When the 2008 financial crisis hit the Canarian town of Arinaga many people were finding it hard to make ends meet and the restaurants were largely deserted. But then someone had a brilliant idea: to persuade most of the restaurants to offer one tapas and a small glass of beer or wine for €2 every Thursday evening. People were thus able to go out once a week on a tapas trail, typically to five establishments, so getting enough varied food and drink, all for €10 each. The trend caught on, which meant that the place was buzzing again, at least on Thursdays. And it continues to this day. As Arinaga is modest in size most residents know each other and therefore the weekly event is a brilliant way of socialising, as groups form and move from place to place. Last night, sticking to red wine throughout, I had Russian salad, a shrimp cone in lobster bisque, a fish slice, spiced beef in pastry and a desert. An inspiring model for other communities to follow!
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 17th February, 2017
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 15th February, 2017
For those of us who monitor developments in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, one of the most fascinating aspects of recent years has been the failure of what one might call mainstream Islamist movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood to fully capitalise on the so-called Arab Spring. True, in Egypt the Brotherhood triumphed in the post-Mubarak elections and Mohamed Morsi became President, but both he and the Brotherhood proved unfit for the task, leading to his overthrow (a military coup, but with widespread public support). In Tunisia, the cradle of the Arab awakening, An Nahda did get to have a share of power, but again had largely to withdraw after showing itself not up to the task. And in Libya, the Brotherhood never proved strong enough to be a main contender after Gaddafi’s fall from power. How and why this was the case is the subject of Alison Pargeter’s latest book, Return to the Shadows (Saqi, £16.99), which uses interview material as well as documentary research, meticulously referenced but put over in a style that will appeal to both academics and general readers alike. The author is particularly strong on the rise and fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, sober but incisive in her analysis and criticism, deftly recounting a story that has certain characteristics of a Greek tragedy. The sections on Libya and Tunisia are shorter and less powerful, but nonetheless fascinating. Overall, a significant achievement.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 11th February, 2017
This week has been particularly depressing for those of us Brits who are true Europeans, with the House of Commons giving its backing to the triggering of Article50, which the Prime Minister has said will happen before the end of March. To rub salt in our wounds, Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn has sent warning letters to those of his MPs who voted against, underlining that he has become a cheerleader for Theresa May’s Brexit strategy. It was therefore something of a relief to hear Nick Clegg speak to a packed gathering of Liberal Democrats in Business at the National Liberal Club, outlying the LibDem strategy for dealing with Brexit as it unfolds over the next couple of years. The party still believes Britain would be better off staying within the EU, but the sad reality is that the unholy alliance that has gathered behind Mrs May will do everything in their power to make Brexit happen, even though new forecasts predict it will hit the UK economy hard for years to come. So Nick’s main mission now is to campaign to keep Britain in the single market, which would at least cushion the blow, as well giving a lifeline to U.K. Companies whose main market is on the Continent. At the same time, Nick and other LibDems are campaigning for a reassurance to Non-British EU citizens living in Britain that their future is secure, as should be that of Brits living on the Continent or in Eire. It is utterly shameful that the Conservative government continues to see EU migrants as bargaining chips in the forthcoming negotiations with our 27 EU partners. But then the inhumanity of Mrs May and her UKIP-leaning Tory government no longer surprises in its inhumanity, having just shut the door on child refugees. This all leaves me feeling very bleak, and increasingly alienated from my home country. But it is important that Nick Clegg and the LibDem Brexit team behind him are not giving up in despair but instead are campaigning hard to try to prevent the government throwing the baby out with the bath water in its lurch towards a hard Brexit.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 6th February, 2017
Last summer, my childhood memoir, Eccles Cakes: An Odd Tale of Survival, was published and a number of people have asked me why I waited so long to write it. After all, I had produced 14 volumes of biography, history and other non-fiction since 1975, so why wait until I was in my mid-sixties? The simple answer is that I just wasn’t ready, emotionally, but of course, as Oscar Wilde famously said, the truth is rarely pure and never simple. The fact is that I could not have written the book until two important things happened (not that I realised that in advance). First was that, following a recurrence a few years ago of the panic attacks and blackouts that I had experienced as a child, along with depression and total lethargy, I was referred to a psychologist who rightly diagnosed the problem as being that I had not processed the period of sexual abuse I had suffered between the ages of about seven and 12. I had shut memories of this away in the deepest recesses of my mind, hidden behind a wall of metaphorical cotton wool, but now they had escaped and were starting to bite me. As a result of the daignosis, I underwent six months of counselling, culminating in several sessions of recovered-memory therapy. No drugs or hypnosis were used, but I was transported back to my childhood self and relived in graphic detail, technicolour and with smells and sounds, the episodes in which my adoptive father had sexually interfered with me, leaving me feeling confused, unhappy and eventually guilty. I then, through therapy, as an adult revisited my childhood self, and tried to come to terms with what had happened. As part of the therapy, I had to write short passages after the sessions, including a letter to my abuser and his wife.
