Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for April, 2012

Nick Clegg at the Centre for Turkey Studies

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 30th April, 2012

The Centre for Turkey Studies and Development (CTS) is little more than a year old, yet as Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg acknowledged at its first anniversary dinner at the Park Lane Sheraton Hotel this evening, its growth has surpassed even that of the Turkish economy. Several hundred people — predominantly Turks/Kurds/Turkish Cypriots in London — gathered for drinks and then a first class Indian dinner in the ballroom in the bowels of the hotel. The Turkish and Kurdish community has become one of the most visible in multicultural London and is beginning to make its mark in business, finance and the service industries. It is the architypal community that has got up and done stuff without waiting for handouts, or positive discrimination or any of the other things promoted by the Socialist Left. Of course, much of the credit  for CTS’s extraordinary success is due to the dynamism of one amazing individual, Ibrahim Dogus, who has managed to whip up support across the three main political parties. Nick Clegg joked that the rate of exponential growth shown this year means we will have to gather in the O2 Arena in 2013 — and indeed, why not? The London-based Turkish/Kurdish/Turkish Cypriot community is big enough. I welcome the way it is increasinly integrating into London society, without losing its roots and identity, and I look forward to the day when there wil be a Turkish-speaking member of the London Assembly or the lower House of Parliament (currently there is one such member of the House of Lords, the LibDem Baroness Meral Ece).


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Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 29th April, 2012

Impossible dreams are what drive humankind forward: we were given free will to think the unthinkable. Karl Popper used to talk about creative leaps of the imagination and although doubtless some people will think me pretentious for saying so, that is what came to my mind as I emerged from watching Lasse Holstrom’s Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. Based on the best-selling novel by Paul Torday, the movie recounts the quest by an extremely rich Arab shekih (Amr Waked) to reproduce the thrill (for him) of salmon fishing on one of his Scottish Highland estates, but in the Yemen, with the aid of a dam, a Scottish ichthyologist (Ewan McGregor) and a smart young female public relations-cum-mnagement consultant (Emily Blunt). Like many dreams,the scheme is preposterous, yet passion and commitment — and pots of money — make it happen, even if initial victory is swept away by the forces of reaction. It’s a powerful story, shot against wonderful backdrops of Scotland and Morocco (a safer stand-in for the Yemen) and there is much acting, notably by Ewan McGregor, whose portrayal of the single-minded fish specialist is both bathetic and endearing. Kristin Scott Thomas as the hard-nosed (indeed, hard everything) press relations guru of a shallow British Prime Minister is a sort of cross between Alistair Campbell and Cruella De Ville; it may be a caricature but it is an effective one and underlines her potenial as a bitchy Maggie Smith for future cameo roles. All in all, a feel-good film that mixes high drama with some good jokes and an often intelligent script. Another ‘hit’ for the British film industry, I’m sure.

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London’s Portuguese Gala

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 28th April, 2012

Among the many newspapers that serve London’s multicultural community, the Portuguese language As Noticias is something of a leader. There are reputedly around 400,000 Portuguese in Britain — not to mention the large numbers of Brazilians, Angolans, etc. — a substantial proportion of whom are in London, notably in the Vauxhall area of Lambeth. But it was in Battersea, at the Portuguese-owned Pestana Chelsea Bridge Hotel, that Joao Noronha of As Noticias hosted the fourth Portuguese community Gala dinner last night, with splendid live entertainment flown in from Lisbon. The guests of honour included the Secretary of State for Portuguese Communities, José Cesario (pictured), who is one of four members of the Portuguese parliament elected by expatriates: two for Europe and two for the rest of the world, the latter being Mr Cesario’s constituency. That means a huge amount of travelling for him, from Brazil to Goa to Macau and points in between. It’s an interesting system of representation which I suspect Britain will one day have to consider following. There are hundreds of thousands of Brits who live abroad — notably in Spain — who become disenfranchised after 15 years away. Moreover, the concept of a Diaspora helps maintain a nationality’s sense of identity and community, as many of the ethnic groups in London demonstrate. The Portuguese community in Britain originally consisted largely of people working in the hospitality business and low-skilled jobs but these days they are of all types, including bankers, as was illustrated by the sponsorship of last night’s event by four of the leading Portuguese banks with operations in London. I was there as a guest as a Portuguese-speaking LibDem, alongside the similarly lusophone Conservative MEP Charles Tannock.

