Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for April, 2010

Political Advertising and Local Newspapers

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 30th April, 2010

One new and in my opinion not particularly welcome feature of the current British general election campaign has been the soliciting of political advertising from parties by local newspapers, often in ‘special’ election supplements. I can understand the motivation from the newspapers’ point of view. Many are struggling to survive and some face unfair competition from freebies put out by the local council (Tower Hamlets, where I live, delivers a weekly newspaper, East End Life, to local residents, most of its content devoted to praising the work of the council, but of course paid for by us council tax payers). However, political advertising during an election campaign effectively favours the richer parties to the detriment of the others. The Conservatives must have spent tens of thousands of pounds advertising their parliamentary candidate in the local press recently, as part of their efforts to swing the Poplar & Limehouse election their way. This country rightly prevents political parties from buying airtime on television during elections. Perhaps there should be a similar rule for newspapers advertisements too.

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Reporting Europe Prize 2010

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 28th April, 2010

At a ceremony at the Thomson Reuters headquarters in Canary Wharf  last night David Rennie of the Economist was awarded the UACES-Thomson Reuters Reporting Prize for his Charlemagne column in the magazine. There was a particularly strong short-list this year, including BBC News’ Europe correspondent, Jonny Dymond, and my old BBC World Service colleague Oana Lungescu, but there was general agreement among the academics and journalists present that Rennie deserved the accolade. To look at, he is something of a young fogey: a sort of miniature Jacob Rees-Mogg, complete with braces, white handkerchief in his top pocket and severe glasses. But over the past five years that he has been in Brussels he has provided an insightful and often witty commetary on the goings on of the European Union and the wider Europe. He will be a hard act to follow.


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Cameron’s Conservatives All at Sea

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 25th April, 2010

The British Conservatives have always considered themselves to be the natural party of government. Those years when the Tories have been out of power are seen as unfortunate interludes during which they have to hunker down and retrench. The 13 years of Blair-Brown rule have been something of an aberration (an assertion Socialists would agree with, for different reasons) and until recently it was almost as if David Cameron was just cruising along, waiting for the Good Ship Tory government to glide gently into dock. No longer. The extraordinary LibDem surge of the past 10 days (no 24-hour wonder this) has indeed provided a sea change in British politics, and the Conservatives are quite clearly ‘all at sea’ about what to do. On the one hand, they have unleashed their media attack-dogs, to try to bring Nick Clegg and his colleagues down. But on the other hand, Cameron (as reported in the Observer today) has not ruled out a possible working relationship with the LibDems, in the (highly likely) event of a hung parliament. He might (triple underlined ‘might’) even consider some sort of electoral reform, so desperate is he to woo Nick Clegg, while simultaneously kneeing him in the groin. The fascinating thing about all this is that electorate — far more savvy than many politicians give it credit for — can see through all this Cameron duplicity. If the Conservatives aren’t careful, they are going to be the biggest losers in this election, not just in seats, but in reputation. And far from being the government, they may not have a voice in government, for a long time to come.

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We Don’t Need US-style Smears in Britain

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 22nd April, 2010

When Tony Blair was Prime Minister and Alastair Campbell his media advisor, British politics became familiar with US-style ‘spin’: presenting a story in such a way that made it favourable to the government. The climate of New Labour spin led to government advisor Jo Moore’s notorious email after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington declaring that ‘this would be a good day to bury bad news’. The then Conservative Party Chairman, David Davis, rightly protested at the tastelessness of that and called for an official investigation. So it is depressing that some Conservative Party advisors have borrowed another distasteful American political tactic in order to try to win the current British general election: the use of smear against opponents. We saw how the Republican party and its tame media in the US smeared Barack Obama, questioning whether he was really US-born, likening him to both Nazis and Communists, questioning his Christian faith etc. And alas we are now witnessing parts of the Conservative Press in Britain, notably the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph (which ought to know better) adopting similar methods in their smear campaign against Nick Clegg. Be in no doubt: this was a contingency plan, not a knee-jerk reaction, and some Tory party advisors have similar ‘bombshells’ up their sleeve for use during the campaign. When David Cameron appears on the second leaders’ debate tonight, he should disassociate himself from all this. We don’t want US-style smearing in Britsh politics and the media. It isn’t British and it will deeply damage the Conservative Party if the Tories are seen to be tolerating or even encouraging it.

