Archive for September, 2013
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 18th September, 2013
At the LibDem Conference in Glasgow this week, Ben Jones, Chair of the Party’s Europe Working Group successfully proposed a motion on the EU. Here is his text, first published in a blog piece for the European Movement (UK) euroblog:
The UK’s future is in a prosperous, sustainable and secure European Union.
Next year marks the centenary of the First World War: that cataclysm that opened up the darkest decades in European history. We should be grateful that – for all our concerns – the Europe of today enjoys an unprecedented peace: its peoples among the most free and prosperous on earth.
Without the sacrifice of our ancestors we would not have that freedom.
But neither must we forget that the peace and prosperity we enjoy today did not glide effortlessly out of post-war Europe. Nor was it underpinned by the military might of NATO alone.
In fact it was a soldier – the great American General, George Marshall – who surveyed a broken post-war Europe, and saw that without common endeavour, there would be no prosperity and therefore no security to speak of. He, like Churchill, Schuman and others, understood that old Europe had failed – and, unchanged, would fail again. The mould had to be broken.
So, when that centenary comes next year, let’s not be complacent about what we have today. Let’s be glad that Europe was re-founded on common endeavour – on democracy, human rights and the rule of international law. Glad that Britain supported and became a part of it. And glad, that we Liberal Democrats have never wavered from that vision – always the party of In. The EU has faced big tests in its history and yet the challenges of the future will be – in many ways – just as formidable as those of the past. The world is changing rapidly – a global shift in economic power the like of which has not been seen for centuries. Globalisation gathers pace – across trade, new technologies, people and ideas. We should welcome the opportunities this new world offers. But neither can we ignore the tests it will bring: tougher competition, cross-border crime, fragile states, instability on European borders, and unprecedented environmental challenges, not least climate change.
Certainly, no nation today can tackle all this alone. But the question for the EU remains – can it meet the challenge and continue its historic purpose of prosperity, sustainability and security? Our firm view is that it can. But as reformers and critical friends of the EU, we believe that only by focusing ruthlessly on those areas where it can really make a difference will the EU win back the trust of all its citizens. So in our motion:
First, if the EU does not stand for prosperity and jobs, it stands for nothing. In the wake of the Eurozone crisis, getting the single currency on to a firm footing will be a long and difficult process, but it remains as vital for the UK economy as any other, and we must support it. But setbacks must not blind us to the opportunities of the single market. The world’s biggest marketplace – Britain’s biggest market. An 11 trillion pound economy linked to millions of British jobs, and a pre-requisite for billions of pounds of inward investment into our country. Without it, we would be poorer. And we still need to unlock that market on our doorstep – in services, digital and green technology. We need to work hard for EU trade deals with the US and others to unlock billions in GDP and deliver more jobs. But only as part of the world’s biggest single market can the UK hope to get the best deal from tough negotiations with trading giants. And, let’s be absolutely clear, the only way to influence and determine the rules of the single market is through EU membership – the Norwegian and Swiss models are either undemocratic, ineffective or both and none cut it for the UK.
Second, sustainability – we want ambitious new EU targets to reduce greenhouse gases. We want continued radical reform of fisheries and agricultural policies including a complete end to wasteful fish discards.
Third, a more secure Europe. Police and prosecutors must have the tools they need to catch the criminals who slip across borders. But we want a fair Europe too – ensuring common-sense use of the European Arrest Warrant and levelling the rights of suspects up – not down – across Europe.
