Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for February, 2011

Ian Spratt’s How Lucky We Are

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 25th February, 2011

The Royal Commonwealth Club in London’s Northumberland Avenue this evening launched an impressive exhibition of black-and-white images from Bangladesh by award-winning photographer Ian Spratt, in the presence of guest of honour, my local MP (and former political opponent) Jim Fitzpatrick. Ian Spratt first established links with the country back in 1985. The following year, he photographed infants at an orphanage in Bangladesh, where British air hostess Pat Kerr discovered a new vocation in life as fundraiser and consciousness-raiser to meet the needs of the most marginalised children, who were then raised in Sreepur Village. Ten years later, Ian Spratt — who had been named Photographer of the Year in 1986 for his images of Bangladeshi children — returned, found his previous subjects and re-photographed them. On seeing the earlier images, his daughter had commented ‘How lucky we are!’ in comparison. But the second visit prompted Ian Spratt to reflect on how lucky the young Bangladeshi adults he was photographing in 1996 were, having been given a second chance in life. To complete the story, he has now made a new set of images of the same people, a quarter of a century after the first. Each portrait is therefore part of a trio of powerful, even life-enhancing snapshots. The exhibition will run until 28 March and prints are for sale.

Link: and

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In Memoriam Peter Wakefield

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 24th February, 2011

Sir Peter Wakefield’s sudden death last November brought a premature end to a distinguished career of public service, not only as a British diplomat but also to a wide range of voluntary organisations, including the Richmond Theatre and London’s Asia House — all of which was evoked at his packed Memorial Service at All Souls Church, Langham place, this afternoon. I first met Peter in Brussels, where he was Ambassador to Belgium and I was working as a freelance journalist, mainly for an idiosyncratic weekly magazine called The Bulletin. Sometimes we met at official functions, but more often at artistic events; one of my regular jobs was as The Bulletin’s theatre critic. We soon discovered that we had other, unusual, mutual twin interests: the Middle East and Japan. His most memorable diplomatic posting was probably his time in Beirut during the civil war. One side of his life that I hadn’t been familiar with until today, however, was his devotion to the Anglican church. In retirement he was a regular communicant at St Mary the Virgin, Twickenham (as well as sometimes attending Catholic Mass with his RC wife, Felicity). The Vicar of St Mary’s, Jeff Hopkin Williams gave a perceptive Introduction to the Memorial Service, highlighting Peter’s humanity behind his sometimes haughty bearing, while Sir James Craig — also a British diplomat who was part of the ‘Camel Corps’ serving in the Middle East — had some charming anecdotes in his eulogy. Asia House hosted a reception after the service.

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Estonia and the Euro

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 23rd February, 2011

On 1 January, Estonia became the 17th member of the Eurozone and the first of the former Soviet republics to join the single currency. This was a remarkable achievement but one the young nation was determined to pull off, as was explained at a seminar on Estonia and the Euro put on by the London chapter of the European Movement at Europe House in Smith Square last night. The attraction of being in the single currency was obvious for a small country of fewer than 2 million people finding its way in Europe’s huge single market, and it was seen to offer a reassuring degree of financial security. But Estonia was also a welcome and well-justified entrant to the Eurozone, not least because it has one of the lowest levels of national debt around: just 10% of GDP. As one of the speakers, European financial consultant Graham Bishop, pointed out, for all the well-publicised problems experienced by the Eurozone over the past year or so — largely due to the failure of Greece and Ireland to maintain their competitiveness — the currency itself has actually remained bouyant. Poor sterling, meanwhile, has slumped in value by a quarter, which might be good news for British exporters, but makes imports dearer and will inevitably push up inflation, as we are already beginning to see. Moreover, Graham warned that Britain will become increasingly marginalised as one after another of the ‘new’ European Union member states adopt the single currency (as they are all obliged to do at some stage). One hopes that the Liberal Democrat members of the Coalition government are making that point strongly, even if many Conservatives find the message unpalatable.

