Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for February, 2010

Conflict Resolution and Turkey’s Kurds

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 28th February, 2010

Can lessons about conflict resolution be applied in different parts of the world? That’s a question that has perplexed many of us who work in this field, whether as politicians, journalists or civil society actors. İt was the motivation for the conference whıch İ have been attending at the Sumer Park conference centre in Diyarbakır in south-eastern Anatolia this weekend. Yesterday I spoke about the British experience with Northern İreland as well as aspects of multiculturalism and devolution. There were also presentations from Plaıd Cymru, Spanish Basques and South Africa’s ANC, while today Turks and Kurds are sharing their perspectives.

The fact that the conference is happening at all is significant; only 10 years ago it would have beeen unthinkable. Without a doubt, Prime Minister Tayyip Recep Erdoğan’s ‘democratic opening’ to the Kurds and other minorities has been a bıg step forward, though as so often in Turkey much of the impetus of that move has been undermined by the subsequent banning of the main Kurdish political party, the DTP, and the imprisonment of many of the mayors of the Kurdish region. Fortunately, that dıd not include the Mayor of Diyarbakır, Osman Baydemir, who has been taking an active part in the proceedings. But the many contradictions in the government’s approach to the Kurdish Question underline how complex any solution will be and why the European Union (to which Turkey aspires) must keep a close eye on developments here.

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The Tories Just Don’t Get Europe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 25th February, 2010

The Conservatives’ Deputy Leader in the House of Lords and Foreign Affairs Spokesman, David Howell, was the guest speaker at the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) this lunchtime at the London office of the European Parliament. Though he asked to be off the record regarding his remarks about his party’s leaving the main centre-right grouping in the European Parliament, the EPP, much of the rest of what he said was both interesting and reportable. In particular, he spoke of the tripod of Britain’s foreign relations: links to Europe, to the United States and to the emerging economies of Asia, not least India. He also picked up the refrain of the Queen in her last C hristmas Day broadcast, in which she described the Commonwealth as ‘the face of the future’. I am myself a strong supporter of Commonwealth ties and I believe we should be friends with the Americans too. But I am astounded that the Conservative Party should see our relationship with the EU as an aspect of foreign policy. David Howell even referred to Europe as ‘our backyard’, underlining the Conservative view that we are somehow outside and separate from (and, the implication is, superior to) our continental European partners, rather than being a committed member of the EU that is determined to see this association of independent member states develop in a positive way. Some Conservative MPs have told me off the record that the party’s public Euro-scepticism is partly to stop its voters switching to UKIP at the general election, and that if a Tory government does come into power, it will be far more accommodating to our European partners — including working closely with Angela Merkal and Nicolas Sarkozy, whose parties remain within the EPP. But I fear this will just mean more of the half-in, half-out strategy pursued by several former British governments — both Conservative and Labour — and that yet again Britain is going to be left behind as the European bus departs.


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The Wit and Wisdom of Phil Willis

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 25th February, 2010

The House of Commons will be a duller place when Phil Willis MP stands down at the forthcoming general election. Not only has he been a tremendous local champion for his constituents in Harrogate and Knaresborough, but he has also entertained people up and down the country on the so-called rubber chicken circuit. Orpington Liberal Club, of course, does not do rubber chicken; its catering is renowned among LibDems throughout South East London and North West Kent. So too the quality and quantity of its wines at its periodic Wine, Wit and Wisdom evenings, at one of which Phil Willis starred last night, in support of local PPC David McBride. Even if one of Phil’s jokes was stolen from the late Russell Johnston, it was a bravura performance. One can well see how he managed to command respect at the huge comprehensive of which he used to be Headmaster in Leeds, as well as among the Harrogate ladies who take tea at Betty’s. He was a first-rate Education spokemsan for the Liberal Democrats (a role now filled with a different sort of panache by David Laws), and even if he has got himself in hot water recently in some quarters with his calls to end NHS funding for homeopathic remedies, he is much loved and will be much missed on the green benches.

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In Memoriam Anna Werrin

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 23rd February, 2010

A significant proportion of the Liberal Democrat parliamentary party turned out at the National Liberal Club this evening for a celebration of the life of Anna Werrin (1959-2009). For 23 years, Anna worked for Charles Kennedy at Westminster (having originally said she would stay for six months). Fairly left-wing in her own views, she nonetheless became an indispensable part of the SDP team, before, during and after merger, acting as ‘gatekeeper’ and confidante when Charles was elected Leader of the Liberal Democrats. Anna was not just a work colleague but a dear friend to many in the LibDem sub-section of the Westminster village. As Charles recalled, ‘Anna was selflessness itself — in an age and environment where selfishness has predominated. And she was immense fun. That laugh may be no more, but the legacy and the political debt will be there forever.’

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Championing Green Energy

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 22nd February, 2010

It was interesting that Liberal Democrat prospective parliamentary candidates outnumbered all other parties’ combined at a reception this evening at the House of Commons, hosted by the All Party Parliamentary Environment Group. The Group’s Chairman, East Surrey (Conservative) MP Peter Ainsworth — who is standing down at the forthcoming election — has been a stout defender of causes green, including energy conservation and renewable energy sources, so he was an ideal host for an evening designed to bring together some of the potential new House of Commons intake with representatives of commercial companies working in the field and environmental NGOs. The keynote speaker was (Sir) Jonathon Porritt, longstanding green campaigner, recently Chairman of the Sustainable Development Commission, but now once again free to castigate all and sundry eloquently for not addressing ecology issues with sufficient urgency. As Jonathon pointed out, opinion polls show that in the UK, only 25% of the population believes that climate change is a serious threat and is man-made. So there is a big job of environmental education still to be done. However, much of the discussion of this evening’s event focussed on superficially mundane but actually vital matters of house and wall cavity insulation, as well as MicroPower generation and solar energy. Fortunately, the gathering generated enough heat of it own that the House of Commons staff were able to turn off the heating in the Terrace pavilion very soon after the evening began.

