Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Corbyn Has to Go

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 19th September, 2018

Jeremy Corbyn smallOn a personal level, I have always got on well with Jeremy Corbyn. We have sometimes shared platforms, at home and abroad, on issues of mutual concern, such as Kurdish rights and Palestine. On such occasions, his integrity and passion for justice shine through. I haven’t seen him so often since he became Leader of the Labour Party; in fact, I believe the last time was a glimpse of him within a huddle of admirers at (Lord) Eric Avebury’s memorial event. But of course I have been following what he has been doing. And not doing. Especially in respect to Brexit. Jeremy always had grave misgivings about the European Union, as a “capitalist club” which supposedly did not have the interests of the workers at heart. But one would have hoped that with the evidence about the economic and social benefits that Britain has enjoyed during the 45 years of its EEC/EU membership, he would have appreciated the fact that it is better to be in than be out. In principle, he backed Remain in the 2016 EU Referendum, but so sotto voce as to be almost inaudible. And despite the cross-party clamour for a People’s Vote on the Conservative government’s EU deal (always assuming it reaches one), he has basically sat on the fence about the whole issue. Indeed, that is putting it kindly, as in fact both his legs are dangling over the side of No New Vote and Leave.

Labour Party Conference 2018Meanwhile, despite the fact that the May government is probably the most incompetent in recent political history, with Brexit clearly going disastrously wrong, the Conservatives have been ahead of Labour in several recent opinion polls. This is not because voters believe Theresa May is doing brilliantly; on the contrary, her approval rating is dire. But Jeremy Corbyn’s is even worse, when people are asked who they would like to see as Prime Minister. Jeremy does of course have a huge fan club, not least the Momentum movement, which helped the Labour Party to surge to an astonishing 600,000+ members — more than all the other political parties put together. But Momentum does not speak for all Labour voters, let alone for the public at large. Moreover, the plain truth is that a very significant proportion of the British electorate do not see Corbyn as a credible leader to steer Britain through the approaching choppy waters. He could, of course, redeem himself at the forthcoming Labour conference in Liverpool by coming out in favour of a People’s Vote on the Brexit deal, as many of his MPs and indeed labour Party members want. But if he doesn’t, then I think most people (and certainly informed political commentators) will come away with the view that Labour is not ready for power, unless and until Jeremy Corbyn goes.

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LibDems and the Creative Industries

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 16th September, 2018

Nik PowellThe LibDem Creative Network held an excellent event on the fringes of the Brighton autumn party conference last night, in an upstairs room at the Bar Broadway in Kemptown. There were two great speeches by producer Nik Powell, former Director of the National Film and Television School, and drummer Bob Henrit, who used to play with The Kinks. They both underlined what a disaster Brexit will be for the sector if it means a return to the bad old days of intrusive customs searches, carnets for instruments and other red tape. The creative industries contribute well over £70billion each year to the UK economy and the sector is growing faster than most others. But all that could be brought to a shuddering stop, before going into reverse, if there isn’t the free flow of actors, musicians and other artists between Britain and the Continent. No wonder there was such a sea of blue-and-yellow EU flags and 12-Star berets at the Last night of the Proms. To undermine the sector really would kill the goose that has been laying the golden eggs as well as enriching our cultural lives.

Bob KinksI reprised the theme in a speech I gave in the Britain and the World debate in the main auditorium at conference this afternoon, calling for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to be actively involved in Britain’s “soft power” through cultural diplomacy, and to report regularly to Parliament about the international aspects of our creative industries. It’s not just institutions such as the British Council and the BBC World Service that are important, but the hundreds of thousands of individual creators who make an enormous contribution. I recalled the wonderful spirit that there had been at the time of the London Olympics in 2012, while lamenting how that has evaporated in the two years since the EU Referendum. But as the clamour for a People’s Vote on whatever “deal” the Government comes up with grows, we must be hopeful that a cliff edge can be avoided. Remaining in the Single Market and Customs Union would certainly facilitate matters, but if we are going to do that, then we might as well stay in the EU, full stop.