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Sea Change in Tower Hamlets

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 21st April, 2010

Harold Wilson famously said that a week is a long time in politics. And that is certainly true in this general election. The electoral mood has shifted across the country in the direction of the Liberal Democrats, and of course Tower Hamlets is not immune to the trend. On the contrary, there was a large, loud and enthusiastic formal launch of the borough’s two parliamentary candidates (Ajmal Masroor in Bethnal Green & Bow and myself in Poplar & Limehouse) and the local election manifesto in Osborn Street (Brick Lane) last night. The party locally is fielding a full slate of council candidates that is ethnically diverse, in keeping with the borough; there’s an Italian and a Lithuanian, as well as the more predictable Bengalis and Somalis. And there’s a real Clegg bounce across the place. Many voters who backed George Galloway in 2005 because of New Labour’s Iraq war are now turning in droves to the LibDems, and Labour’s vote is crumbling. In Poplar & Limehouse, there is a very interesting four-way fight, meaning that every day between now and 6 May will be crucial.

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LibDem Outreach to Turks and Turkish Cypriots

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 20th April, 2010

A major feature of the joint general and local elections currently underway in London has been outreach to the capital’s diverse communities. The other day, Lynne Featherstone (restanding to be MP for Hornsey and Wood Green), Councillor John Oakes (restanding in Haringey), Meral Ece (Chair of Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats) and I were filmed at the offices of the London-based Turkish-language newspaper Olay, talking about LibDem policies and priorities, particularly those relating to the large Turkish and Turkish Cypriot community. This has now been edited into a video, topped and tailed by exellent footage of Nick Clegg, and is now up to be viewed on Olay’s website:

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British Indians Hold Parties to Account

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 19th April, 2010

My busy day’s campaigning ended in a Nepalese-owned restaurant at Ealing Broadway, for a three-party hustings with representatives of a wide variety of groups linked to BOPIO: the British Organization of People of Indian Origin. Concerns ranged from educating teachers and parents in cultural awareness (in order to improve education for ethnic Indian children) to the special needs of the elderly and what shape Britain’s future will be. The panel consisted of the Conservative Deputy Mayor of London, Richard Barnes (Ealing and Hillingdon), the Labour GLA member of Harrow and Brent, Navin Shah, and myself (Chairman, London Liberal Democrats and candidate for Poplar & Limehouse). Though Richard Barnes supported Mayor Boris Johnson’s commitment to the regularisation of paperless migrants (quite similar to Nick Clegg’s proposal of ‘earned citizenship’) on most other matters he was diametrically opposed to both Navin Shah and myself. In particular, he bashed the EU and declared that a hung parliament would be a disaster: both predictable Conservative mantras. He also expressed the confidence I have heard from so many Conservative politicians over recent weeks that David Cameron will get an overall majority, whatever the opinion polls say. Personally, I think that is wishful thinking. But as the Tory and Labour members of the panel made increasingly critical attacks on each other’s party record, I found myself in a Clegg-like debating situation, just smiling and communicating the message, ‘You see?!’


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474 to Win!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 19th April, 2010