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Gaddafi Must Go!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 22nd February, 2011

Muammar Gaddafi went on Libyan state television during the night to prove that he is still in Tripoli, though as Al Jazeera (a channel that has really proved its worth tracking the democracy wave sweeping North Africa and the Midde East) said, he could have been on a filmset, given the weird décor in which he sat, half-in, half-out of a car while holding a large umbrella over his head. He looks completely crazed, and it would be funny, were the situation in Libya not so tragic and bloody. The UN is launching an investigation into whether Gaddafi is guilty of crimes against humanity. Certainly, the eye-witness accounts coming out from Libya are damning evidence that he is. What needs to happen now is for the Libyan people to overthrow him and to hand him over for an international tribunal. In the meantime, the West should not be shy of voicing its disgust at this tyrant. There is no room for so-called ‘dialogue’ with the régime in Tripoli. There is no chance that Gaddafi or one of his sons could oversee a process of reform in Libya. Gaddafi must go, and go soon.

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The US in Global Decline

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 19th February, 2011

The decision by the Obama administration to veto a UN Security Council resolution condemning illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied West Bank — a resolution that every other Council member, including Britain, had backed — is a telling confirmation that Washington has lost the plot. It seems blind to what is happening across North Africa and the Middle East, being behind the curve with people’s movements there, and increasingly being seen by the Arab world as trapped in its determination to act accordingly to what is best for the Israel government and its colonial policies. But Washington is not only ever more isolated on the international stage. It is showing itself to be increasingly impotent, while still acting as if it were the undisputed Leader of the World. Instead of building alliances with other countries — especially the emerging economies, including Brazil, China and China — it is alienating them. Moreover, the ultimate irony is that by doing nothing concrete to prevent Israel for continuing to annex not just East Jerusalem but ever larger pockets of the West Bank, the US is helping make a two-state solution in Israel-Palestine impossible. And any future single country of Israel-Palestine would have to be secular and multi-cultural, which would mean an end to any Jewish state, forever.

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Science and Citizens

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 18th February, 2011

After the young journalist Philip Geddes was killed by an IRA bomb at Harrod’s department store in 1983, an award scheme for aspirant journos was set up in his memory and in recent years there has been an annual lecture at his alma mater — and mine — St Edmund Hall, Oxford. Previous years have seen some of the most glittering names in political and foreign affairs journalism take the podium, but this evening the speaker was Philip Campbell, Editor in Chief of Nature, who covered a very different area of media when he gave a illustrated talk on ‘Scientists and Citizens: Help and Hindrance from New Media’. The main thrust of Dr Campbell’s argument was the way that the dissemination and discussion of scientific articles and papers has changed with the development of blogs, comments, twitter and more. He focussed particularly on two areas of great contention, namely climate change and vaccine scares, both issues that have generated heated scientific argument as well as political grandstanding from opposing positions. Many scientists are still reluctant to get involved in the new media, he said, but they are becoming increasingly important, as are online platforms for publication.

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Poland’s Priorities for the EU

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 17th February, 2011

Only a little over two decades after the struggles of Lech Walesa and his Solidarity colleagues led to the downfall of Communism in Poland, the country is making preparations for holding the rotating presidency of the European Union. Although the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty has meant that there is now a ‘permanent’ President of the European Council — currently the former Belgian Prime Minister, Herman van Rompuy — every six months a key role in the organisation of the Union passes to one member state (currently Hungary). Today, at a Kettner’s lunch held at the National Liberal Club, which I chaired, the head of the political section of the Polish Embassy in London, Jacek Gajweski, gave an excellent, succinct presentation about what Warsaw hopes to prioritise during its half-year in the Brussels sun, starting on 1 July. The final programme will not be unveiled until June, but as far as Mr Gayewski can predict, the six main themse are likely to be:

1) strengthening the EU’s internal market

2) improving relations with the Eastern neighbourhood, including Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia etc

3) strengthening the EU’s energy policy

4) consolidation of the common security and defence policy

5) neogotiating the 2014-2020 financial framework

6) full utiliastion of Europe’s intellectual capital

He said that Poland hopes to see progress in EU enlargement moves, relating to Iceland, Croatia, other parts of the Western Balkans and Turkey. And he noted how internally, Poland has been changing since the country joined the EU in 2004. The proportion of the population employed in agriculture has been halved — though those remaining farmers are perhaps the most pro-EU of all Poles — and as far as the role of the Catholic Church is concerned, he quoted a media commentatorwho said a few yers ago, a propos of John Paul II, ‘We heard the Pope, but we did not listen.’

