Victorian Britain was associated with gunboat diplomacy and there are still some people in this country who think of power in terms of military might. But since the Second World War, Britain’s “soft power” has been more in evidence, not least through the work of the British Council and the BBC World Service. The Council’s Director, Sir Martin Davidson, was the guest speaker at a Global Strategy Forum event at the National Liberal Club this lunchtime and underlined how the teaching of English abroad and the fact that so many foreign students come to the UK to study both help this country’s economy as well as its global presence. Without overtly criticising the Government for not increasing the Council’s presence around the globe (in stark contrast to China’s Confucius Institutes, for example) Sir Martin did nonetheless point out that the negative coverage in the Indian Press of the immigration and visa debates in the UK had directly led to a fall in the number of students from India applying to study here. I asked him what the British Council is doing or could be doing to counter the pernicious influence of the Daily Mail, Daily Express and UKIP on our reputation not just in India but globally, without getting an entirely satisfactory answer; but of course to be seen publicly to criticise influential British media might be difficult in Sir Martin’s position. Politicians and journalists need not operate under such constraints, however, which is why I spend so much of my time offering an alternative British narrative to that served up in the right-wing red-tops or the Faragistas’ pubs. The UK does still have a degreee of soft power, though it is redcued because of reductions to the budgets of the British Council and the ludicrous decision to integrate the World Service into the main BBC new and current affairs output. That soft power is increased by our membership of the European Union and is often a force for good in the wider world, which is why those of us who believe that need to stand up and say so.
Posts Tagged ‘National Liberal Club’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 11th February, 2014
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: BBC World Service, China, Consfucius Institute, Global Strategy Forum, India, National Liberal Club, Sir Martin Davidson, The British Council, UKIP | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 5th December, 2012
Nic Dunlop is a Bangkok-based photographer and author who has spent most of the past two decades covering my old stomping ground, South East Asia. But this evening he was the guest speaker at a Liberal International British Group (LIBG) Forum at the National Liberal Club, giving his take on what is happening in Burma. He has recently completed a book which uses many of the striking black-and-white images he took in Burma, particularly in the mid-1990s but also since. Many of the photographs are chilling, including a series of a former political prisoner acting out the stress positions he was forced to adopt while he was being tortured. There is sullen resignation on the faces of peasants drafted in to do forced labour building roads and so forth. As Nic said in his commentary to a slide show tonight, there was no need for armed guards to watch over them because they have been conditioned by years of fear. He had some good shots of Aung San Suu Kyi — including one of her at Oxford, receiving an honorary degree — but he is not starry-eyed about ‘The Lady by the Lake’. He pointed out that the woman who was rightly hailed as a political inspiration by many in the West has nonetheless deeply disappointed many human rights activists since her release from house arrest by refusing to condemn outright violence against specific ethnic minorities. Nic also made the interesting observation that it is not just the military, who have in principle now handed over to a civilian government after decades in power, who are firm believers in superstition and astrology. It is deeply engrained in the Birman people. I was struck that many of the scenes shown in his pictures, even in the capital Yangon/Rangoon, look exactly how I remember it on my one and only visit there in the summer of 1969. It is as if Burma is frozen in aspic, though under tropical rain. But now the country is opening up that is likely to change fast, in that some people with the right connections will make a killing by funding new developments, rather as happened in post-Communist states, though the poor masses are unlikely to benefit for the foreseeable future. Link: www.nicdunlop.com
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 7th November, 2012
There were many sleep-deprived eyes in the David Lloyd George room at the National Liberal Club this lunchtime when the Global Strategy Forum held a panel debate on US Foreign Policy perspectives the day after the presidential poll. At least we knew the election result, which would not have been the case 12 years ago. And not surprisingly, most of the people present — including many foreign diplomats –were pleased that Barack Obama has been returned. But will this make much difference to US Foreign Policy, now that he doesn’t have to worry about re-election? Dare he be brave? Panelists Anatol Lieven (King’s College London), Michael Cox (LSE) and Mark Fitzpatrick (IISS) didn’t really think so. I raised the point that Obama had raised high hopes in the Arab and wider Muslim worlds when he made a speech in Cairo in 2009 shortly after his inauguration suggesting he would be more responsive to the concerns of that region, but he has deeply disappointed most people there since. The panel’s view was that not only does any US President personally come under great pressure from AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, but also Congress would never stomach a fundamental realignment of US policy in the Middle East. It was significant that in the Obama-Romney foreign policy TV debate, Israel was mentioned 34 times (and the UK precisely once). The issue of how America is ‘pivoting’ away from the transatlantic relationship to be more concerned about links to East Asia was raised at the Global Strategy Forum event and a couple of the speakers uttered the word that usually dare not speak its name in discussions about US politics: decline. Personally, I believe the US will hasten that decline from the undoubted Number 1 global spot if it does continue to stand so firmly behind right-wing Israeli governments, to the detriment of its reputation almost everywhere else. So we left the NLC gathering this afternoon discouraged by the lack of any hope for real, positive change in Washington’s world view — but also relieved by the understanding that a Romney victory would have been so much worse.