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Getting Britain’s Chinese to Vote

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 21st February, 2010

London’s Chinatown spilled well over onto the north side of Shaftesbury Avenue in Soho today, as a Chinese New Year Festival drew crowds of many thousands of revellers. There was also a serious side to at least part of the proceedings, as the team I have been invoved with that has been encouraging the Chinese community in Britain to register and vote not only had a stall at the event, but also hosted a spot on the main entertainment stage. This was compered by Joseph Wu, Chinese Programme Manager of Spectrum Radio, and various Chinese political spokesmen appeared, including the (Conservative) Mayor of Redbridge, Thomas Chan, and the LibDem parliamentary candidate for Hammersmith, Merlene Emerson. I also spoke briefly (as a member of Chinese Liberal Democrats, former student of Chinese and parliamentary candidate for Poplar & Limehouse, where the first Chinese community in London was established). The Electoral Commission has itself just launched a campaign to get UK Chinese to register to vote. Further details at:

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Stan Hardy’s 90th Birthday

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 21st February, 2010

Every political party has its Golden Oldies, vintage stalwarts who have not only put in many years of service to the party but continue to soldier on. But few such have as long a record and as much energy left as Stan Hardy from Dulwich, whose 90th birthday was celebrated at a joyfully noisy gathering taking up the whole second floor of Kettner’s Restaurant in Soho last night. Speeches of tribute came from Susan Kramer, MP or Richmond Park (and candidate in Dulwich and West Norwood in 1997) and Simon Hughes, MP for North Southwark and Bermondsey, as well as a response from the birthday boy hinself. Over the years of Stan’s involvement, Southwark borough has shifted from being something of a desert for Liberal Democrats (and predecessor parties) to having one LibDem MP with a majority of nearly 5,500, and second places in Dulwich and West Norwood (achieved for the first time in 2005 by Jonathan Mitchell, who is currently PPC) and in Camberwell and Peckham (Richard Porter in 2005, but now having as its PPC a popular former Mayor of Southwark, the Sierra Leonean Columba Blango).

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Tweet If You Want STV!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 20th February, 2010

This morning I was the guest speaker at the AGM of DAGGER, the pressure group within the Liberal Democrats that campaigns for electoral reform, and specifically for the the adoption of the single transferable vote (STV) in multi-member constituencies. It’s interesting how what used to be considered a fringe issue of interest only to a few hardy souls like the late Enid Lakeman has now become maintream in the British political debate. And quite right too. The political system in Britain is ‘broken’ and electoral reform is an essential part of the repair kit. Alas, Gordon Brown has decided that any change should be to the far less proportional Alternative Vote (AV) system in single member constituencies, which is not even as much of a change as the Jenkins Commission recommended back in 1998. However, as I said in my presentation this morning, reformers should take advantage of the debate in the run-up to the proposed referendum to promote the other options, notably STV. But much of my speech concentrated on urging electoral reformers both within the LibDems and beyond to go viral — in other words, to get out there on Twitter and Facebook, and to post comments on political blogs. That is also an excellent way of getting more younger people involved in the campaign.


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Will Hutton Effs and Blinds for Europe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 18th February, 2010

There was an unusual twist to tonight’s Gladstone Club Annual Dinner, held at the National Liberal Club in Westminster, as the guest speaker, economics writer and Chief Executive of the Work Foundation, Will Hutton, asked each table to come up with things they wanted him to talk about in his speech. Not surprisingly, there were many questions about tax policy, the national deficit and the solidity (or otherwise) of China’s economic performance. But things got really heated when one young man — clearly a Euro-sceptic — asked in a rather convoluted way whether Will thought Britain’s ‘subscription’ to the EU was worth it and whether Greece wouldn’t be better off leaving the eurozone. At this, Will sprung into a spirited attack — liberally laced with effing and blinding — about the British public and their refusal to accept that much of what the media feeds them about the EU is lies. Some diners were stunned by the language — there are many, quite formal Conservative and non-aligned members of the Gladstone Club, as well as numerous Liberal Democrats — but Will got a hearty round of applause for his tirade from the Euro-enthusiasts present. It’s a long time since the David Lloyd George Room at the NLC has seen such fireworks, but I can’t feeling that both the Grand Old Man and Lloyd George himself would have been pleased with the passion, if not with all of the vocabulary.

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The Year of the Tiger

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 16th February, 2010

The Banqueting House in Whitehall was filled with several hundred guests this evening, celebrating the Chinese New Year — of the Tiger. That happens to be my year, as I was born in 1950, so I could hardly fail to be charmed by the comments of Sarah Wu, the indefatigible Director-General of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office, who declared that ‘The tiger symbolises bravery, energy and competititveness. People born in the Year of the Tiger are said to make audacious and passionate leaders, but they are also sensitive, given to deep thinking, and capable of great sympathy. They embrace the unpredictable and love a challenge because they know they’ll always land on their feet.’ I don’t know about that last bit, about always landing on one’s feet, but most of the rest seems pretty true to my character/aspiration, as indeed do many of the supposed characteristics of Gemini, my Western birth sign. I wonder if other people feel equally at home in their Chinese and Western astrological skins? Anyway, this year’s certainly going to be one in which China itself has to weigh up how it is doing newly centre-stage in world politics — and for the rest of the world, it will be one in which they have to decide how to relate to China.

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