Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for September, 2008

Salford, Give Aung San Suu Kyi Her Freedom!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 30th September, 2008

  I spent the first 17 years of my life in Salford (though I was born in the Manchester Royal Infirmary, on the Protestant side of the River Irwell). I remember the council knocking down the magnificent Victorian mansions of ‘Millionaires Row’ and the tram lines being ripped up. The city’s only claim to fame at the time was ‘Coronation Street’; as a schoolboy in short trousers, I got a hair-netted Violet Carson’s autograph when I visited the Granada filming lot. These days, of course, it has all gone terribly up-market, what with the Lowry Museum and the BBC.

Now, thanks to Unison, the trade union, a new spotlight has fallen on Salford, as the debate rages as to whether the Freedom of the City should be given to the Burmese democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi — who has been under house arrest in Rangoon for yonks — or the Manchester United left-winger and occasional forward, Ryan Giggs. Well, I was almost brought up with a red scraf round my neck, but I hope Ryan Giggs is enough of a gentleman to recognise that Suu Kyi deserves it more than he does. Some people will complain that she has no real link to Salford, but then neither did Nelson Mandela, who was previously made a Freeman.

Aung San Suu Kyi has received numerous awards for her brave and dignifed struggle in opposition to Burma’s hideous junta. These include the Nobel Peace Prize, the Sakharov prize and Liberal International’s Prize for Freedom (which I was pleased to see acknowledged in today’s ‘Guardian’). But as a Salford lad, albeit now a London immigrant, I would be thrilled if the city gave her its plaudits as well. I’ll even be writing to the MP for my own home seat (Eccles) about it, none other than Labour’s Red Squirrel, Hazel Blears.

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Options for Influence

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 29th September, 2008

‘Soft power’ and ‘public diplomacy’ have become buzzwords in both international affairs and domestic politics as countries and political parties hone their image and message. So the appearance of a new short book on the theme, Options for Influence (Counterpoint, £11.95), is timely. As the joint authors, Ali Fisher and Aurélie Brockerhoff note, ‘the aim of public diplomacy is not just changing people’s perceptions, but rather influencing the way people act.’

We see that at its clumsiest sometimes in the hands of the Bush administration in Washington. The European Union and the United Kingdom as an individual country like to think that they are more subtle and more adept at soft power. But anyone in the business — including politicians — could usefully study this book, which proclaims itself to be an introduction to the field of exerting influence through overt international communications. The content specially focuses on the British Council and the BBC World Service, but there are interesting examples discussed of other bodies such as NATO and the Chinese Confucian Institutes.

R.S. Zaharna, Associate Professor of Public Communication at Georgetown University in Washington, has correctly noted that networking has replaced information dominance as the new model of pesuasion in the global communication era. This little study takes on board such changes and wise political parties are doing so as well.


Links: and

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Iftar in Brick Lane

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 28th September, 2008

 Last night I joined Simon Hughes and the new Liberal Democrat PPC for Bethnal Green and Bow, Ajmal Masroor, to break the Ramadan fast with an iftar meal with Tower Hamlets local party stalwarts and some leading members of the Banglatown community in one of the biggest restaurants in Brick Lane. The place was heaving, and as ever during Ramadan there was a joyful atmosphere of friendship and community, as well as the physical relief for devout Muslims present of eating and drinking after a day of abstinence.

Ajmal is unusual in several ways, in being both an imam — though you wouldn’t know by looking at him! — and a presenter on the popular Bengali language TV station, Channel S. He’s young, articulate and full of energy — just what Bethnal Green and Bow LibDems need to revitalise the party locally and put it back where it used to be as the only credible alternative to Labour.

The constituency will be closely watched by the national media when the general election comes round, as it is currently held by ‘Gorgeous’ George Galloway of Respect, but since 2005, Respect has split in two and George is leaving Bethnal Green and Bow and is going to try for the adjoining seat of Poplar and Limehouse, where I live. The only thing I welcome about Galloway bringing his inflated ego to my home patch is the opportunity it will give me and my neighbours to blow a giant raspberry at him through the ballot box.


