Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for January, 2010

Edward McMillan-Scott Takes on the Tory Party

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 15th January, 2010

The Yorkshire MEP Edward McMillan-Scott, who was expelled from the Conservative Party for opposing David Cameron’s unholy alliance with right-wing parties such as Poland’s Law and Justice Party (PiS) in the European Parliament, is mounting a High Court legal challenge to his expulsion. Mr McMillan-Scott has been excluded from the party for a period of five years — the same punishment Lord (Jeffrey) Archer got after being sent to prison for perjury — despite the fact that he has been a hard-woking Conservative MEP for 25 years. His ‘crime’ was to stand against Michal Kaminski, a leading PiS MEP, for the post of one of the European Parliament’s Vice-Presidents — and winning — thereby putting a spanner in the works of the Conservative Party’s backroom bargaining with their unsavoury continental allies. Mr Kaminski then had to be appeased by the Tories by their agreeing to his becoming the leader of the new right-wing grouping in the Parliament, the European Conservative and Reformist Group (ECR).

Edward McMillan-Scott’s line is that the Tory leadership has lost its way and that he has every right to be within the party to which he remains committed. He has accused David Cameron of having insufficient experience in dealing with European affairs and of making a serious mistake in promising to take the Conservatives out of the European Parliament’s largest political grouping — the centre-right EPP — as part of his domestic leadership campaign. In announcing his High Court action against the Conservative Party, Mr McMillan-Scott told a Daily Telegraph journalist, ‘The party seeks to prevent my candidacy in the next European election merely for taking a stand on matters of personal conscience. This raises very serious ethical, legal and poliical issues.’ It also highilghts how Cameron’s Conservatives are preapred to sacrifice their own stalwarts in their pursuit of miopic europhobia.

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Norman Lamb in Frognal

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 13th January, 2010

The Liberal Democrat health spokesman, Norman Lamb, MP, was guest of honour at this evening’s Hampstead Liberal Democrats’ New Year Party at the home of Andreas and Claudia Utermann in Frognal. The man who easily saw off a challenge from Tory blogger and parliamentary hopeful Iain Dale in North Norfolk at the last election had a sobering message about the levels of savings that will have to be made in the National Health Service if it is to avoid bankruptcy. Some of the fat that could painlessly go would be a proportion of the many thousands of people employed in health quangos of various kinds, he argued. Norman was introduced by Councillor Linda Chung who won Hampstead Town ward in a by-election in September 2008, shaking the local Conservatives to the core. And the new parliamentary seat of Hampstead and Kilburn is a top LibDem target in the forthcoming general election. Candidate Ed Fordham could not be at the social event this evening, as he is on a fact-finding mission to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. But he did send a video message to us all from a rooftop in the Old City of Jerusalem. How smart is that?

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Banning Islam4UK Is Not a Smart Move

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 12th January, 2010

The British government has banned a radical Muslim group called Islam4UK, which gained notoriety recently by suggesting that it would hold a march in the English garrison town of Wooton Bassett to protest the deaths of Afghan Muslims killed in British and NATO military action. Had the group gone ahead with the march (which was far from certain; they never asked for permission for it), there would certainly have been some angry disturbances, as Wootton Bassett has been solemnly greeting the coffins of fallen British soldiers killed in Afghanistan in recent months. Like most Britons — whatever their religion — I find the attitude and behaviour of Islam4UK’s spokesman, Anjem Choudary, repulsive. But that does not mean that I welcome the government’s move against Islam4UK. On the contrary. I think it plays into the hands of extremist groups, as it enables them to portray themselves as victims. Moreover, a core British value — something Mr Choudary and his colleagues firmly oppose — is the defence of the right of free speech. No evidence has been produced that Islam4UK or any of the associated organisations (such as al-Muhajiroun) — several of which have also been banned under Britain’s anti-terror laws — have practised terrorism. Banning them is an essentially illiberal act, but alas typical of the way this Labour government reacts to such situations.

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European Parliament Vets the New Commission

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 10th January, 2010

Tomorow a series of Question and Answer sessions will begin in the European Parliament, to see if it will approve the nominees for the next European Commission. Each nominated Commissioner will have a three hour grilling, starting with Cathy Ashton from noon to 3pm tomorrow. Baroness Ashton — who was briefly Leader of the House of Lords before being catapulted over to Brussels to replace Peter Mandelson as EU Trade Commissioner, when he was brought back into the Labour government in Britain — was the somewhat suprising choice for the new High Representative for EU Foreign Policy; suprising given her relative lack of experience in foreign affairs. She will also become a Vice-President of the Commission, if approved. However, she has impressed quite a lot of people in Brussels with her quiet ability, so it will be interesting to see how she performs in the Parliament’s spotlight. It’s a good thing that the MEPs can block the nomination of the Commission if they don’t like what they see, though the grotesque situation at present is that if they have objections they have to reject the lot, not just one or two, which clearly needs to be changed.

