Jonathan Fryer

Posts Tagged ‘Boris Johnson’

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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Could the G20 Sort out Syria?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 2nd September, 2013

Assad and PutinRussia G20I don’t always agree with (Lord) David Owen, but he made a valid point in an op ed piece in today’s London’s Evening Standard when he suggested that the G20 Summit in St Petersburg later this week could offer an important opportunity for negotiations to find a way out of the Syria impasse. The host of the Summit, of course, is Vladimir Putin, who is Bashar al-Assad’s closest European ally. And the G20 brings together an interesting mix of developed, emerging and developing countries: the Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, UK and US, plus the European Union. It is clear that there is stalemate on the ground in Syria; Assad is not losing, but he’s not winning either, and in the meantime yet more people get killed — over 110,00 already — and more refugees are created. The Syrian economy, as well as the country’s infrastructure and heritage, is being systematically destroyed. Despite the UK Parliament’s rejection of a military option last Thursday, it is still possible that the United States (if President Obama persuades Congress), France and Turkey may take part in a strike. But what exactly would that achieve. The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, wrote in a piece in this morning’s Daily Telegraph that it would be possible to call another vote in the Commons and that the aim of any military strike should be to punish Bashar al-Assad. Well, there is a growing consensus that the Assad regime was responsible for the 21 August chemical weapons attack; the NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen was the latest authority to state that today. But as I said in a live interview on BBC Radio London this evening, surely the way to “punish” Assad and his clique would be to bring them before the ICC in The Hague, to face charges of crimes against humanity. I genuinely believe that is the best outcome, though I have no illusions about how difficult it may be to get him and his cohorts to The Hague. In the meantime, surely the prime concern must be to prevent as many deaths and as much suffering as possible. And the only plausible way to do that is convene the Geneva 2 peace conference that has been in the air for some time now. It may be uncomfortable to sit down with a dictator, but that may be the only sensible option — and it won’t happen unless Mr Putin is on board.

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Pidgeon Curry in Greenwich

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 3rd June, 2013

Caroline PidgeonCutty SarkTransport is the one thing that gets most Londoners hot under the collar and is probably the area in which Liberal Democrats have made most impact on the London Assembly — first through Lynne Featherstone and now Caroline Pidgeon. London is a preeminent global city — certainly Europe’s unrivaled metropolis — but it does not have a public transport system to match. This is despite constant upgrades and one of the highest fare structures in the world. Part of the problems is that the underground system is 19th century in its origins, but it also has to be said that Mayor Boris Johnson has had some pretty odd priorities since he took over the helm of the Greater London Authority from Ken Livingstone in 2004. His Routemaster+ buses are proving to be expensive disaster+ buses, with costly conductors who cannot take fares or even oversee the back door off-peak. At a curry and discussion evening in Greenwich this evening, Caroline Pidgeon, AM, regaled Liberal Democrat members from Greenwich, Lewisham and further afield with stories of her holding the Mayor to account. I picked up on a passing reference she made to his latest harebrained suggestion that commercial companies should be able to sponsor tube stations. Anyone for Starbucks Temple, or Oval MacNuggets or Winga Wembley Park, anyone?  But it’s not just Boris Johnson, and the even more out-of-touch right-wing Tory group on the GLA, that Caroline has been taking to task. She has been having a go at Greenwich’s Labour Council leader, Chris Roberts, who as a matter of principle refuses to respond to any request or approach from her, despite her London-wide role. One party Stalinism rules in Labour Greenwich, and alas not only there!

