Jonathan Fryer

Posts Tagged ‘UKIP’

Jo Grimond, MGS and Me

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 10th October, 2014

JF at MGSJo GrimondFifty years ago this year, the then leader of the Liberal Party, Jo Grimond, went to Manchester Grammar School (MGS, then a direct grant grammar school, rather than the independent establishment it is now) to talk to the boys in the lecture theatre. This was during the 1964 general election campaign, and was an extraordinary act of altruism, as none of us (I was 14 at the time) would be old enough to vote — the voting age those days was 21. But what he said inspired me: his passionate, radical vision of an internationalist society, in which Britain would be a core member of the then European Communities, but in which each individual person would be equal and respected and able to create their own future. I rushed off to join the local Young Liberals and for the next half century my political path was clear. And even if as yet I have not succeeded In getting elected to the European Parliament, Jo’s passion and commitment still drive me forward. I recalled all this this afternoon, when I spoke to sixth formers studying politics at MGS, through whose doors I had not passed since leaving school in March 1969. In my day, we were not allowed to study anything about politics or current affairs, so it was good to speak with youths who were both intelligent and engaged. I deliberately did not make a party political broadcast on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, as it really is for each of them to choose which ideology or indeed personalities that attract them most. Inevitably, on the day after UKIP’s impressive by-election performance, not only in Clacton but the more immediately relevant Heywood and Middleton, UKIP was in the air. but I hope my expounding the concepts of internationalism as opposed to narrow nationalism may have had some effect. And I did urge those who showed especial interest to get involved in their local constituencies, whichever party they choose to support.

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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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UKIP’s Nasty Nationalism

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 2nd July, 2014

UKIP protestSeeing UKIP’s MEPs literally turning their backs when Beethoven’s Ode to Joy was played at the inaugural session of the new European Parliament yesterday really made me ashamed to be British. Such behaviour is not only childish but also deeply insulting, both to others present and to the memory of the founding fathers of the European Union whose idealism helped shape a Europe of peace rather than of war. Like a naughty boy at school, one of the new UKIP intake, Patrick Flynn, also tweeted that he had spoiled his ballot paper in the election for the President of the European Parliament, because the whole thing is a “farce”. It’s UKIP that are truly a farce, by getting themselves elected to an institution they despise (while claiming their salaries and generous allowances, of course). But whereas good farces make one laugh, there is an undercurrent of nastiness in UKIP — nationalism of the worst sort, often propounded with blatant xenophobia, as we saw in May’s European elections, backed up with dodgy statistics and outright lies. Their demonisation of Bulgarians and Romanians, in particular, and unjust charges that foreigners are stealing “our” jobs have undoubtedly worsened community relations in parts of Britain. Nigel Farage is the bandmaster in charge of these sinister clowns and usually manages to maintain his facade of hail-fellow-well-met when interviewed on TV. But it will be interesting to see how quickly the UKIP bubble in British politics deflates. And also how soon some of their MEPs fall by the wayside, as has happened each time in recent European Parliaments.

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Long Live EU Labour Mobility!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 1st June, 2014

EU labour mobility 2EU labour mobilityI was saddened, but not surprised, to see in the Observer this morning that Frank Field, Kate Hoey and a few other UK Labour grandees have called on Ed Miliband to pledge to “constrain” EU labour mobility, i.e. undermine the principle of freedom of movement of people, which is a core element of the European single market. Such curbs, which many Conservatives also back, are of course a central plank of the UKIP agenda — so long as Britain remains an EU member. I understand why the UKIP surge in last week’s European and local elections last week has unnerved Britain’s two largest traditional parties, but that does not mean that the anti-immigrant and anti-EU rhetoric of Nigel Farage’s crew is right. On the contrary, true statistics — as opposed to UKIP propaganda and Daily Express lies — show that Britain has benefited hugely from labour mobility. Though over 2 million EU migrants have come to this country, a not much smaller number of Brits have moved to the continent. One in seven new businesses that have been set up in this country have been started by EU migrants, bringing new vibrancy to town centres in places like Southampton. Often people here complain that the migrants are “taking our jobs”, but the evidence does not back that up. Often the migrants are doing work that Brits just don’t want to do (such as fruit-picking and being waiters in restaurants). Moreover, to the predominanly young British who can’t find a job at the moment, I urge: skill up, maybe learn a language or two, improve your work ethic and throw yourselves into the energetic UK economy that is now the fastest growing in the OECD! Of course, the rise in population attributable to immigration has put real pressure on housing and schools and some social services, but the solution to that is to build more homes and other facilities, something Labour singularly failed to do during its 13 years in power. Moreover, I love the diversity that EU migration has brought to this country, especially to multicultural London. Far from being made uncomfortable by hearing people in the train speaking a foreign language, as Nigel Farage claimed, I see this as one aspect of our wonderfully rich and varied culture: an opportunity to learn more, not to go off into a nationalistic corner and sulk.