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Cold War *****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 13th September, 2018

Cold WarWhen the Communists took over power in Poland after the Second War — marginalising the government-in-exile in London — the country had to adjust to new frontiers, a more homogenous population following the expulsion of minorities and the gradual imposition of a new political order to fit in with the dictates of Joseph Stalin in Moscow. The febrile period of the late 1940s provides the setting for the opening scenes of Pawel Pawlikowski’s melodrama, Cold War, in which we see a handsome pianist and musical director, Wiktor (Tomasz Kot), fall under the spell of a fiery blonde singer/dancer, Zula (Joanna Kulig), who is part of a troupe training in the echoing halls of an abandoned stately home. They are both free spirits and as romance stumbles along its rocky path, they find their lives and art increasingly circumscribed by the demands of philistine bureaucrats. A trip to perform in East Berlin in the early 1950s enables Wiktor to escape by walking out of the Russian zone into the West, but Zula is too insecure to accompany him. He moves to Paris, where he plays in nightclubs, unable to get her out of his mind despite other relationships. Fate throws them together later, both in France and Yugoslavia, and such is Zula’s fascination that the defector Wiktor determines to follow her back to Poland, with dire consequences. In less capable hands, this story could be a romantic tear-jerker, but Pawlikowski’s handling of both image and mood is magisterial. Shot in black-and-white, Cold War beautifully captures the atmosphere of the times. Polishness and the country’s folk culture are part and parcel of the narrative, intertwined with the political trope and the passion of fatal attraction. There are odd flashes of humour, but as the story unfurls it is clear that things are going to end badly. Logically, there is only one way the two lovers can resolve their dilemma, as what has become the prison of the system in which they now have to live becomes unbearable. By this stage most viewers will have taken both Wiktor and Zula to their hearts. Shakespearean in its intensity, Cold War is without doubt a masterpiece and visually stunning.

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If All the World Could Sing

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 12th September, 2018

divrse choirUnder the dynamic leadership of Merlene Emerson from Singapore, the World Traders livery company in London has its heart set on entering the Guinness Book of Records by bringing together the most diverse (by nationality) group of singers ever for an event on 8 October. The current record is 72, but the organisers are hoping for 101, at least, to render I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing: Imagine. The venue is the Goodenough College near Russell Square http://www.goodenough.ac.uk/ and there will be a (free) reception afterwards. Singers should bring their passports, to verify their nationality. At the moment the line-up is particularly short of participants from Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa, but as every nation on earth has residents in London, they shouldn’t be so difficult to muster, surely?

Volunteers need to register via: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/world-traders-and-goodenough-college-guinness-world-record-challenge-tickets-44981245115

Stand up, sing up and be happy!

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The Miseducution of Cameron Post *****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 9th September, 2018

The Miseducation of Cameron Post largeWhen high school student Cameron Post is caught making out with another girl in the back seat of a car by her boyfriend, she is sent off to an evangelical Christian camp in up-state New York to be “cured” of Same Sex Attraction (SSA). The year is 1993, and there is a motley crew of both girls and boys who have been tempted by Satan to love their own kind. The institution — very much like an upmarket summer camp, with extensive sports facilities — is run by a glacially-smiling Doctor Lydia Marsh (chillingly played by Jennifer Ehle) with the help of her gentle, guitar-playing, moustached brother, who has himself been “saved” from being gay. The institution uses none of the nasty gay aversion therapy such as electric shocks, which were still an option at the time, but there is nonetheless an undertone of menace as the inmates — all in neat blue uniforms — are shamed into hating their sexuality and cajoled into loving God and letting him help them become “normal”. Cameron soon discovers that the best way to survive in such an environment is just to play along, but she is saved from going crazy by bonding with a small but diverse group of others who rebel against the system. This all might sound rather heavy, and there are a few shocks along the way, but the film also has brilliant flashes of humour, some resulting from the absurdity of the saccharine environment and the religious language used by the conversion therapists. But director Desirée Askhavan avoids turning the story into a farce by spectacular pacing, long drawn-out shots and challenging camera angles, really building up the dramatic tension. The main focus throughout is Cameron Post, so sensitively played by Chloe Grace Moretz that one can almost read her thoughts from her facial expressions. It is a stunning performance that makes this film one of the most important of this year. The subject matter, too, given the way it is handled, awards it added significance. How much the movie-loving Cameron Post would have benefited if there had been such a film as this around 25 years ago!

