Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for April, 2009

Jeremy Thorpe’s 80th Birthday

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 29th April, 2009

jeremy-thorpeThe former Liberal leader Jermey Thorpe is celebrating his 80th birthday today, though a big party in his honour at the National Liberal Club in Westminister actually took place last night. It was attended by over 150 people, including his political successors David Steel, Paddy Ashdown, Menzies Campbell and Nick Clegg. Nick gave the first of several tributes to the man who by common consent was the most flamboyantly charismatic leader the Party has had in recent times. Alas, he was brought down by the scandal of his trial in May 1979 on charges of conspiracy to murder, of which he was found not guilty. Nick said that Jeremy’s witty but trenchant speech in favour of the then European Community in 1967 was the best political speech he knew, though he admitted he hadn’t heard it live, as he was only a few months old at the time. I can vouch for the oratory power; Jeremy came down to speak at the Oxford Union when I was Secretary of the Oxford University Liberal Club and had the audience eating out of his hand.

After his downfall, he developed Parkinson’s disease, which has left him physically wasted and wheelchair-bound, though mentally still remarkably alert, confounding the medical experts’ predictions regarding his longevity. That is undoubtedly in large part due to the devoted care of his second wife, Marion, herself also now in a wheelchair. At the NLC party, the pair received a steady stream of well-wishers at one end of the magnificant Smoking Room.

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Fun and (Serious) Games at the Cartoon Museum

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 27th April, 2009

make-it-2Nick Clegg came to give the London LibDem Euro-campaign its in-house launch at the Cartoon Museum in Bloomsbury this evening, over champagne and canapés and (one trusts) motivating speeches from Sarah Ludford MEP and myself. Nominations close next week and we have a particularly strong LibDem team in place in the capital, with a determination to ‘Make it 2!’ this time. Nick will be leading the national campaign from the front, drawing on his experience as both a former European official and an MEP, as well as understanding how crucial it is at this period to have closer cooperation with our EU partners. The Conservatives, like ostriches with their heads in the sand, somehow hope the economic crisis will go away if we stand alone, while Labour is so beset by its own internal divisions and the general air of fetid decomposition around the Brown administration that one goes into this election with not just hope but conviction — and just over five weeks to win a sufficient proportion of the electorate over!


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Shri Swaminarayan Mandir

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 26th April, 2009

shri-swaminarayan-mandir-murtiLast night, Nick Clegg, Sarah Teather MP, Sarah Ludford MEP, a group of Brent LibDem Councillors and I were guests the Sri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden — according to the Guinness Book of Records, the largest Hindu temple outside India. It’s certainly an impressive place. The main prayer hall seats over 2,000 people, though it is the smaller upstairs space housing the five sacred shrines that is the most inspiring, with its intricately carved Italian marble that was worked on by craftsmen in India, then shipped over to London to be assembled like a giant jigsaw. Opposite the temple is a high-achieving faith school, which follows the British curriculum.

Sarah Teather, as MP for Brent East, has built a strong working relationship with the Bachasanawasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS), the socio-spiritual organisation associated with the temple, in which the practice of volunteering is championed. There are only eleven employed people at the temple, as everything else is done by volunteers. Today, a sponsored walk will be setting out from its grounds, to raise money for charity.

In his speech to devotees at last night’s gathering in the main prayer hall, Nick congratulated the community — many of whose elders were expelled from East Africa in the 1970s — for its contributions to British society and its upholding of family values such as respect for the elderly, some of which he felt the rest of British society could usefully learn from.

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Singapore 2009

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 25th April, 2009

jf-with-merlene-emersonMerlene Toh Emerson, LibDem PPC for Hammersmith, and I joined in the festivities with about 15,000 Singaporeans and friends in the park at Hampton Court this afternoon, at a Singapore 2009 event — one of several taking place around the world. The mood was good, not least because the weather was better than forecast and all of the delicious varieties of food were free! The Singapore government, which doesn’t like to lose track of its citizens when they move abroad, certainly put out the red carpet for everyone, with singing and comedy acts and even a Deputy Prime Minister flown to London for the occasion, plus a goodie bag which included a handy mat for sitting on the grass.

We were there to point out to Singaporean, Malaysian and other Commonwealth citizens resident in the UK that they have the right to vote n the European elections here on 4 June, as long as they are registered (closing date for registration 19 May).


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Plague over England

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 24th April, 2009

plagueoverenglandIt’s well over a year since I was last at the theatre — odd, really, when one considers that after I quit Reuters in Brussels in 1974, I spent much of the rest of my time in that city as a theatre critic. Anyway, I was invited to go along to the Duchess Theatre in London this evening — when by chance no pressing political event was taking place — and thus had the chance to see Nicholas De Jongh’s Plague over England.  The drama is based on the real life experience of actor John Gielgud, who was arrested for cottaging in the 1950s, when a horrendous purge of homosexuals was underway. The scandal hit the front pages of the national press, but to their credit, theatre audiences in Liverpool and London gave Gielgud an ovation when he next appeared on stage.

Inevitably, such a play — which was originally written for the more intimate Finborough Theatre in Earl’s Court, before being transferred to the West End — succeeds or fails on the talents of the lead actor. And Michael Feast (who played alongside Gielgud in Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land  at the National Theatre in 1975) captures the old thespian’s voice and mannerisms beautifully. There are plenty of jokes — some corny, some camp, some Wildean in their witticism — as well as plenty of pathos.

