Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for November, 2008

Using Facebook in Campaigning

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 30th November, 2008

One of the most significant transatlantic lessons from the successful Obama presidential campaign has been maximising Internet use in political work, not least social networking sites, including Facebook. Facebook is particularly important in Britain, as such a high percentage of the population has signed up, including a majority of young people. Apart from the obvious advantages of keeping in touch with one’s friends through one’s personal page, all the special interest groups that have sprung up have been a communications godsend in keeping up with developments in areas of particular concern, as well as networking with like-minded people. And as the Obama campaign showed, through Facebook and other sites, a popular political campaign can snowball.

That’s why earlier this month, as part of the ‘Make it 2!’ LibDem Euro-campaign in London, James Lillis launched a ‘Jonathan Fryer 4 Europe’ Facebook group, which has already garnered nearly 250 members in a fortnight. Anyone can join — you don’t even have to be a Liberal Democrat! — and invite others. Through the group there will be occasional updates on how the campaign is going, policy issues and details of related events. In 2004, the LibDems missed electing a second MEP by 0.6% — fewer than 250 votes per parliamentary constituency. So, if you would like to see greater Liberal Democrat representation in the European Parliament, why not sign up for the ‘Jonathan Fryer 4 Europe’ Facebook group, if you haven’t done so already (a big thank-you to those who have)? Let’s ‘Make it 2!’ in 2009!


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The MEPs’ Code of Conduct

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 27th November, 2008

Today I signed and sent off the Liberal Democrat Code of Conduct for (prospective) MEPs, which has been drafted to ensure that the highest standards of public service are maintained by the LibDem Group (LDEPP) in the European Parliament. Without mentioning any names, there have been spectacular examples of the misuse of Euro-parliamentary allowances by some Conservative MEPs in particular and the general record of some of the people who got elected on the UKIP ticket is worthy of a Jeffrey Archer novel. It is essential that LibDem MEPs adhere to the stricter guidelines now being finalised by the European Parliament regarding the Payment of Expenses and Allowances to Members (PEAM), details of which will shorty be published on the European Parliament’s website.

The activities of MEPs tend to get scant coverage in the British Press, except when scandal is involved, reinforcing the distorted impression among the general public that people go into European politics to ‘join the gravy train’. Chris Davies, LibDem MEP for North West England, has done a fine job at exposing some of the worst abuses (to the annoyance of some of his colleagues in the European Parliament). And Nick Clegg, as party leader, is quite right to insist that LibDem MEPs should lead by example. 


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Vince for PM?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 26th November, 2008

Claire Rayner, the veteran agony aunt and LibDem supporter, has a letter in today’s Guardian arguing that what Britain needs at this time of economic woe is Vince Cable as Prime Minister — now! This is, of course, something one hears increasingly regularly from ordinary voters who believe it is time to ‘Move over, Darling’ and to send George Osborne off to university to do a post-graduate degree in economics, while Vince is the unchallenged star of Newsnight et al. But the logical conclusion is that Vince should be Chancellor of the Exchequer, not Prime Minister. And if the Labour and Conservative parties are as close at the time of the next general election as the opinion polls suggest that they are now, that is a distinct possibility.

There are some LibDems who lament that Vince is not party leader, but if he were, the onerous associated duties would prevent him doing what he is doing so brilliantly now. Moreover, with Nick Clegg as leader and Chris Huhne on Home Affairs, no-one can these days accuse the Liberal Democrats of being a one-man band, as was sometimes the public perception in the past. Three men in a boat, perhaps? Yes, a lifeboat for Britain!

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Stamp out Voting Fraud!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 24th November, 2008

Basic CMYK  When the British Electoral Commissioner, Richard Mawrey QC, convicted a group of political activists of commiting electoral fraud in Birmingham shortly before the 2005 general election, he declared that the level of electoral fraud in the UK was enough to ‘disgrace a banana republic’. But as the all-party organisation for constitutional reform, Unlock Democracy, stated today as it launched its campaign ‘Stamp out Voting Fraud!’, the Labour government has ‘done almost nothing in the three years since’. Moreover, because of the tortoise-like nature of the British legislative process, it is now too late to bring in legislation even if Gordon Brown decides to go right up to the wire and call the election for May 2010. As Unlock Democracy has pointed out, the government did manage to bring in electoral security measures in Northern Ireland six years ago (partly to prevent the old partisan habit of ‘vote early, vote often’ involving impersonation). But it has not considered the issue important enoiugh to get itself organised to do the same in Great Britain. Of course, the whole British electoral system needs an overhaul to make it more truly representative (including the introduction of STV or some other acceptable form of PR, which already exists on the other side of the Irish Sea). But at least Gordon Brown could have got his finger out to help to prevent outright fraud in the meantime!