And it is vital that the EU speaks with a more coherent voice in the world – combining diplomacy, trade and development more effectively, and pooling and sharing military capability to get value for money and meet our commitments. Deeper Eurozone integration is a necessity. But it must not compromise the coherence of the single market. Future treaty change should guarantee equal voice for euro ins and euro outs in single market rules. And, if the EU is to win back the trust of its publics, it needs to work harder to demonstrate accountability, efficiency and transparency in all that it does. That means more effective scrutiny from national parliaments on subsidiarity. And it means greater transparency – secret ballots on budget and policy in the European Parliament are unacceptable. But when it comes to reform – let’s be clear. Tory hopes for a swag-bag of unilaterally repatriated powers are an illusion – a huge waste of diplomatic capital. Yes the EU needs renewal and reform – but you only do that by leading and building alliances for change with like-minded countries. And – as we have argued consistently – the next time the UK signs up for a significant transfer of powers, triggering the EU Act, we should have an In Out referendum, giving the public a say on the whole relationship.
Sceptics will say this agenda is too ambitious. But our record shows it can be done: Chris Davies MEP leading a historic reform of EU fisheries policy. Ed Davey MP working with like-minded states to win an opt-out from regulations for small businesses. Sharon Bowles MEP negotiating hard to ensure non-euro states like the UK have a strong voice in future decisions on financial services. This is the winning approach. Getting stuck in, leading the agenda, building coalitions for change. Renewing and reforming the EU for the 21st Century. No surprises then that a recent survey found Lib Dem MEPs to be the hardest working. And no prizes for guessing who are the laziest… There’s a wonderful double meaning in the name UKIP. It’s not just what’s written on the ballot, it’s their daily approach to politics: You get up. You get your expenses. You kip.
With the right attitude, we can ensure a reformed EU delivers – on jobs, on crime and the environment. But we have a fight on our hands. There is a new isolationism creeping into our politics – a delusion that Britain can simply pull up the drawbridge and escape all the demands of the modern world. It is hurting our influence in Brussels. The fact is without EU membership we can’t have a stronger economy and a fairer society. This country would matter less in the world. That’s why President Obama – like each president before him for sixty years – insists that we walk taller in Washington when we count for something in Europe. No offence Geneva – but I don’t want the UK to be a big Switzerland. I’m proud that this country fought for freedom in Europe, drafted the European Convention on Human Rights, pioneered the biggest single market in the world, is a UN Security Council member – a country that wants a say on our children’s future in this world, and – when push comes to shove – will stand up and be counted.
Does anyone really believe that we can be that same country if we leave the European Union?
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Ben Jones, Chris Davies, Ed Davey, EU, European Movement, European Parliament, eurozone, George Marshall, Likberal Democrat Conference, Sharon Bowles, UKIP | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 17th September, 2013
Just because the House of Commons recently voted against military action in Syria does not mean that Britain or indeed the West can walk away from the tragic situation there. As I said in a speech at the Liberal Democrat conference in Glasgow this morning, we still have a moral obligation to act under Responsibility to Protect (R2P). That is the evolving doctrine in International Law that when a country’s government is unable or unwilling to protect its population from humanitarian catastrophe or gross human rights abuses the international community must. Military action is only a last resort under R2P, and I am not alone in being relieved that we have not gone to war over Syria, as I fear it would only have made the situation worse. But we need to work closely with Syria’s allies, Russia and Iran, to get action taken, over and above the considerable amount of humanitarian aid that Britain and some others have been providing. I praised the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon for sticking his neck out in calling for the Assad regime to be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, and indeed the UN Security Council should pass a resolution to that effect. Moreover, there has been a UN Commission on Syria in existence for over two years but the government in Damascus has not let it in to investigate. The UN (and again Russia) should use every means to force it to allow the team in, as it did with the chemical weapons inspectors. In the meantime, we should have no illusions about the Assads and their cohorts; this is a regime that has no compunction about shelling hospitals, persecuting doctors who treat the wounded or even torturing children in front of their parents. The situation in Syria today is a stain on the modern world and the international community — including the Arab League — must find a way of getting rid of it.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Ban Ki-Moon, Bashar Al-Assad, ICC, Iran, Liberal Democrat Conference, R2P, Responsibility to Protect, Russia, Syria, UN Security Council | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 11th September, 2013
