I often say in speeches that to my mind the European Union has three major achievements to its credit: (1) ensuring that France and Germany — and by extension the rest of Western Europe — would never go to war again, (2) the re-incorporation of formerly Communist states of central and eastern Europe into the European family after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and (3) the European Single Market. A crucial element of the last-mentioned is freedom of movement for citizens of the EU throughout the now 28-member Union. The mobility of labour in particular has been a great boon to millions of individuals but also to economies, not least Britain’s — and in particular that of London. So it is particularly galling for me to hear the tone of the debate about EU migration in so much of the country, egged on by the more inflammatory elements of the popular Press, UKIP and far too many Conservative MPs, who really ought to know better. As was made abundantly clear at a seminar on Labour Mobility within the EU, hosted this morning by the Polish Ambassador, Witold Sobków, a major part of London’s boom has been the city’s ability to draw in EU migrant labour of all kinds — migrants, incidentally, who recent studies show pay in about 30% more in taxes to the British Exchequer than they take out in services and benefits. The timing of the seminar was pegged to the looming 10th anniversary of the Big Bang enlargement of May 2004, when eight former Communist states (plus Cyprus and Malta) joined the EU. Britain, Ireland and Sweden gave immediate working rights to citizens of the new entrants, unlike the rest of the EU. And although many Brits were taken aback by the large numbers of Poles, in particular, who arrived, skilled and keen to work, speakers at today’s seminar pointed out that Britain benefited. economically from that influx. Various perspectives on the subject were provided by Prof. Christian Dustmann (UCL), Jonathan Portes (National Institute of Economic and Social Research), Tim Finch (Institute for Public Policy Research) and the moderator, Sunder Katwala (British Future), of whom only Tim Finch really tried to be devil’s advocate in putting forward some of the reasons why some people in Britain might be uneasy about having EU migrants in their midst (though there is an almost equally large number of British migrants on the Continent). Migration Watch, which acts as a doomsayer on the subject had unfortunately refused an invitation to send a speaker for the panel. But it was clear that the mood of the audience was very much on the side of the angels (from my point of view), seeing labour migration as essentially positive for Britain. The negative narrative of so much of the media needs to be challenged head-on, and Liberal Democrats, in particular, as the “Party of IN” should not shy away from defending EU migration in the face of the antis myths and scaremongering.
Posts Tagged ‘Liberal Democrats’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 4th March, 2014
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Chirstian Dustmann, EU migration, European Single Market, Jonathan Portes, Labour mobiity, Liberal Democrats, Migration Watch, Sunder Katawala, Tim Fitch, UKIP, Witold Sobków | 2 Comments »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 5th February, 2014
Party political broadcasts are all too often toe-curlingly bad, but this evening’s LibDem PPB on “Why I am IN” (the EU, that is) is a corker. It gets across a simple but crucial message powerfully, with a stellar performance by Nick Clegg (really!) in his best relaxed but authoritative style, and three nice vignettes of engaging people explaining in just a couple of sentences why Britain’s continued membership of the European Union is important. I have been arguing for some time that we need to polarise the debate in the UK in the run-up to the European elections in May: if you want to leave the EU, vote UKIP; if you realise that to do so would be folly, vote LibDem. The Liberal Democrats are the only party that is unequivocally pinning its European colours to the mast, and therefore should be a rallying point for all those who understand that we are better together in Europe if we are going to thrive in an increasingly competitive, multipolar world. The EU has delivered so much that has benefited this country and its people. Of course there need to be some reforms, but those can be achieved more effectively from the inside, as a constructive member, not by sniping from the sidelines. Nick Clegg promised us that this time the European elections would be different, that the Liberal Democrats would not hide their European light under a bushel and that they would stand up to the doomsayers and scaremongers of UKIP and the Tory Right. Tonight’s PPB shows he really meant it. We now have little over three months to get that message across.