I only met Gielgud once, when he unveiled a plaque to Oscar Wilde at the back of the Haymarket Theatre, for the Oscar Wilde Socierty, of which I am a Patron. But I loved his collected letters, which were pubished after his death, and theatrical London still rocks with laughter at dinner-table accounts of his famous gaffes, when he could be quite spectacularly rude to people, without, so one is led to believe, intending it.

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Another LibDem Surge in Redbridge

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 24th April, 2009

kate-garrettThe Liberal Democrats came a very strong second to the Conservatives in yesterday’s council by-election in the Wanstead ward of Redbridge borough in greater London, even though the party has not traditionally been very active in the area. The LibDem candidate, Kate Garrett, lives in the ward, worked extremely hard and would have made a fine councillor. Next time, one hopes! Although the Tories held onto the seat, they are tearing themselves apart locally. There is an effective civil war within the Redbridge Conservative council group and to add to their woes, one of their councillors has just been arrested for alleged fraud. Conversely, the result of yesterday’s byelection is very good news for Leyton and Wanstead LibDems, in their campaign to win the currently Labour parliamentary seat (most of which is in the borough of Waltham Forest, where the LibDems have been advancing steadily) at the next general election.

Result in full: Conservative 1300, Liberal Democrat (Kate Garrett) 1030, Labour 694, Green 256, BNP 171, UKIP 33. Majority 270. Turnout 40.7%


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Nick Clegg Charms Sutton

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 23rd April, 2009

nick-clegg-3Nick Clegg filled the Arena Hall at SCOLA in Sutton for one of his ‘town hall meetings’ this evening, though at times he must have felt he was in the lion’s den. One of the earliest questions was from a lady who basically asked why Vince Cable was doing so brilliantly whereas Nick was out of the limelight — to which Nick resposted fairly that he has been on virtually every TV news bulletin over the past few days, re the Budget et al. And he said he didn’t begrudge Vince his stardom one bit. Nick clearly rather enjoys being put on the spot — being obliged to indulge in a bit of cut and thrust. My favourite contribution from the floor was from a vociferous man who began, ‘I am a dyed-in-the-wool socialist, so of course I can’t vote Labour…!’ But there were murmurs of approval from the audience on several occasions, and enthusiastic applause for Nick’s stand against ID cards and his condemnation of the recently publicised abuses of MPs’ allowances. All in all, as the Evening Standard might summarise the meeting: Clegg 2, Cynics 0.

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Lembit Opik, Ridvan and the Baha’i

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 22nd April, 2009

abdul-baha2lembit-opikLembit Opik MP hosted the annual All Party Group for the Baha’i’s reception on the terrace of the House of Commons this evening, timed to coincide with the Baha’i festival of Ridvan. If the celebrations were somewhat subdued for many people present, it was because seven leading Baha’i figures who were arrested in Iran last year are still in prison. The faith, which is monotheistic and teaches that all religions come from God, was founded in the 19th Century in Iran, though its most famous contemporary religious centre is in Haifa, Israel. It has suffered systematic persecution in Iran since shortly after the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

Bill Rammell, Minister of State at the Foreign Office, gave a speech of welcome and there were written greetings from a  curious trinity: the Archbishop of Canterbury, David Cameron and Nick Clegg. In his capacity as Chairman of the All Party Group, Lembit quipped that he was too wicked to become a Baha’i himself. Wicked? Surely not, Lembit. Just naughty.


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Learning from European Best Practice

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 22nd April, 2009

one-hour-bus-ticket-campaignEarly this morning I was at Vauxhall bus station in the London borough of Lambeth, alongside Caroline Pidgeon (Member of the Greater London Assembly), Tom Brake MP (Carshalton and Wallington) and the target parliamentary seat LibDem PPCs, Chris Nicholson (Streatham) and Bridget Fox (Islington South). We were launching a campaign to introduce cheap one-hour bus tickets in London, which would enable bus passengers to transfer from one route to another within the space of 60 minutes, without having to buy a separate ticket for each section of their journey. Such timed transfer-type tickets are common in several continental cities and it’s amazing that this still isn’t the case in a cosmopolitan metropolis like London. But it is never too late to learn from our EU’s partners’ best practice!

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Ahmadinejad Harms the Palestinian Cause

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 21st April, 2009

mahmoud-ahmadinejadThe Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, looked smugly satisfied when British and other Western delegates to the UN anti-racism conference in Geneva walked out yesterday, once he started his anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish rant. While his uncompromising words — including yet another questioning of the reality of the Holocaust — may have played to a certain radical gallery, they were disastrous for the Palestinian cause. As a result of his intervention, once again Israel and Jews worldwide can portray themselves as victims, whose very existence is threatened by Iran. The Palestinian issue, which the Iranian leader was supposedly highlighting, was effectively sidelined, as so often is the case.

There are many reasons to criticse Israeli policy; I do so often myself. There was no justification for the sickening scale of the assault on Gaza earlier this year, for example. But to couch such criticism in terms that play into the hands of those who cry ‘anti-semitism’ anytime Israel is scrutinised is counter-productive. Far from helping the Palestinian cause and their just struggle for dignity, freedom and statehood, Ahmadinejad has put it back. And he has persuaded the rational world — if it wasn’t persuaded already — that he is anti-semitic himself. The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon was right to attack the speech as contrary to the very purpose and spirit of the conference. Maybe Ahmadenijad thinks his display of arrogance will improve his chances of being re-elected in the forthcoming presidential elections back home. But actually he has damaged the reputation of Iran, as well as doing the Palestinians a disservice.

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