Jonathan Fryer

Posts Tagged ‘UK’

Policies and Passion, Not Facts and Figures

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 21st April, 2014

IN or OUTAt the weekend, the former Labour MP Barbara Roche declared in a newspaper column, “I agree with Nick!”, referring to the two debates the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg held with his UKIP counterpart, Nigel Farage, over IN or OUT re Britain and the EU. Of course, I agree with Nick, too, but in trying to analyse why Mr Farage appeared to most people to have come out better from the confrontations– despite the fact that a narrow majority of Brits are reportedly now in favour of the UK’s membership of the EU — I have come to the conclusion that while Nick nobly stuck to facts, rather than Nigel Farage’s fantasy, facts and figures don’t necessarily win arguments of this sort. Farage came out with some very clear policy recommendations — end labour mobility within the EU, then leave the Union all together — which he put over with passion. I do not question Nick Clegg’s belief in the wisdom of continued British EU membership, or indeed of the need for European states to club together if they are going to compete properly in a highly competitive, multipolar world. But in such debates, perhaps he and other Liberal Democrats should show more passion — as he did when endorsing equal marriage, for example. Even people who are uninterested in politics often respond to passion. And it would be good when one has such a platform to put forward a clear, concrete proposal on how Liberal Democrats want to reform the EU from within. I’ve been trying to use that mixture of policy and passion in the hustings I’ve done so far, and though of course I will probably never win over any UKIP supporters or Tory Europhobes in the audience, I’ve found in general people have reacted well when I have unequivocally stood up for what I believe in, which is that Britain’s future is at the heart of Europe and that the EU must evolve in a way that guarantees peace and prosperity for all.

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Britain, Ireland and the EU

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 18th March, 2014

Ireland UK EUDan MulhallThe Irish in London have been in a fairly frolicking mood these last few days — perhaps not surprising considering St. Patrick’s Day. But there is more to it than that. As the (relatively new) Irish Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s, Dan Mulhall, put it at an event in the European Commission’s representation office, Europe House, this evening, the relationship between the UK and Eire has entered a whole new dimension by being fellow members of the European Union. That relationship has not always been easy in the past, given the resistance by certain English quarters to Irish home rule (the great Liberal Prime Minister William Gladstone being a significant exception). But the combination of the Good Friday Agreement over Northern Ireland and mutual interests within the EU have brought London and Dublin closer together now than ever in living memory. The Queen made what was generally regarded as a most successful visit to the Irish Republic in 2011, and the current Irish President,  Michael D. Higgins, is due here in London on the first ever state visit ere long. Ambassador Mulhall was in Europe House this evening for the opening of an exhibition of paintings by the Irish artist — long resident in London — Bernard Canavan, and naturally mused on the subject of Canavan’s work, which is largely about the Irish diaspora in the UK, from the Irish navvies working for Murphy’s to the nurses that helped keep the NHS afloat before more exotic helpmates arrived from elsewhere. Perhaps now some Brits could learn a thing or two from the Irish expats, not least a greater understanding of our common European identity, not only in culture but on a political level. All of the hundreds of thousands of Irish resident in the UK can vote here in the European elections on 22 May, of course, but so too can the residents of the other 26 EU member states other than Britain. The EU citizens, who make up such a vibrant part of London’s economy — as well as that in the UK as a whole — need to stand up and be counted, as to why Britain needs to be at the heart of the EU, not just for their future but for ours.

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Big Brother IS Watching You!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 27th January, 2014

Big BrotherGus Hosein 2It’s incredibly easy and cheap to spy on people these days — wherever they are. That was the (depressing) core message of the presentation by Gus Hosein, Executive Director of Privacy International at an Association of Europe Journalists (AEJ) UK briefing at Europe House in Westminster this lunchtime. Technology means that just as George Orwell foresaw, Big Brother can and probably does watch all of us all of the time — only Big Brother could be of a variety of nationalities (or none, in the case of multinational corporations), not just those who, elected or not, in principle have a mandate to rule over us. What is more, a very significant proportion of the equipment used in this new surveillance world is manufactured by companies based in the UK. Gus Hosein identified three main areas of concern: (1) “Upstream collection”: for example the way that Google and others have agreed to allow access to electronic traffic by the NSA (US), GCHQ (UK) et al. By tapping into fibre optic cables underseas, they can literally monitor everything we send electronically, and GCHQ-monitored material captured off the coasts of the UK and Cyprus (sic) play an important role in this. (2) “Tailored Access Operations”: effectively, black ops done from a computer terminal which can compromise networks and computers anywhere in the world, through hacking and related techniques. They can, for example, turn on or off the microphone in your mobile phone without you realising. (3) “Sabotage”: the heavy stuff, which introduces “vulnerabilities” into supposedly secure systems. So can anyone have confidence in the security of any transaction by digital means? Alas, no. So who are the “baddies” in our surveillance world? Line up the usual suspects: Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, Israel — but also the US and the UK. Moreover, British companies have been selling the relevant surveillance technology to regimes such as Egypt and Bahrain (as I know, having been refused entry to Bahrain last time I landed there). So should we be worried? You bet. Particularly now we are in the age of what is known in the trade as “Big Data”, whereby what might appear seemingly innocuous information about us all is stored to make predictions about us (our likely purchases, as well as our beliefs or potential actions) that even we did not realise ourselves. And did you think it was smart to have a high-tech fridge or washing machine? Think again: it could literally be monitoring you and your movements. I asked Gis Hosein about drones, about which I have been quizzed at length on Iranian TV. Do we really need to fear the sophistication of new technology there as well? By now you won’t be surprised by the answer. “Drones can be flying hacking machines,” he replied, “which is what the police and security services would be interested in, more than mere surveillance.”

