Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for July, 2013

The Biographers’ Club

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 11th July, 2013

Clementi house KensingtonWriters are like meerkats; we live in holes to escape the heat of the world outside and to get on with our work, emerging occasionally to sniff at the big outdoors, standing on our hindlegs to savour what we find, before scurrying back to the security of our burrows and our research. So it is a good thing that The Biographers’ Club (originally founded by my literary agent, Andrew Lownie) exists, to provide a forum for intellectual and social contact amongst those of us who spend an unhealthy amount of our time in libraries and archives or at our computers. I suspect I am not alone in having a study at home, surrounded by books, with my desk facing the window but with curtains closely drawn, day and night. That way I can carry on, hour after hour, without distraction. Anyway, every summer The Biographers’ Club holds an annual summer party, which this year was in the stupendous house and garden of one of my publishers (and author himself), Tom Stacey. Once the residence of the musician Clementi — as well as playing host to Mendelssohn — the house is a Kensington treasure, not least because of its large secret garden, in which are displayed Tom’s wife’s sculptures. But this evening, with a jazz band playing boisterously in the main sitting room, where I have had many an editorial meeting over a couple of my previous books, the house was thrown open to a motley crew, including Sarah Bradford (whom I worked with on a book on the Sitwells years ago), the art historian Frances Spalding and my fellow patron of the Oscar Wilde Society, Neil McKenna, whose very racy book on the Victorian transvestites, Fanny and Stella, I am currently hugely enjoying. Such occasions are not just for catching up on who is doing what — and who has died — but more importantly to give us the stamina to go back to our holes and carry on.

[water colour of the house, by Gertrude Keeling]


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Under My Wig

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 9th July, 2013

Under My WigPalestinian flagsFew people have the opportunity to be a witness to a great sweep of history, let alone get the chance to be part of it. But Dr Jamal Nasir, who launched his autobiography “Under My Wig” (Gilgamesh. £19.95, with an foreword by myself) at Daunt’s bookshop in Holland Park Avenue this evening has had a truly outstanding life and career.  He grew up in Palestine during the British mandate before studying at the American University of Beirut during the Second World War. He then pursued legal studies in England before being called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn in 1948 and going on to have a distinguished legal practice not only in London and Amman — having acquired Jordanian citizenship after the catastrophe of Palestinian dispossession — but also in Oman, China, Nigeria and elsewhere. He became Legal Advisor to His late Majesty King Hussein, working closely with Britain’s favourite foreign monarch for a quarter of a century. This led to his becoming Minister of Justice in Jordan, reorganising the whole legal system, and for a while he was Acting Foreign Minister. His travels as a Minister or accompanying the King meant that he had first-hand encounters with the good, the bad and the bizarre of the world’s leaders, from Germany’s Willy Brandt to China’s Chairman Mao and Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi. Accounts of such meetings enliven the content of Dr Nasir’s autobiography, as does his intimate insights into the nature and workings of the Jordanian royal family. Dr Nasir is already well-known in the legal profession for important works on the Status of Women in Islam and the Islamic Law of Personal Status, but this new work will introduce him to a wider audience. This evening he gave an impassioned speech about the ongoing injustices against the Palestinians (the subject of an earlier book, “Israeli Occupation and the Law of Belligerency”) and the way that Israel’s rulers act with impunity because of US and other Western support. But he also paid tribute to Jewish figures such as Dr Judah Magnes of the Hebrew University and Dr Avi Shlaim of Oxford who understood the reality of the situation. Even one of the founders of Israel, David Ben Gurion — who the young Jamal Nasir met on the London Underground — once declared, “If I were an Arab leader I would never sign an agreement with Israel. It is normal; we have taken their country.”


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

What Lithuania’s EU Presidency Hopes to Achieve

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 9th July, 2013

The Lithuanian Presidency of the Council of the European Union
by H.E. Asta Skaisgiryte Liauskiene, Ambassador of Lithuania to the UK

EU LithuaniaAs the European Union moves towards recovery, closer cooperation between member states is needed more than ever in order to ensure growth, job creation and better competitiveness. The EU must demonstrate to its people and the world that it pursues credible financial and economic policies, is committed to growth through joint initiatives that increase competitiveness, and aims at security for its citizens and openness with its partners. The EU has already demonstrated its ability to respond to challenges, agreeing on reforms that will enhance its economic performance, strengthen its banks and ensure sound fiscal policies. In the run-up to the next EU political cycle, it is vital to maintain the momentum and implement political agreements that reflect the interests of all member states and EU citizens.

The Lithuanian Presidency of the Council of the EU will seek to steer the decision making process as an honest broker, and ensure its continuity and the inclusion of all relevant partners. It will build on the cooperation with its Trio partners, thorough preparation and the consistent support of Lithuanian society for EU membership. As one of the most successful countries to overcome the economic and financial crisis and return to sustained recovery and growth, Lithuania will seek to organize the Presidency in an equally efficient and result-oriented manner. Above all, the Lithuanian Presidency will focus on the three goals of a credible, growing and open Europe.