Links: http://www.carolinepidgeon.org and http://www.greenwich-libdems.org.uk

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Tope’s Hopes

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 22nd May, 2013

Graham TopeGT A Life in PoliticsOver the past 40 years Graham Tope has served at almost every possible level within the British political system: MP (thanks to the famous by-election victory in Sutton and Cheam), local councillor, Leader of the Council, GLA member, Member of the House of Lords, member of the EU Committee of the Regions and more besides, but throughout all this he has avoided falling into pomposity. He still cooks a mean lasagne for local activists every autumn and dutifully goes out on the rubber chicken circuit — this evening as guest speaker at an Islington Liberal Democrats pizza and politics. The starting point for his very informal, extended presentation was the book that he wrote at his son Andrew’s bidding, A Life in Politics, recounting the highs and the lows of four decades at the political coalface (mainly the first part), most of it — as he confessed tonight — transmitted to his son through his Blackberry. As was the case with me, Graham was inspired to join the Liberal Party by Jo Grimond, a truly remarkable man of principle and vision. Indeed, I wondered aloud tonight whether one problem of the current political scene is that we are missing charismatic figures such as Grimond or indeed Jeremy Thorpe, who was truly magnetic in his heyday. That is not to criticise Nick Clegg, but it is true that there is a certain similarity between David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband; none pops and fizzes in the way that, alas, Nigel Farage or Boris Johnson does. Graham is himself not a showman, but rather a solid man, someone you can count on and someone who continues to give a great deal to the Party and to Sutton. He will not be standing again for the Council in 2014 — after so long he can be excused handing on to others. But in the Lords and on the Liberal Democrat social circuit he will doubtless continue to make his contribution and, as tonight, offer hope for the future — that basically Liberal values are as important today as they ever were. Next May will not just be about winning seats, at London borough council and European Parliament level (important though that is) but also inspiring people with Liberal vision.

Related link: http://www.libdemvoice.org/graham-tope-a-life-in-politics-25133.html

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Boris Is a Barnacle

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 18th January, 2013

barnacleBoris Johnson 4Any formal function at the Mansion House in London is normally the Lord Mayor’s show, but the annual London Government dinner — always held in early January — offers the incumbent Lord Mayor  a challenge, as he is inevitably playing second fiddle to the Mayor of London, i.e. the man in charge of the whole city rather than just the City (financial district). The current Lord Mayor, Alderman Roger Gifford, acquitted himself far better than most, being skilfull in both cadence and content. That is no mean feat when one has the blond bombshell, Boris Johnson, to follow. What Boris had to say was hardly a surprise, as it had been extensively previewed in a leaked story to the Evening Standard. Basically, he was arguing that Britain should stay in the European Union — a rare bit of supportiveness for Prime Minister David Cameron, who is due to make what is billed as a “landmark speech” on Britain and Europe in the Netherlands tomorrow (how pleased he must be to be pre-empted by Boris) — but that we need to scrape the barnacles from the ship of Europe that are slowing us down. This is, frankly, bollocks, and I was pleased to see that many of the City figures predictably present on this occasion had their heads in their hands as Boris rambled genially on. It is simply not true, as Boris asserted., that the great outside world is just waiting for a dynamic Britain to go it alone, or at least situate itself in some far looser arrangement with our continental partners. As the Americans made abundantly clear the other day, they are interested in the UK precisely because it is a gateway to Europe. Close that door and we risk becoming an irrelevance. Of course Boris can be witty, and raise a laugh. But it was self-evident tonight at the Mansion House that he struck completely the wrong note. The City knows full well that it needs a prosperous Britain within a prosperous EU. And it is about time more City types stood up to be counted on the issue — and to blow Barnacle Boris a giant raspberry.

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Tom Spencer’s In-Out Referendum