In case you missed it, here is a link to the broadcast: http://t.co/2v3Rgljk4T
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 16th January, 2014
This evening, at an inaugural debate at the new Network of Students (NOS) building in Whitehall my fellow London LibDem Euro-candidate Turhan Ozen and I debated the Consequences of the UK’s Euroscepticism with young people from Turkey, Russia (Chechnya), Ireland, the UK and elsewhere. I explained that when I was first sent to Brussels by Reuters soon after leaving university — and not very long after Britain joined the then European Economic Community — I was a bit of a Eurosceptic myself, but in the true sense of the word, i.e. examining critically and questioning what this evolving body and its institutions were all about. Seven years in the self-styled Capital of Europe really awakened me to the great potential of a more united Europe, as well as to the great richness and diversity of European culture. How much more so today, with 28 member states and a single market in which there is freedom of movement, which means young people can seek new opportunities for study, work or travel, and many older people find a place in the sun in which to retire. But all that is being put at risk by today’s Eurosceptics, who ought really to be called Europhobes. They hate the EU with a passion that at times spills over into xenophobia. Moreover much of the propaganda put out by UKIP, the Tory Right and their cheerleaders in the Press (Dail Mail, Daily Express et al) is packed with lies, distortions and myths, which means that those of us who are Euro-realists — acknowledging the validity of the European project, while recognising that some things need to be reformed — are forced to spend a lot of our time simply refuting rubbish. Like the “invasion” of Britain by millions of Bulgarian and Romanian migrants this month, which simply hasn’t happened. Or the claim that EU migrants are a huge burden on our welfare system — even ripping it off — whereas all the evidence shows that they make a substantial net contribution to the national coffers through their tax and national insurance. As I said this evening, my fear is that in trying to placate the Europhobes in his own party in the forlorn hope that this will quieten them down, David Cameron is acually encouraging them to demand more. At the same time, our continental partners are getting increasingly pissed off with hokey-cokey Britain, with one foot in and one foot out, while trying to shake it all about. No wonder growing numbers of continentals now shrug their shoulders at the prospect of a UK withdrawal, as opposed to the expression of dismay of a few years ago. The run-up to the European elections in May are going to be a rum affair in this country, with the major Coalition partner singing from a very different hymn-sheet from that of its junior partner. But so be it. Nick Clegg and everyone else, from Party President Tim Farron through Ministers to MPs and most LibDem activists are singing the same hymn, which proclaims that the Liberal Democrats are the party of IN. We must shout that from the rooftops so fellow Euro-realists realise there actually is a mainstream party in the UK that is sane on the matter.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 11th January, 2014
With just five months to go before the European elections, the junior partners in Britain’s governing Coalition, the Liberal Democrats, have been showing just how much they differ from their Conservative partners when it comes to the country’s relationship with the European Union. The Party Leader, Nick Clegg, as well as its President, Tim Farron, have made abundantly clear why the LibDems are the party of “IN”, not “OUT”, as many Tories appear to be, aping UKIP. This weekend, the LibDem Treasury Secretary, Danny Alexander, has a strong piece on Liberal Democrat Voice (Link here: http://www.libdemvoice.org/danny-alexander-mp-writes-we-shouldnt-fritter-away-our-eu-influence-when-we-can-lead-drive-for-jobs-and-growth-37788.html) arguing that Britain mustn’t fritter away its EU influence when it could be leading the drive for jobs and growth. Danny is well placed to comment, having followed EU affairs closely since working as a young man for the European Movement. But I would go further than him and say that without Tory shilly-shallying, Britain could be leading the EU, as an equal patrner alongside Germany. The Germans would love that, especially now that France has a rather flakey President in Francois Hollande. And we have so much to offer the EU. We could be championing reforms that do need to occur, but are franklçy unlikely to do so long as Britain has its coat on and one hand on the door to leave, as European Council President Herman van Rompuy once brilliantly put it. So in the run-up to May, the two Coalition government partners will be singing from very different hymn-sheets when it comes to Britain in the EU — and it is vital that that LibDem voice be amplified, in the best interests of this country.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 26th November, 2013
For the British United Indian Liberal Democrats (BUILD) Diwali is a movable feast, and the fact that tonight’s dinner in the excellent Seasoning north Indian restaurant in Fulham took place long after most other Diwali celebrations were over in no way dimmed the light of the occasion, organised by my indefatigable fellow London LibDem Euro-candidate Anuja Prashar. In fact the timing was perfect, in that the keynote speaker, Treasury Secretary Danny Alexander, recently went on his first ever visit to India to help promote British trade, and duly loved the place (his colleague Vince Cable, incidentally, is virtually an old India hand). The way some UKIP and Tory Eurosceptics spin things you’d think the UK would need to leave the EU to do trade promotion with India effectively, but the opposite is true. Danny is of course also a thoroughbred Europhile, having worked in the not too dim and distant past for the European Movement, which means that both LibDem members of the Coalition Government’s core quartet (the other being Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, of course) are completely on message when it comes to the Liberal Democrats being the party of IN so far as the EU is concerned. In his speech, Danny did a fine balancing act, on the one hand justifiably claiming LibDem credit for helping get Britain in a healthier economic shape than it was in 2010 as well as bringing in fairer policies such as raising the tax allowance to £10,000 (as it will be in April), and saying that for all their obvious policy disagreements he gets on with the Chancellor, George Osborne well. But on the other hand Danny came out strongly on differentiation from the Conservatives, not just on Europe — though that is increasingly self-evident — but on a range of issues, as the Conservative Party is being tugged to the right by many of its backbenchers and Labour is once more being cosy with left-wing trade unions. We are the party of the centre ground, Danny declared — though I personally prefer one of Charles Kennedy’s old sayings: that we are neither left nor right but centre forward. Danny usefully trailed the ALDE (European Liberal Democrats) Congress which will be taking place in Canary Wharf later this week (which I will be attending) and at which he will of course feature, along with other UK government stars and some heavyweight delegations from across our wonderful, diverse continent.