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Mongolia and the Ninth Millennium Development Goal

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 27th September, 2008

World leaders have been in New York this week, discussing progress in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The sad fact is that there is no way that many poor countries are going to reach their targets by 2015. Moreover, with a few notable exceptions, including Britain I’m pleased to say, rich countries have failed to live up to the promises they made at the 2005 Gleneagles G8 Summit. The MDGs, for those who need reminding, are, in brief, (1) ending poverty and hunger, (2) universal education, (3) gender equality, (4) child health, (5) maternal health, (6) combatting HIV/AIDS, (7) environmental sustainability and (8) global partnership.

Last night, at a reception and seminar at the Universal Peace Federation in London, I learnt that Mongolia, intriguingly, has unilaterally added a ninth MDG to its programme: strengthening human rights and fostering democratic governance. Speakers including the Mongolian Ambassador, Bulgaa Altangerel, John Grogan MP (Chair of the All-Party parlianmentary group on Mongolia) and Dr Nancy Rokola, formerly Visiting Professor for Biomedical Ethics at the Health Services University of Mongolia, outlined some of the extraordinary advances this previously Communist Soviet satellite state has made over the past decade. The capital Ulan Baatur hosted a huge peace festival earlier this month, about which we were shown a short video. And the government is busy promoting Ghengis Khan not as the bloodthirsty vandal he has been seen in the West but as the founder of stable government and administration. As Mongolia is one of only three Asian countries I have never visited (the others being North Korea and East Timor), I’m now itching to see for myself the reality behind the hype!

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Aaaaghhh! Sarah Palin Has Sent Me an Email!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 26th September, 2008

Over the past couple of years I have had a steady stream of emails from US Democrat worthies, including Barack Obama, Jo Biden and Howard Dean, but that’s not particularly surprising as I actually signed up to receive regular postings from their party. But this morning, out of the blue (or maybe I should say ‘out of the red’) came an email from the Repubican Vice Presidential candidate, Sarah Palin. ‘Dear Jonathan,’ she says, ‘when we are able to get our message past the liberal mainstream media filter — directly to the voters — the vast majority of the American people agree with our confident, optimistic view of principled, conservative government and opportunity for all.’

I’m not quite sure how that rosy Republican vision fits in with George W Bush’s dire warnings yesterday about the US financial crisis threatening to bring down the economy of the Western world, or John McCain’s desire to suspend presidential campaigning today, but let’s not quibble. What else does she have to say? ‘I’m asking for your help. Please give us the resources we need to fight back against the Democrats and their fearful tactics of doom-and-gloom.’ Humm. Well, Sarah, I won’t be doing that. But I am impressed, sincerely, that your team has picked up on my political blogging and added me to your mailing list. I look forward to your further insights into America and the world.

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LibDems Seize Hampstead from Tories

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 25th September, 2008

Hampstead local campaigner Linda Chung has won the Hampstead Town by-election today, gaining the seat from the Conservatives. So much for the Cameron steamroller! She was a brilliant candidate and the Camden LibDems have a formidable election team. For those who don’t know (or have forgotten), they surged in the 2006 local elections to become the largest party on the Council, entering a joint administration with the Tories, and they have been winning by-elections since, one after another. This all bodes well for Ed Fordham, PPC for the new parliamentary seat of Hampstead and Kilburn. And the result will throw a well-deserved bucket of cold water over the Conservatives before their conference in Birmingham!

Full result: Linda Chung 1242, Conservative 1114, Labour 289, Green 140, BNP 29; LibDem gain from Conservatives

