Archive for November, 2012
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 28th November, 2012
Though many — perhaps too many — Brits rub their hands in glee that the UK is not part of the troubled eurozone, and therefore may sometimes benefit from currency fluctuations, only UKIP MEPs and other delusionists could relish the thought of the single currency’s collapse. “Europe”, as so many in Britain continue to refer to the Continent, as if we are somehow not part of it, is still the biggest single market for British goods and is likely to remain so for some time, despite the rise of the BRICs — Brazil, Russia, India and China. Moreover, those who would like us to become another Norway, being part of the European economic area but having no say in the rules and regulations that govern it, are positively unpatriotic, in my view. I was glad that Vicky Pryce, former Chief Economist at the Department of Trade and Industry and later working with Vince Cable at the Department of Business and Skills, stressed, at a Pizza and Politics put on by Islington Liberal Democrats this evening, that the UK is far better in than out when it comes to the EU. The author of a recently acclaimed book, Greekonomics*, she has since her departure from government employment become something of a guru on what is happening in Europe’s economy, with particular in relation to Greece, whence she originally hails. Indeed, she is forever popping up on the TV and radio as the one commentator who knows what she is talking about on the subject, yet does not slag off her compatriots as good-for-nothing lazy tax-dodgers. That is, alas, the image still in the minds of many Germans, for example, though they would do well to acknowledge just how well Germany has done out of the single currency — selling goods left, right and centre — even if they are now expected to bail out the declining European periphery. I was struck by Vicky’s comments about the possibility of the need for a debt write-off for Greece and possibly some others, as their debt levels are unsustainable and will only drive them further into the sloough of despond. I was reminded so strongly as she spoke of the Latin American debt crisis that I used to commentate on for the BBC in the late 1980s. I asked her whether she could ever envisage Britain during the euro — as Peter Mandelson, amongst others, have suggested. She was cautious about the possibility — more so than myself — but she didn’t rule it out completely.
* Biteback Publishing
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: EU, euro, eurozone, Germany, Greece, Greekonomics, Islington Liberal Democrats, Peter Mandelson, single currency, Vicky Pryce, Vince Cable | 1 Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 26th November, 2012
Perhaps it was being born and growing up in Singapore that gave John Kampfner insight into the dangers inherent in a social compact that gives citizens economic prosperity (and cleanliness!) at the sacrifice of some significant civil liberties. But certainly concerns about the nature and protection of freedom have been at the heart of much of his subsequent activity as a journalist, editor and former head of Index on Censorship. This evening, at a Pizza and Politics held immediately after the AGM of Holborn & St Pancras Liberal Democrats, he highlighted some of his concerns about some of the measures being considered by the Coalition government — not just the so-called Secret Courts but also proposals for greater surveillance of our emails and other communication traffic. As a convert from Labour to the Liberal Democrats (for which he has received much stick from earstwhile colleagues) John stressed how important it is for the Party to stick to its civil liberties beliefs. The records of both Conservative and Labour governments have been pretty dire in this regard, so the implication is that if LibDems don’t make a stand on freedoms then we risk losing our political soul. Nonetheless, we should take the findings of Lord Leveson seriously when they are published on Thursday. A totally unfettered Press can wreak havoc, as I would argue Fox News in the United States is doing. As always it is a matter of balancing freedom with responsibility, but for me that is very much what Liberalism is all about.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Fox News, Holborn & St Pancras Liberal Democrats, Index on Censorship, John Kampfner, Leveson Inquiry, Liberal Democrats, Singapore | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 24th November, 2012
Don Foster has long been one of the most entertaining Liberal Democrat public speakers and since becoming a government Minister he has not lost his touch. Last evening he addressed the AGM of Kingston Liberal Democrats at Kingston Rugby Club, only occasionally letting his eye wander to the screen at the end of the room that was showing (silently) a match with his home team Bath playing. For two years he was at the Department of Media, Culture and Sport, thus enjoying a grandstand view of this summer’s Olympics and Paralympics. But in the recent reshuffle Don was moved to the Department for Communities and Local Government, under (fortunately not literally) Eric Pickles. As Don said last night, it has been a steep learning curve but he is a committed believer in local government. However, much of his speech was an amusing take on this week’s Away Day of LibDem parliamentarians at an anonymous hotel. After all the pep talks there was some light-hearted banter about some of the tweets LibDem MPs have posted, ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous, as our elected representatives show widely varying talents in the medium. The Twit of the Year, in Don’s view, was clearly the Chief Whip, Alistair Carmichael, who hit the jackpot with his tweet: “Nadine Dorries, I served with Lembit Opik, I knew Lembit Opik. Let me tell you, Nadine Dorries, you are no Lembit Opik.”
