I believed that then and believe it even more strongly now: it will be 30 or 40 years before it becomes clear how the whole New Arab Awakening works out, but what is sure is that Egypt is the test case of its success or failure. It has always had a pole position in the Arab mentality, not just because it is by far the most populous nation in the the Arab world but also because of Cairo’s (Sunni) religious and intellectual pre-eminence. Field Marshal Sisi’s victory in the recent presidential election was a foregone conclusion, though it was notable that in each electoral district there were tens of thousands of spoiled ballot papers. But for the majority of Egyptians (rather than the wealthier, educated elite) the prime concern at the moment is economic survival: bread not ballots. Western commentators like myself rightly focus on matters such as human rights abuses, including the systematic use of torture in detention centres. But the key thing that any Egyptian government, now and for the foreseable future, has to tackle is how to overcome the huge inequalities in Egypt and to provide enough, reasonably-paid work for the predominantly young population. Otherwise, there is likely to be a growing, disenchanted body of youth who could be tempted by something far more radical than the Muslim Brotherhood that was ousted from power. And that bodes ill.

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Long Live EU Labour Mobility!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 1st June, 2014

EU labour mobility 2EU labour mobilityI was saddened, but not surprised, to see in the Observer this morning that Frank Field, Kate Hoey and a few other UK Labour grandees have called on Ed Miliband to pledge to “constrain” EU labour mobility, i.e. undermine the principle of freedom of movement of people, which is a core element of the European single market. Such curbs, which many Conservatives also back, are of course a central plank of the UKIP agenda — so long as Britain remains an EU member. I understand why the UKIP surge in last week’s European and local elections last week has unnerved Britain’s two largest traditional parties, but that does not mean that the anti-immigrant and anti-EU rhetoric of Nigel Farage’s crew is right. On the contrary, true statistics — as opposed to UKIP propaganda and Daily Express lies — show that Britain has benefited hugely from labour mobility. Though over 2 million EU migrants have come to this country, a not much smaller number of Brits have moved to the continent. One in seven new businesses that have been set up in this country have been started by EU migrants, bringing new vibrancy to town centres in places like Southampton. Often people here complain that the migrants are “taking our jobs”, but the evidence does not back that up. Often the migrants are doing work that Brits just don’t want to do (such as fruit-picking and being waiters in restaurants). Moreover, to the predominanly young British who can’t find a job at the moment, I urge: skill up, maybe learn a language or two, improve your work ethic and throw yourselves into the energetic UK economy that is now the fastest growing in the OECD! Of course, the rise in population attributable to immigration has put real pressure on housing and schools and some social services, but the solution to that is to build more homes and other facilities, something Labour singularly failed to do during its 13 years in power. Moreover, I love the diversity that EU migration has brought to this country, especially to multicultural London. Far from being made uncomfortable by hearing people in the train speaking a foreign language, as Nigel Farage claimed, I see this as one aspect of our wonderfully rich and varied culture: an opportunity to learn more, not to go off into a nationalistic corner and sulk.

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Diversity Role Models

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 31st May, 2014

Diversity Role ModelsOne of the joys of living in a big city like London (not that anywhere else is quite like London) is the constant discovery of new people, new place, new organisations. My latest new discovery, thanks to a presentation by Suran Dickson at a gathering of Gay Professionals Network, to which I was invited, is Diversity Role Models, whose mission is to give young people the confidence to be who they are and allow others to do the same. Britain has made great strides in gender and LGBT+ awareness in recent years, but homophobic bullying in schools is still a problem in some instances, which is why Diversity Role Models’ work is so important. The organisation sends both LGBT and straight role models into schools (with the school’s cooperation, of course) to speak directly to the pupils about their own experiences. The youngsters are then able to ask questions or make comments and through this experience they gain a greater understanding of the impact of homophobia and transphobia as well as of the positive contribution that they can make. I’m pleased that the Coalition Government (including Home Secretary Theresa May) have backed Diversity Role Models, but it is a charity and therefore relies heavily on donations. Hearing Suran talking about her work and reading some of the anonymous post-it questions that schoolchildren had written, I couldn’t help think back to my own school, where we never got even the most basic sex education, let alone any introduction to diversity. Not surprising, ignorance, confusion and prejudice reigned.