However, I knew I would only get any meaningful level of closure if I extended these scraps of writing into a full-length book. The therapy sessions had retrieved all sorts of memories in graphic detail, and I still had copies of the diaries that I wrote from the age of 18 onwards. It took me 18 months of quite intense and often emotionally stressful work to produce a manuscript I was happy with. Yet I doubt if that would have been possible without the second, unexpected, factor, which was being reunited with my birth family, or at least two sisters and a variety of nieces and nephews. This happened two years ago following a letter out of the blue from my older birth sister after the younger one had tracked me down through a Google search. This reunification was the subject of a sensitively-produced documentary in the BBC series, Family Finders. Now they had become part of my life after a separation of more than half a century I had found some missing pieces of the jigsaw that completed the picture for Eccles Cakes. That memoir only goes up to shortly past my 19th birthday, but in it my unseen birth mother is a real presence, as she was in my mind as a child. The incidents recounted in the book where she watched over me, without my knowledge, are based on fact, as is, naturally,m everything else. So now it is out there, and I am indeed now able to achieve a form of closure.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 5th February, 2017
Europe currently faces three serious threats: Islamic terrorism, Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. At least that was the view of Belgian MEP (and the European Parliament’s Brexit negotiator), Guy Verhofstadt, when he gave the Isaiah Berlin lecture for Liberal International at Chatham House in London earlier this week. He warned that the European Union now has fewer friends in the United States than ever, with Mr Trump himself openly trying to break it up, just as Mr Putin is trying to undermine it. But Guy acknowledged that Europe itself is in a crisis — a “polycrisis”, as he called it — “a crisis of migration, of internal security, of geopolitical weakness in our neighbourhood.” This is unsustainable in the modern world, he argued, urging that the EU must reform. However, his words were not all doom and gloom, as he declared that Brexit “is a golden opportunity … to get our act together inside the European Union. What is really needed is not new ideas; the ideas already exist… we have the building blocks… we need the capacities… to do what is necessary.”
Guy is a former Prime Minister of Belgium who leads the ALDE group within the European Parliament. His latest book is entitled Europe’s Last Chance, which I shall review when a copy is available. For many of us in Britain, of course, the great tragedy is that the UK has willfully stepped aside from confronting the challenges facing the EU, at a time when we should be leading, not leaving. Prime Minister Theresa May blithely says that Britain will be great on the global stage, but even if she can hold the country together (which is far from certain), Britain on its own is far weaker than being part of the EU — and Donald Trump for one is well aware of that.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 29th January, 2017
Normally it would be a matter of celebration that a British Prime Minister should be the first foreign leader to visit a newly-installed US President, but the pictures of Theresa May hand-in-hand with Donald Trump evoked nothing but shame. This is a man who has said the most disgustingly offensive comments about women, declared that Muslims will be banned from entering the United States (though that may prove to be unconstitutional) and demanded that Mexico should pay for a multi-billion dollar wall that he wants to build along the USA’s southern border. But Mrs May kept smiling while she was with the President and said she looks forward to a new era in which the US and Britain will lead the world. Apart from the fact that her image of a globally powerful UK on a par with the United States is nothing short of delusional, she will soon discover just how “friendly” the Trump administration is when the hoped-for bilateral trade deal is negotiated. The reason the British Prime Minister went rushing to Washington once she heard the dog whistle is of course because Mrs May wishes to recalibrate Britain’s foreign and trading relations in preparation for a hard Brexit, exiting the European Union and the single market. By doing so — if that folly goes ahead — she will turn her back on our 27 EU partners, with whom we share not only laws but values, and instead put together a patchwork of ne best friends, many of whom share some disagreeable traits, from using the death penalty, having relaxed gun laws, and abusing human rights. To add insult to injury, the Prime Minster has announced that Mr Trump will make a state visit to Britain this summer, which would mean his staying with the Queen. If that outrageously offensive proposition does go ahead, I trust the monarch will find herself diplomatically indisposed.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 23rd January, 2017