Credible Europe

The Lithuanian Presidency will strive to make progress towards sounder public finances in the EU and to strengthen the ground for financial stability, which is required to fully restore the EU’s economic credibility. The Presidency’s efforts will be directed at further developing the Banking Union framework, and making progress on other legislative proposals in the field of financial market reforms. Its key task will be the implementation and enhancement of agreed reforms including economic governance, and the deepening of the Economic and Monetary Union.

Growing Europe

VilniusThe Lithuanian Presidency will build on the Europe 2020 agenda and the European Semester, reinforced by stronger Single Market policy, as well as the effective implementation of the Compact for Growth and Jobs. It will focus on further deepening and integrating the Single Market as the main driving force for economic growth and better employment opportunities. The Presidency will work to complete the initiatives of the Single Market Act I, advance the new initiatives under Single Market Act II, as well as facilitate the Single Market Governance. It will prioritize initiatives that will enhance confidence in the EU economy and result in a dynamic Digital Single Market. The Presidency will pay due attention to research and innovation issues. It will pursue the EU’s commitments to complete the internal energy market by 2014, and ensure that no Member State remains isolated from the European energy networks after 2015.

Open Europe

The Lithuanian Presidency will make steps to strengthen the EU as a global model of openness and security. The Presidency will focus on the closer integration of the EU and its Eastern Partners, hosting the Eastern Partnership Summit in November 2013. It will pursue the continuation of the enlargement process, smarter control of the EU’s external borders, and better coordination in the external dimension of EU energy policy. The Presidency will promote free trade with strategic partners such as the USA, Japan, Canada and others. It will also seek to boost the Common Security and Defence Policy through stronger cooperation with partners, as well as better responses to new security challenges.

The months ahead will be full of challenges and opportunities for the EU and we look forward to our 6 months on the helm of the EU Council.

(This article first appeared on the European Movement UK’s euroblog)


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

David Lidington’s Europe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 8th July, 2013

UK EUDavid LidingtonDavid Lidington, the (Conservative) Minister of State at the Foreign Office with special responsibility for Europe has lasted much longer in the post than most of his Labour and Tory predecessors, which has given a welcome degree of continuity at the countless ministerial meetings of the now 28 member states of the European Union. Moreover, he has already been on working visits to all of the UK’s EU partners so has relevant experience under his belt. This lunchtime, he was the guest speaker at the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) British Section lunch at Europe House in Westminster and gave a pretty upbeat overview of the situation regarding the future of the EU and Britain’s role within it. He echoed the Cameroonian line that the UK is better off inside the EU, while nonetheless maintaining that the British public deserves a say about whether to continue that relationship, as so much has changed since the last European Referendum in 1975. Mr Lidington stressed the strong contribution the UK has made to the EU’s development, not least in the creation of the Single Market (under a Conservative government, incidentally). However, he argued strongly that many of our EU partners appreciate the way that Britain has been raising awkward questions and has been pushing for EU reform. He also endorsed Theresa May’s strategy of wanting to withdraw from European Justice and Home Affairs arrangements, with the option of opting back in to the best of the bunch. I have always felt that such cherry picking runs the risk of alienating many of our EU partners , as well as weakening our European legal benefits. I asked him head-on what he intended to do, as a Conservative Europe Minister, to tackle the Europhobia of so much of the traditionally Tory-supporting UK Press, notably the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph and the ghastly Daily Express. He riposted that he would champion the benefits of EU membership while stressing that the current UK government argues for significant reform of the EU and its institutions. Good luck to him on that, but I fear the subtleties of such arguments may go over most voters’ heads. With UKIP and Tory Eurosceptics screaming daily and loudly “EU bad; let’s get out!” what is needed is a clear government campaign to respond “Better in than out — and here’s why!”

Links: and

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Grape Expectations

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 2nd July, 2013

Grape ExpectionsLike many urban-dwelling wine lovers I had never given much thought about how the stuff is made. I suppose if pressed I would have gueseds that you need the right climate and soil, must pick the grapes when they are ready, then put them in a blender and hey presto! Of course, it is nowhere near as simple as that, but just how complex the process is — especially when French red tape also plays a part — came as quite a shock, as I read Caro Feely’s account of her young family’s “vineyard adventure” in the Dordogne, “Grape Expectations” (Summersdale, £8.99). She and her husband Sean had a dream of a rural idyll in which they would become owners of their own château-label wines while escaping the rat race of a desk-based employee´s existence. But they ended up working far harder than they ever had before, while the sword of possible insolvency hung over their head. It is surprising their marriage survived the pressure, and indeed it barely did. Yet they persevered and overcame the hurdles, both natural and human. And even if the wine-making business doesn’t make one rich they achieved their goal, branching out later into wine tourism and holiday lets. Caro Feely’s style is at times breathless but the central message of this revelatory book is clear: viticulture is not for wimps.

Link: ,

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »