Jonathan Fryer

Posts Tagged ‘The Economist’

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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Edward Lucas at the Gladstone Club

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.

Links: www.edwardlucas.com and http://gladstoneclub.org

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Reporting Europe Prize 2010

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 28th April, 2010

At a ceremony at the Thomson Reuters headquarters in Canary Wharf  last night David Rennie of the Economist was awarded the UACES-Thomson Reuters Reporting Prize for his Charlemagne column in the magazine. There was a particularly strong short-list this year, including BBC News’ Europe correspondent, Jonny Dymond, and my old BBC World Service colleague Oana Lungescu, but there was general agreement among the academics and journalists present that Rennie deserved the accolade. To look at, he is something of a young fogey: a sort of miniature Jacob Rees-Mogg, complete with braces, white handkerchief in his top pocket and severe glasses. But over the past five years that he has been in Brussels he has provided an insightful and often witty commetary on the goings on of the European Union and the wider Europe. He will be a hard act to follow.

Link: www.uaces.org

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Lula: The Film

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 12th February, 2010

It’s rare for Presidents in the democratic world to have a film made out of a book about them while they are still in office: the genre smacks more of North Korea. Yet in cinemas around Brazil, the film ‘Lula: O Filho do Brasil’ (Lula: Brazil’s Son) is playing. Not to packed audiences, I have to say. There were precisely five people in the cinema where I watched it in Fortaleza yesterday afternoon. The original book, by Denise Paraná, had a certain success and actually Fábio Barreto’s celluloid version has much going for it: beautiful shots (very Hollywood), a strong story and some fine acting, not least by Glória Pires, who plays Luiz Inacio ‘Lula’ Da Silva’s mother. But the portrayal of Lula, particularly as a boy, is just too goody-goody to be true and actually diminishes, rather than inflates, the personality (as The Economist pointed out when the film first came out). Many people are boycotting it, because it seems like hagiography and Lula’s Workers Party is currently busy trying to promote his potential successor (Lula can’t stand for a third term himself). It’s a pity, because the film has many strong points and the underlying theme of the plight of desperate migrants who leave the impoverished North East to look for work in São Paulo state is part of the Brazilian dream (or nightmare). But I can understand why so many Brazilian film directors are furious that this prestige project received so much cash from private company sponsors – notably automobile companies, the petroleum industry and telecommunications firms – while they usually have to operate on a shoestring.

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Lord Lipsey on Electoral Reform

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 15th October, 2009

Lord LipseyThe Labour peer and former political editor of The Economist, David Lipsey, spoke on electoral reform at the Kettner lunch at the National Liberal Club today. As one might expect, he was largely preaching to the converted. As he was a member of the Jenkins Commission on electoral reform — whose findings have, alas, largely been  ignored by the Labour governments ever since — he was able to blend authority with anecdote. I loved his story about one  meeting of the Commission, at which Roy ordered a bottle of claret for the members, and then a second one just for himself. Despite this, he gave a lucid and brilliant summary of what had been said, ordred a gin and tonic when he got on the train back to London, then promptly fell fast asleep. It’s more than a pity that Lord Jenkins is not still around to weigh into the discussion now, at a time when most of the Brtish public seems to think that politics is broken and that bringing in electoral reform is maybe one part of the solution to mend it. Unfortunately, despite the good efforts of people such as Lord Lipsey, the Labour government has only agreed to put the offer of a referendum on electoral reform in its manifesto for the next general election, which it is most unlikely to win.

I have always been uncomfortable with the Jenkins Commission’s recommendation for the adoption of the AV+ system of voting in general elections for the House of Commons, rather than the more proportional STV (with which the electors of Ireland cope well). But David Lipsey is no fan of STV himself, mainly, he says, because it weakens the link between voter and parliamentarian. Anyway, it looks as if  any future change would be to AV+ (in which voters list candidates in a single-member constituency in order of preference, then the bottom ones successively drop out and have their first preferences redistributed, until one candidate achieves more than 50% and is declared elected. The ‘+’ bit would be a top-up list to ensure that parties come out of the whole elction with an overall share of representation more or less proportional to their total vote). But maybe this discussion still remains academic. As David Lipsey said, the likehood of it happening anytime soon is very slim.

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