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Alistair Carmichael, Bath, Don Foster, Eric Pickles, Kingston Liberal Democrats, Kingston Rugby Club, Lembit Opik, Liberal Democrats, Nadine Dorries, Narine Dorries, Twitter | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 21st November, 2012
After several false starts, a truce has been agreed between Israel and Gaza, with both Egypt and the United States playing a significant role in the process. This will be a relief both for those Israelis who have suffered rocket fire from Hamas and from other groups in Gaza and the far greater number of Gazans who have been the deliberate or collateral targets of Israeli firepower. But does the truce offer more than a breathing space? Essentially, the core situation has not changed: Gaza is still subject to a cruel blockade, which means that many products, including building materials, are kept out by Israel and even humanitarian aid convoys from Turkey and other friendly states cannot get through by sea. Israel has made no firm offer to lift that blockade, though at least the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Cairo is more sympathetic to the Gazan’s plight than Hosni Mubarak was. What has received little attention, though, is the amount of protest that has broken out in the Occupied West Bank, causing some Arab commentators to wonder whether a Third Intifada is on the cards. What seems to me to be certain is that until the Israeli government changes its policies and starts the evacuation of the West Bank, rather than continuing to build settlements both there and in East Jerusalem in defiance of International Law, there will be no stability in the region. To my mind, the Arab-Israeli conflict is merely on hold, and probably not for very long.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Egypt, Gaza, Hamas, Hosni Mubarak, Intifada, Israel, Muslim Brotherhood, Palestine, West Bank | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 17th November, 2012
When the Welfare Association* conceived the idea of a fundraising gala dinner in aid of disadvantaged children in Palestine, to be held at the Bloomsbury Big Top in central London, they can have had no idea that that event this evening would coincide with renewed fighting between Gaza’s Hamas and Israel, in which several Palestinian children have already been victims. The Middle East, which I have been following for well over 40 years, is an unending tragedy, complex and multi-dimensional. But any objective observer must come to the conclusion that in all of this chaos the Palestinians have been the big losers. And as so often in conflict situations the humanitarian burden falls most heavily on those least able to bear it. So this evening, around 600 people gathered under the big top to be entertained by trapeze artists and acrobats, the Palestinian-Jordanian singer Zeina Barhoum and other musicians, but most important, to demonstrate solidarity with the children of Palestine — tens of thousands of them disabled or else traumatised by conflict — whose lives can be eased thanks to projects for which a healthy six-figure sum was raised. Clare Short, the former Labour MP who nobly resigned from the party in protest at Tony Blair’s illegal war in Iraq, made a short speech, but those of us who were there needed little reminding of the necessity and urgency of the cause. It was good that many young people who have high-earning jobs in the City were there, to bid at auction for works of art by Andrew Martin, Alexander Mcqueen and others. Barclays Bank was also a ‘platinum sponsor’. Coincidentally, the Arab League held an emergency meeting in Cairo today to discuss how to react to the current crisis. The Qatari Foreign Minister warned about the potential emptiness of yet another declaration. At least tonight those at the Welfare Association dinner made a real contribution that will get to those who most need assistance.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Alexander Mcqueen, Andrew Martin, Arab League, Bloomsbury Big Top, Cairo, Clare Short, Gaza, Hamas, Israel, Palestine, Qatar, Tony Blair, Welfare Association, Zeina Barhoum | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 16th November, 2012
One of the joys of Europe is the continent’s linguistic and cultural diversity, and that goes far beyond the 23 official and working languages of the European Union. There are a plethora of minority tongues which are now standing tall and proud, from Catalan to Guernsey Norman, which just happen to be two of the languages featured by the independent publisher Francis Boutle, who over the last few years have brought out a series of books that aim to bring marginal language literature into the mainstream. This evening, at the Irish Centre in Camden Square, Esperantists gathered for the launch of Star in a Night Sky, a bilingual anthology of Esperanto literature edited by Paul Gubbins for Francis Boutle. Both Clive Boutle from the publishers (in English) and Paul Gubbins (in Esperanto) spoke and I was gratified to see how much of the latter I understood. I briefly studied the language while I was reading Chinese and Japanese at Oxford, and indeed I was President of the Oxford University Esperanto Society, though I haven’t been involved in “green star” circles for a long time. Detractors like to claim that no-one speaks the lamguage, which is manifestly untrue; there were people from Sweden, Slovakia and Slovenia, amongst others, happily chatting away in Esperanto with Brits at this evening’s event and I have met keen Esperantists in Poland and Japan. Of course, Esperanto is a language of idealism, as its name implies. But the new anthology is a salutory reminder that over the past 125 years since the Polish Jewish doctor Ludwig Zamanhof invented the idiom, some interesting and sometimes moving creative literature has been crafted in it.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Camden, Catalan, Clive Boutle, Esperanto, Francis Boutle, Irish Centre, Ludwig Zamanhof, Paul Gubbins, Star in a Night Sky | 2 Comments »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 13th November, 2012