Link: http://www.diversityrolemodels.org

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Gerald Howson: A Very Polish Affair

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 27th May, 2014

Gerald Howson PolandGerald HowsonIn 1959, at the height of the Cold War, the British photographer Gerald Howson was sent to Poland to take pictures for Queen magazine, in principle to illustrate an article that would be written by a friend of mine (long since deceased), the writer Frank Tuohy, who was then working for the British Council in Warsaw. What Gerald found was a country trying to recover from being marched over, occupied, divided up for centuries and latterly dominated by Soviet Russia. He took his cameras into the streets of Warsaw, Krakow and other towns and cities, photographing ordinary people and everyday scenes, deliberately not artfully constructed, almost surreptitiously, though many people realised he was snapping away and were quite unconcerned about it. Frank never wrote his article, as he worried that identifiable people might suffer because of it, and Gerald did not find it easy to place many of his pictures on his return home, as they did not fit into the then popular genres of fashion or glamour. The Polish authorities weren’t too happy, either, asking him where were the pictures of people dancing and being happy (as Gerald says openly now, “there weren’t any!”). Many years later, a former BBC World Service colleague of mine, Bogdan Frymorgen, who was searching for images for a museum of 20th century Polish history, from the layperson’s point of view, went to see Gerald and discovered the treasure trove of black and white images that he had stored in a chest of drawers. The net result is a fascinating exhibition, which has already been shown in Poland but is now in the 12 Star Gallery at Europe House in Smith Square, London (the HQ of the European Commission and European Parliament’s offices in London) until 13 June. There are some stunning images, several of them drawing their power from their very banality, but often with an unspoken deeper message behind, such as the almost deserted but rubble-strewn streets of the Jewish quarter in Krakow or two little boys with cows in a field, with the menacing fence of Auschwitz in the background. Gerald — now in his 90s, but scintillating in conversation, as well as in the historical writings that have occupied his later years — captivated the people present at the exhibition’s London vernissage this evening when he declared that people in Poland in 1959 were just so bored of the Soviets being there. The same cannot be said of him or his work; one can get a good flavour from the following video clip on YouTube: 

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Nick Clegg: The Biography

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 27th May, 2014

Nick Clegg 3It might seem an odd way to wind down from the exhaustion of the European election campaign — and the frustration at the results — but I’ve used the time (when not asleep) to read Chris Bowers’ biography of Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, which I bought in a bargain bookstore a few weeks ago. Although published by Biteback in 2011, much in the book still resonates. I’ve known Nick since he was MEP for the East Midlands, but there was much about his early life that I was unfamiliar with. I am also well aware that his public persona, as caricatured by opponents in the Labour Party particularly, is a travesty of the man himself, who is warm and humorous and often far more effective in one-to-one conversations or small gatherings than on a wider public stage or in front of a television camera. That said, I thought his performance in the LibDems’ European elections broadcast was brilliant. That made it all the more dismaying that the European results were so catastrophic, with only the South East of England’s Catherine Bearder being re-elected. The Party rightly pinned its European colours to the mast, and fought a principled campaign that underlined its internationalism and its refusal to get caught up in the anti-migrant hysteria of UKIP and the tabloid Press. Those within the Party (not to mention those outside) now gunning for Nick because of the three consecutive years of bad local election and now European election results should try to be more objective about the qualities of the man and the way he brought Liberals into government for the first time since the Second World War. I agree with Chris Bowers’ assessment that the Rose Garden launch of the Coalition and Nick’s determination that the Party should be seen to be “owning” the Coalition (i.e. be seen to be fully engaged) dulled the distinctiveness of the Liberal Democrat message and helped Labour portray Clegg as joined to Cameron at the hip. And despite the Party’s best efforts, its real achievements in Government (e.g. raising the tax threshold, the pupil premium, sensible pension reform) have not really got across to the public. As I discovered on the doorstep during the election campaign, the issue of trust is still a problem, because of the tuition fees debacle, though largely unfairly so. Moreover, the Cleggmania just before the 2010 General Election made a fall from political grace almost inevitable, when the new kid on the block suddenly became part of the Establishment. The current new kid, UKIP’s Nigel Farage, is a very different cup of tea, but it will be interesting to see how quickly he is now knocked off his pedestal.

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Speaking to the Ibero-American Community

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 20th May, 2014

On a couple of occasions, I’ve spoken to Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking communities in London — in Lambeth and Newham, to be precise — as part of the Liberal Democrats’ European Election campaign. Here’s what the Ibero-American community website MINKA NEWS had to say about it:

Liberal Democrats’ Jonathan Fryer: For the recognition of the entire Iberian American community and the Amigo Month

Minka News 1As a Liberal Democrat candidate for the European Parliament for London I recognise the great contribution that the Iberian-American community has made to both the economy and the social life of our capital, which has become not just the premier city of Europe but truly a global metropolis. The European Union officially celebrates our continent’s ethnic, cultural and linguistic diversity and we can see the glorious richness of that diversity in the streets of London. Spanish and Portuguese — both of which I speak reasonably well, though not perfectly — are of course among the official languages of the European Union, but I feel they have not yet been given sufficient attention in Britain, whether in terms of language teaching in our schools or in the provision of services to the Iberian-American community.

