The US President, Barack Obama, has taken the opportunity of his short visit to Britain to underline why he believes it is in Britain’s interest — as well as that of the rest of the world — for the UK to remain in the European Union. He argues cogently that Britain is stronger IN and has more global influence. Most of British business, as well as international institutions such as the IMF, agree, but that has not stopped the advocates for Brexit attacking Barack Obama with all guns blazing. UKIP’s Nigel Farage, disgracefully but predictably, has called Obama the most anti-British President ever, but much more shameful have been the comments of the outgoing Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. Not content with accusing the Americans of hypcosrisy in wanting Britain to be part of the EU, on a very dodgy use of analogy, BoJo has now declared that maybe the fact that Obama’s father originated from Kenya means he has an axe to grind with post-colonial Britain. This is barely concealed racism, as well as an unsavoury use of innuendo. Perhaps we should be not surprised, given the way that his putative successor, the Tory candidate Zac Goldsmith, has been been resorting to barely disguised Islamophobia in his attacks on Labour opponent Sadiq Khan. Boris Johnson seems to be inspired by the tousle-haired populist on the other side of the Atlantic, Donald Trump, and is throwing his principles to the wind. Maybe he thinks that will give him a better chance of becoming Tory leader after Cameron retires, but he deserves to be proved wrong. Barack Obama is an infinitely greater politician than BoJo and it is his voice the British public should listen to, not the self-serving porkies and insults of second-rate Trump Johnson.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 22nd April, 2016
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 19th April, 2016
There is mystification among many diaspora citizens of the 10 member states of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) as to why some politicians in Britain feel that the UK would be better off outside the European Union. At least that was the sentiment of a useful round table discussion held at the National Liberal Club in Westminster last night, co-hosted by Khanh Minh Ho (the Vietnamese Chair of the ASEAN UK Business Forum) and Merlene Emerson (Singaporean-born Liberal Democrat candidate for the London Assembly). Not a single person present said they were in favour of Brexit. As one Malaysian participant put it, “my clients see Britain as a useful gateway to the European Union. If the UK goes for Brexit, attention and investment are likely to shift to France or Germany.” The guest speaker at the event, Nick Hopkinson, Chair of London4Europe, succinctly outlined the benefits of Britain’s EU membership and said that the various models of a new relationship with the EU after any British withdrawal — Norwegian, Turkish or Canadian, for example — just don’t stand up in comparison. Himself of Canadian origin, Nick said that Britain was far stronger as an EU member state, not least in negotiating trade deals with other parts of the world through the EU. The nation that a 60-million nation could wield more negotiating clout than a 500-million bloc is just not credible. That is something that ASEAN itself has understood. With a similar size of population to that of the EU, ASEAN has a far stronger international presence as a group rather than as 10 separate countries. Though ASEAN’s integration has not got anywhere near as far as that of the EU — and maybe never could, given the huge diversity of both political and economic systems among its member states — it has nonetheless moved towards a free trade area and is increasingly cooperating on an ASEAN-wide basis on a wide range of issues, not least relating to the environment. Because the UK has long given a total franchise to resident citizens from Commonwealth countries, only Malaysians and Singaporeans among ASEAN nationals in the diaspora here will be able to vote in the May elections and the 23 June EU Referendum, but the message from all those present last night was: No to Brexit!
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 16th April, 2016
Eight anti-armaments campaigners, who were charged with blocking the entrance to last September’s giant arms fair in London, DSEI 2016, were this week found not guilty, on the grounds that they had acted in good faith to prevent an even greater crime. After listening to four days of often passionate testimony, the judge said the court had heard compelling evidence of the role of weapons on sale at DSEI in repression and human rights abuses. During the trial, the defendants had particularly highlighted the use of weapons in Saudi Arabia’s attacks in Yemen, the suppression of dissent in Bahrain and Turkey’s military activities in predominantly Kurdish areas of the country. They also argued that some illegal types of weapon had been openly displayed at the Fair. An estimated 30,000 visitors went to the Fair despite the disruption by protesters. DSEI is one of the largest such events in the world and a,though another one is planned for next year, anti-war campaigners are determined to be out in force on that occasion too.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 15th April, 2016