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The LibDems’ Anti-Brexit Weekend

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 8th September, 2018

Hampstead LibDems Brexit stallAcross Britain, Liberal Democrats have been out and about campaigning against Brexit this weekend — and the mood everywhere seems to be that people don’t like the way things are going. Theresa May’s Chequers plan is in tatters, yet the arch-Brexiteers among the Tories have failed to come up with an alternative of their own. Labour, meanwhile, is still stuck on the fence, apparently with superglue, but the chorus from Labour members calling for the party to back a People’s Vote when a deal is proposed later this year is now getting so loud that it is hard to imagine that it will not dominate the Labour autumn conference, with prominent moderates such as Chuka Umunna and Ben Bradshaw leading the charge. There is even a growing band of Conservative ex-Ministers now putting their heads above the parapet to call for a referendum too. The Liberal Democrats will go into our own Brighton conference next weekend knowing that apart from a tiny minority, party members are overwhelmingly in favour of an Exit from Brexit, which has indeed become something of Vince Cable’s signature policy. But what I found interesting, helping man a stall on Hampstead High Street this morning, is how passionately many ordinary voters are starting to feel about the matter, including previous Leavers who would now vote Remain. This is quite different from the mood only a couple of months ago, when there was a widespread feeling of “oh, just get on with it!” But as the realities become ever clearer and people understand just how painful disentangling Britain from more than four decades of economic integration with the continent is going to be, there is a new sense of urgency to halt things while it is still possible. Mrs May has of course stated that there will be no second referendum, but she may find if she is not careful that unless she softens her line on that, Parliament will give her such a bloody nose that her rule comes to an abrupt end. Boris Johnson is of course chomping at the bit in the wings, just waiting for Mrs May to be overthrown, but he may instead find himself in the political wilderness if sensible people from all of the parties (except perhaps the DUP) come together to Stop Brexit by campaigning for a People’s Vote with the option to Remain.

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Mes Amigo

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 8th September, 2018

E6CE0DA0-89A7-4418-8025-11B68AB3B23BLast night I was at Drummonds, the royal bank in Charing Cross, for the launch of this year’s Mes Amigo or Amigo Month – London. Over the next five weeks there will be a cornucopia of cultural, religious and diplomatic events relating to the countries of Latin America, Spain, Portugal and lusophone Africa. Together, Spanish and Portuguese speakers make up what is probably the largest Diaspora community in the United Kingdom and several London districts have a particular Latin flavour, such as Vauxhall’s Litttle Portugal and the Colombian community of the Elephant and Castle. Matthew Ryder, Deputy Mayor of London for Social Cohesion, Social Mobility and Community Engagement, was one of the speakers at last night’s event, which also featured salsa dancers from Cali, contemporary dance and a Mexican group. Over the past decade, thanks to the tireless efforts of Peruvian journalist Isaac Bigio and a small team of associates, the Mes Amigo has grown into a significant operation. Most of the relevant countries have their national days during the five weeks of the “month” — it was Brazil;s yesterday — and numerous churches and social groups will be celebrating too. The organisers also keep an eye on more political issues, such as a campaign to protect a group of Latin American small businesses in North London threatened by redevelopment and the regularisation of the situation of undocumented immigrants. At election time there are always hustings for the community in which I have sometimes taken part.

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Boris Johnson: Trump or Chump

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 7th September, 2018

Boris Johnson scowlThe Daily Mail and the Sun today are both headlining a story that former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has been thrown out of the family home by his wife because of yet another alleged extramarital affair. It’s hard to feel sorry for him, however, as he has behaved like a cad in this and other matters. Besides, he earns so much from his cringe-worthy column in the Daily Telegraph that he can afford to stay in a smart hotel near Parliament while it is sitting. Or indeed buy a house in his constituency, Uxbridge; I can imagine his nose wrinkling at that thought. But of course peccadilloes are not the real reason Boris should be in the dog-house. It’s his political dishonesty and overblown ego that grate. Even some of his senior fellow Conservatives have started to call him a charlatan. It is well known that in the run-up to the 2016 EU Referendum he couldn’t decide whether to back Leave or Remain, eventually opting for Leave because he thought that way he would win the backing of genuine Brexiteers in his party. And having done so, he became their cheerleader.This was clearly all part of his plan to become Prime Minister. Theresa May bought him off by making him Foreign Secretary, rather than sacking him — inflicting harm on Britain’s reputation abroad in the process — but one has to feel a little sorry for Mrs May, as she knows that Boris would metaphorically slip a plastic bag over her head when he feels the time is ripe. Moreover, opinion polls suggest that Boris would be Conservative voters’ preferred candidate as a replacement Leader, which is a pretty damning indictment of the quality of other Tory Ministers. And Boris does reach parts of the electorate that other Tories don’t; I’ve lost count of the number of young black Londoners who have told me they think Boris is great — a laugh. But Boris is much more than a comedian with a handy way with words. He sees himself as an English Trump, which at this delicate stage in Britain’s political evolution is the last thing the country needs. I rather doubt that sufficient Conservative MPs would give him their backing to make a leadership bid viable, anyway, as they realise Boris is more chump than Trump. And they have no wish for Britain to become even more of an international laughing stock than it is already, thanks to Brexit.