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Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 23rd November, 2008

linzentorte  One of the few things Linz is known for outside Austria is its characteristic confectionery, ‘Linzertorte’ — a tasty pastry made with ground almonds, cloves, blackcurrants, cocoa powder and even rum, amongst other ingredients. Just the sort of thing to have a slice of with a strong coffee after struggling through the snow, as I did this morning, when thirty other foreign hacks and I were taken up to the hilltop baroque pilgrimage basilica at Postlingberg, from which one gets a wonderful view over the whole city, the Alps on one horizon and the Czech frontier on the other. The River Danube itself was for a while a frontier of sorts at Linz, as it separated the American and Russian occupation zones for fifteen years or so after the Second World War. On ‘re-unification’, the Urfahr bank was properly incorporated into the Linz metropolitan area and a modern new City Hall was built there. Many millions of euros are currently being spent on smartening up the whole city centre, not least the old quarter. And the local bakers will doubtless be working overtime to ensure that there is enough Linzertorte to satisfy the appetites of the expected curious tourists during Linz09, European Capital of Culture.


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Journalists at Risk

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 22nd November, 2008

Journalism has become a far more risky profession since I started out as a cub reporter for the Manchester Evening News and the Geographical Magazine in the Vietnam War. It is not only in war or conflict zones that journalists are often deliberately targeted these days. Just this week, in Yerevan, Armenia, Edik Baghdasarian, who heads the Armenian Association of Investigative Journalists, was violently assaulted by three men as he left his office and could easily have been killed. His ‘crime’ in the eyes of whoever orchestrated the attack was that he has crusaded against high-level corruption. The incident served as a salutory reminder to us members of the Association of European Journalists who have been been meeting in Linz for the past couple of days of the risks that we take.

In a scheduled session on the subject this afternoon, we had presentations fropm Neboysa Bristic (Serbia), Zdenko Duka (Croatia), Krzystof Bobinski (Poland) and Fabrice Pozzolli-Montenay (France), highlighting dangers of diverse kinds, from violent ultra-nationalists to interfering media owners, government attempts to control the media and some irresponsible members of our own profession who have little respect for truth, objectivity or integrity. My old Bush House colleague (and Chairman of the AEJ British Section), William Horsley, who chaired the session, also spoke of the role ‘dumbing down’ has had in contributing to the decline in media standarsd over the past 25 years.

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The Grey Danube

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 21st November, 2008

spiegelei_gebraten_de  I spent most of today in the Strauss Room of the Arcotel in Linz, Austria, at the Annual Assembly of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ). Picture windows looked out over the Danube, which was never blue, despite Strauss’s wishful thinking and indeed today was a particularly threatening shade of grey, matched by the heavy clouds that discharged rain, followed by snow. But the content of the day was worthwhile, including a long presentation and discussion this morning about Linz’s role as a European Capital of Culture next year. This would surprise anyone who knew Austria’s third city even 20 years ago, when it had a literally stinking reputation, thanks to all its heavy industry. But the place has been cleaned up and regenerated (there is zero unemployment, as a representative of the Upper Austria economic council crowed) and the place is full of cutting edge artistic establishments. Intriguingly, the city has decided to acknowledge its most notorious past fame as the adopted hometown of Adolf Hitler, an exhibition of whose ambitious cultural plans for Linz is taking place in the Castle. Whether visitors will be encouraged to visit Mauthausen is another matter, but Linz 2009 could be a welcome opportunity to help local people as well as the wider Europe face up to the realities of the not-too-distant past.