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Vince Cable Mentors in Primrose Hill

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 27th April, 2012

A while back, the Liberal Democrats established a mentoring scheme to help develop promising potential young politicians, especially from black and minority ethnicities and it was good to see that in action today when the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, came to Primrose Hill in Camden to speak in support of a young man he has been mentoring, Chris Richards, who is both the LibDem GLA candidate for the constituency of Barnet & Camden and on the city-wide list, as well as fighting the marginal Primrose Hill ward seat in a Camden Council by-election. Vince also took questions from an audience made up of party activists, business people and lobbyists and representatives of both the main local newspapers. Not surprisingly, there was quite a lot of focus on the High Speed rail-link proposals, as many Camden residents are concerned about the likely impact of current plans on the area around Euston. But Vince spoke well in favour of the principle of High Speed rail as a key element in spreading prosperity round the country; it’s the nitty-gritty of the routes that has to be sorted out, listening carefully to residents’ concerns. Most of the rest of the discussion was about financial and other help for small and medium-sized businesses, especially in start-ups. Chris Richards himself, through his work with the Institute of Engineering and Technology, is no slouch on such issues and of course Vince is a star. He is the party’s greatest public asset and it is commendable that he is managing to squeeze in campaigning activities in the run-up to the 3 May election, not only for his mentoree but for other candidates and councils around the UK in parallel with his busy government portfolio.

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Peace on the Korean Peninsula

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 27th April, 2012

The division of Korea and the tense military stand-off on the peninsula — which alas sometimes involves aggressive action from the North — is the last remaining manifestation of the Cold War. As was said by one of the speakers at a Korea seminar at the Universal Peace Federation (UPF) in Lancaster Gate last night, this belongs in the 20th century, not the 21st. North Korea remains a menacing mystery for many in the West, and a constant worry for South Koreans, and indeed Japan, given the range of North Korean missiles. Yet the situation is not completely bleak, nor entirely static. The coronation of Kim Jung-Un as the third generation of North Korea’s Communist dynasty was pretty surreal, but Pyongyang did allow quite a number of foreign journalists into the country to witness some of the ceremonies associated with his takeover and the 100th anniversary of his grandfather and creator of the ideology of Juche, Kim Il-Sung. Moreover there are more contacts with the North these days than used to be the case. At the gathering last night it was pointed out that one hotel (yes, just one!) in Pyongyang does have CNN in its rooms and some North Koreans are able clandestinely to watch South Korean TV, even though that is dangerous. Reportedly one million North Koreans also have mobile phones (though foreign visitors who go to the country have theirs temporarily confiscated). It is significant to remember that until 1971, North Korea had a stronger economy than that of the South. In the intervening four decades, South Korea has been one of the most successful Asian Tigers, while the North has languished and many of its citizens live in dire poverty, some even succombing to starvation. Yet the first shoots of a market economy have been allowed to emerge. And China has been urging the North to carry out economic reforms. Probably only after sweeping economic reforms will the reunification of Korea become feasible, though no-one believes that could happen as quickly or indeed as smoothly as in the case of reunited Germany. But in the meantime, all interested parties need to avoid the rhetoric of belligerency and the North needs to recognise that fundamental change is in its own interest.

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Motivating London’s Chinese to Vote

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 25th April, 2012

Among London’s various ethnic groups, British Chinese have tended to steer clear of politics in the past, though that is beginning to change. Much of the credit for that must go to the BC (British Chinese) Project and its indefatigable activist Joseph Wu, who uses every opportunity to encourage Chinese in Britain to register to vote, to go out and vote and indeed stand for election. There have been some notable successes, such as Councillor Linda Chung (LibDem) in Hampstead and the former Mayor of Redbridge, Thomas Chan (Conservative). In Northern Ireland, the Alliance Party (a sister party of the LibDems) succeeded in getting Anna Lo elected as the Stormont member for South Belfast. And now for the first time, an ethnic Chinese candidate is standing for the London Assembly (GLA): the LibDem Merlene Emerson, originally from Singapore. She is Number 5 on the LibDem proportional list, so her getting in is entirely dependent on the percentage of LibDem votes City-wide. The LibDems had five GLA members back in 2000, though there are currently only three, so it is not an impossible target. And with the help of the BC Project, Merlene’s candidature has been promoted amongst the capital’s Chinese community, which is far more extensive than just the habitués of the tourist-drawing Chinatown near Leicester Square. Merlene has also been actively courting other groups in multicultural London and even got her efforts to persuade older Chinese to go out and vote for the first time written up in French! The Chinese media — mainland and otherwise — has naturally homed in on her campaign. Whatever one’s political affiliations, having a Chinese member of the GLA would certainly make the body more representative of London than it is at present. So from my (admittedly biased) position I can only say to her: 祝你好运!