Theresa May is doubtless feeling very pleased with herself that she will be the first European political leader to meet US President Donald Trump. Ahead of this encounter officials have let it be known that one thing the two are keen to promote is a greater exchange of US and UK workers. Quite apart from the fact that it is hard to reconcile this with the Conservative government’s pledge to slash immigration, what might appear at first glance as a golden opportunity for Brits to go and work in the US could turn into a poisoned chalice. While Britain is still part of the EU British workers benefit from a whole raft of entitlements and protection, from paid holidays to health and safety at work, job security and comprehensive health care. Provisions in the United States are far weaker and if Donald Trump gets his way, they will become weaker still. Many UK workers voted Leave in last June’s referendum, for a variety of reasons, but I wager that most had no idea that by doing so they would undermine their own hard-won rights and entitlements. So while the US will be alluring for some, for most people remaining in the EU is better.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 18th January, 2017
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 31st December, 2016
I don’t make a New Year’s Resolution every year; the last was two years ago, in Surinam, when I vowed to write and publish my childhood memoir, Eccles Cakes, which I successfully achieved this summer. But the Resolution I am making this time as I see 2016 out in Brazil is far more ambitious and is not something I can do alone: Stop Brexit! In June, the British electorate (or that part of it included in this particular franchise) voted narrowly in an advisory referendum that it would prefer to leave the European Union, and the Conservative government now presided over by Theresa May is pressing ahead with the Brexit process, despite warnings that this will cause a decade of disruption and billions of pounds worth of economic loss. She still has not made her “plan” public, which rather makes me doubt that she has one. But in principle she is sticking to her timetable of triggering Article 50 by the end of March, after which there would be two years of negotiations with our 27 EU partners. There is a difference of opinion over whether Article 50 could be reversed, once triggered, but clearly the chances of stopping Brexit would be greater if Article 50 is never triggered. So it is crucial that over the next three months the realities of Brexit, rather than the fantasies of much of the EU Referendum campaign, are set out and that the British electorate is then given the chance to answer the question: is that really what you want? That is essentially the position outlined by LibDem leader, Tim Farron, though in a longer time-frame. His Labour counterpart, Jeremy Corbyn, has alas sold the pass, by pledging to champion a “people’s Brexit”, whatever that might be. Of course, the LibDems can’t bring about such a Brexit reversal on their own. Everyone who understands that Brexit would damage both Britain and the EU can be part of a campaign, for which the European Movement is one of the cheerleaders. Nigel Farage notably argued that a 52:48 vote in June’s Referendum would be “unfinished business”, and for once I believe he was right. As nation we should have a second chance to set the course for the future. By my reckoning, that’s a fine New Year’s Resolution.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 30th December, 2016
For Liberals, 2016 has been a grim year. The EU Referendum provided a narrow win for Leave and the dogs of hate and prejudice were thereby released. Over in America, Donald Trump became President-elect, thanks to that country’s arcane electoral system. Several EU member states started to question the principle of free movement following a huge influx of refugees and migrants. But one of the worst things of all has been the performance of Theresa May since she took office as UK Prime Minister following David Cameron’s resignation. Although she was a lukewarm Remainer in the Referendum campaign, she has embraced the agenda of UKIP and the rabid Tory Right Brexiteers in her pursuance of the goal of a “hard” Brexit — in other words, for seeing a situation in which Britain will leave both the European single market and the customs union, even though this will have a devastating effect on the UK economy, especially the financial sector. She has put our EU partners’ backs up by the arrogance of her negotiating strategy, for example demanding that Britain retain a strong influence in Europol, and she has set an unrealistically tight deadline of invoking Article 50 by the end of March, which will not leave sufficient time for the preparation of a nuanced negotiating position (for which the UK does not have sufficient qualified civil servants anyway). Even more disturbing is Mrs May’s apparent determination to take Britain out of the European Convention on Human Rights, despite the fact that British legal experts were instrumental in its formulation and only the dictatorship of Belarus is outside the ECHR. Moreover, it’s not only our European allies whom Theresa May is alienating. After the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, made an important speech criticising Israel for its settlements policy in occupied Palestine, Mrs May told him off, like some third-rate headmistress. The depth of her incompetence and stupidity is being revealed on a daily basis, yet still she blunders on, convinced that she knows best. The irony is that is was Mrs May who years ago warned the Conservatives that they were seen as the Nasty Party. Well, if the Prime Minister’s 2017 wish list comes about then it is going to prove itself to be even nastier.