A distinctly underwhelming crowd of Vote Leave supporters gathered in Manchester today to hear some of the campaign’s supposedly leading lights, including Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. Having kept people guessing for months about which side of the argument he would come down on (typically contradicting himself in the process), Boris finally decided that it was in his own personal interest to campaign for Leave in the UK’s EU Referendum, which will take place on 23 June. For those of us who were familiar with his cavalier attitude to news stories when he was a foreign correspondent based in Brussels, inventing stuff when it allowed him to take a swipe at Europe, this did not come as a great surprise, but the vitriol the Mayor is now pouring out a against those campaigning to Remain in the EU is pungent, even by his standards. Today he accused Prime Minister David Cameron & Co of being the Gerald Ratners of the EU campaign, implying that they know that the EU is crap. That is so far from the truth as to be derisory. Moreover, does Boris not realise how oafish he looks beside Nigel Farage, George Galloway and other poster-boys of the Leave campaign? I believe he has called this whole thing wrongly, which will mean not only will the UK stay in the European Union but also his chances of ever becoming Conservative Prime Minister diminish daily.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 12th April, 2016
Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff today denounced what she said was an attempted coup against her — and accused the Vice-President (who is from another party) of being one of the “plotters”. Yesterday, a Congressional committee voted in favour of her impeachment and a motion to that effect could be put to the whole House as early as Sunday. A vote in the Senate would then follow. The charge is not that Dilma herself is corrupt — unlike accusations levelled against some of her political enemies — but rather that she massaged official deficit figures to make the country’s situation appear better than it is. Her hope is to stay in office until 2018 and then to be replaced by her predecessor, Luis Inacio “Lula” Da Silva, who is a political giant in the background at the moment, but in the process of being given a prominent role. Lula has recently recovered from throat cancer, and although now 70 has been out on the campaign trail. I saw him in Fortaleza the other day, where a few thousand supporters, waving red flags, chanted, “There is not going to be a coup!” Well, Dilma now says that is exactly what is happening, with the São Paulo business community and the huge Globo media empire amongst others ranged against her. The stock market has been buoyed by prospects of impeachment. But the millions of predominantly poor Brazilians who like what Lula and Dilma have done for them are going to carry on demonstrating, just as those calling for her departure will, in equal or even larger numbers.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 9th April, 2016
London’s Whitehall was blocked this afternoon by demonstrators calling on Prime Minister David Cameron to resign. There are many reasons why the public might want to see the back of him and the Conservative government, even though they were only voted in last May, but the cause of this particular rally was the PM’s delay in clarifying the degree to which he did or did not benefit from his late father’s offshore funds. He has certainly handled the matter badly, which is rather odd for someone with a PR background, but then it is often difficult to be entirely objective about oneself. But is this a resigning matter? It is not as if he has broken any law (so far as we know). I can understand why many people are angry that it seems that there is one set of rules and taxes for ordinary people and another for the rich, but in that case the solution is to address the issue of tax havens and offshore funds directly, rather than focussing on one individual. Besides, were David Cameron to go, would his replacement be any better? The Conservatives enjoy an overall majority in the House of Commons and there is unlikely to be a general election before 2020. Were Cameron to stand down, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove are two names in the frame, both of which make me shudder, not least because both are in favour of Brexit. As far as I am concerned, the most important challenge facing Britain at the moment is ensuring that the UK stays in the EU, even if it means a weakened David Cameron at the helm. So, let us take note of the cautionary lesson in Hilaire Belloc’s poem “Jim”, and for the moment “always keep a-hold of Nurse, for fear of finding something worse.”
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 7th April, 2016
Thanks to crowd-funding from supporters, London Liberal Democrats have for the first time been able to put together a party political broadcast for the London mayoral election. That goes out today (Thursday), though party members who are well plugged into social media were able to get a sneak preview yesterday. The film rightly focuses on the LibDem candidate, Caroline Pidgeon, and her policies (unlike the weird Green Party video of children, which never even shows you their candidate) and features a good ethnic and age mix of other people, representative of multicultural London. Caroline presents herself as an ordinary Londoner and is seen in everyday situations, such as buying groceries in a street market and playing with children in a nursery. But the point that is subtly put over is that whereas Caroline shares the concerns of ordinary Londoners, on such issues as the lack of affordable housing, expensive public transport coupled with worsening traffic congestion, and the high cost of childcare, she is actually extraordinary, as the only mayoral candidate of any party or group who has been at City Hall for the past eight years, holding Mayor Boris Johnson to account. Moreover, she was a hard-working London borough councillor before that. She comes over in the PPB as knowledgable, responsible and caring and the film itself is vey professional, without being slick. All in all, an excellent initiative. Let’s hope millions of Londoners watch it and respond to Caroline’s distinctive messages!