About a hundred enthusiastic people from Camden and Brent gathered at the Hampstead synagogue in Dennington Park Road, West Hampstead, last night, formally to adopt Ed Fordham as the Liberal Democrat candidate for the Hampstead and Kilburn constituency. These are heady days to be a LibDem, not least in a marginal seat such as Ed’s. There have been significant boundary changes since 2005, making Hampstead and Kilburn a far more attractive prospect; indeed, the mainstream media are agreed that Ed just has a notional Labour majority of 474 votes to overturn. Many local residents were surprised that the veteran actress Glenda Jackson decided to stand again as prospective MP for the area. And the fact that the new constituency takes in a big chunk of LibDem Sarah Teather’s old seat of Brent East is not likely to help Labour. Chirpy Tory Councillor Chris Philp is bravely maintaining he can win, but what is more likely is a squeeze on the Conservative vote. Besides, the Tory party’s recent statements on immigration and their ugly partnerships in the European Parliament are unappealing to an electorate, so many of whom have found sanctuary here in London from religious or political persecution in their places of origin. Navnit (Lord) Dholakia spoke movingly at Ed’s adoption meeting of his own 55 years in the Liberals/Liberal Democrats and the event was chaired by the neighbourhood peer, Sue, Baroness Garden of Frognal. Cleverly, the local association has capitalised on the 474 figure by asking people to donate £4.74 to the campaign (or £47.40, or £474 and so on, of course!).


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Campaigning in Chinese London

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 18th April, 2010

I spent the first part of today on an open-top bus, hired by the BC Project to encourage British Chinese to register to vote before the deadline on Tuesday and to vote in the general and local elections on 6 May. This is particularly important because Britain’s Chinese community traditionally stayed aloof from politics, though that is beginning to change, not least thanks to the efforts of the bus’s compere, Joseph Wu of Spectrum Radio. The bus’s tour began in my own constituency of Poplar and Limehouse, as Limehouse was the location of the first Chinese settlement in Britain, founded by Chinese sailors who left ships that came into the old London docks. The docks have long since gone and so too many of the Chinese, though there are still some fine Chinese restaurants in the area. Our bus (which contained three TV crews and several radio and print journalists, as well as many eager young Chinese activists) then moved westwards to Hammersmith, where we called by the Chinese church at Brook Green, where we were joined by the Chinese LibDem parliamentary candidate for Hammersmith, Merlene Emerson and the LibDem peer, Navnit Dholakia, who has been very active in inter-faith and mutlicultural issues. Next to Holborn and St Pancras in Camden, where we were briefly joined by the Chinese Conservative parliamentary candidate, George Lee. Lunchtime was in Chinatown in Soho, with Mark Field (seeking re-election as the Conservative MP for the Cities of London and Westminster) and his Labour opponent, Dave Rowntree. We ended the tour in Hampstead, at the offices of local LibDem Councillor Linda Chung — winner of the sensational Hampstead Town by-election in 2008 — whose efforts to get two fellow LibDems elected this time got a simultaneuous boost from a fleeting visit from Mirian Clegg.


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The Rebirth of Orpington Man?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 17th April, 2010

The Orpington by-election of 1962 was a political milestone. Eric Lubbock over-turned a large Conservative majority, panicking the Conservative government of Harold Macmillan, and the Liberal Party (which had almost died out a decade before) was revitalised. The term ‘Orpington Man’ was coined by the media as they tried to explain what had happened: a new breed of commuting voter who had turned against the Tories, they argued. Actually, there was another equally important factor, namely that the local Conservative association parachuted in a candidate with no local connections, whereas Eric was the local man incarnate. The electors appreciated the difference. It is amazing, therefore, that nearly 40 years later, the Conservatives have done the same thing in Orpington, parachuting in Boris Johnson’s brother, Jo, even though quite a number of qualified local councillors applied for the seat after John Horam’s retirement, as well, I understand, as the rather talented and personable James Cleverly, GLA Member for Bromley and Bexley. More fool them. And good fortune for the Liberal Democrat candidate for Orpington, David McBride, at whose adoption meeting in Orpington Liberal Club Eric Lubbock (now Lord Avebury) and I both spoke this lunchtime.

David has been a local councillor for several years, and grew up in the seat. I was pleased to see he is using the same slogan I used when I fought it in 1987: Orpington Matters! He had had the fillip last night of seeing Orpington turn yellow on the BBC’s swingometre chart following opinion polls after Nick Clegg’s sterling performance on the Leaders’ Debate earlier this week. And he will presumably be even more bucked by the poll in tmorrow’s Mail on Sunday, which puts the LibDems out in front (just!) on 32% nationally, ahead of the Conservatives on 31% and Labour on 28%.


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