Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Decolonization

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 24th July, 2017

DecolonizationThe road to independence for former European and Japanese colonies was one of the most striking features of the second half of the 20th Century, yet the process of decolonization has received scant academic analysis. A lacuna in the market has thus been filled by Jan C. Jansen and Jürgen Osterhammel’s Decolonization: A Short History (Princeton University Press, £22.95). The two German authors provide a beautifully crafted account of historical developments and social changes, while also identifying the seeds of decolonization in events and personalities between the two world wars. Colonialism had outlived its function, even from the subjective and exploitative point of view of the colonial powers, but it was the passionate defence of the rights of colonised peoples by both political and intellectual leaders in Africa and Asia that helped tip the balance in favour of greater justice and and the acceptance of self-determination as a fundamental human right. Of course, the resultant new nations did not all progress smoothly once they had their independence, but a degree of dignity and self-worth had been reclaimed for their peoples. Jansen and Osterhammel’s great strength is to provide not only a credible and useful analytical framework for considering decolonization critically but also to do so within a fluent historical narrative. This means that their book, elegantly translated by Jeremiah Riemer, will be of great interest to both scholars and the interested general reader alike.

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Corbyn and the EU

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 23rd July, 2017

Jeremy Corbyn smallThis morning, on the Andrew Marr show, Jeremy Corbyn, leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party, argued that a country had to be a member of the European Union in order to remain part of the European single market. That is, of course, nonsense; Norway is a prime example of a country whose people voted not to join the EU but which enjoys the benefits of being within the single market. Given Corbyn’s more than 30 years as an MP (all the time as a back-bencher, until unexpectedly propelled into the leadership position) he must have learned enough about the EU to understand the difference. Or maybe he didn’t. The kindest interpretation of his remarks on the Marr show is that he believes that Britain must leave the single market as well as the EU (and presumably the Customs Union), presumably because he is implacably opposed to freedom of movement of workers in the EU, which is one of the pillars of the single market. But I fear his objection goes deeper. He knows he cannot build the sort of high-tax, dirigiste socialist Utopia that he and his Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, dream of. They do not support the European project; they denigrate it as a capitalist club. One should never forget how much Corbyn revered Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. During last year’s EU Referendum campaign, Corbyn in principle sided with the remain camp, but so sotto voce that it made no positive impact. Rather like Theresa May’s position, in fact. And now Britain has the terrible situation in which both the Conservative Prime Minister and the Labour Opposition Leader are essentially arguing for what has been dubbed a Hard Brexit: a future outside the EU, the single market and the Customs Union, with the real possibility of the country crashing out of the EU in March 2019 with no deal in place covering our future relationship with our current 27 EU partners. No wonder the pound sterling has dived and banks and companies are starting to transfer operations out of London and other UK cities to places such as Dublin, Paris and Frankfurt. This is madness and absolutely not what a clear majority of the British public wants. The Leave side won by a tiny margin last year, following a campaign based on lies and false promises. Mrs May bears a terrible responsibility for pressing on with a Hard Brexit since then, but Jeremy Corbyn is now clearly also in the dock, which is why a growing number of Labour MPs and activists are calling for the UK to at least stay in the single market and customs union, if not the EU itself. It was the groundswell of new Labour activists that shot Jeremy Corbyn to where he is now. Perhaps it is time for them to bring him back down to reality.

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Drawings from Leonardo to Rembrandt

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 12th July, 2017

Rembrandt sheet of figuresThe National Portrait Gallery in London has put on some blockbuster exhibitions in recent years but the show The Encounter: Drawings from Leonardo to Rembrandt, which opens tomorrow, conquers in a more subtle way. The Old Master European portrait drawings, ranging from Leonardo’s study of a male nude to Rembrandt’s sheet of figure studies is both intimate and intense. I have previously seen Old Master drawings mainly in folders or drawers at Chatsworth and other great houses in England and beyond, but seeing this captivating miscellany in mellow light on the bottle green walls of a windowless gallery really entices the observer into a personal relationship between both sitter and artist — a sort of triangular dynamic that clicks in when one stops in front of each portrait. Most are quite small and drawn with pale inks, but that in a sense draws one in closer. Some of the subjects are known court characters, or friends of the artists, while others are anonymous but full of character. One can sense their personalities across half a millennium. I particularly like the portraits by Hans Holbein the Younger, including a series borrowed from the Royal Collection, not least the stern yet somehow vulnerable, somewhat androgynous Woman Wearing a White Headdress. The joy of a July morning’s Press View today was that the gallery was almost empty, so I could linger and savour. But I suspect the exhibition will soon bring in the crowds, and rightly so.

