Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for October, 2007

Chris Huhne’s Anti-Establishment Edge

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 31st October, 2007

Chris Huhne called for a Liberal Revolution when he launched his leadership manifesto in Westminster earlier today, stressing that he is promising a radical as well as a green platform. He urged party members to be bold, and said that Britain needs a party that will breathe trust and faith back into the political process by speaking honestly about the challenges we face. His manifesto declares, ‘The task of Liberal Democrats is to revive our anti-establishment edge, and remember that we are the party that wants to change the system, not just change the people on the back seat of the ministerial limousine.’

At the same time, he underlined the professional experience he has had, not jut in politics (as both an MEP and now MP for Eastleigh), but also in journalism and the City. He set up and ran a successful consultancy business dealing with risk analysis in emerging economies. He is committed to PR — though oddly he did not emphaisze that in his short presentation (compered by the feisty MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, Lynne Featherstone). But I wonder what hostage to fortune he may bring with his idea of enabling the British electorate to obtain a referendum on a matter of concern, if 2.5% of them sign up for it?

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Why I Stood up Martha Kearney

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 30th October, 2007

I had really been looking forward to attending the Philip Geddes Memorial Lecture in Oxford this afternoon, as Martha Kearney — presenter of BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World at One’ — would be speaking on ‘Radio: Medium of the Moment’. Especially as there would be a reception heavy with fellow journos in the Examination Schools afterwards, followed by dinner at my old college, St. Edmund Hall. But just as I was leaving SOAS for the Oxford Tube, the phone went, asking me to take part in a one-hour live television programme on Press TV, regarding King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia’s state visit to Britain. The programme’s anchor was in Tehran, but the three pundits, including yours truly, were in Beirut, London and Washington.

Vince Cable, Acting Leader of the Liberal Democrats, has boycotted proceedings relating to the visit, on the grounds that this is not the time to be cosying up to Riyadh, given the New Labour cover-up over the alleged Al Yamamah arms deal ‘commissions’ and ongoing human rights abuses in the desert Kingdom — a line echoed by my friend and colleague Joan Smith in tonight’s ‘Evening Standard’. However, I was glad of the opportunity to give an overview of reactions to the visit in London, from Ken Livingstone’s predictably intemperate condemnation to the government’s rather embarrassed formal welcome. The Saudis must be furious at some of the negative press coverage that has been generated, but objectively speaking, it is a good thing that the spot-light has been turned on one of the most closed societies in the world, which nonetheless does have huge influence in the region and could, in the right circumstances, be a force for promoting peace in Israel/Palestine, for all of its self-evident shortcomings.  

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Europe and Islam

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 30th October, 2007

Hammersmith and Fulham LibDems held a hustings with a difference last night, at Henrietta Bewley’s house in Ravenscourt Park. During the European part of the evening, the Euro-hopefuls — or rather, the five of us who were actually there — each spoke for five minutes on a related subject of our choice. I opted for ‘Europe and Islam’, as I believe this will be — and should be — a major focus of my attention if I do succeed in being elected to the European Parliament this time. MEPs have far greater freedom to choose specific areas of interest than backbench MPs in the Westminister parliament, so I would be able to make that aspiration reality.

In my mini-speech, I highlighted three particular aspects of the question. First, there is the Euro-Med dialogue — the so-called Barcelona Process — which links the EU to predominantly Muslim neighbours in North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean. We need to work together in closer partnership in a way that balances Europe’s needs with those of a region full of young, unemployed and frustrated young people. Second, there is Turkey’s future membership of the EU, of which I am a firm supporter, when the time is ripe. The prospect of EU membership has already encouraged major social as well as economic reforms in Turkey, and Ankara should be chivied to go further. At the same time, we should recognise that a vibrant, economically growing Turkey can be a useful member of the European family.

Finally, there is the issue of Muslims within our own societies: in Britain, and in the EU as a whole. Living in Tower Hamlets, and working in journalistic and academic fields that bring me into contact with Muslims on a daily basis, I am acutely aware of the need to make Europe relevant to the continent’s Muslim citizens, and to overcome the divide that various groups in different ethnic and religious communities have been trying to create or exacerbate between Muslims and Christians or Jews, rather than working together for ‘unity in diversity’.