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: AIPAC, Anatol Lieven, Barack Obama, Global Strategy Forum, Israel, Mark Fitzpatrick, Michael Cox, Middle East, Mitt Romney, National Liberal Club, US Foreign Policy | 1 Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 30th October, 2012
The US election is exactly one week away, but the two main candidates have not been out campaigning today because of the Frankenstorm Sandy. However, in the bowels of the National Liberal Club members of Liberal International British Group (LIBG) gathered this evening to hear a brilliant presentation by Karin Robinson, Vice-Chair of Democrats Abroad UK, on where she thinks the contest is at. Obviously she is rooting for Barack Obama’s re-election, but she acknowledges that there isn’t quite the same buzz as four years ago, when many new voters were encouraged to register and volunteers poured in to Democrat offices (especially after Sara Palin was chosen as the Republicans’ vice-presidential candidate). Nonetheless, early voting — which varies in type in different states — has been going well for the Democrats this year. For the British public, US politics is a bit of a mystery; why, as someone asked tonight, should Mitt Romney be against universal health care, especially when he introduced in Massachusetts a state-wide version of Obamacare? Karin agreed with the contention that the US public in general is rather insular and the country isolationist, but the main thrust of her remarks was how much the economy matters in this election, even more than usual. Social issues have rarely figured. She welcomed advances in US public opinion on LGBT rights, for example, but is alarmed by the retrogressive slant of many Republicans’ views on women’s rights. A recent opinion poll in Britain suggested that two thirds of Britons would vote for Obama, which makes it difficult to comprehend how someone like Romney can have traction in the US. But as Karin emphasized, the US electorate is essentially split 50:50 between Republicans and Democrats, so the actual outcome next Tuesday will probably depend on a small number of voters in swing states. In the meantime, the two main candidates and their supporters have reportedly spent more than $2 billion between them. Democracy in America does not come cheap, and it is very different to what we’re used to over here.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Barack Obama, Democrats, Democrats Abroad, Frankenstorm Sandy, Karin Robinson, LIBG, Mitt Romney, National Liberal Club, Obamacare, Republicans, Sara Palin, US | 3 Comments »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 26th October, 2012
When Merlin Holland was invited to the United States some years ago to give a lecture on his grandfather, Oscar Wilde, the woman at immigration at JFK asked him what claim he had to be an authority on the Irish playwright. Merlin confessed the blood link, at which point the immigration officer — rather surprisingly, perhaps — said, ‘Oh, when Oscar Wilde came to America didn’t he say “I have nothing to declare but my genius!”? So what do you have to declare?’ Merlin replied, ‘only my albatross.’ And indeed for much of his adult life being Wilde’s only grandchild did weigh like an albatross on his shoulders. Fortunately, in a more liberal age than that his father Vyvyan lived in Merlin did not have to confront acrimony or shame; on the contrary, Wilde is now such a cultural icon that the problem is more one of heightened expectation. At times Merlin feels like a letterbox receiving Oscar’s undelivered mail. All these points came out this evening at the 21st annual Oscar Wilde birthday dinner put on by the Oscar Wilde Society (OWS) at the National Liberal Club, at which Merlin was the guest speaker, giving a preview of his next book, After Wilde, which will recount aspects of the Wilde legacy as experienced by him and his family. The OWS Chairman, Don Mead, had been trying to get Merlin — who now lives in France — to address such a dinner for several years, so finally ‘bagging’ him for this sell-out occasion was a triumph, and he did not disappoint. He is a stickler for accuracy when it comes to his grandfather’s life and works, for which all serious Wildean scholars must be truly grateful. I certainly benefited from his help and advice when I was writing my three books about Oscar and his coterie. Being a stickler didn’t always make Merlin popular however; he has pointed out errors and possibly unfounded speculation in Richard Ellmann’s classic biography of Wilde, for example. Those shortcomings (some of which could be put down to the fact that Ellmann was dying of motor-neurone disease while trying to complete his book) have been scrupulously analysed and corrected by the German schollar Horst Schroeder, who fittingly introduced Merlin this evening. The thanks were given in a bravura performance by Gyles Brandreth, who has been making a good living from a series of detective novels based on the conceit of implications of the friendship between Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle. At least Brandreth makes no bones about fabricating his stories, and he has certainly added to the gaiety of Wildean circles.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 9th July, 2012