So quickly has public opinion moved that it seems almost unbelievable that the last Labour government shied away from upgrading same-sex civil partnerships to ‘marriage’ because of the fear of a backlash (including from some of their MPs). But it is a tribute to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg (strongly and admirably supported by PM David Cameron) that he oversaw the relatively smooth transition into law of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act this summer. In an appropriately informal speech at a reception in Admiralty House, Westminster, this evening, he paid just tribute to Lynne Featherstone as the then Equalities Minister (subsequently replaced by Jo Swinson) and Baroness (Liz) Barker, who made a moving and heartfelt personal act of testimony in a speech in the House of Lords. As a Quaker (and therefore part of a religious group which has recognised the validity of loving same-sex relationships for several decades) I have been saddened by how far behind most of the mainstream Churches are on this. It was also heartening that some of the supportive luvvies, including my old friend Stephen Fry and Hugh Grant, turned out tonight, as did hardcore campaigners such as the truly noble Peter Tatchell (who has been a beacon for the LGBT+ community in Russia). Of course there was a good sprinkling of LibDem MPs and Lords, but this was not an occasion for narrow party politics. We were one big happy group, straight, gay and bi/trans +, celebrating the fact that we had won, and in doing so had proved what an open and tolerant society Britain has become, even if a minority still can’t quite get their heads around it.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Admiralty House, David Cameron, Hugh Grant, Jo Swinson, LGBT+ LibDems, Liz Barker, Lynne Featherstone, Nick Clegg, Peter Tatchell, Stephen Fry | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 10th September, 2013
Each person can be an explorer. So says the Clipperton Project (TCP), an Arts endeavour which believes that through multidisciplinary initiatives people can use notions of exploration, journey and discovery in order to face some of the great issues of today in a more positive way. In case that all sounds very theoretical, airy-fairy even, works by two Scottish artists who have collaborated with TCP are currently on show at the 12 Star Gallery in Europe House, headquarters of the London representation of the European Commission and the European Parliament, in Smith Square, Westminster, until 27 September. Enge (Charles Engebretsen) is a young sculptor, originally from the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides; inspired by a trip by small boat to the French overseas possession of Clipperton Island, an uninhabited coral atoll in the eastern Pacific, he produced three dimensional visuals in white, using common building materials to emulate natural processes and patterns, some mirroring the coiled traces of lugworms in the sand; he is very much involved in the new Glasgow Sculpture Studios which I hope to visit when I am up there later this week. His co-exhibitor, Hamer Dodds, is a little older, and maybe more settled, residing in Edinburgh, and works two dimensionally, distinctly complex at times with his geometrical, repetitive, forms, echoing the form and function of elements of bioscience and reaching out to grasp aspects of evolution and unity. The opening night tonight drew an eclectic crowd and it is one of those exhibitions whose works at first might seem slight, even superficial, until one surrenders to them and allows oneself to be drawn in.
[Photos: left – work by Enge; right – Hamer Dodds]
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: 12 Star gallery, Charles Engebretsen, Clipperton Island, Enge, Europe House, Hamer Dodds, TCP, The Clipperton Project | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 10th September, 2013
A useful article (which first appeared on the European Movement’s euroblog) by Matthew Donaher of the trade union UNISON on why it’s important to vote in next year’s European Elections — and how migrant workers benefiting from the EU’s freedom of movement of labour could influence the outcome:
In 1999 I was part of the 76% of the UK electorate who didn’t cast a vote in the European Elections. It wasn’t deliberate, but neither was I that bothered when the next day a friend asked me who I had voted for.
Now however I would not dream of abstaining in the Euro-elections next year. I will be actively working to encourage members of my union – UNISON, and their friends, families, and communities to turn out and not just vote but to actively participate in the political process.
There are three key reasons for doing this. First, the European Parliament is important, as readers of this blog know. The ideas that are discussed in the Parliament are directly relevant to the lives of workers in Britain, whether it’s health and safety, working time, public service provisions, trade union rights, or equalities the decisions taken by the 766 MEPs impact on us every day.