Latino LondonThe current European elections are to my mind the most important ones since direct elections to the European Parliament began in 1979. UKIP and some elements of the Conservative-leaning Press have demonised immigrants — and in particular, EU migrant workers from central and eastern Europe — echoing some of the deplorable xenophobic rhetoric we encounter in some other EU member states. Liberal Democrats categorically reject this scapegoating of immigrants; we enthusiastically acknowledge the positive contribution that immigrants have made to economic growth in London and the wider UK, and we resolutely defend the principle of labour mobility for citizens of the EU as an inalienable part of the European Single Market. Moreover, if I am elected to the European Parliament on 22 May, I shall work hard to promote EU-wide legislation to counter xenophobia and hate crimes, and to strengthen human rights so that everyone across the EU can live in dignity and security.

In past years I have backed calls for the regularisation of the situation of undocumented immigrants from outside the EU, which includes many people from the Americas and lusophone Africa. Individuals, families and communities can never be fully integrated into our diverse London society until they enjoy full rights and access to services.

Many of the specific questions I have been asked are about matters that are dealt with at a borough council, Great London Authority or British national parliament level, rather than being a European competence, but I happily pledge to work with my Liberal Democrat colleagues at those different levels of government to further the interests of the Ibero-American community. My personal opinion on specific points raised are as follows:

– yes, Portuguese should be an additional language option available for purchasing London Underground tickets, given the large number of residents and visitors from Portugal, Brazil, Angola and other lusophone countries;

– yes, it seems self-evident to me that ethnic monitoring forms should in future have a category for Ibero-Americans with which they can comfortably identify;

– I would be prepared to lobby the relevant authorities regarding the erection of statues, commemorative plaques and the like for truly worthy Iberian-Americans or British subjects with an Iberian-American connection, on a case-by-case basis;

– I hope that the Amigo month becomes an annual fixture in London’s cultural calendar and would be happy to help promote it and encourage cooperation between different cultural institutes and embassies from relevant countries, as well as seeing it recognised in our schools and other educational and cultural institutions;

– I would be delighted to take part in events during this year’s Amigo Month, as far as is possible given other constraints on my time or absence in Brussels or elsewhere;

– I am very enthusiastic about the idea of a latino corridor in Southwark and Lambeth and will be happy to work with my Liberal Democrat colleagues on those two borough councils, as well as on the GLA, to try to further the project.

Lastly, may I stress how important it is that everyone in London’s Ibero-American community who is registered to vote here does vote here on 22 May. We need to show the world that UKIP and the Euro-sceptic wing of the Conservative Party are not the true voice of London — and the clearest way of doing that is to vote for the one political party that has stood up forcefully against UKIP and has defended the worth and rights of EU migrants and immigrants from other parts of the world: the Liberal Democrats.

Jonathan Fryer

No. 2, Liberal-Democrat European List for London

(JONATHAN FRYER WAS SPEAKING IN FLUENT SPANISH AND PORTUGUESE TO HUNDREDS OF IBERIAN-AMERICAN LEADERS IN WEST NORWOOD LAST WEEK. ON SUNDAY, HE ALSO SPOKE TO HUNDREDS OF LATINOS IN A CHURCH IN CANNING TOWN)
 

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TTIP

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 20th May, 2014

TTIPLast night, at Friends House in Euston, the North East London branch of the World Development Movement (WDM) organised a Euro-election hustings focussing on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which the Green Party and several NGOs involved in overseas development issues have been campaigning against. The timing was well-chosen, not just because of the elections on Thursday but also because yesterday the fifth round in bilateral negotiations began in Arlington, West Virginia. Proponents of TTIP claim that it will create millions of jobs, as well as adding significantly to the GDP of both the US and the EU, as well as third countries, though opponents see it as a means by which US corporations will be able to get easier access to wield their power in Europe. There are two issues relating to TTIP which do concern me, namely the provision that would allow companies to sue governments (at an independent tribunal) if they believed they had suffered financially by being excluded from a lucrative contract. And secondly, I believe the NHS should be ringfenced, so that it is not opened up to competitive tendering from US companies. There is currently a consultation going on in which the European Commission in Brussels is soliciting comments from the public, and it is unlikely that any TTIP agreement could be finalised before the end of 2015. I would only support it if the two points I raised above are met, and if the guarantees that the current EU Trade Commissioner, Karel de Gucht, has made that Europe would not be forced to lower food safety standards, for example allowing in chlorine-washed US chicken or GM foods. So a lot of hard negotiation needs to happn. I hope the outcome is successful, as I believe it could lead to greater prosperity and employment, but that must not be at any price.

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