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Brexit Is Destroying the UK

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 4th September, 2018

9F5643AB-A044-4E79-BF70-920A16E1D475With only a little over six months to go before Britain is due to leave the EU it is becoming increasingly obvious that Brexit will not only weaken the country severely (both economically and politically) but also may break up the United Kingdom. Recent opinion polls suggest that over half the population of Northern Ireland would be in favour of a United Ireland if Brexit goes ahead, especially if a “hard border” is likely between Northern Ireland the Republic, while in Scotland support for independence in the event of Brexit is similarly rising. So there is a real risk that if the Brexiteers get their way, the country will shrink to just England and Wales, with seriously diminished international clout.

43919D28-617B-4946-AC96-7BB88F4CD9F5But these are not the only reasons to be dismayed at the way things are going. The aftermath of the 2016 EU Referendum has been a devaluation of the body politic in Britain, a coarsening of its discourse and the ascendancy of intolerant nationalism and xenophobia. The Prime Minister, Theresa May, is held hostage by a sizeable group of quite nasty arch-Brexiteers within the Conservative Party who have adopted wholesale the agenda and language of UKIP (the United Kingdom Independence Party).  Boris Johnson did immense damage to Britain’s reputation abroad when he was Foreign Secretary, and he is now reeking havoc domestically, grotesquely subsidised by the Daily Telegraph, which pays him thousands of pounds for each article he writes in his shameless campaign of self promotion.

No wonder our 27 EU partners think we have gone mad. But all is not yet lost. Opinion polls suggest that there is now a majority in favour of remaining in the EU, a trend which will accelerate as more teenagers get on the electoral register. Mrs May insists there will be no new vote on Brexit — and she would probably have to resign if the Government or Parliament decided otherwise — but the clamour for what has been rightly dubbed a People’s Vote on whatever deal is agreed later this year (assuming one can be) is growing. MPs from all parties need to rally round to support this, and Jeremy Corbyn needs to put his traditional distrust of the EU to one side, get off the fence and throw the Labour Party behind the People’s Vote and a campaign to remain in the EU. It’s what most Labour voters want and it is what the United Kingdom needs, before it is too late. And if you haven’t put 20 October in your diary yet, please do so, as we need to get at least a million people onto the streets that day to March for the Future and Stop Brexit!

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Anjouan, Comoros

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 3rd September, 2018

BC56FAF2-CE6D-471D-BD09-723AEB789992Though more heavily populated than Moheli, Anjouan is the most attractive of the three main islands that make up the Union of the Comoros. The capital, Mutsamudu, has a number of characterful buildings with screened first floor balconies and there is quite a long seafront road that is interesting to explore (if one can ignore the rubbish-strewn beach; garbage disposal is a huge problem throughout the islands). There are a number of glorious sandy beaches — most golden, but some volcanic black — in other parts of Anjouan, and on Sundays many young local guys head off on their motorcycles, with bouquets of flowers on the front and their girlfriend on the back, to Moya, where there are a number of cheap, basic hotels and lodges, as well as plenty of crayfish, shrimps and octopus — the latter a Comorian speciality, often cooked in coconut milk. One rather weird but popular attraction nearby is the island’s only road tunnel, which is not very long but which is a favourite spot for people to hang out.

874A30F4-1DE4-45AD-8A26-2658D9F6D994I didn’t get to see the nature reserve round Lake Dzialandze, nearly 1600 metres up on Mount Ntrigui, but those who have the time and stamina to make the long trek and climb to get there can see lemurs and other wildlife in abundance. At lower altitudes it’s mainly lizards, birds and bats (some huge) which cross one’s eye-line. A lot of the island is mountainous and although some of the forest cover has been removed as a result of human activity, this is nothing like on the same scale as in nearby Madagascar. The main crops are cloves and ylang ylang, which is the base of many perfumes produced by Chanel among others. In colonial times, owning plantations could be a risky venture, as the British Consul, William Sunley, discovered. His abandoned plantation house is atmospherically extant, but empty, and would make a wonderful boutique hotel with the right degree of investment and improved local infrastructure. As it is, the large, blackened swimming pool sits as an eerie memento of a leisured mid-19th century existence built on the backs of slave labour.

 

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