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For Diversity, Against Discrimination Journalist Award

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 19th November, 2008

Yesterday, the British jury for the 2008 ‘For Diversity, Against Discrimination’ journalist awards — of which I was a member — met to discuss the UK prizes. This European Union initiative, currently taking place in all 27 member states, is part of a wider EU anti-discrimination programme. The articles we had to give our verdict on had all appeared in the British media, but that included German and Polish-language entries. We had to judge the submissions according to the twin objectives of promoting diversity and combating discrimination. Preference was to be given to those articles that particularly raised awareness of the issue of diversity in employment, or that helped increase understanding among young people of mutltiple discrimination, the benefits of diversity and the need to combat dscrimination. A special, separate prize was ear-marked for the best piece about issues affecting the Roma.

The entries covered a wide range of experiences, from autism to homophobic bullying in schools. Interestingly, after a solid discussion among the jury and a single, secret ballot, there was total unanimity on the three top entries, even putting them in the same order. Eat your heart out, Booker Prize juries, who sometimes come to (metaphorical) blows and tears. I can’t divulge who won, as that will be announced formally soon. The winner from each member state will now go forward for consideration for a Europe-wide overall prize in 2009.


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Nick Clegg’s Pole-dancing

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 17th November, 2008

The Liberal Democrat Friends of Poland had an enjoyable launch tonight at London’s City Hall, at which the star attraction was party leader, Nick Clegg, who got things off with a swing. The whole event was recorded by Polish TV and radio, as well as various representatives of Polish community organisations. LibDem Euro-candidates were out in force. Nick brushed aside an opening question from a London-based Polish language radio station about how long he thought Brian Paddick might survive on ‘I’m a Celebrity — Get Me out of Here!’ He had far more important things to talk about, including the tragedy that is the downgrading of foreign language-teaching in this country. Nick operates well before intimate audiences, where he can enter into a robust dialogue with questioners, agreeing eloquently when he does, but standing by his principles and beliefs when he doesn’t. As he said, he was himself ‘concocted’ from Dutch, Russian and other variegated stock (not to mention his Spanish wife), which probably only a welcoming environment such as Britain could have permitted. A little of an Obama touch there?

The event was chaired by the Mayor of Islington, Stefan Kasprzyk, an Islingtonian of Polish stock. Inevitably questions were asked about how other Poles (of whom there might be up to one million in this country) can be encouraged to enter into the political process. This is all the more relevant given the high level of immigration since Poland joined the EU in 2004, even though tens of thousands of them have since returned home. It took the ubiquitous Simon Hughes, now cruising gracefully through the last few weeks of his party presidency, to remind everyone that the first British politician with Polish connections was Constance Markievicz (née Gore-Booth) — ‘The People’s Countess’ — who was elected on a Sinn Fein ticket in Dublin in 1918, while being held in prison for her nationalist activities, though she never took her seat as she refused to take the oath of alleigance to the King.

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A Seismic Shift in Global Politics?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 16th November, 2008

Yesterday’s G20 Summit in Washington may have been short on conclusions, but I think President Luis Inacio ‘Lula’ da Silva of Brazil was probably right when he said that the balance of power in the world has changed irrevocably. Lula told reporters that the G8 — the world’s seven leading industrial economies plus Russia — was now unviable and irrelevant. ‘There is no logic to making any political and economic decisions without the G20 members,’ he said. ‘Developing countries must be part of the solution to the global financial crisis.’

So who are the G20? There are the old Big Seven — the United States, Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Canada — plus Russia, but they now joined by the three other ‘BRICs’: Brazil, China and India. That in itself has tilted the emphasis away from the North to the South. But that tilt has been underlined by the further addition of Argentina, Mexico, South Africa, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and South Korea. Australia is the only new truly ‘Western’ state, though for the first time the European Union (represented by the President of the European Commission) comes in in its own right, rather than just sitting in as an invited guest as in the past.

The fact that George W Bush is in the lame-duck final period of his eight-year presidency only served to exacerbate the decline in US hegemony, despite the summit’s being held in Washington. The unipolar world that came into being with the collapse of the old Soviet Union is now clearly well on its way to being a multipolar one. This won’t be a second American century. When Barack Obama joins the second G20 Summit — scheduled to be held in London some time before the end of April — the world will be a different place. So it is well that the president-elect is someone more attuned to multilateralism than the incumbent.

One striking thing about the G20 meeting itself was that it was no longer just a collection of men in suits (and their female equalivalents). With King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in his flowing robes and the Indian Prime Minister Mammohan Singh in his turban, the gathering began to look a little more like the world it is meant to be leading. Still only two women, though: Germany’s Angela Merkel and Argentina’s Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.

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