Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for January 25th, 2008

Down Portobello Road

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 25th January, 2008

Brian Paddick led a walkabout along Kensington’s Portobello Road this afternoon, with a party of local activists, the GLA candidate for London West Central, Merlene Toh Emerson, and the three top London Euro-candidates: Sarah Ludford, myself and Dinti Wakefield. It was interesting to see how passionately so many of the market stallholders there feel about the western extension of the congestion charge, which Brian has pledged to scrap if he’s elected. We also did a photo-stop at Woolworth’s, which has become an iconic element in the Colville ward LibDems’ campaigning.

We ended up at the London Lighthouse, off Ladbrooke Grove. It’s several years since I’d been there, when I did a reading along with Francis King. At that time, HIV/AIDS was still a death sentence for many in this country, but mercifully that is no longer the case — although it still is in too much of the rest of the world. We were shown into the sheltered garden, where a lemon tree is in full fruit (maybe global warming has some advantages!), and we looked at the swing seat where Princess Di used to perch when she wandered in to see how things were going. Brian Paddick is a longstanding supporter of both the London Lighthouse and the Terrence Higgins Trust, so not surprisingly, we got a warm welcome.


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Ann Widdecombe at the NLC

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 25th January, 2008

ann-widdicombe.jpgThe Gladstone Club took the adventurous decision to have the Rt Hon Ann Widdecombe, MP — aka Doris Karloff  (pace the Daily Mirror)– as guest speaker at its annual dinner at the National Liberal Club last night. The place was pretty packed, as we had all come along hoping to be challenged, and duly were. Her chosen theme was Freedom of Speech, though that did not stop her ranging over a whole spectrum of issues and anecdotes, some funny, most feisty, and some downright disturbing (well, for a true Liberal, anyway).

I was struck by what seemed to me to be a basic inconsistency in her argument. She defended the right of the Oxford Union to host a debate at which Nick Griffin and David Irving spoke, even if what they said might be offensive to Jews, Muslims, immigrants or whoever — a position I can intellectually sympathise with. But she then said it was perfectly all right for printers to refuse to print flyers announcing a Gay Rights march. To me that sounded like giving bigots a free rein to attack groups they disapprove of, but not to allow people to promote their rghts. This inconsistency she justified, when questioned, on the grounds of individual conscience.

Now, I can understand why someone might have a conscientious objection to carrying out an abortion, or doing active service in the army. But I do not see that the right to be prejudiced against particular sections of our diverse society should somehow be sacrosanct. Fifty years ago, one could sometimes see in the windows of lodgings ‘No Blacks or Irish’. That today is, quite rightly, illegal. Recent legislation relating to the equal provision of services irrespective of sexual orientation has remedied a glaring lacuna in the law. It was good to have the opportunity to hear Ms Widdicombe outline her views. But even better to have the opportunity to tell her why I think she is wrong.  

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