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Nick Clegg: The Biography

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 27th May, 2014

Nick Clegg 3It might seem an odd way to wind down from the exhaustion of the European election campaign — and the frustration at the results — but I’ve used the time (when not asleep) to read Chris Bowers’ biography of Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, which I bought in a bargain bookstore a few weeks ago. Although published by Biteback in 2011, much in the book still resonates. I’ve known Nick since he was MEP for the East Midlands, but there was much about his early life that I was unfamiliar with. I am also well aware that his public persona, as caricatured by opponents in the Labour Party particularly, is a travesty of the man himself, who is warm and humorous and often far more effective in one-to-one conversations or small gatherings than on a wider public stage or in front of a television camera. That said, I thought his performance in the LibDems’ European elections broadcast was brilliant. That made it all the more dismaying that the European results were so catastrophic, with only the South East of England’s Catherine Bearder being re-elected. The Party rightly pinned its European colours to the mast, and fought a principled campaign that underlined its internationalism and its refusal to get caught up in the anti-migrant hysteria of UKIP and the tabloid Press. Those within the Party (not to mention those outside) now gunning for Nick because of the three consecutive years of bad local election and now European election results should try to be more objective about the qualities of the man and the way he brought Liberals into government for the first time since the Second World War. I agree with Chris Bowers’ assessment that the Rose Garden launch of the Coalition and Nick’s determination that the Party should be seen to be “owning” the Coalition (i.e. be seen to be fully engaged) dulled the distinctiveness of the Liberal Democrat message and helped Labour portray Clegg as joined to Cameron at the hip. And despite the Party’s best efforts, its real achievements in Government (e.g. raising the tax threshold, the pupil premium, sensible pension reform) have not really got across to the public. As I discovered on the doorstep during the election campaign, the issue of trust is still a problem, because of the tuition fees debacle, though largely unfairly so. Moreover, the Cleggmania just before the 2010 General Election made a fall from political grace almost inevitable, when the new kid on the block suddenly became part of the Establishment. The current new kid, UKIP’s Nigel Farage, is a very different cup of tea, but it will be interesting to see how quickly he is now knocked off his pedestal.

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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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The Second Nick versus Nigel IN/OUT Debate

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 2nd April, 2014

Nick Clegg 2Nigel Farage 1This evening saw Round 2 of the Nick Clegg-Nigel Farage IN/OUT debate over Britain’s membership of the European Union, this time hosted by BBC2 and that evergreen fixture of BBC political programmes, David Dimbleby. I made a short speech at the National Liberal Club before the screening there, highlighting what for me are the three greatest achievements of the EU: (1) peace in Western Europe, (2) the re-integration of formerly Communist states of central and eastern Europe into the European family, and (3) the European Single Market, including labour mobility, which we must resolutely defend. I also briefly touched on the three strands of Liberal Democrat campaigning in the current European elections: jobs (especially for young people), the environment, and crime & security — the last mentioned including the European Arrest Warrant, promoted by Sir Graham Watson, LibDem MEP for South West England but now threatened with being undermined by the Tories. As for the televised debate itself, I thought Nick performed really well for the first 40 minutes or so — much more strongly than last week — though Farage got the upper hand towards the end. As I said in a Q&A afterwards with Vince Cable and Michael Moore at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Blackfriars — where a Liberal Business Forum event was in full swing — I think Nick missed an opportunity to counter Farage’s jibe about laws being made in Brussels by unelected bureaucrats. Nick reposted that the number of European civil servants is on a par with those working for Derbyshire County Council, but he could fairly have argued that laws are actually passed by Ministers of the member states (most of them elected by popular mandate) and increasingly in co-decision with the European Parliament — directly elected, and surely something we should be pushing hard over the next eight weeks. Moreover, UKIP is vulnerable when it comes to the European Parliament as their attendance record at committees, in particular, is dire, and they often vote against Britain’s interest in plenary sessions. That fact needs reiterating time and again for people to realise that voting UKIP is actually wasting one’s vote if one wants to see the EU changing for the good.

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London Shows Its European Colours

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 30th March, 2014

London in EuropeOne should never read too much into one opinion poll, but the YouGov figures researched for the Sunday Times today are a shot in the arm for pro-Europeans in London. They show that the capital’s voters are quite distinct from those in most of the other English regions, by putting UKIP in fourth place behind the Liberal Democrats and the LibDems at around twice their national opinion poll rating. The results are as follows: LAB 34%, CON 22%, LD 18%, UKIP 16%, Grn 7%, Others 2%. Though one cannot predict with absolute certainty the outcome of that under the d’Hondt system of PR used in the European elections (variables being the actual number of votes cast for each party and the total number of votes “wasted” on tiny parties that don’t win a seat), nonetheless were those percentages replicated on 22 May, instead of the current situation in London of 3 Tory MEPs, 2 Labour, 1 LibDem, 1 UKIP, 1 Green, there could be 3 Labour, 2 Tory, 2 LibDem and one UKIP (and no Green). That certainly gives the Liberal Democrats in London a reason to get their adrenalin flowing, and it would confirm what I have increasingly felt over the past couple of years that a majority of London’s population realise that it is not in Britain’s interest to leave the EU, as UKIP wants and the Conservatives appear to be engineering almost by default. Many Londoners have jobs that depend to varying degrees on British membership of the EU and of course the very substantial number of EU migrants living and working in the capital must realise that it is in their interest that Britain stays in and fully signed up to the core principle of labour mobility within the EU. All EU citizens resident in London can vote in both the local and European elections, in the latter instance providing they sign a form saying they won;t vote in their home country. I believe Nick Clegg called it absolutely correctly by making the Liberal Democrats the Party of IN. In fact, we always were, but the party centrally was nervous about saying so. Now we can be out and proud for Britain in the EU, championing the argument that it is good for British jobs and for our place in the world. But we have to motivate those who agree with us to actually vote!

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Labour Mobility within the EU

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 4th March, 2014

European flagsEU migrantsI 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.

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Britain’s Soft Power

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 11th February, 2014

Sir Martin DavidsonVictorian 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.

Links: http://www.britishcouncil.org and http://www.globalstrategyforum.org

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