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 17th December, 2012

Tom SpencerTom Spencer is one of those rare birds: a green, federalist, pro-European Conservative. This meant that things were not always comfortable for him when he was leader of the Tory MEPs in the European Parliament, but in a sense it was as well that he stood down from his seat; he would have been hung, drawn and quartered (metaphorically speaking, of course) by the Party now. Tory MPs at Westminster — including government Ministers, who ought to know better — have been trumpeting the case for Britain’s leaving the EU. At least it was good to see The Economist, as well as the more predictable Observer, recently demonstrating why neither the Norway nor the Switzerland option is feasible for the UK. As guest speaker at the annual Christmas Dinner of the European Movement in London in an Italian restaurant in Bloomsbury this evening, Tom pointed out that Norwegians pay more per capita into the EU budget than Brits do, but have absolutely no say in the formulation of rules and regulations relating to the European single market, by which they must abide. He also declared with the sort of emphatic certainty that is his trademark that there EMiL logowill be an In-Out referendum on Britain’s EU membership in 2016 or 2017. And despite the efforts of political personalities such as London’s Mayor Boris Johnson — who Tom described as “highly intelligent, but not very nice” — he believes UK voters will vote to stay in once the case for the benefits of membership — and the perils of pulling out — is firmly put. That is certainly what happened in the 1975 referendum on confirming Britain’s then very young membership of the European Economic Community. At the start of the campaign, opinion polls suggested the voters were 2:1 against staying in, but the actual vote was 2:1 in favour. That was thanks to the efforts of political activists including a then much younger Tom, and heavyweight politicians from all three main national parties. Will the line-up next time be as impressive and as broad church? And will the European Movement — now definitely weaker — be a motor for the referendum campaign, or does a new body, like the one-time “Britain in Europe” need to be created? It’s not too early to be thinking of answers to those questions.

Link: www.euromove.org.uk

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Caroline Pidgeon’s Transport Overview

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 14th September, 2012

photo by Anuja Prashar

As someone who has lived in London for more than 30 years I know how important public transport is to most people’s lives in the city, so it was hardly surprising that Caroline Pidgeon, Liberal Democrat member of the Greater London Assembly (GLA) and Chair of the Assembly’s Transport Committee, attracted a good audience and a barrage of questions when she spoke to Merton Liberal Democrats last night. She paid tribute to the way that many Londoners shifted their working patterns during the recent Olympics and Paralympics, which meant that the underground system and Docklands Light Railway managed to cope despite the millions of extra journeys by visitors. With ongoing advances in communications technology, there is good reason to assume that some London companies and their employees will build more home-working, video-conferencing etc into their lives, reducing the need for daily commutes. Yet there is every reason to suppose that the pressure on the public transport network will increase. The underground system — the oldest in the world — still needs massive new investment to be fit for purpose, though Crossrail — now progressing after several decades of inexcusable dithering and delay — should ease the east-west congestion. Caroline was a great supporter of the proposed cross-river tram, which would have eased north-south congestion too, but the project was alas abandoned. Indeed, Mayor Boris Johnson does not seem to be aware of the true potential of trams, Caroline said. She also argued that much more use could be made of the River Thames as a transport highway, and she spoke up strongly for more, better and safer cycling provisions. I raised the issue of aviation, as the Liberal Democrats need to have more of a coherent policy than merely opposing a third runway at Heathrow. That will be the subject of a debate at the up-coming party conference in Brighton. In the meantime, what is clear is that both the Conservatives and Labour are deeply divided on whether there should be increased air capacity in London and the South East, and if so, where.

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Don’t Menschn the By-election!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 7th August, 2012

David Cameron needs a parliamentary by-election in a Tory marginal seat like a hole in the head, but that is what Louise Mensch, MP for Corby and East Northamptonshire, has delivered to him. The Conservatives will be hard pressed to hold the seat, which novelist Louise Bagshawe (as she then was) seized from Labour at the 2010 general election. Some fantasists have suggested that London Mayor Boris Johnson should be parachuted in, but that would be a foolish move only a few months after being re-elected Mayor and anyway even he would not be guaranteed to win the seat. For the Coalition government the by-election will be an irritating distraction and will bring unwelcome high-profile scrutiny of its austerity measures from the Labour opposition. So some Conservatives and Liberal Democrats may be tempted to hide their heads in the sand and hope no-one mentions the by-election. Nonetheless we can expect the campaign to be pretty rough, and that’s not only because of the nature of this largely industrial seat. So what about the Liberal Democrats’ chances? In 2010, they polled less than 15% in Corby and the likelihood of doing even that well might seem remote given the Party’s current standing in the opinion polls and the way that Labour is accusing the Liberal Democrats of everything short of eating babies. But it would be a mistake for the LibDems to downplay this by-election. Indeed, it gives them an ideal opportunity for differentiation — to show that even if they are in Coalition with the Conservatives, they have not been absorbed by them. Indeed, on many key issues the two parties’ policies are distinct. Now is the time for the Liberal Democrats to pin their true colours to he mast and rebuild some of their damaged credibility with the electorate, both in the Corby by-election and at their Autumn Conference in Brighton next month.