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Darfur: The Road to Peace

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 25th September, 2008

Anyone who thought that the conflict in Darfur is a black-and-white case of good versus evil, black versus Arab, would have been quickly disabused had they attended a seminar put on by Okra Express at the Royal Overseas League in London this evening. Ostensibly, the event was a launch for the new, updated edition of David Hoile’s book Darfur: The Road to Peace, but in fact it was much more. An impressive range of speakers, including Jonathan Steele of the Guardian, Sir Geoffrey Nice QC (who prosecuted Slobodan Milosevic in The Hague) and Khalid Al Mubarak from the Sudanese Embassy, with the barrister Kevin Metzger as Chair, outlined some of the major complexities of the situation. Jonathan Steele — who has made a dozen visits to Sudan, and whose articles are more nuanced than most of what we see in the British Press — emphasized the dangers of falling into the trap of Khartoum-bashing. Geoffrey Nice warned against overblown rhetoric — as well as accepting at face value exaggerated statistics. Even Khalid Al Mubarak admitted that the government in Khartoum had made some serious mistakes, but so too have various rebel groups. The answer is not a massive intervention by UN troops, nor even sending President Al Bashir for trial at the International Criminal Court, or so seemed to be the consensus; instead everyone should be working to bring the conflicting parties together for a negotiated settlement while enabling the displaced people of Darfur to return to their villages in security.

David Hoile admits that he likes to be controversial, and some readers will consider that he has been too kind to the Sudanese government in his analysis. But it is important that a balanced view of this complex problem is taken, based on accurate information, not emotion and rhetoric, before the Western world rushes in to do anything that would actually make instability in the region much worse.


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Britain Slips Down Corruption Table

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 24th September, 2008

Britons like to think of their country being squeaky clean, but according to Transparency International — the Berlin-based group which ranks annually the world’s nations according to their lack of corruption — the UK has slipped down four places since last year, from 12th to 16th. Chandrashekhar Krishan, the organisation’s Executive Director, points to Britain’s ‘wretched and woeful record’ in prosecuting businessmen who pay bribes to foreign politicians and official to win contracts. The Labour government of course famously squashed the investigation into the BAe Saudi arms commission scandal, fearing it would harm bilateral relations. Other countries which have performed worse this year include Bulgaria, Burundi, the Madives and (less predictably) Norway. In contrast, Transparency International says, countries including Albania, Georgia, Qatar and South Korea have got better — and even Nigeria.

The four least corrupt nations are Denmark, New Zealand, Sweden and Singapore, while the four worst are Somalia, Myanmar (Burma), Iraq and Haiti. So much for Bush and Blair delivering Western values to Baghdad!


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Goodbye, Mbeki — Good Riddance!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 24th September, 2008

When I first met Thabo Mbeki, I was impressed. He was suave, handsome and well versed in foreign affairs. Although he could never hope to be a second Nelson Mandela, I was full of hope when he took over as South Africa’s President. But disillusion quickly set in. One time, he came to the Parliament in Britain, where I asked him a question at a press conference, when I saw a totally different side to the man. He was such a control freak that he made Alastair Campbell look like Little Bo Peep. I asked some fairly inoffensive but nonetheless gently probing question, and he went for the jugular, outraged that anyone could challenge his infallabiilty. So I wasn’t at all surprised when he turned on his ‘enemies’ within the ANC, booting out people whom I had admired in the South African liberation struggle and the trade union movement. But the thing I will never forgive him for — nor should the world — was his willful negation of scientific knowledge regarding HIV/AIDS. Thousands upon thousands of South Africans died because Thabo Mbeki refused to accept that AIDS was brought on by the HIV virus, and denied free anti-retrovirals to patients for years. He should be damned for that, not retire with honour.

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David Miliband’s Near-Heseltine Moment

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 22nd September, 2008

David Miliband was oveheard talking to some of his aides at Labour’s Manchester conference this evening admitting that he had toned down some parts of his speech this afternoon in order not to be seen to be having a Heseltine moment — i.e. planning regicide (against Margaret Thatcher, in Heseltine’s case). Miliband’s brother Ed (also a Cabinet Minister) was left squirming live on camera on ‘Newsnight’, lanced like a crayfish on Jeremy Paxman’s harpoon, as he was asked to comment. The official line, not only from the Milibands, but also among most conference delegates, is that they are totally loyal to Gordon Brown. But the talk at the conference, safely off camera, is all about when Brown should go, how to bring it about, and who should be the next leader. David Miliband is, of course, the frontrunner, but that doesn’t mean he’ll get it. Moreover, Gordon Brown is as tenacious as an old lobster, and having been kept waiting so long by Tony Blair to get into Number 10, is unlikely to be in a hurry to hand over the keys to someone else.

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