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Tiger Head, Snake Tails

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 23rd April, 2012

Later this year, in the cavernous Great Hall of the People in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, the new top leadership of China will be unveiled. The so-called fourth generation will be stepping down — thanks to a two five-year term rule and retirement at the age of 69 — and we will know who are the fresh creme de le creme of the Communist Party hierarchy by the order in which the nine members of the Politburo’s Standing Committee walk out on stage. Most China-watchers believe that the new President will be Xi Jinping and the new Prime Minister Li Kechang, though one can never rule out a last-minute surprise. One absentee will be the Chongqing party chief, Bo Xilai — a high-flyer who has gone down in flames over an extraordinary scandal that allegedly involves the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood by Bo’s wife, Mme Gu, who is a figure straight out of pulp fiction. I am sure someone is busy writing the synopsis of a novel based on the affair right now. But in the meantime, anyone who wants to know what is going on in China, how it got where it is and where it is going could do no better than buy and read the latest book by Jonathan Fenby, former editor of the Observer and the South China Morning Post, whose Tiger Head, Snake Tails is a brilliant study of a country that might not yet rule the world (as Martin Jacques predicted in a book a few years ago) but is probably heading to be the world’s largest economy within a generation, providing it doesn’t trip up along the way. The fall of Bo Xilai happened after Fenby’s tome went to press, but otherwise it is admirably up-to-date. More importantly, it draws on many years of intelligent study and reporting in China and Hong Kong. It is full of statistics and telling anecdotes, but written in a style that successfully walks the tightrope between popular journalism and academe. It is thus accessible to the uninitiated and illuminating to old China hands. Highly recommended.

Tiger Head, Snake Tails, Simon & Schuster, £20

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Resuscitating the Middle East Peace Process

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 19th April, 2012

This morning at the House of Commons I was one of the speakers on a panel organised by the South Asia and Middle East Forum on prospects for the peace process between Israel and Palestine. I confess I tend not to use the term “peace process” myself, as far from leading to peace up till now it has led up a blind alley. Louise Ellmann MP, Vice Chair of Labour Friends if Israel, stressed in her speech that direct negotiations need to get underway again, and that Hamas needs to acknowledge Israel’s permanent right to exist. My remarks focussed on how public opinion in Britain has shifted dramatically over the past half century, from seeing Israel as a noble endeavour and a brave David against the Goliath of the Arab world, to a narrative in which the Palestinians are rightly seen as the victims of extraordinary and ongoing injustice. The prospect of a two-state solution is now in the Last Chance Saloon, I argued; if the situation is not resolved very soon, then there can be no two state solution and a one-state solution will hardly suit Israel’s interests. Settlement building in the Occupied Territories must stop immediately and realistic plans for withdrawal should be implemented; moreover the Judaisation of East Jerusalem must cease, and the city’s role as a holy place for all three Abrahamic faiths underlined and somehow guaranteed by the international community. The world also has to recognise that Israel is violating many aspects of the Geneva Conventions and the Law of Belligerency. The EU can and should be doing more, though it is partly hamstrung because of divisions among member states. But the UK could usefully put much more pressure on the United States which is the only outside power than can bring the Israeli government to heel (not that President Obama is likely to do anything constructive on that front until after the November election). I was pleased that Andy Slaughter MP concurred with most of what I had said and he went into considerably more detail. Alas I had to leave before the Palestinian Ambassador gave his contribution, as I had to teach a class at SOAS. But the Commons Committee Room 10 was full and the message seemed to be getting across.