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Islington Lunch with the Chain-gang

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 28th October, 2007

barbara-smith.jpgLondon Mayors (plus the Speaker of Hackney) were out in force at the Ristorante San Daniele del Friuli in Highbury this afternoon, for the Islington Mayor’s Charity Lunch, in aid of Sadler’s Wells Connect. Arsenal was playing an away match with Liverpool, which was as well, as the Gunners’ bigwigs tend to take over the restaurant on match days. Instead, we had the whole place to ourselves, and the restaurateur did us proud. There were no formal speeches as such, but the Mayor, Councillor Barbara Smith, briefly introduced the work of Connect, which is responsible for all of the company’s education, access and community work. In such endeavours, it maintains the commitment of the late Lilian Baylis, who believed that the Arts should be accessible to everyone. The majority of the money that Barbara will raise during her mayoral year will go to Connect’s work with Islington’s schools, many of whose pupls would never have the chance to dance themselves or to see a dance performance without Connect.


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‘Lloyd George Knew Me’, Says Tony Benn

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 25th October, 2007

david_lloyd_george.jpgThere was a delicious encounter on ‘Newsnight’ last night between Tony Benn, veteran political diarist and tea-swilling socialist, and Chris Huhne, interestingly described by BBC presenter Kirsty Wark as a Liberal Prime Ministerial hopeful. I could tell that the programme’s organisers had hoped to get Viscount Stansgate (as he was when I first met him) to decry the fact that a statue to the Welsh Wizard had been unveiled by Prince Charles earlier in the day, despite the fact that TB had met Lloyd George as a boy. His reposte was suitably de haut en bas: if General Smuts was there, why not DLG? All a monument to British imperialism. But as Chris rightly pointed out, Lloyd George, for all his foibles great and small,  was fundamental to the adoption of socially just welfare policies in this country. Yes, he was a naughty boy, but hey, nobody’s perfect.

I was feeling indulgent towards the Notting Hill leftist tendency as well, not just because I had spent the earlier part of the evening at a Kensington & Chelsea LibDem quiz night in a church hall off Notting Hill, but also because I cherish both Tony Benn and Harold Pinter as national — nay, international — monuments, whom I always enjoy bumping into at social, literary and political events, even when I disagree with them. And there are occasions, on such issues as due respect for human rights, protesting the persecution of writers, and denouncing unjust wars, when the vociferous Left and principled Liberal Democrats can and should stand shoulder to shoulder — otherwise the Notting Hill Cameroons and their dreadful New Labour cohorts will rule the roost for ever and a day.

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Paella with Porter

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 24th October, 2007

henry-porter-1.jpgOver the past decade, the Labour government has encroached upon individual liberties in this country, while parliament and much of the public have seemingly been asleep. That was the stark message from the ‘Observer’ columnist and novelist Henry Porter, who was the guest speaker at the Westminster LibDems’ Paella and Politics in Bayswater last night. For month after month, Henry has quite rightly been banging on about issues such as the surveillance society and the government’s attempts to curb our rights to peaceful protest and to extend the period for which people can be held without trial. As anyone in a Focus Team knows, one has to repeat a message many times before it sinks in.

Interestingly, Henry has just written a new novel, called Brandenburg, which looks at life in Germany as the Berlin Wall came down. It was only then that many people in the former DDR realised just how many others were spying on them for the Stasi, sometimes including members of their own family. These days, of course, governments don’t need vast rooms full of neat box files; the data storage is done electronically. And it is truly alarming just how much data is being stored about us all in Britain, and how many public agencies of various kinds can have access to it. Henry Porter is not a party political animal, but he champions ideas which I am pleased to note both declared LibDem leadership candidates espouse — and which I hope will be at the forefront of the party’s policies, whover wins that forthcoming contest.


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A Lord Does Come in Useful

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 23rd October, 2007

john-lee.jpgDinner last night was at a South Twickenham LibDem event in a bijou bistro housed in a converted public convenience on Twickenham Green. Not at all what you might imagine. It’s a discreetly chic place, with good food and friendly service, and the place was full of local LibDem diners (plus me and Brian Paddick), and a somewhat bemused young couple who had come in to celebrate the male partner’s birthday and stayed right through the speech and questions and answers. They were justly rewarded by winning a raffle prize.

