Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for December 10th, 2009

Westminster a-Twitter over 25 March

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 10th December, 2009

For some time there has been a widespread assumption that the British general election will be held on the same day as the local elections in 2010, i.e. on 6 May. But recently I have been hearing rumours that officials are being asked to prepare for a March general election instead, and now Ladbrokes are said to have stopped taking bets for 25 March. The logic behind this is that having chickened out of an election (which he might have won) soon after he was annointed into the premiership, Gordon Brown might want to show that he has some gumption after all. Very Machiavellian, all this posturing, of course — or maybe Mandelsonian. The real likelihood is that the Prime Minister is keeping both options open and will plump for the one that looks the least disastrous. Certainly, several Labour councillors have said to me that they would prefer not to have to defend their council seat on the same day as a general election, in which an anti-Labour swing is likely. And I guess many other activists from different parties don’t exactly savour the prospec of fighting at two levels simultaneously (especially in London). Anyway, the final decision is indeed Mr Brown’s — which only serves to remind us just what a crackpot electoral system we have in this country.

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Zahi Hawass and the Future of Ancient Egypt

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 10th December, 2009

Egypt’s Head of Antiquities, Dr Zahi Hawass, is a man on a mission: to try to persuade some of the world’s leading museums to repatriate several of the greatest treasures of ancient Egypt — starting with the bust of Nefertiti, from Berlin. A man who courts publicity by his style — he is not known as the Indiana Jones of Egyptology for nothing — he has ensured plentiful coverage for his quest during the past few days in London, as one of the artefacts he is after is the Rosetta Stone, the tablet seized by the Napoleonic French before being bagged by the British, and which provided the key to understanding hieroglyphics. The Stone is in the British Museum and that august institution has just as strong an intention of hanging on to it as it does to the Parthenon (‘Elgin’) Marbles. However, that has not dissuaded the tenacious Dr Hawass from running his campaign to get his six target objects back to Egypt in time for the opening of the Egyptian Grand Museum in about five years’ time. 

This evening, Dr Hawass was the guest speaker at a sell-out dinner of the Political and Economic Circle of the National Liberal Club in London, where he also enlightened us with some of the fruits of his research over the past 18 months using DNA testing on mummies in the Valley of the Kings (quite a departure for someone whose earlier career was based almost entirely in and around the pyramids of Giza). Two separate laboratories in Cairo worked on the relevant material, some of it from the mummy of King Tutankhamun; Dr Hawass hopes that we may therefore not only learn who King Tut’s father was, but also solve the mystery of what the young monarch died from. An institute in the United States is currently doing extra research on the material, but Dr Hawass hopes to be in a position very shortly to announce the dramatic findings at a press conference in the Valley of the Kings. In the meantime, he is promoting a couple of new books, including a beautiful coffee table tome on some of the treasures of the current Egyptian Museum, with magnificent pictures by Sandro Vannini (Heritage World Press, £35).


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