Photo of Danny Alexander, Jonathan Fryer, Anuja Prashar and Geoff Payne (by Merlene Emerson)
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Anuja Prashar, BUILD, Conservatives, Danny Alexander, Diwali, Fulham, George Osborne, India, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, Seasoning, Vince Cable | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 15th October, 2013
Robin Meltzer’s campaign to win the Richmond Park constituency in south-west London back from the Conservatives in May 2015 recevied a boost last night when Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg spoke at a fundraising dinner at the Russell family’s old home of Pembroke Lodge. Apart from singing the prospective parliamentary candidate’s praises, Nick particularly emphasized the pro-European message of the Liberal Democrats. Though the Party believes the EU would benefit from reform, it would, in Nick’s words, be a disaster for the UK to leave. This means that the Liberal Democrats really will pin their European colours to the mast in next May’s European elections — for the first time ever, if truth be told, despite the fact that the electorate knows where the Party stands on the issue. Because of the nature of Richmond Park constiuency and, let’s be frank, the affluence of most of the people attending last night’s dinner, there were some sharp questions about the proposed “mansion tax” on properties worth over £2 million pounds. But Nick held his ground on this and insisted that it was only right that the most wealthy help pay for the government policies that have been lifting millions of the poorest people out of tax all together. The junior Education Minister, David Laws, was the back-up speaker, not surprisingly highlighting the pupil premium and other Coalition government policies aimed at th less wll-off — and all Liberal Democrat initiatives. Robin Meltzer should get a pointer as to how the mood amongst voters in the constiuency is developing next May, when the borough elections take place alongside the Euro-poll. But the many thousands of pounds raised at the dinner will give him and the local party a shot in the arm and will lead to a campaign office being set up in Richmond once again.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 12th October, 2013
The radicalisation of Muslim youth has been a prime concern of Western governments and security agencies ever since 9/11. But it is sobering to realise that the path to militancy — with its intolerance and, in extreme cases, its contempt for human life — is not necessarily only one way. Readers of Ed Husain’s 2007 book The Islamist (Penguin, £9.99) will be aware of that, but it is useful to have the message reinforced by the record of another SOAS alumnus’s journey to Islamism and back, Maajid Nawaz’s Radical (W H Allen, £8.99). Born in Southend, Essex, in what white neighbours would doubtless have considered to be a “well integrated” Pakistani-origin family (his mother was positively liberal), Maajid experienced not just casual racism as a child but also the violence of white skinheads. He learnt to stand up for himself, carrying a knife around with him for years. But it was at college in Newham, East London, that he came under the influence of Islamist radicals, notably from Hizb ut-Tahrir. After witnessing a fatal stabbing there he was recalled by his family to Southend, enabling him to get the grades necessary to go to SOAS to read Law and Arabic. He met a similarly radical young woman, married and fathered a baby boy, moving with them to Egypt to work on his Arabic, following a prolonged stay in Pakistan where he worked to further Hizb ut-Tahrir’s cause. He hoped to do the same in Egypt, but the omnipresent Mubarak security forces had him under surveillance and before long he was taken away in the middle of the night from his apartment in Alexandria and entered the hell of the regime’s torture chambers, where every inmate was electrocuted on a rota system, the screams of their agony resonating through the dark dungeon hour after hour. Maajid was fortunate himself to narrowly escape the electrodes, instead being knocked about and threatened with rape, and eventually he was put on trial and transferred to a political prison, whose inmates included Ayman Nour, the Egyptian Liberal who had dared to stand against Hosni Mubarak in a presidential election and was incarcerated on trumped up charges for that impertinence. By this time Maajid was getting regular consular visits a well as some contact with his family, but his release was as sudden as his arrest and maybe partly because Amnesty International had adopted him as a prisoner of conscience, putting pressure on both the Egyptian and British governments. SOAS let him resume his studies, but his marriage had broken down and he had become disillusioned with the ideology that had driven him for several years. He met up with Ed Husain, who had defected to rationality well before, and made his own great leap away from Islamism; together they established Quilliam, a foundation dedicated to countering Islamist extremism (and also Islamophobia) and won open access to both the last Labour government and its Coalition successor. Indeed, so far did Maajid’s conversion go that he joined the Liberal Democrats and is now the Party’s candidate for the three-way marginal London constituency of Hampstead and Kilburn. I read Radical at one sitting, over eight hours on a plane back from Beijing on Thursday. It was literally a book I could not put down, passionate and at times chilling, but ultimately cathartic. Highly recommended.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 8th September, 2013