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Flat on My Back

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 11th July, 2017

teddy bear in hospitalLast week I had to go into the Royal London Hospital for a major hernia repair. It was meant to be a daycare job, but proved more complicated than originally hoped so I was an in-patient for a couple of days. Hats off to all the wonderful staff at the hospital (only one of whom was British, Brexiteers please note). I was warned that it would take two weeks before I could resume work, and six weeks before I would be my usual bouncy self. All but my most essential appointments for the following fortnight were duly cancelled. Even so, like most energetic people I have been deeply frustrated over the past seven days by my physical inability to do much more than lie flat on my back, often asleep. The abdomen is a hyper-sensitive part of the body, which makes sitting or even standing something of a trial, though I am shuffling round a little more today. And for the first time since the op, I am actually capable of writing a piece for my blog; because it is not just the physical toll an operation and general anaesthetic take; the brain gets sapped as well. Even a Facebook posting was too high a hill to climb, though I did manage a few tweets. Ah well, I suppose these temporary setbacks are there to remind us of our own mortality, or at least, fragility. And as one of the nurses said when I was finally discharged, “Go home, lie down and enjoy the rest!”

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Britain’s Wasted Opportunity

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 2nd July, 2017

Macron MerkelThis weekend the United Kingdom was due to take over the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union, but as the government in London is focussed on Brexit it declined the honour. Estonia has stepped up to the plate instead, and its progressive, tech-savvy Liberal government will doubtless make a good fist of it. But what a wasted opportunity for Britain! Two years ago, the then Pime Minister, David Cameron, said he was in poursuit of EU reforms but by unwisely pressing ahead with the EU Referendum before any significant reforms had taken place he was almost condemning Britain to leave. The tragedy is that now that Emannuel Macron is in the Elysée Palace, he and Germany’s Angela Merkel can be the dynamic duo promoting change. Of course this is not the first time that France and Germany have ruled the European roost, but had Britain stuck in there we could have seen a powerful triumvirate, with London, Paris and Berlin all determined to see a more efficient and forward-looking European Union.

Boris During the referendum campaign in the UK, Brexiteers argued that by leaving the EU Britain would “free” itself and be able to capitalise on new market opportunities. But what is abundantly clear is that instead the UK is in the process of cutting itself off from its biggest trading partner, alienating our friends and neighbours and is apparently in danger of heading for an economic recession. A year ago, we had the fastest growing economy among the G7, whereas now we have the slowest, and whereas wages have grown in other G7 countries here they have fallen, accentuating the pain of austerity. The Brexiteers claimed that the EU was a sinking ship and that we were better off jumping overboard. But that argument will look ever more fanciful as Britain gets tossed around in choppy waters while the EU steams confidently on ahead.

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Remember 1967

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 30th June, 2017

Remember 1967Next month will see the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act, which decriminalised sex between males in the UK, though only for consenting men aged 21 or older and in private. It was a landmark achievement, bringing an end to an injustice that has endured since the Labouchere Amendment of 1885 led to many homosexuals and bisexual men in Britain being imprisoned, blackmailed or disgraced. But as Peter Tatchell pointed out in a speech to a commemorative event in the City last night, after the Act was passed, police actually became more active in pursuing cases against gay men and teenagers, and the definition of “private” was deemed to mean that no person could be in the same house or flat at the time, even if they were not involved. It was only in 2000 that the age of consent for gay sex was reduced to 16, in line with heterosexual sex, and in 2013 that the Equal Marriage Act gave gay and lesbian couples the right to marry. So it is fair to say that it took almost half a century for the aspirations of early parliamentary campaigners on LGBT+ rights, such as Leo Abse MP and Lord “Boofy” Arran, to reach fruition. During much of that time, Peter Tatchell has played a key role in championing gay rights and fighting injustice, not only in the UK but all over the world. In many Commonwealth countries of Africa and the Caribbean, for example, gay sex is still illegal, often the basis of British colonial laws. But last night’s commemoration, organised and hosted by the public artist Martin Firrell, rightly celebrated the positive achievements of the past half century, as well as setting some interesting challenges for those present. One of Martin’s current projects is Gender Tender, in which people are invited to enter imaginatively into a future where gender is regarded as something essentially private and intimate — a future where children are not assigned a gender at birth but society waits until children themselves are able – and wish – to choose a gender identity. Those of us who attended last night’s function were the first guinea pigs in a big gender think-in. But everyone can follow how things develop via http://www.Remember1967.com

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No, We Don’t Need Patriotic Media!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 24th June, 2017

IMG_2519A UK government Minister, Andrea Leadsom, has urged British broadcasters to be more patriotic in their coverage of Brexit. US President Donald Trump would doubtless approve, but her intervention deserves to be greeted with a giant raspberry. The right wing of the Conservative Party loathes the BBC, in particular, and would like to force it to go commercial by threatening to abolish the licence fee that funds it. Actually, the BBC has leant over backwards to be as even-handed as possible over Brexit since last year’s EU Referendum, infuriating Remainers by giving particular prominence to Nigel Farage and the rump of UKIP. But what Ms Leadsom apparently wants is what the government already enjoys with the Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail, Daily Express, The Sun, etc, namely out-and-out champions of Theresa May’s “red, white and blue” Brexit, involving leaving the European single market and Customs Union and other bodies and instruments that have bound us to our EU partners for the past four decades. Hard Brexiteers, of whom Andrea Leadsom is by no means alone in the Cabinet, believe we need a Britain Stands Alone (from Europe) type of Brexit. The centenarian Vera Lynn will probably be brought out of retirement to sing again of the White Cliffs of Dover. But the plain fact is that opting for Hard Brexit is actually unpatriotic, as it will hit the UK economy, and therefore the living standards of ordinary Brits, hard. But don’t let’s get into an argument about true patriotism. I rather side with Dr Johnson, who declared that “patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” And, yes, that includes you, Ms Leadsom.