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A Diamond in the Desert

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 18th April, 2012

By coincidence, an article in the Guardian appeared raising questions about Abu Dhabi’s ability to complete its Guggenheim Museum on time just as I was finishing reading Jo Tatchell’s book about the city, A Diamond in the Desert. Subtitled “behind the scenes in the world’s richest city”, the book does what it says on the cover, in other words provide an insider-outsider’s view of a rapidly changing city in which she grew up and to which she returned on a prolonged visit years later. It’s sobering to think that when I was born, Abu Dhabi was a very small settlement of predominantly palm-frond huts, clustered round the local sheikh’s modest dwelling, whereas now it is a densely populated city, criss-crossed by 8-lane highways and boasting several mind-blowingly luxurious hotels. But unlike Dubai, just a couple of hours’ drive away, Abu Dhabi has not gone down the route of ultimate flash, what one might call the Beckham lifestyle. Instead, as the capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as well as the main city of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, it has chosen in recent years to reinvent itself as a great cultural centre, with an island of different museums which will house some of the creme de la creme of world Art. This could be seen as an idealistic attempt to recreate the spirit of Cordoba, an era of cultural flowering and tolerance that characterised that southern Spanish city under Islamic rule. But as Jo Tatchell makes clear, there is a difficult dynamic in modern Abu Dhabi’s development; while wanting to be seen as a global cultural centre, it nonetheless wishes to remain essentially Emirati, despite the fact that 80 per cent of the population are migrant workers, notably from the Indian sub-continent and the Philippines. Moreover, many of Abu Dhabi’s gilded youth live in a dream world of social privilege and conspicuous consumption that has little connection with such lofty aims. There are many things which disturb Ms Tatchell, including the recognition that tolerance is limited in the Emirates (criticising the Ruling family or indeed the country is a complete no-no) and that expats — especially the Indians — will never be living on an equal footing with the indigenous Arabs. Nonetheless, the author retains a fondness for the place, albeit nostalgic for aspects of the past that have disappeared — a view I whole-heartedly share.

(A Diamond in the Desert is available in paperback in England, published by Sceptre)


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UNCTAD Comes to Doha

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 15th April, 2012

Next week, the futuristic Qatar National Convention Centre will be hosting the 13th quadrennial gathering of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development — the first time such an UNCTAD event has ever taken place in an Arab country. The theme of the conference is “Development-centred Globalisation: Towards Sustainable and Inclusive Development” and a Civil Society forum, bringing together non-governmental organisations of all kinds from around the world, will run in parallel, as has recently been the practice at such international conventions. Qatar has the honour of having the highest per capita GDP of any country on earth: now breaking the US$100,000 per annum barrier. Thanks to its wealth, despite its small population the Gulf state has been able to punch way above its weight. Moreover, under Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, Qatar has pursued a unique path in global diplomacy, sponsoring all sorts of international initiatives, unafraid to align itself with some of the Arab Spring movements in North Africa and the Middle East (including in Syria), while at the same time positioning itself as a global venue for events and conferences. It is currently following up its successful football World Cup bid with an ambitious campaign to try to get the 2020 Olympics sited in Doha, though if the Olympics & Paralympics bid is successful these would be held in October/November 2020, rather than during summer, for important climate considerations. Attracting UNCTAD, meanwhile, is a definite coup and is likely to help forge new relationships between Qatar (and the wider Gulf) and emerging economies in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The world is a significantly different place from that when UNCTAD was set up in 1964. It’s not just that the East-West divide betwen Communist and capitalist states has evapourated, the North-South divide betwen rich and poor countries is no longer so clear-cut, with even many sub-Saharan African countries now enjoying bouyant economic growth. Of course, UNCTAD XIII in Doha will have to take into acount some of the fallout of the global economic crisis. But it won’t only be the host Qatar that will be feeling in a much more optimistic mood than is evident in most of Europe and North America. Moreover, of all the UN institutions, UNCTAD remains one of the most idealistic, as reflected in a comment from its Special Advisor, Kobsak Chutkul, reported in today’s Qatari Press, “Qatar is bringing everyone, from all sectors of society, from all countries around the world, under one roof, under one big tent of humanity!”

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