During her two years at the Home Office, Lynne Featherstone did great things to promote the equalities agenda, even if she and Theresa May did not always see eye to eye. The Equal Marriage consultation was a real win for the LibDems within the Coalition, and to his credit David Cameron “got” the issue, even if some of his backbench headbangers didn’t. So there was initially some disquiet among LibDems when Lynne was moved in the ministerial reshuffle earier this year to the Department for International Development (DfID). However, as Lynne made clear at an informal briefing to the International Relations Committee (IRC) of the Liberal Democrat Party in Westminster this evening, she has taken equality issues along with her (with the PM’s blessing), and it is especially important that she is able to champion the central role of women in development. She has just returned from a mission to South Sudan, which was rather jumping in at the deep end, though other states she has visited this year include Kenya and Uganda, and Africa is now central to her remit. DfID has of course been directed to phase down its involvement in India (now one of the BRICs) but Africa remains a main area of concern, not only for the traditional problems of famine and disease (including HIV/AIDS) but also for the way that women are excluded and often oppressed within many African societies, including through the persistence of female genital mutilation (FGM). It was interesting that FGM was a major topic in the discussion after Lynne’s presentation at the IRC, but then it is a quintissentially Liberal issue, relating to human rights and gender matters as well as to health. Lynne was a shadow International Development Minister some years ago, so she is not entirely fresh to the field. But it is clear that Africa is offering her a steep learning curve, from which both she and Africa’s development should ultimately benefit.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Africa, BRICs, DFID, equal marriage, FGM, HIV?AIDS, Home Office, India, Kenya, Liberal Democrats, Lynne Featherstone, South Sudan, Theresa May, Uganda | 1 Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 12th November, 2012
Being a Liberal in Russia is a risky vocation, as putting one’s head above the parapet politically is an invitation to harrassment, arrest, criminal proceedings and heafty fines or imprisonment. High profile anti-establishment activists such as Pussy Riot get lots of foreign media attention and noises of sympathy from the outside world, of course, but even in their case that did not stop two of their number being sentenced to two years detention each in different gulags. Alas, as the leader of Russia’s Liberal Party Yabloko, Sergei Mitrokhin, detailed in a speech at Westminster this lunchtime, the long arm of President Putin’s law is getting firmer. He highlighted three aspects of particular concern regarding the current political situation in Russia and the crackdown against Liberal forces. First, there are the political reprisals, which have seen key Yabloko activists charged — often on false evidence — for demanding action against high-level corruption, for example. Second, Sergei stressed the hardening of laws and the suppression of civil rights under various amendments to the legal and civil codes. One good (i.e. bad) example is an amendment which will mean that Russian NGOs receiving grants from international bodies must now register as “foreign agents”. And last but not least in the litany of adverse developments, is what Sergei called the “clericalisation of the state”, in other words the way that a very conservative form of Russian Orthodoxy has now been melded into a state ideology which is dangerously nationalistic, anti-Western and anti-Liberal. Today’s gathering, at Portcullis House, was sponsored by Simon Hughes MP, Lord Alderdice and Liberal International, and in the discussion period after Sergei Mitrokhin’s speech I inquired exactly what helpful actions groups such as LI and the British Liberal Democrats can take to help Yabloko, without jeopardising its activists. Training in election strategies and techniques is something that I and others from the LibDems have done in various parts of the world, through the all-party Westminster Foundation for Democracy, and that may be the best answer — other than heartfelt moral support.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: John Alderdice, Liberal Democrats, Liberal International, Pussy Riot, Russia, Sergei Mitrokhin, Simon Hughes, Vladimir Putin, Westminster Foundation for Democracy, Yabloko | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 10th November, 2012
Every week the Liberal Democrat MEP for South West England, Sir Graham Watson, sends out an email newsletter to constituents and other interested subscribers telling them what he has been doing over the previous seven days. It’s deliberately short and written in accessible language, making it lively and user-friendly. Today, at a lunchtime fringe at the ELDR Congress in Dublin, Graham launched a book of his collected newsletters from the past few years, illustrated also with photographs. He admitted that some of his ephemeral pronouncements were proved incorrect later — for example just how easily (or not) the European Commission President Barroso would get his fellow Commissioners approved by the European Parliament. But he urged those of us who are involved in politics to record what we do and say as others can learn from our mistakes as well as from our example. Graham deliberately gave the book the title “Letters from Europe” to underline the fact that in contrast to his childhood, when people talked about the British Isles as being part of Europe along with the Continent, these days the national narrative has shifted, so that the British usually talk about going to or coming from Europe, as if the UK has somehow been cut adrift. As Graham pointed out in his brief remarkls at the launch, Sir Winston Churchill had a much better grasp of the concept of a wider patriotism than most Little Englanders today. The book is edited by Graham’s research assistant Andrew Burgess and is published by Bagehot Publishing, price €10.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Andrew Burgess, Bagehot Publishing, ELDR Congress, Graham Watson, Letters from Europe, Liberal Democrats | Leave a Comment »