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 6th April, 2016
ITV and LBC are to be congratulated for staging an hour-long live debate this evening (Tuesday) between the five principle candidates in next month’s London Mayoral election: Sian Berry (Green), Zac Goldsmith (Conservative), Sadiq Khan (Labour), Caroline Pidgeon (Liberal Democrat) and Peter Whittle (UKIP). The show’s two hosts were robust enough in their questioning to hold people’s attention and there was some opportunity for audience members to participate. Peter Whittle soon proved to be a one-trick pony, ‘curbing immigration’ being his answer to virtually everything. But the other four were better prepared and better matched. The main topics for discussion were security/counter-terrorism, housing and public transport. Sadiq Khan stood up firmly against claims of having some dodgy Islamist associates but was unable to persuade people that freezing London Underground fares was economically feasible. Zac Goldsmith was very suave and had the advantage of being able to boast of having the ear of the Conservative government between now and 2020, though earlier in the day he had been embarrassed by showing a rather sketchy knowledge of the London Underground system. However, Zac’s Achilles heel is that he is favour of Brexit, which is a rather loopy position for a prospective London Mayor to adopt (yes, I know, Boris Johnson QED). Sian Berry was cool and collected, and were it not for the fact that the Greens’ policies would put London’s vibrant economy into reverse gear, in many ways persuasive. Caroline Pidgeon, physically well-placed at the centre of the quintet on stage, had obviously rehearsed the points she wanted to get across, including a one hour bus ticket, half-price tube fares before 7.30am and a continuation of the Olumpics precept, but hypothecated for council house building — all good, clear campaigning issues. She rightly avoided endorsing any other candidate for LibDem voters’ second preference. Her task, as London Liberal Democrats have always been clear, is to get as high a LibDem city-wide vote as possible to ensure that she is not the only LibDem London Assembly member elected in May.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 3rd April, 2016
Having recently finished a childhood memoir, which I hope will see the light of day later this Spring, the inevitable question I now face is: what next? The big difference betwen writers and would-be writers is that whereas the latter can’t start, the former can’t stop. Of course, writing blog posts, tweets and Facebook entries is a useful way of dissipating creative energy, but for anyone who has actually had a book published — or in my case, a dozen — the compulsion to get cracking on something more susbtantial is irresistible.
I had a complete break over Easter, while getting a couple of dental implants done, but I am now chomping at the bit, in more ways than one. As my childhood memoir ends with me just turned 19, in Karbala in Iraq, it might seem logicial to pick the story up from there. But I know that that is not what my impulses are telling me. Instead, I shall fast forward to the mid-1970s when I was in Brussels, initially wotking for Reuters news agency, subsequently freelance. The exact location of the action and the main characters are all so clear in my head, but this will be a novel, not a memoir, even if it is inspired by a lot of personal experience (rather like Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin stories, though I would be lucky to achieve anything like as good an end-product as his novels). I wrote a biography of Isherwood,.which involved two summers in California, interviewing him, while I was still based in Btussels and I remember him saying that having started his writing life as a novelist, he had ended up as a biographer and memoir-writer. My trajectory hopefully will be in the opposite direction, but here goes.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 1st April, 2016
The resignation of Brazil’s Sports Minister, George Hilton, just four months before the Rio Olympics are due to start, has added another twist to the tortuous political crisis that the country has been suffering in recent months. The government insists his departure will not affect Brazil’s ability to deliver on the Games, but there is growing scepticism abroad about that event given the country’s slow but steady economic decline over the past few years, as well as confrontations between sports authorities, property developers and poor communities who are being evicted to make way for arenas. More seriously, George Hilton may not be the last Minister to quit the current ruling Coalition, as five others who belong to the PMDB party are under pressure to do the same. The Coalition is currently led by the PT’s Dilma Rousseff, who inherited the political capital of her hugely popular predecessor ‘Lula’ da Silva, but she has since been the focus of various corruption allegations, including supposedly massaging the country’s deficit figures to make them seem better than they are. The problem is that in Brazil almost all politicians are assumed by the general public to be corrupt, whethe it is at the municipal, state or federal level. Construction contracts, in particular, are often linked to back-handers to politicians. Similarly, petty bribery is rampant. So why, one might wonder, are so many Brazilians — not just PT members but whole groups of NGOs and social movements — regularly going out into the streets to demonstrate in favour of Dilma?
The reason basically is to be found in 20th century history, not just of Brazil but of the whole region. Military or other right-wing dictatorships thrived in Latin America until well into the 1980s, often with the covert support of the United States. Indeed, that support was sometimes overt, as with the overthrow of Salvador Allende’s Marxist government in Chile by General Pinochet. Socialists and other leftist groups in Brazil are terrified that the move to impeach their soul-mate Dilma and bring down the current government is just a prelude to a political coup d’état, in which the far right would take over and crack down on dissidents and the marginalised, as happened in the past. The fact that the Military Police (a most alarming section of the security forces during the periods of dictatorship) was flying low overhead in helicopters last night in Fortaleza while a pro-Dilma rally was going on down the road from where I am staying did nothing to calm the nerves of those who fear that the country could suddenly succumb to a right-wing take-over.