Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Adrift in Soho ***

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 15th November, 2018

Adrift in SohoSoho in the 1950s and 1960s was a magnet for young people tired of post-War England’s grey atmosphere and grey food — a place where you could find a good, cheap French or Italian meal or sit for hours over a beer in the Coach and Horses or a coffee at the 2i’s, and where sexual liberation had arrived. In Colin Wilson’s 1961 novel, Adrift in Soho, a young provincial, Harry Preston, is drawn in, at once intrigued but also slightly nauseated by the astonishingly free people he encounters, at various stages in their creative growth or disintegration. Some are self-manufactured “characters”, while others are genuinely eccentric or original. And many seem to have succumbed to Sohoitis, a clearly mental as well as physical lassitude that can lead to depression and death. Pablo Behrens’ new film, of the same title as the book, beautifully captures the atmosphere of the period and place in a cinematic style that is a homage to Francois Truffaut and the French Nouvelle Vague. There are some really beautiful shots and angles and good use is made of the sub-plot of a film being made within the film. Owen Drake, as Harry, looks suitably bemused as he chronicles the people and events around him, from seedy strip joints to preparations for the Aldermaston anti-nuclear March, but it is Chris Wellington as the handsome young sponger and lothario, James Compton-Street, who really steals the show, charming but reckless and ultimately doomed. There are some nice cameos, not least a scene with a camp Francis Bacon-inspired artist, but there are also longueurs. Cutting 15 or 20 minutes from the film would make it sharper. The politics could be edgier, too. The film has been made on a tight budget, which at times shows, but it is nonetheless an important achievement, and as Colin Wilson’s son, whom I met at the premiere after-party in Soho, said, his father would probably have been pleased.

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ALDE Resolution on Saudi Arabia

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 13th November, 2018

This is the text of the Saudi Arabia resolution, drafted by Prof. Paul Reynolds, which I successfully moved on behalf of the UK Liberal Democrats at the ALDE Party Congress in Madrid at the weekend:

Jamal Khashoggi

On Saudi Arabia

The Congress of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE)
Party convening in Madrid, Spain, on 8-10 of November 2018:
Having regard to:
• the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the 1966
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the UN Convention
against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or
Punishment; the Arab Charter on Human Rights, ratified by Saudi
Arabia in 2009.
Whereas:
• the continuing air attacks by Saudi Arabia that included the use of
banned cluster munitions and apparently unlawful strikes that killed
civilians;
• the role of Saudi Arabia in supporting barbaric militias in Syria and Iraq;
and the Saudi led blockade of Qatar;
• authorities systematically discriminate against women and religious
minorities;
• international concerns have repeatedly been raised about access to
justice, women’s rights, and restrictions on freedom of expression,
freedom of assembly, and freedom of religion or belief in the Kingdom;
• in 2017, Saudi Arabia carried out 146 executions, 59 for non-violent
drug crimes and the practice of rendition of Saudi political opponents,
back to Saudi Arabia, after which they are murdered or ‘disappeared’;
[1]
• dozens of human rights defenders and activists are serving long prison
sentences for criticising authorities or advocating political and rights
reforms;
• the prima facie evidence that the Washington DC based Saudi
journalist
Jamal Khashoggi was due to be similarly rendered back to Saudi Arabia
by the Saudi government with a planned ‘murder on-the-spot’ as a
backstop, the latter being the brutal outcome on 2nd October 2018.
Believes that:
• the Saudi Arabian monarchy under the de facto leadership of
Mohammed bin Salman has shown a regrettable disregard for
international law and the civilised norms of statehood and diplomacy;
• Saudi support for one side in the civil war in Yemen, the ‘legitimate’
government of President Hadi, in order to pre-empt Iranian Shia
influence -is not a sufficiently legitimate basis for continuing its military
campaign;
• Saudi Arabia has caused several Arms Trade Treaty signatories to be
in breach of Articles 1, 6, 7 and 11 of the Treaty, based on evidence
published up to October 2018. [2]
Calls for:
• the UNSC and the EU to condemn the Saudi Arabian government for
its disregard for international law and norms;
• the Saudi authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Raif
Badawi, Liberal International Prize for Freedom winner, as he is
considered a prisoner of conscience, detained and sentenced solely for
exercising his right to freedom of expression;
• nations which form part of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen or providing
logistical and training support, to withdraw their support and promote
peace processes instead;
• the VP/HR, the European External Action Service (EEAS) and the
Member States to conduct a structural dialogue with Saudi Arabia on
human rights, fundamental freedoms and the country’s troubling role in
the region within the framework of EU relations with the Gulf
Cooperation Council;
• an international tribunal to investigate the Khashoggi case and similar
cases;
• the European Council to reach a common position in order to impose
an EU-wide arms embargo on Saudi Arabia and to respect Common
Position 2008/944/CFSP and for signatories to the Arms Trade Treaty
who have not yet suspended arms sales to Saudi Arabia, to do so
forthwith.