The UK political twittersphere has been in overdrive over the past 24 hours regarding the announced departure from the House of Commons of the Brent Central MP Sarah Teather (LibDem) at the next General Election. I waited until I had the opportunity to read and ponder upon the interview-based article that was the lead story in today’s Observer before putting fingers to keyboard here. Sarah’s frustration has been obvious for some time, not only since she was effectively sacked as a junior Minister for Education. As a devout Catholic, she has strong moral views, some of which concur with mainstream Liberal thinking (for example on immigration), some of which don’t (most notably on equal marriage). On the latter, she would have been well-advised to abstain, rather than vote against; one could understand why she could not support something which was in conflict with religious teaching she holds to be true, but to vote to prevent a significant proportion of her electorate, and even more of her fellow LibDem members, the right to sanctify or formalise (however one might wish to describe it) their union was foolish, even cruel. Some of the flak she has received over this was also cruel; this cannot have helped her feeling of well-being, nor can the comments of Tory blogger Iain Dale and others mocking her unpreparedness for government. I have known Sarah for many years, long before she set foot in Brent and won that extraordinary by-election victory in Brent East. But of course, she did not do it alone. Many hundreds of LibDem activists, including myself, piled in while Tony Blair’s Labour government floundered around. It was interesting, but also sad, that a few weeks ago, when there was a London Liberal Democrats regional action day in Brent, the turnout was much lower than at similar events across the capital. I have no doubt that Sarah’s vote on equal marriage contributed to that. And what now? She obviously needs some time to think about what she can and should do with her life after May 2015. But she mustn’t be surprised if some of the people who did flog their guts out to get her elected 10 years ago feel aggrieved, particularly given the timing of her announcement just one week before the Liberal Democrat autumn conference in Glasgow . She has served the diverse community of Brent well on most things over the past decade. And if she had renewed her commitment to be a voice for social justice within Parliament, rather than throwing in the towel and implying that the Party had lost its principles (rather than facing up to the realities of Coalition government) she would have been better regarded. In any event, I sincerely wish her well.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 14th July, 2013
Since standing down as Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman in the House of Lords in 2011 after describing the Coalition Government’s Project Merlin as “pitiful”, Matthew Oakeshott has made full use of his political freedom. Journalists and broadcasters often turn to him for a meaty quote and he has starred on BBC1′s Question Time. Having worked closely with the late Roy Jenkins he is a keen European and he had early working experience in Kenya. Despite being an investment manager he is often identified as being on the left, or at least Social Democratic, wing of the Party. He also does his fair share of the rubber chicken circuit, though certainly that would be an unjust description of the splendid Dulwich and West Norwood LibDems’ garden party this afternoon, all of whose funds raised were dedicated to the Evelina Children’s Hospital Appeal. In his short speech, as guest of honour, Matthew urged activists present to Keep the Faith in next year’s combined European and London borough elections. Being in coalition with the Conservatives was never going to be easy, but it was the right thing to do and there have been several major Liberal Democrat wins — for example the raised tax threshold — which would never have happened if a purely Conservative government were in office. Matthew lives in Lambeth and there is of course close cooperation between LibDems in Southwark and Lambeth (which together form a GLA constituency). Moreover, it was clear from conversation with councillors present this afternoon that the current Labour administrations in both boroughs deserve criticism. Mainstream political parties in general have been haemorrhaging members over the past few years, but with just 10 months to go till polling day it is vital LibDems get out on the doorstep and sell what we have been doing and what we have to offer.