Cut-and-dagger spy plots were quintessentially of the Cold War, but as Economist journalist and author Edward Lucas told the Summer Party gathering of the Gladstone Club at the National Liberal Club this evening, modern Russia is as active in the dark arts of alternative diplomacy as the Soviet Union was, and at least as ruthless. Under Putin’s watch, vast sums are creamed off the Russian economy to feed a greedy crop of oligarchs, mega-criminals and the post-Communist nomenklatura. Ed was able to draw on his experience in Moscow as a foreign correspondent, but also on the interviews and other research done for his hard-hitting book Deception: Spies, Lies and How Russia Dupes the West (Bloomsbury, £20). Some of the characters in that book, like Anna Chapman, will be familiar to readers of quality newspapers, but many others are much less well-known — including Herman Simm, the former chief of Estonia’s Defence Ministry and Russian spy. It’s a murky world, in which people still get killed, including here in London. Ed has lost several friends, including campaigning Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, murdered with the approval of people high up in Moscow. And yet, he said tonight, we welcome wealthy Russians here in London, to buy up top-of-the-range property, educate their children in British public schools and even purchase our newspapers. Not all the super-rich Russians who arrived in Britain with suitcases full of money were murderous thugs, of course. But after Ed’s talk — amusingly in the David Lloyd George room, where he used to huddle with other Young Liberals years ago — many of us were wondering if we ought not to be a little more careful.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Anna Chapman, Cold War, Deception, Edward Lucas, espionage, Estonia, Gladstone Club, Herman Simm, National Liberal Club, Russia, The Economist, Young Liberals | 1 Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 22nd June, 2012
Baron Carlile of Berriew — the former Liberal MP for Montgomery, Alex Carlile — is one of the LibDems’ most distinguished but also controversial Members of the House of Lords, which is one reason why he attracted a particularly large attendance at the Kettner Lunch at the National Liberal Club today. Another reason is that Kettner Lunch regulars have enjoyed his performances three times in the past and were therefore keen to experience another one. The reason for Alex’s ‘controversy’ — as well as a major element of his distinction — is that after 9/11 and up until early last year, he was the Government’s Independent Reviewer of the UK’s anti-terrorism laws, thereby effectively advising Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron in turn on the sensitive issue of national security. This sometimes put him at odds with LibDem Leader Nick Clegg and other parliamentary colleagues who have taken what they consider to be a more ‘liberal’ line in relation to matters such as the rights of terror suspects, privacy and data retention. To an extent those disagreements are ongoing, given the legislation now before Parliament relating to communication data and so-called Closed Material Procedures, included within the Justice and Security Bill. Alex believes, on the basis of his experience at the Bar, as well as his inside knowledge of issues relating to counter-terrorism, that it is important for the defence of a liberal society that the intelligence services and the Police, where appropriate, can have access to certain information — for example, relating to a suspect’s location at a particular moment, which these days can be discovered from retrieved mobile phone ‘cell site’ records. Similarly, he argues that there are instances when the prosecution of alleged terrorists or other people trying to undermine society can be jeopardised if all information is made available to the people concerned. I trust I am not bowdlerising what is quite a complex position, eloquently expressed at the lunch by Alex himself. Anyway, this is a story that is going to run and run, not least as, so Alex believes, networks such as Al Qaeda are gowing in some areas of the world, including Yemen and northern Nigeria, posing a real thraat to the UK’s security. ‘Debate about terrorism has been characterised by ignorance,’ he declared at one point. Clearly, he will continue to take his stand, even when other elements in the party raise what for them are valid concerns about the infringement of civil liberties.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Al Qaeda, Alex Carlile, Baron Carlile of Berriew, civil liberties, counter-terrorism, David Cameron, Gordon Brown, Kettner Lunch, Liberal Democrats, National Liberal Club, Nick Clegg, terrorism, Tony Blair | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 20th February, 2012
For many people today, the idea of belonging to a Club (previously known as a Gentleman’s Club) is a mirth-inducing anachronism, but as someone who belongs to two — one political, one thespian — I know that they can play an important role in one’s social life, as well as being oases of calm in the maelstrom of London. It’s true that I myself took a while to seize the point of Clubs; when Philip Ziegler invited me to join the Chelsea Arts Club when I was the Liberal parliamentary candidate for Chelsea, 30 years ago, the idea seemed preposterous. I maintained my membership of the local gym instead. Perhaps it’s a generational thing. Yet there are some Clubs, such as the Savile, that have been rejuvenated in recent years by a sudden influx of younger members. Certainly, a century ago, any young man in London with an eye to political or professional advancement would have sought to be admitted into membership of one of them. And as about 80 of us were informed at an entertaining and informative talk on The History of London Clubs, given at the National Liberal Club this evening, by PhD student Seth Thévoz, in their heyday, there were over 400 Clubs in London, including several dozen for women. MPs in the late 19th century might be a member of as many as three. This was partly to escape their wives in many cases, but also because it was in Clubs like the NLC, the Reform, the Carlton and the Constitutional that alliances were made and policy discussed, more so than is the case today. St James’s was the heartland of traditional Clubland, though these days some of the action has moved further east, to venues such as Soho House, Groucho’s and even Shoreditch House. Seth’s doctoral thesis covers a period in the middle of the 19th century, whereas my own related researches for books has tended to be covering a period 50 years later. But for those who would like to get to know more about the subject while on a walking tour, Seth has joined up with colleagues to form Lost London Tours. Predictably, he leads the one on historic London Clubs – so if you see him loitering on the pavement outside White’s, you’ll understand why.