ALDE logo
Sources:
[1] The BBC report of Saudi rendition programmes can be found via:
https://www.bbc.com/news/amp/magazine-40926963
[2] Information on the Arms Trade Treaty comes from the UN
via http://www.un.org/disarmament/convarms/arms-trade-treaty-2. Information of breaches of the Treaty by
Saudi Arabia regarding Yemen can be found via the link below. This also sets out data that 31% of
bomb targets are non-military and that 68% of arms deployed by Saudi Arabia in Yemen have ended
up in possession of groups and institutions other than the Saudi or ‘official’ Yemen governments.
ploughshares.ca/2018/06/war-in-yemen-a-litmus-test-of-the-arms-trade-treaty

UK delegation at Madrid ALDE Congress 2018

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Armistice 2018 Commemoration

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 11th November, 2018

3FD0BB67-E403-4016-BDB7-B1A8C5D35606I found pictures of the Armistice Day commemorations in Paris today deeply moving. President Emmanuel Macron spoke with dignity against nationalism and war. The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, stood next to him, underlining how these two great European powers, which had fought each other three times during a period of just 75 years, are now allies and the mainstay of the European Union — a body which now unites not just most of the countries of Western Europe but also the formerly Communist states of central and Eastern Europe. It was good that both Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump were present, too (even if Trump blotted his copybook by pulling out of an earlier, related engagement because rain was forecast). Despite some recent tensions in the West’s relations with Russia, the Cold War, which kept us teetering on the verge of nuclear Armageddon, is long over. Scores of nations were represented at senior level in Paris, but shamefully Theresa May was not there. Apparently she thought it more important to be at the Cenitaph in London rather than participate in this unique, truly global event. Reportedly she sent David Lidington MP (Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster) instead, though naturally he did not get to stand with the top leaders, thus relegating the UK to second rank. At a time when Britain’s reputation is at rock bottom among our EU partners as Brexit loooms and many Conservative and Labour politicians fall over themselves to be rude to the EU and the 27 other member states, while banging the drum of British exceptionalism, this was a serious miscalculation. Theresa May is trashing the UK’s standing in Europe and the wider world, while Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn just stands on the sideline, nodding.

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ALDE Congress in Madrid

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 10th November, 2018

DD89ADA8-523D-4525-8A5D-316420AD1B73For the latter half of this week I have been in Madrid for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) Congress. Our hosts were Cuidadanos, the still relatively new kid on the block in Spanish politics, yet according to an opinion poll published today, they are level-pegging with the conservative Partido Popular (PP), on 22%. Only a fortnight ago, ALDE had to hold an emergency Council meeting in Brussels, to refuse membership to a Catalan party, PdeCAT, for reasons too complicated to go into here, but surprisingly there was no fallout from that at the Congress. This was mainly because the central focus of the Madrid gathering was the ALDE manifesto* for next May’s European elections, which was duly passed this lunchtime. But there was a plethora of other issues discussed over the three days of the Congress. I successfully moved, on behalf of the UK Liberal Democrats, an emergency motion on Saudi Arabia, which I will post on this blog on Monday, when I shall return to London and have access to a desktop computer.

9291698F-7F08-4996-8D94-E3006FA5A636There were fringe sessions on various aspects of campaigning, including social media, and it was good to have one panel that brought together not only MEPs from several EU member states but also senior executives from Facebook, Google and Microsoft. The UK Liberal Democrat Leader, Sir Vince Cable,  came over for the day yesterday, to reinforce the message that Brexit is not a “done deal” and that the LibDems are at the forefront of the campaign for a People’s Vote on any Brexit deal, with an option to remain. The resignation of Orpington MP Jo Johnson from his junior ministerial position over this very issue could not have been better timed. For the first time, the LibDems, Fianna Fáil from Ireland and the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland worked as a coherent bloc in the Congress, which should be a good model to follow in future. Brexit, of course, hung like a big black cloud over the whole event, but at least we Brits left our continental colleagues in no doubt that we are doing everything we can to encourage the British people to stop it,