The speaker was  meant to be Nick Harvey, MP, LibDem Defence spokesman in the House of Commons. But he was stymied by a three-line whip, so was replaced at very short notice by his newly appointed counterpart in the House of Lords. John Lee. Lord Lee was a (Conservative) junior defence Minister shortly after the Falklands War, but left the Tories largely because of their anti-European stance. So it was hardly surprising that he favours a stronger and more coherent European common defence and security policy (as did, from a somewhat more radical perspective, his late, lamented predecessor, Tim Garden). There was plenty of food for thought during the evening and a trio of quite good jokes. Whatever would we do without Lords to step into the breach?

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Dinner without Simon Hughes

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 22nd October, 2007

Simon Hughes was the scheduled speaker at the Dinner Debate hosted by Hampstead Liberal Democrats last night, but he had to phone in his apologies as the trains from Birmingham, where he had been visiting his ailing mother, were cancelled. I can imagine his frustration at this perfectly legitimate impediment, but there were inevitably smiles, as his habitual lateness (or non-arrival) is legendary. In that sense, he is the Shirley Williams de nos jours. In Simon’s case, the tardiness is often the result of taking on too much, of finding it difficult to say ‘no’, and of getting so enthusiastically involved in whatever he is doing — or in some problem that a constituent has suddenly raised — that he gets stuck where he is and does not manage to move on to the next engagement in time. As someone who has worked a lot in radio, where one has to be to the second, let alone the hour, I tend to be almost obsessively punctual, but I’m intrigued that those for whom time is considerably more elastic get viewed not just with exasperation but also with affection. Anyway, in Simon’s absence, four of us led a free-ranging session on the state of the party, as well as the leadership, London mayoral and European elections, and as the cliché goes, a good time was had by all.

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From Barking to Barnes and a Battersea Barn Dance

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 21st October, 2007

Yesterday I was in full campaign mode, thankful that the London weather is unseasonably mild and sunny. In the morning, I was out delivering residents’ surveys in Eastbury ward in Barking and Dagenham, which the LibDems used to hold, before the recent local surge of the BNP — a situation  London region is keen to reverse. Then to Barnes in Richmond, out and about meeting party members and admiring people’s gardens. On to Greenwich, where Councillor Harry Potter (sic) hosted a delightful ‘Meet the Candidates’ event, though only three of us ten Euro-hopefuls had showed up by the time I had to move on for the grand finale: the Battersea and Tooting party’s barn dance (actually held in Clapham).  On such an occasion, one becomes a child again, getting hopelessly tied up in knots and tangles, as couples prance in lines and make figures of eight under the eyes of an indulgent caller. I hobbled home through crowds of partying South Africans, once more marvelling at London’s extraordinary diversity, and musing that after Barking and Barnes and a barn dance, all that had been missing was a bar mitzvah in Barnet for a perfectly alliterative campaigning day.  

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Knickers to the Generals!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 20th October, 2007

burma-monks-protest.jpgEver since South Vietnamese monks set themselves alight in the streets of Saigon in the 1960s, in protest at their oppressive government and the Vietnam War, I’ve been impressed by the ways that the superficially powerless make their message heard in the face of totalitarianism. Four decades later, I’m astounded at the ongoing ingenuity of some non-violent action. The latest is the campaign by Lanna Action for Burma, encouraging women around the world to send their underwear — clean or dirty — to the generals in charge of the particularly nasty regime in power in Burma, which has recently cracked down hard on pro-democracy campaigners, including monks.

As Jackie Pollack, of Lanna Action, explains, the generals are not only brutal but also superstitious. ‘They believe that touching a woman’s pants or sarong will make them lose their strength… The junta is famous for its abuse of women : it is well documented that they use rape as a weapon of war against ethnic minorities. This is a way for women around the world to express their outrage.’

So, come on ladies! Post, deliver or hurl your knickers at your nearest Burmese Embassy, or send them to Chairman of the junta, Than Shwe, in Yangon, Myanmar.  


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