Like me in 1999 many of our members do not realise the extent of the Parliament’s reach, or they do not believe that they have the ability to influence the decisions taken by voting for the people that will best represent their interests. Our job as a union is to help our members make their voices heard at every possible opportunity.
Secondly, my focus as a community organiser who works with UNISON’s Polish Worker’s Network; it is an opportunity for us to enable our members who are EU migrants (and particularly Eastern European) to organise themselves as part of Britain’s political life.
They may not be entitled on the whole to vote in the general election but they can vote in European and the simultaneous local elections. Part of our role as their union is to educate members about the political process and how to influence it. Primarily though we should be providing mechanisms for migrant workers who are at the forefront of delivering public services and utilities in this country to tell politicians what their self identified needs and interests are. Engaging in electoral politics is an essential part of that.
Furthermore the European elections are a brilliant opportunity for well organised communities and groups of workers to assert themselves. Due to low turn-outs the fact is that in some regions EU migrants could easily influence the allocation of seats; and if they organise together with their British colleagues around common goals through the unions and community organisations we can make a real difference. If we agree with the ONS that there are about 4 million EU citizens in the UK that is a substantial proportion of the electorate, especially given that turnout in the last Euro-elections was just over 15 million.
We would expect that, if our members see that their collective activity with the union has visibly altered the outcome of the election, then that is going to encourage continued participation in UNISON and in wider civic society.
Thirdly, and equally importantly, as a union that organises and represents thousands of migrant workers from around the world, not just Europe, it is important that we organise as many of our members as possible to use their votes for a positive, progressive, and social Europe that defends the social chapter and fights for more equality and better rights, rather than reactionaries who want to tear up equalities legislation, abolish working time regulations, and kick out a sizable percentage of the very people that look after your elderly aunt in the care home, and keep clean that hospital you had the operation in last year.
My colleague Narmada Thiranagama has written for the Institute of Employment Rights about many of the reasons why people should vote against the jokers in UKIP; our members need to mobilise effectively to make sure these reactionary charlatans don’t come first in the elections and our migrant members can play a key role in that.
How can our migrant members organise themselves and their families to have an impact on the election? If we give them a compelling narrative that engages and encourages the telling of positive stories of how working people have influenced the European wide fight for progress, people will feel it’s worth participating. This will mean creating vibrant channels for communication between members and between our members and the politicians who want their vote, using the tried and tested methods of community organising, hustings, face to face meetings in workplaces, and communities, 1 to 1 conversations between activists and members, and an active and lively social media presence.
2014 is just the start, in 2019 we could see the first UNISON sponsored Polish UK MEP.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: EU, European elections, European Movement, Matthew Donaher, Poland, UK, Unison | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 9th September, 2013
A referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union isn’t expected until 2017, and may not happen then, but the arguments for both In and Out are getting more insistent. This evening, the magnificent Great Hall at the Guildhall in the City of London hosted a capacity crowd to hear a debate on the question “The City in Europe: Will the Square Mile Prosper if Britain Leaves the EU?”, organised by the Evening Standard newspaper and moderated by Jon Sopel of the BBC. The Lord Mayor of London, Roger Gifford, left no doubts as to where his sympathies lay when in his introductory remarks he stressed London’s importance as a centre for financial and other services and how some banks and firms in the City would pack up and leave if the UK withdrew from the EU. The Business Secretary, Vince Cable, pursued the same theme in one of the most pro-EU speeches I have heard him make; unlike many Liberal Democrats Vince does not have a particularly strong emotional attachment to anywhere on the continent; if any one country is close to his heart it is India. Nonetheless, he argued that EU membership is crucial for Britain’s economy and jobs. The UK is the third largest recipient of direct foreign investment (after China and the USA) and many of those investments are linked to Britain’s position in