*The manifesto can be found on the ALDE website: https://alde.eu

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The Spirit of Córdoba

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 7th November, 2018

5061EB38-2936-4119-B8B3-99CCCC4F7ADDHaving so often cited the Umayyad emirate (later caliphate) of Córdoba in my Humanities lectures at SOAS, as an historic example of religious tolerance and the promotion of an independent spirit of enquiry, it is perhaps surprising that I had never been to this Andalusian city myself until last night. Of course, I am 1200 years too late to see the place in its full glory, when it was a centre of civilisation and learning to rival Damascus, populated by Muslims, Christians and Jews, and was probably the biggest human settlement in Europe. But there are still many vestiges of that golden era, not least the pillars and arches of the city’s main mosque, now incorporated into the Roman Catholic cathedral’s precinct. Many of the courtyards in the old town are reminiscent of the casbahs of North Africa and I was intrigued by how many Moroccan visitors I noticed as I walked round the city today. There are remnants of an even older, Roman, town, not least the splendid (albeit heavily remodelled) bridge that spans the Guadalquivir river. But it was the civilisation established after the Moors took control in 711AD that still resonates in world history. Perhaps inevitably, after a couple of centuries, the rot set in. Books were burned, as Islamic religious puritans got the upper hand. Then in 1236 the city fell to a Christian king’s armies. Subsequently both the Muslims and the Jews were expelled and one of the most repressive, totalitarian forms of Christian orthodoxy was imposed through the Spanish Inquisition.

BABF9765-ABDC-42D4-956C-02EC92A4B394A degree of mutual respect between the three Abrahamic religions was found in various parts of the Ottoman Empore at different times, but nothing quite like the spirit of Córdoba. With hindsight we can maybe wonder whether it would not have been possible to create such a society in an independent Palestine after the First World War, but Britain (as the mandated power for the area) got no further than supporting the concept of Jerusalem as an international city, where Muslims, Christians and Jews would live as brothers, and even that notion was swept aside by the surge of Zionism and the creation of the modern state of Israel. However, we live in an interconnected, postmodern world in which boundaries are traversed and the Internet allows us to create transnational communities of interest. Interestingly. in 2005, as fears were expressed about polarisation between Islamic and Western civilisations, the then Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and his Spanish counterpart, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, launched the “Alliance of Civilizations”. The initiative was based on the idea that all societies are interdependent, regarding development, security, welfare and environment, and that therefore a common political will should be established in order to overcome prejudice, misperceptions and polarisation. This move was endorsed by the then UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, turning the Alliance into a UN programme, the UNAOC. Progress has not exactly been linear since then, but there are a number of significant efforts to revive the Spirit of Córdoba, and to help it thrive, at the national level, including an independent research and public relations organisation in the UK, the Cordoba Foundation: https://www.thecordobafoundation.com

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Faro (Algarve)

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 5th November, 2018

035A9793-0B17-4A9A-B40A-62102583C97BProbably like many Brits, I have always thought of Faro as an airport: the gateway to Portugal’s Algarve region (or Orpington-on-sea). And as Lisbon and the Estoril coast have been such a magnet for me over the last 20 years or so, I never really thought about coming here. But the serendipity of having to get from Lisbon (for an autumnal long weekend) to a conference in Madrid in a few days time, meant that I thought well, why not have a day in Faro en route? I duly took a coach from Lisbon this morning: a smooth 3-hour ride through ever drier countryside, with many lovely trees, while outside the thermometer rose slowly but surely to 18C. Blue skies in abundance on arrival, and a relaxed lunch of delicious ravioli washed down with red wine in a small, friendly restaurant near the bus station at a modest price I haven’t encountered in the capital for years. (N.B.: Lisbon, having been totally off the tourists’ radar when I first started going there has now, alas, been “discovered” big time, and the locals are not entirely happy, thanks to crowded pavements, rising prices and young people being excluded from renting downtown studios as so many have gone Airbnb).

5D7E1E79-93CF-4C5B-93FD-743AC415910F.jpegSo, back to Faro. Well, it was a good idea to come off-season, when the (predominantly British) holiday-makers have long gone. Sure, there are still some of the European equivalent of “snow geese” (Canadians who flee their harsh winters to enjoy some sun in Florida or Cuba), but wandering around Faro’s Old Town this afternoon, I virtually had the place to myself. To be honest, I had no idea that Faro had an Old Town, let alone a walled one, but it is a little gem, with lots of beautiful buildings, as well as quaint, winding streets and intriguing nooks and crannies. In fact the whole town (ignoring the IKEA suburbs) is full of little architectural glories, from late medieval throughrococo to Modern-Style. So although I only gave myself under 24 hours to enjoy it this time, I suspect I might be tempted back before too long.

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The Spy and the Traitor *****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 3rd November, 2018

76D19536-DA19-40CB-A8F0-5A9F4FED3297When I first started working for the BBC World Service in the early 1980s, the name Oleg Gordievskh resonated round Bush House. He was the senior KGB operative who became disenchanted with the brutal reality of the Soviet Union, as well as of his own organisation, so became a mole for British intelligence. It would be an exaggeration to say that he brought down the old USSR, but he certainly mortally wounded the KGB. Particularly when he was based at the Soviet Embassy in London, he fed his handlers at MI6 a mountain of material about the KGB and its operatives and even briefed Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on how she should behave at the funeral of former KGB Head and Soviet Leader, Yuri Andropov, as well as how to relate to the up-and-coming Mikhail Gorbachev. Gordievsky was such a valuable resource that the British didn’t even fully inform the American CIA about the man who was handing over so much information. But little did they know that within the CIA there was a traitor working for the Russians: Aldrich Ames. Whereas Gordievsky betrayed his country because he felt that it had a rotten system that needed to be overthrown, to become more like the West, Ames was in it purely for the money, earning over four million dollars from the Russians until he was finally rumbled. By then, thanks to Ames’s deductions the Russians had also worked out that Gordievsky was working for the enemy. Back in Moscow, his very life was at risk, but the British had long before worked out a complicated rescue plan to smuggle him out of the country via Finland if ever the need should rise. That is exactly what happened, though he had to leave his wife and children behind, leaving him guilt-ridden for years. The actual escape plan was worthy of a John Le Carre novel, but it is a central thread in Ben Macintyre’s superb book, The Spy and the Traitor, (Penguin Viking, £25). The cover does not lie when it trumpets this as the greatest espionage story of the Cold War and the tremendous amount of research the author has put in, along with an absolute mastery of pace, makes this a stunning achievement, not least as a portrait of a man who was driven by his conscience to betray his fatherland. Highly recommended.

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The London LibDems’ Mayoral Hustings

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 1st November, 2018

Siobhan Benita and Rob BlackieLondon Liberal Democrats took over the NUT headquarters in Camden last night for a hustings with the four short-listed candidates for the Mayoral elections in May 2020, the event chaired by former GLA member, Mike Tuffrey. Like the city itself, the shortlist is gloriously diverse: Siobhan Benita, Rob Blackie, Dinesh Dhamija and Lucy Salek. Several of those names might already resonate beyond the approximately 20,000 London LibDem members. Siobhan was a senior civil servant across a range of government departments and stood as an Independent in the 2012 mayoral election, coming close to the LibDems and Greens; like many in the hall last night, she joined the LibDems because of Brexit. Rob has been active for many years in the Party and works in the field of tech/IT; he made it clear, that Brexit would be at the heart of his campaign. Dinesh is a successful entrepreneur (founding Ebookers, among others) and philanthropist, and a first-generation immigrant. And Lucy has worked mainly in international development and other poverty-related issues; she stood as the LibDem candidate in the Lewisham East by-election in June this year.

Dinesh DhamijaOver a period of two hours, the candidates were put through their paces; after a short speech, each was asked separate written questions from the floor, then there was a panel session where all four were on the podium fielding common questions. These ranged across a wide field, from policing to transport, housing and the environment. I had half made up my mind about who I would vote for, and in which order, because I know all four candidates personally. But the hustings certainly firmed things up for me and I am sure will have been of great use to those less familiar with the individuals. I sent off my electronic ballot paper (for the GLA top-up list members, as well as for the Mayor) when I got home late last night.