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Gaza, Giza and the Gorgeous Geezer

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 8th January, 2010

George Galloway, ‘Respect’ MP for Bethnal Greeen and Bow, has got himself into the news again by being thrown out of Egypt. Things are never dull where the former Big Brother spectacle is concerned. Predictably, news of his expulsion (for trying to return to Gaza, to which he had earlier been with an Palestinian solidarity aid convoy) has provoked a welter of reactions, from the adulatory to the damning. Just take a look at the comments after the relevant news article in today’s Guardian online (www.guardian.co.uk) to get a flavour. I am sure that when he next visits Tower Hamlets he will give a stirring speech full of righteous outrage.

The sad thing is that, not for the first time, the personality and performance of Mr Galloway is actually detracting from the cause which he genuinely supports. The aid convoys to Gaza have been a very worthy endeavour, bringing practical relief to a population which has suffered a prolonged blockade and military assault (including another air attack today). There are some very fine people involved in the current convoy, including some of my friends from Waltham Forest Palestine Solidarity Committee.

The Egyptians have behaved badly by making the convoy go through geographical contortions to get to Gaza at all. But what is needed is strong diplomatic pressure from Britain on Cairo to be more sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians. Annoying them so much that they expel you from the country is not helpful, alas, George. But of course it is all good publibity for the man who now hopes to bring his political show to my home constituency of Poplar and Limehouse.

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Rehman Rashid’s ‘A Malaysian Journey’

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 6th January, 2010

Most good travel writing is a journey into one’s inner self, but it is rare to find a book that manages to be equally incisive about the country concerned and the author. Rehman Rashid, who has worked as a journalist in various parts of Asia, including Malaysia, where he was born in the twilight of the British colonial period, had the advantage of studying and traveling widely abroad before returning to his homeland, to examine it with a criticial, albeit subjective, eye. He never lasted long in any job, being far too much of an individualist, yet one who still feels great affection for family and friends and the multicultural dreams of Malaysia at its inceptuion. His book was rejected by a number of publishers, not because of the quality of the writing (on the contrary), but because they thought it was too hot to handle. So he published it himself, and it has gone on to sell many thousands of copies since it first came out in 1993. It’s still selling — I picked up a copy in the bookstore in KL low cost carrier airport — and deservedly so. Highly recommended.

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Is God Allah?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 4th January, 2010

An unholy row has broken out here in Malaysia about whether non-Muslims have the right to refer to God as ‘Allah’. A local Catholic publication, The Herald, did so, causing protests from some Islamic groups, but a judge then upheld the right of non-Muslims to use the word Allah within their own community. However, sensitivities in this multicultural, multifaith society are such that the matter has now gone all the way up to the Prime Minister, who is appealing for calm, while a fatwa has been issued by some Islamic leaders saying that ‘Allah’ is a to be used by Muslims only. As a Quaker, I confess I find such religious exclusivism baffling, to say the least. And as Islam recognises both Judaism and Christianity as ‘Religions of the Book’ — and indeed recognises most of the same prophets — I cannot see how anyone can argue logically that God is different depending on whether you call Him God or Allah or Jehovah. But this is clearly an argument that is going to run and run.

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China-ASEAN Trade Pact

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 2nd January, 2010

A new mega-free trade area has entered the world scene, with the inauguration of the China-South East Asia Free Trade Agreement (FTA), which links the People’s Republic to the 10-nation ASEAN bloc. This will make the region an even more formidable player over the next decade. China’s commerce with South East Asia has rocketed in recent years, despite the economic crisis afflicting so much of the globe — a sixfold increase since 2000. China has leapfrogged the United States to become ASEAN’s third most important trading partner and is expected similarly to overtake Japan and the European Union before long. Under the new agreement, tariffs will be scrapped on 90% of goods, and duties will be gradually lowered on a number of sensitive items, including (somewhat picturesquely) Brunei ambulances, Indonesian popcorn and Thai snowboard boots. The strongest opposition to the new FTA has come from certain sectors in Indonesia. But this will not stop its implementation and no-one doubts that this is the part of the world where the biggest economic growth is likely to be registered in the short-term.

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