Links: https://www.privacyinternational.org and http://www.aej-uk.org

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Vince Cable Faces up to Europe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 24th January, 2014

Vince Cable 1The Long Room at the Oval in London may normally be the scene for the relating of cricketing yarns, but last night it hosted a fundraising dinner for the London Liberal Democrats’ European elections campaign, at which Vince Cable was the keynote speaker. For a long time Vince was known as one of the least Euro-enthusiastic of LibDem MPs, but since being in Coalition government with a Conservative Party that seems ever more in danger of leading Britain to the exit door from the EU he has been one of the strongest champions of British membership. As Business Secretary that is hardly surprising. On a daily basis he has to deal with foreign companies and politicians, many of whom are getting increasingly alarmed by the possibility of a “Brexit”. As he said last night, this is seriously undermining investor confidence, and with the Tories failing to show proper leadership on the matter it is up to the Liberal Democrats to be unequivocally the party of “IN”. Of course, the Party recognises the need for certain reforms, but such reforms will only happen if we are fully engaged with our EU partners. Vince has been widely quoted as saying that there is a five per cent chance that the UK will pull out, but last night he acknowledged that the possibility was probably higher than that. UKIP is of course doing well in the European election opinion polls, and Vince acknowledged the conviviality of its leader, Nigel Farage. But he said we should be blinded to the fact that the “Faragists” appeal to some very unpleasant instincts, xenophobic and at time outright racist.

Link: http://www.libdems4london.org.uk

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The Consequences of UK Euroscepticism

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 16th January, 2014

NOS logoTurhan Ozen and JFThis 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.

Link: http://www.networkofstudents.org/nos/

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A Centenary for Reflection

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 4th January, 2014

WWI CentenaryThis year’s centenary of the outbreak of the First World War is, according to the British Government, going to be about Reconciliation, and of course that is a noble thing. But I can’t help feeling that reconciliation between the Brits and the Germans (and other parties to the conflict) happened long ago — even though a Second World War occurred in the meantime. So, Reconciliation itself is not enough. 2014 should be a year of Reflection, on a number of very serious subjects. The first is the folly of War — particularly the so-called Great War, of course — and the fact that humankind still hasn’t worked out a way to avoid it. The New Year was ushered in with ongoing hostilities and a humanitarian disaster in Syria, as well as more recent but extremely dangerous conflicts in the Central African Republic and South Sudan. It is interesting that most Wars these days are within states, rather than between states, though that does not make them any easier to avert or resolve. And since the horrors of the aftermath of the break-up of Yugoslavia, Europe has remained free of War. Some would argue that has been as a result of the existence of NATO (though the citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan, among others, might raise their eyebrows at that). Certainly, the European Union has played its part, which is why it was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The EU is not a perfect institution, but it has provided a framework in which European states can cooperate rather than confront each other, and disagreements can be resolved around a meeting table in Brussels rather than on the battlefields of Flanders. That is no mean achievement. So as Centenary-mania takes over in the UK in the run-up to the European elections in May we should indeed reflect, not just on why we believe “never again” in Europe but also on how the EU can grow and reform itself to be a brighter beacon to bloodier parts of the world.