You can get a good flavour of it all by watching the video uploaded by my fellow London LibDem Executive member, Alan Muhammed:

Part 1: Candidate statements and  questions: https://www.facebook.com/LondonLibDems/videos/1013778015468784/UzpfSTUwOTE1MjE5OTpWSzoxMDk0NDIxNjEwNzM0OTEy/

Part 2: Panel Q&A: https://www.facebook.com/LondonLibDems/videos/185428402341672/UzpfSTUwOTE1MjE5OTpWSzoxMDk0NjY2NDc3Mzc3MDky/

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Fahrenheit 11/9 ****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 22nd October, 2018

Fahrenheit 11 9Michael Moore has carved out a special place for himself in contemporary US film-making: as an intrusive, progressive Democrat who cares passionately about environmental issues, the abuse of power and the sad state of American society. So no-one is going to go to his new documentary Fahrenheit 11/9 expecting that the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump, is going to be given a smooth ride. The parallels Moore draws between Trump and Adolf Hitler and the way that the American public is being softened up to accept demagoguery and dictatorship, as happened in 1930s Germany, are hardly subtle, yet no less effective for that. Moore rightly likens the Trump tactics of holding mass rallies, whipping up crowd fervour against blacks/Hispanics/lesbians or whichever particular minority he is taking a pot-shot at, or the mainstream media, to those of the Fuehrer. Perhaps the most shocking thing to emerge from the film, for a traditional liberal such as myself, is to realise that far from being stupid (as we liberals tend to think) Trump has been very clever in the way he has reached out to the poor white working class, those who treasure the right to bear arms and self-identifying patriots. He knows how to manipulate and resonate, and hopes to be in there for the long haul.

Trump in Fahrenheit 11 9 The overarching message about how the fuck Trump got there (to quote Moore directly) and where the hell this is all heading, is nonetheless somewhat diluted by two very different sub-stories or plots in the film. One is the awful tale of the predominantly black Michigan town of Flint, whose people were poisoned by a water supply contaminated with lead because of the state governor’s switching of the pipes from the Great Lakes to the filthy local river to win favour from contractors. But even Barack Obama gets a big slap in the face over that, as he flew to Flint, to be greeted like a hero, only to dash local residents’ hopes by drinking a glass of the water to show them it was actually OK. That’s one reason many people in the area did not turn out to vote for Hillary Clinton in November 2016. Sure, she lost because of the antiquated Electoral College system, which meant that Trump won although she had a majority of the popular vote overall. But Ms Clinton also comes over as a poor candidate, badly prepared and in hock to big business, in contrast to Bernie Sanders, who obviously does rock Michael Moore’s boat. So too — indeed, much more so — the youngsters from Florida who reacted to yet another mass school shooting by standing up and speaking out against guns and then, through social media, organising big rallies across the country. When dealing with them, Michael Moore abandons his usual satirical bent, which makes things a little uncomfortable. But towards the end, the movie swings back to Trump and Hitler and the rise of the alt-Right. So there is an awful lot thrown together in this film, which makes it more uneven than some of his earlier work. But there are enough “oh my God” moments, as well as dark humour and the director’s trade-mark sloppy bear act, to make it fairly gripping throughout.

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700,000 March for a People’s Vote

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 21st October, 2018

March for the FutureCentral London was brought to a standstill yesterday when an estimated 700,000 people marched from Park Lane to Parliament Square calling for a “Final Say” on any proposed deal between Britain and the EU — with an option to remain in membership. So many people turned up, from all round the country — far more than even the organisers expected — that there wasn’t room for everyone to fit into Whitehall and Parliament Square. The weather was glorious and the atmosphere festive, despite occasional small groups of Brexiteers heckling from the sidelines. A number of MPs from all parties took part, though one conspicuous absentee was Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, who reportedly ordered his front-bench team not to go. As Mr Corbyn has been a serial protester for decades and this was the biggest demonstration since the anti-Iraq War march 15 years ago the message could not be clearer: the Labour leadership is not listening to the overwhelming majority of the party’s membership who want Britain to remain in the EU.

March for the Future 1Prime Minister Theresa May, meanwhile, is sticking to her line that there won’t be another public vote on Brexit, but as time goes by and she has failed to come up up with a deal, it is quite possible that she won’t be Prime Minister next year. The scheduled date for the UK’s departure from the bloc is 29 March 2019, but there are growing calls for the so-called Article 50 period to be extended or for some other fudge to be agreed that will essentially allow Britain to remain part of the EU’s single market and customs union for a while until a solution to such thorny issues as the land border on the island of Ireland are sorted out. It may well be that some problems just can’t be sorted out and that the numbers of people opposing Brexit will swell further as they realise that they were sold a pup during the 2016 EU Referendum by the false promises of the Leave campaign. Yesterday’s demo was so large that even the BBC had to take notice and some of the foreign TV coverage was spectacular. It’s good that our EU partners and the wider world knows that even if the Conservative government has lost its marbles over Brexit — cheered on by the even more extreme DUP from Northern Ireland — millions of Britons know Brexit is a terrible mistake — and that includes many who voted Leave two years ago.

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