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Not a Happy Anniversary

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 23rd June, 2017

Today is the first anniversary of Britain’s EU Referendum. Doubtless some arch-Brexiteers, such as Nigel Farage and Jacob Rees-Maggie, have been celebrating what they consider to be the UK’s first anniversary of independence. This is of course tosh, on almost every level. We are still members of the EU until at least 29 March 2019, but more importantly, being an EU member state does not undermine a country’s independence, but rather member states voluntarily share aspects of sovereignty for the common good. Britain has done very well as an EU member state, though not a single UK Prime Minister since we joined in 1973 took full advantage of the opportunities offered. Theresa May, or whoever will replace her, can only look on impotently over the coming months as Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron help fashion a reformed and confident EU, in which the UK will have no formal role, unless Brexit is reversed, which at present seems unlikely. Last year I came to Lisbon  immediately after the Referendum, to salve my wounds with some continental culture and joie de vivre. By coincidence, I am in Lisbon again now, but this evening I did not raise my glass to celebrate the Brexit vote but rather to savour being a full European citizen while I still can.

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Can There Be a UK Consensus on Brexit?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 22nd June, 2017

Queen's speech 2017The Queen’s Speech to Parliament today, setting out what Theresa May’s minority government hopes to achieve over the next couple of years — if it survives that long — was a watered-down affair. Gone were many of the more contentious pledges in the Conservatives’ election manifesto, such as increasing the number of grammar schools and organising a vote on whether to bring back fox hunting. But so too were the  threats to major legacies of the Liberal Democrats in the 2010-2015 Coalition government, such as the triple lock on pensions and free school lunches for infants. So there was some reason for cheerfulness. But of course the big issue was and is Brexit; the speech asserted clearly the government’s intention to lead the country out of the European Union by the end of March 2019, though there was precious little detail about any of the colossal aspects of this.

Theresa May 12 Later Mrs May rather cheekily said in the House of Commons that 82% of the British electorate had voted for parties that are pledged to make Brexit happen. I suspect that many of the first-time younger voters who backed Labour because of its appealing message of free tuition fees, public sector spending rises and higher taxes for the very rich, did not quite intend their ballot to be a blank cheque for Brexit. However, it is regrettably true that Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell have made clear their belief that the UK should withdraw from both the European single market and the customs union — one of the few things they agree on with the right-wing Protestant DUP MPs from Northern Ireland, who are reportedly holding out for more money for Ulster before they formalise a confidence-and-supply agreement with Mrs May. Interestingly, the Queen’s speech did refer to trying to find a consensus among the people of Britain about the best way forward, which might prove to be deeply challenging. There are MPs in both major parties who still think leaving the EU is a terrible mistake, not to mention the Liberal Democrats, the SNP and others. Perhaps therefore the best hope of a consensus would be around a soft-Brexit, however that might be defined. But with only 18 months to try to achieve that, as negotiations with our current 27 EU partners continue alongside, I do believe we will reach a stage sometime next year when Britain will be asking for more time to try and sort things out.

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Liberals Embrace the Diplomatic Community

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 19th June, 2017

NLC terraceFor many years, Liberal International British Group (LIBG) hosted a winter reception for London’s diplomatic community at the National Liberal Club, but the cost of this became increasingly difficult for such a relatively small organisation to bear, despite occasional welcome sponsorship. So it was with huge relief all round that the National Liberal Club (NLC) itself, under the dynamic chairmanship of Janet Berridge, took over the responsibility. The Club had the brilliant idea of rescheduling the event for summer instead, and this evening the gods were with us as it was a perfect June evening for a reception on the Club’s magnificent Terrace [pictured empty, but packed at the event]. The New European weekly newspaper sponsored the venture and former LibDem Leader Nick Clegg (who sadly lost his House of Commons seat in this month’s general election) was the guest speaker, emphasizing the Liberal Democrats’ commitment to internationalism as well as to Europe. There was an eclectic range of Ambassadors and High Commissioners present, as well as numerous LibDem Peers and paying guests from both LIBG and the NLC. Diplomats are only too aware that social gatherings oil the wheels of diplomacy and it is to be hoped that many of those present tonight will cement their relations with this section of Britain’s electoral spectrum by attending the LibDems’ autumn conference in Bournemouth in September.

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