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300 Years of the Treaty of Utrecht

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 30th October, 2013

Gibraltar and War of Spanish SuccessionAmbassador Federico Trillo-FigueroaGiven the recent stand-off between Spain and Gibraltar, in principle over an artificial reef dropped in the sea by the Gibraltarians, it was daring of the Spanish Embassy in London to host a two-day seminar on the 300th anniversary of the Treaty of Utrecht, which, among other things, ceded the Rock to the British in perpetuity. Grabbing the bull by the horns, one might say. Ambassador Federico Trillo-Figueroa attended throughout, as academics from Spain, the UK and elsewhere delivered a series of papers, some strictly historical, others more political, before an audience that notably included a couple from the Argentinian Embassy, doubtless looking for parallels with the Falklands/Malvinas. As a journalist, I was invited only for the Ambassador’s closing speech, which was in effect a summary of what had been said over the previous 36 hours, followed by a light buffet lunch of appropriately delicious Spanish food and wine. The papers of the seminar will ultimately be published, but even without them it was an intriguing affair — and prompted me to read the Treaty of Utrecht for the first time (thoughtfully provided in both language versions). That document is a remarkable reflection of the different map of Europe 300 years ago, as well as a record of the transfers and concessions that followed the War of the Spanish Succession.

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Migrant Workers and EP2014

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 10th September, 2013

A useful article (which first appeared on the European Movement’s euroblog) by Matthew Donaher of the trade union UNISON on why it’s important to vote in next year’s European Elections — and how migrant workers benefiting from the EU’s freedom of movement of labour could influence the outcome:

migrant workersIn 1999 I was part of the 76% of the UK electorate who didn’t cast a vote in the European Elections. It wasn’t deliberate, but neither was I that bothered when the next day a friend asked me who I had voted for.
Now however I would not dream of abstaining in the Euro-elections next year. I will be actively working to encourage members of my union – UNISON, and their friends, families, and communities to turn out and not just vote but to actively participate in the political process.
There are three key reasons for doing this. First, the European Parliament is important, as readers of this blog know. The ideas that are discussed in the Parliament are directly relevant to the lives of workers in Britain, whether it’s health and safety, working time, public service provisions, trade union rights, or equalities the decisions taken by the 766 MEPs impact on us every day.
Like me in 1999 many of our members do not realise the extent of the Parliament’s reach, or they do not believe that they have the ability to influence the decisions taken by voting for the people that will best represent their interests. Our job as a union is to help our members make their voices heard at every possible opportunity.
Polish buildersSecondly, my focus as a community organiser who works with UNISON’s Polish Worker’s Network; it is an opportunity for us to enable our members who are EU migrants (and particularly Eastern European) to organise themselves as part of Britain’s political life.
They may not be entitled on the whole to vote in the general election but they can vote in European and the simultaneous local elections. Part of our role as their union is to educate members about the political process and how to influence it. Primarily though we should be providing mechanisms for migrant workers who are at the forefront of delivering public services and utilities in this country to tell politicians what their self identified needs and interests are. Engaging in electoral politics is an essential part of that.
Furthermore the European elections are a brilliant opportunity for well organised communities and groups of workers to assert themselves. Due to low turn-outs the fact is that in some regions EU migrants could easily influence the allocation of seats; and if they organise together with their British colleagues around common goals through the unions and community organisations we can make a real difference. If we agree with the ONS that there are about 4 million EU citizens in the UK that is a substantial proportion of the electorate, especially given that turnout in the last Euro-elections was just over 15 million.
We would expect that, if our members see that their collective activity with the union has visibly altered the outcome of the election, then that is going to encourage continued participation in UNISON and in wider civic society.
Thirdly, and equally importantly, as a union that organises and represents thousands of migrant workers from around the world, not just Europe, it is important that we organise as many of our members as possible to use their votes for a positive, progressive, and social Europe that defends the social chapter and fights for more equality and better rights, rather than reactionaries who want to tear up equalities legislation, abolish working time regulations, and kick out a sizable percentage of the very people that look after your elderly aunt in the care home, and keep clean that hospital you had the operation in last year.
My colleague Narmada Thiranagama has written for the Institute of Employment Rights about many of the reasons why people should vote against the jokers in UKIP; our members need to mobilise effectively to make sure these reactionary charlatans don’t come first in the elections and our migrant members can play a key role in that.
How can our migrant members organise themselves and their families to have an impact on the election? If we give them a compelling narrative that engages and encourages the telling of positive stories of how working people have influenced the European wide fight for progress, people will feel it’s worth participating. This will mean creating vibrant channels for communication between members and between our members and the politicians who want their vote, using the tried and tested methods of community organising, hustings, face to face meetings in workplaces, and communities, 1 to 1 conversations between activists and members, and an active and lively social media presence.
2014 is just the start, in 2019 we could see the first UNISON sponsored Polish UK MEP.