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Carlton Club, Chelsea, Chelsea Arts Club, Constitutional Club, Groucho Club, National Liberal Club, Philip Ziegler, Reform Club, Savile Club, Seth Thévoz, Shoreditch House, Soho House, The History of London Clubs, White's | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 17th February, 2012
Since Matthew Oakeshott stood down as the Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman in the House of Lords — almost exactly a year ago — he has enjoyed the luxury of saying exactly what he thinks about the way the Coalition government is approaching the ongoing financial and economic crisis, not least regarding the shortcomings of the Project Merlin approach to banks which have not been lending enough to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which would be a key element in any sustainable recovery. He has thus attracted a great deal of media attention. In fact, it has been rather useful for the LibDems to have Matthew as an ‘insider-outsider’, with a proven track record in investment management in the City (particularly relating to property), as he is able to speak out about issues in a way that no LibDem Minister could. Matthew comes from the Social Democrat branch of the Liberal Democrat family and still holds his one-time boss and mentor, the late Roy Jenkins, in high regard. He is an enthusiastic supporter of Vince Cable’s proposed ‘mansion tax’ (a tax on homes worth more than £2 million pounds) as a step in the direction of moving taxation away solely from earned income towards wealth. Indeed, a substantial chunk of his speech at tonight’s dinner of the Gladstone Club, at the National Liberal Club, was about taxation, as well as broader financial and economic issues. He said he was a supporter of the Coalition Agreement, but he does not think it has been totally adhered to. And he was very pleased about the work of the Vickers Commission on Banking, but obviously feels more needs to be implemented. Matthew is an ardent European, but interestingly told the Gladstone Club dinner that he thought that Greece ought to be allowed to leave the eurozone and then devalue.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: eurozone, Gladstone Club, Greece, Liberal Democrats, mansion tax, Matthew Oakeshott, National Liberal Club, Project Merlin, Roy Jenkins, Vickers Commission, Vince Cable | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 6th February, 2012
Belarus is often portrayed as the Bad Boy of Europe — the only European state that is not a member of the Council of Europe, thanks to its retention (and use) of the death penalty, the apparently fraudulent nature of its elections and its poor record on human rights. Opposition figures are regularly imprisoned (often for short periods), harrassed and denounced in the official media, and the KGB — which still keeps its Soviet-era name — is a looming, ominous presence, with a large headquarters on the main drag in the capital, Minsk. When I went there a few years ago to meet political and human rights activists, I felt I had walked onto the set of a film of one of John Le Carré’s novels. Rendezvous were made with people at their request in parks or noisy restaurants; Even the head of the Communist party insisted on meeting clandestinely in a café. Yet it is an over-simplification to denounce Belarus blithely as ‘Europe’s last dictatorship’, for all the self-evident shortcomings of Alexander Lukashenko’s regime. People can access the Internet in the numerous cyber-cafés, and young Belorussians with enough money to pay for a Schengen visa can travel West, notably to Lithuania and Poland. They don’t need a visa for Russia, to which Belarus remains tied with an umbilical cord, And even if Lukashenko has sometimes irritated Putin and other Kremlin figures, Belarus is a useful ally for Moscow. Some of the subtleties of the situation came out in a meeting that I chaired this evening at the National Liberal Club, on behalf of Liberal International British Group (LIBG) and Liberal Youth. This was the first such joint venture, which not only packed out the room but also produced some high-level debate, not only from the panel — Jo Swinson MP, Dr Yaraslau Kryvoi of Belarus Digest and Alex Nyce, former East European specialist at Chatham House — but also from the floor. Several members of the audience had had direct or indirect experience of working in or with Belarus and there was considerable discussion about what sort of stance the European Union should take on relations with the recalcitrant state. Intriguingly, a parallel was drawn between Belarus and Myanmar (Burma) and the question was posed as to whether constructive engagement might be a way forward in the hope of encouraging reform — though Lukashenko would have to release prominent dissidents before his good faith would be taken seriously.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Alex Nyce, Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus, Burma, Council of Europe, European Union, Jo Swinson, John Le Carré, KGB, Liberal Youth, LIBG, Lithuania, Minsk, Myanmar, National Liberal Club, Poland, Russia, Vladimir Putin, Yaraslau Kryvoi | Leave a Comment »