Jonathan Fryer

Posts Tagged ‘Bexley’

Why I Want to Be an MEP

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 2nd November, 2012

Today ballot papers started arriving at the homes of Liberal Democrat members in London so they can choose the order of the list of candidates for the European elections in 2014. There are nine candidates for eight places (a tenth, Elaine Bagshawe, has withdrawn). The Liberal Democrats are a democratic party, so everyone who has been a member for longer than a year gets the chance to take part by single transferable vote (STV). In 2004 and 2009 I was Number 2 on the list, and as such just missed actually getting elected to the European Parliament by a whisker, so no-one can be surprised that I’m going for Number 1 this time. Being an MEP is something I have always wanted, more than any other form of political office, though I did serve as a borough councillor for a while. I used to cover the European Parliament and other European institutions when I was based in Brussels, originally with Reuters but later freelance. In the early days it was something of a talking shop, whose members were appointed by their national parliaments and had almost no power. But in 1979 there were direct elections for the first time, giving the institution more democratic legitimacy. In Britain these were on a first-past-the post system in large constituencies, in London’s case usually comprising three boroughs (I fought London South East, which was made up of Bexley, Bromley and Greenwich). But in 1999, the Labour government rightly bowed to pressure from our continental partners to adopt a fairer, more proportional system.

I have often attended events at the parliament in Brussels and Strasbourg (yes, of course I am in favour of the abolition of the wasteful shuttle between the two!) and for many years I have been an elected member of the governing Council of the ELDR — the European Liberal Democrat and Reformist party, which groups like-minded parties from across Europe, including a number of states not currently members of the EU. In fact, this time next week I’ll be in Dublin at the 2012 Congress of ELDR. This moves round Europe, partly to give a boost to the host party; the last ELDR event I attended was in Yerevan, Armenia, in May. The Parliament itself now has much stronger powers than it did in the past, with many major decisions now being subject to ‘co-decision’ between the Parliament and the Council of Ministers (which is made up of Ministers from the governments of the 27 member states). MEPs usually sit on a couple of major committees; my choice ideally would be in EU external policy/foreign affairs and overseas development, but of course London concerns would figure large among my priorities, including the use of European structural funds to help create jobs and foster regenration in deprived areas of the capital, including my own home borough, Tower Hamlets. Because of my professional background, obviously culture, media and related issues are also of great interest. In fact, I write regularly for the culture website of the European Commission’s London representation. And I agree with EU founding father John Monnet that one thing maybe the European project should have stressed earlier and more strongly at the beginning is the crucial value of culture, identity and diversity.

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Distant Longing in Port Said

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 29th May, 2012

Separation can be painful for lovers, but also a great aphrodisiac: witness the love letters of poets and statesmen. But it’s not only the mighty or famous who may be preserved for posterity in their heightened emotions and frustrated desire, viz the correspondence between a certain Reggie — holed up in a military hospital in Port Said at the time of the Great Depression — and his “divine girl”, a Miss Banks in Bexley, Kent. The contrast between the bustling and at the time distinctly louche entrance to the Suez Canal and the most banal of south-east London suburbs could hardly be greater. As we see from Reggie’s missives, which form the centrepiece of an intriguing little exhibition by London-based Greek artist Rania Bellou (“Between I and Me”) at the 12 Star Gallery in Europe House in Smith Square (until 15 June), romantic love can transcend both distance and gross venality. Port Said — a regular port of call on my cruise lecturing circuits, incidentally - was, in 1930, when Reggie was at his most effusive, notorious for its “dirty postcard” merchants, who besieged every ship headed for the Red Sea. But Reggie chose very proper views of the city in the cards he selected (some sites still recognisable, others a record of historic buildings long gone) to send to his beloved “Winkie” Banks. The postage stamps on these, and on the envelopes of letters included in the collection acquired by Rania Bellou from a London junk dealer, show a more svelte and handsome King Fuad than the ageing monarch really was at the time. One might ask how a collection of someone’s love letters and postcards (only one-sided, to boot) can form an art exhibit. Well, there are also drawings by Rania Bellou, on superimposed layers of tissue paper, which give us a glimpse of Reggie and his world (which he was shortly to leave, without being united with his beloved). And the exhibition also draws, more poetically, on the legacy of Marcel Proust, who famously remarked that the remembrance of things past is not necessarily the rememberance of things as they were. Memory is a subjective and fickle thing, and there is an unreal quality to the story of Reggie and Miss Banks, as well as a nostalgia which is only emphasized by the exoticism and lost quality of inter-War Port Said, when Egypt was officially independent but Britain and its French allies were still firmly in control of the Canal Zone.

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London’s European Election Results

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 9th June, 2009

London City HallNow that the dust has settled, one can take a rational view of the outcome of the European elections in London. The most striking thing for me is the way that Labour’s vote in the capital proved remarkably resilient, compared with the party’s performance in most of the rest of the country. Though they did lose one seat (almost inevitable with the reduction in the number of London seats from nine to eight), Labour retained a very strong second place. Moreover, they held on to a local council seat in a concurrent by-election in Prince’s ward, Lambeth, despite a swing there to the Liberal Democrats.

European flagsThe Conservatives proved once again that they are good at getting their vote out. They were obviously well organised, not only in strongholds such as Barnet and Bromley, but also in target boroughs such as Tower Hamlets. The Tories may not have much time for the European Union, but they certainly took these election seriously, treating them as a dry-run for the forthcoming general election and building up in areas in which they hope to make gains in the London local council elections next year.

In principle, the Liberal Democrats were doing the same. And indeed, this strategy worked well in held and target seats, which got plenty of literature and had concerted campaigns, including telephone knocking-up of postal voters and on polling day. The LibDems therefore performed strongly in the south-western ‘golden triangle’ of Richmond, Kingston and Sutton, excellently in Haringey, well in Camden, Lambeth (Streatham), Brent, Southwark, Islington etc, though apparently haemorrhaging some votes to the Greens. Up-and-coming boroughs like Waltham Forest did well in parts. But the black holes — mainly in the east and south east – fared poorly. An unavoidable challenge for the party in dealing with future London-wide PR election will be to build support and accurate data in boroughs such as Barking and Dagenham, Havering and Bexley. Interestingly, the BNP did best in those three boroughs, though overall the BNP vote was slightly down on its GLA percentage last year and the party came nowhere near winning a seat.

European parliament logoUKIP sank to fifth place, behind the Greens, though still hanging on to one MP. The Greens were justifiably pleased with their performance, though they still only got a little over 10 per cent, well below what some of the opinion polls were suggesting. London voters were spoilt for choice when it came to parties and independents to whom they could allocate a protest vote. Amongst the ragbag of little parties and independents, the one that stands out most is the Tamil independent, Jan Jananayagam, who garnered over 50,000 votes in a ballot-box extension of the Parliament Square demonstrations. It is interesting (though futile!) to speculate how the results might have been different in places with large Tamil communities, such as Sutton and Brent, had she not stood.

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BNP Win in Bexley Thwarted by Recount

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 22nd January, 2009

I spent part of this afternoon telling in Welling, in a primary school that was serving as a polling station in the East Wickham by-election. Two things struck me as unusual. First, people were coming out to vote briskly at a time when normally turnout is sluggish, especially in mid January. But second, and much more disconcerting, was how determinedly charming the three (sic) BNP tellers standing with me were. This is the new style BNP — at least, that is the image they wish to give. Party leader Nick Griffin has masterminded this transformation and was in the ward earlier this week, encouraging the troops. The net result of all this, I was informed sadly at 2330, was that the BNP had won, seizing a ward that was Liberal Democrat not so long ago. But a recount has instead delivered a final, confirmed Tory majority of 8 votes! I don’t normally drink to a Conservative win, but my whisky glass is by my side.

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