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The Syria Dilemma

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 27th August, 2013

Bashar al-AssadSyria casualtiesBritain’s armed forces are preparing themselves for an armed strike against Syria, following the recent use of chemical weapons inside the country, probably by the Assad regime’s forces. As I said in a live interview on the al-Etejah (Iraqi Arab) TV channel last night, the justification for the UK, US, France and maybe Germany taking such a step, along with sympathetic Middle Eastern countries including Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, without UN approval, would be the relatively new concept within International Law, the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), about which I have written extensively. This asserts that if a government is unable or unwilling to protect its own people, then the international community has a responsibility to intervene on humanitarian grounds, providing there are reasonable prospects of success. Of course it would be preferable if the UN Security Council backed such a move, but that is currently impossible given the fact that Russia and to a lesser extent China are standing behind Bashar al-Assad — though in China’s case this is mainly because of its strong belief in the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state. The humanitarian need in Syria is self-evident. More than 110,000 Syrians have been killed, a high proportion of them civilians. There are now between four and five million Syrian refugees and whole swaths of cities such as Aleppo and Homs are a wasteland. Yet still Assad and his thugs continue to try to pound the people into submission. The situation is complicated by the fact that this is not a fight between good and evil, however. Evil the Assad regime certainly is — and has been for over 40 years — but the disparate rebel forces contain some pretty unpleasant characters and radical groups that seek to impose an alien, fundamentalist creed that is alien to the modern Syrian secular society. But things have now reached a stage at which the world cannot just sit by and watch a people and a country be annihilated. The problem is what exactly should be done, now that what President Obama described as the “red line” of chemical weapon use has been crossed? The imposition of a no fly zone is one obvious option, or carefully targeted use of cruise missiles against the regime’s military installations. But there is no guarantee of effectiveness. What certainly needs to be avoided is sending foreign — and especially Western — troops on the ground, which would not only lead to heavy casualties but also risks turning some of the anti-Assad population against the intervention. Russia meanwhile has warned the West against intervention. But I think the momentum now is unstoppable. Unless the Assad clique stands aside — which it has shown no willingness to do — Syria is going to be the latest in a string of Middle Eastern/North African Wars. And the poor United Nations will look even more impotent and marginalised than ever.

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Why the ECHR Matters

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 10th June, 2013

European Court of Human RightsECHRThe European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and its associated Court in Strasbourg is a favourite Aunt Sally of right-wing Conservative MPs and Britain’s tabloid Press (which these days, alas, includes the broadsheet Daily Telegraph), but unjustly so. The Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, as it is more formally known, has since its drafting in 1950 and later adoption by the Council or Europe done a huge amount of useful work in promoting the Rule of Law throughout Europe (including Eastern Europe, Russia and Turkey; only the dictatorship of Belarus is outside the fold), as well as providing individuals who feel their rights have been violated by their own State to seek redress. Despite the fact that the Court is a separate institution from the European Union it still gets tarred with the Brussels brush by virulent Europhobes, who seem to believe that the United Kingdom has completely abandoned its national sovereignty to foreigners — not that many of these anti-Europeans seem particularly worried about the fact that US influence is far more marked in various aspects of British public and foreign policy, not to mention our culture. Two things have been like juicy bones to these frothing xenophobic hounds. First, the Court’s ruling that it was wrong for the UK to deprive all prisoners of their rights to vote, no matter how short their sentence or trivial their offence. Theresa May could easily have got round that issue by accepting that prisoners with a sentence of less than six months should still retain their vote, but others not — a compromise that would have satisfied Strasbourg. The other even more famous ECHR “outrage”, of course, relates to the prolonged delay in the expulsion of the vile Islamist extremist Abu Qatada because there has not been up till now a credible assurance from his home country, Jordan, that evidence that might be used against him in any trial in Amman would not have been obtained by torture. Now I, like almost everyone in this country, long to see the back of Abu Qatada, who has milked the system here, including claiming benefits. But we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater by saying, oh well, as he is so wicked it does not matter if witnesses against him have been tortured. When we accept that, then we surrender our commitment to human rights (as the last Labour government alas did, with respect to extraordinary rendition). Moreover, it is utter nonsense for Theresa May to float the idea — seized on by relish by some of her backbench MPs and the right-wing Press — that Britain could temporarily withdraw from ECHR so it can expel Abu Qatada, then reapply once he is out of the way. Anyone who knows anything about International Law and diplomacy knows that is shamelessly playing to the gallery while undermining the very foundations of our credibility as a nation. What is really lacking, I believe, is a concerted campaign in Britain to champion what the ECHR actually achieves, in which politicians, NGOs and the enlightened media should participate. It is not just the future of our involvement with the Strasbourg Court that is at stake but our values as well.

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