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We Are Here – Young People Speak Out

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 16th February, 2011

The 12 Star Gallery at the European Commission’s London representation in London this lunchtime played host to a group of young single mums from Cumbria and Northumberland for the launch of a photographic exhibition that is part of a project connected to the 2010 European Year of Poverty and Social Exclusion. The idea of the scheme was that young people across Europe should be able to work with artists, photographers and film-makers and speak out about their lives and the problems they face, so they can influence public opinion and policy. There were some particularly striking photos and captions from Roma and other marginalised groups in Hungary, Italy and Serbia, but the English Northern young mums were best represented in short films of them and their infants, talking to camera about their feelings and experiences. As Dame Clare Tickell, CEO of Action for Children, commented, ‘This powerful project gives young people the skills to create and share imaginative, honest and meaningful visual messages. They help us all to understand the issues affecting their lives and to learn from their experiences.’ The films will be broadcast on the Community Channel on 21, 24 and 27 February and the exhibition will remain at the 12 Star Gallery at 32, Smith Square, London SW1P 3EU until 25 February.

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Doing Business with Pakistan

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 15th February, 2011

Given all the recent television footage of bomb outrages and flood damage in Pakistan, this might not seem the best country in the world to invest. But at a seminar at Lancaster House in London, hosted by UK Trade and Industry (UKTI), the myth of a nation rapidly disappearing down the plughole was dispelled. There were strong presentations by Britain’s Minister of State for Trade and Industry, Lord Green, and his Pakistani equivalent, Saleem Mandiwalla, who both set the ambitious goal of doubling the current annual bilateral trade flow of £1 billion to £2 billion, though being a little vague about the timeframe in which this could be achieved. The British High Commissioner to Islamabad, Adam Thomson, stressed the problem of perception in Britain when thinking about Pakistan; the first two words that come into people’s heads are “terrorism” and “corruption”, he said, whereas as far as he were concerned, they should be “opportunity” and “engagement”. It was clear from subsequent sessions at the seminar that there are vast opportunities for investment in Pakistan — notably in the fields of energy, infrastructure and food storage and processing. The country’s population of 180 million is expected to almost double by the year 2050 and there is a growing middle class with increased purchasing power. Moreover, geographically Pakistan is potentially an important hub for the whole South-West Asian and Arabian Gulf region. Nonetheless, it would be foolish to fail to acknowledge the very real challenges ahead.

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What Future for Europe?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 13th February, 2011

The Policy Network arranged an impressive line-up at a seminar on the Future of Europe at Bloomberg’s headquarters in the City on Friday, including Lords Mandelson and Liddle, Vince Cable, Sharon Bowles MEP and EU Commissioner Laszlo Andor. Their definition of ‘Europe’ was narrow, in the sense that the discussion was all about the European Union — and much of it about the future of the eurozone. Fears were expressed that as the eurozone expands, to take in some of the more recent EU members which have not yet satisfied the criteria for joining the single curency, Britain will be increasingly isolated and exposed. It was also stressed that there is still work to be done to implement the single market, and that further expansion of the EU, to take in predominantly young candidate states — notably Turkey — is desirable. One session of the day-long seminar examined what citizens want from the European institutions; there is not just a democratic deficit in the EU but also a lot of work to be done before European citizens really feel engagement with what the EU is for, what it does. Peter Mandelson declared that people on both sides of the Channel essentially want the same things: a secure and prosperous life, in which they enjoy the freedom of choice. But everyone was aware of how difficult it is to persuade a substantial proportion of the British public that Euro-scepticism is misguided.

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