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Bojo for PM?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 6th August, 2012

The euphoria over TeamGB’s triumphs at the London Olympics over the past few days, as well as the boost to national morale that the Games have been giving, has caused a flurry of speculation about whether London Mayor Boris Johnson could become the next leader of the Conservative Party and therefore possibly Prime Minister. He always denies that this is his ambition but I doubt whether he would turn down the opportunity if it came along. Of course, he would have to get back into the House of Commons to do so, but that would not be difficult if a safe Conservative seat comes up at a by-election — definitely not Louise Mensch’s Corby, incidentally! Boris’s great advantage is that he appeals to many non-Tory voters — indeed to many people who don’t normally vote at all, including youngsters. Thus he was able to defy national opinion polls and retain the London mayoralty in May (though Labour made a big mistake in choosing tired and tarnished Ken Livingstone as their candidate again). There is a mixture of brilliance and buffoonery in Boris that is sometimes irritating but often endearing. Who else could have been left dangling from a wire during a slightly misfired stunt near the London Eye at the weekend and keep their reputation intact? And he has a way with words, like a boy’s own cartoon figure. I first came across him in Brussels when he was a boy, as I knew his parents Stanley (a writer then working at the European Commission) and Charlotte (an extraordinary artist). Boris returned to Brussels later for an ill-fated stint as a reporter covering the EU, when he lost his job for not letting facts get in the way of a good story. But his wit and verve and sheer cheek eventually won through, making him now one of the most highly paid newspaper columnists in the country. One thing is certain: in comparison with Boris, David Cameron looks insipid. But does that mean Boris would make a better Prime Minister, despite Cameron’s mistakes in government? That I doubt. One can clown about as Mayor of London; in fact it gives the job some panache. But that’s not an act that would transfer well to 10 Downing Street.

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Stanley Johnson Amongst the Wild Things

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 18th July, 2012

The Johnson clan was out in force this evening at Daunt’s Books in Marylebone High Street, for the launch of Stanley Johnson’s latest book: Where the Wild Things Were (Stacey International, £8.99) — a paperback collection of his travel and environmental journalism. Stanley has form in the environmental field; I first met him when we were both in Brussels in the 1970s, he at the European Commission working on pollution et al and me as a journalist covering the European instiutions; both of us moonlighted for the Capital of Europe’s English weekly magazine, The Bulletin. He went on to become a Conservative MEP, but later failed to get elected for the Lib Dem/Tory marginal of Teignmouth in the British parliament. Two of his sons — Boris and Jo — did succeed in getting in to the Commons; Boris in Henley, before changing gear and becoming Mayor of London, and Jo in Orpington (my old political stomping ground). Both were at the book launch tonight, along with younger brother Max and other Johnsons and in-laws and  various Tory grandees, including Norman Lamont, Leon Brittan and Michael Howard, and le beau monde. Boris’s arrival, dishevilled and bearing a large backpack, excited the paparazzi present. But the important thing is the underlying message of the book: the need to protect endangered species, from tigers to gorillas. In fact, Stanley is currently Chairman of the Gorilla Organisation and an Ambassador for the United Nations Environment Programme’s Convention on Migratory Species (CMS). As always with the Johnsons, there are lashings of humour and posturing, but behind it all there is serious intent.

Link: www.stacey-international.co.uk

 

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