the EU. Gisela Stuart is unusual in being a Labour Eurosceptic (and MP for Birmingham Edgbaston), despite being born in what was then West Germany; but her line was indeed Eurosceptic rather than Europhobe. She felt that if some powers were repatriated (as David Cameron hopes) and the Eurozone’s economy picked up well then the British public might be likely to vote to stay in the EU. Jesse Norman, the Conservative MP for Hereford and South Herefordshire (just sacked by David Cameron for voting against the recent Government motion on Syria) took a different approach, answering the question of the debate directly by asserting that the City was strong enough to withstand the effects of Britain joining the EU. He was coy about whether he would vote Out now, but mildly optimistic that the Government will win some concessions in a renegotiation. Vicky Pryce, the Greek economist (and LibDem member) also thought that there might be some repatriation of powers, mainly because several other member states were thinking along similar lines. But she, of course, believes strongly Britain should stay a member. Had I had the opportunity to put a question to the panel, I would have reminded them of Herman Van Rompuy’s remark about people not winning arguments in a meeting if they have their coat on and one hand on the door — and I would have asked them whether the City might not benefit if David Cameron heeded that advice.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: City of London, EU, Evening Standard, Gisela Stuart, Guildhall, Jesse Norman, Jon Sopel, Roger Gifford, UK. Britain, Vicky Pryce, Vince Cable | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 9th September, 2013
Food is essential to all citizens and they have the right to be part of the related decision-making process, according to Baroness (Kate) Parminter, who was the guest speaker at a Hackney Liberal Democrat event yesterday afternoon. She has been making the point strongly over the summer with particular reference to GM crops, following their championing by the (Conservative) Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Owen Paterson. He has gone beyond the letter and spirit of the Coalition Agreement with the Liberal Democrats, and Kate, for one, believes that so long as the public is still dubious about GM foods, Ministers should go softly-softly and engage with the public, rather than be cheerleaders for the industry. Her own background is in the charity sector, having notably worked for the RSPCA before becoming Chief Executive of the Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE). She is a spokesperson on DEFRA matters in the House of Lords and is concerned that the notable rise in the number of food banks in Britain is a reflection of how hard the more vulnerable in society have been hit by the economic problems of the past few years and cutbacks in benefits. In the lively discussion after her presentation I raised the issue of biofuels, which were hailed as a great ecological breakthrough not all that long ago — notably regarding ethanol production inn Brazil — but now pose a problem in competition for land that could otherwise be producing food. Several people present at the event lamented the fact that modern urban dwellers have mainly become detached from food production, instead relying on supermarkets (which are also driving small businesses out of business). I remember at primary school being given seeds and growing lettuce and parsley from them — later devoured with a huge sense of pride and achievement. Some schools apparently still do that sort of thing, but perhaps it should be included in the curriculum, as part of home economics — “domestic science” in my schooldays — for boys as well as girls!
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: biofuels, Brazil, CPRE, DEFRA, ethanol, food, GM crops, Hackney Liberal Democrats, Kate Parminter, Owen Paterson, RSPCA | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 8th September, 2013
The UK political twittersphere has been in overdrive over the past 24 hours regarding the announced departure from the House of Commons of the Brent Central MP Sarah Teather (LibDem) at the next General Election. I waited until I had the opportunity to read and ponder upon the interview-based article that was the lead story in today’s Observer before putting fingers to keyboard here. Sarah’s frustration has been obvious for some time, not only since she was effectively sacked as a junior Minister for Education. As a devout Catholic, she has strong moral views, some of which concur with mainstream Liberal thinking (for example on immigration), some of which don’t (most notably on equal marriage). On the latter, she would have been well-advised to abstain, rather than vote against; one could understand why she could not support something which was in conflict with religious teaching she holds to be true, but to vote to prevent a significant proportion of her electorate, and even more of her fellow LibDem members, the right to sanctify or formalise (however one might wish to describe it) their union was foolish, even cruel. Some of the flak she has received over this was also cruel; this cannot have helped her feeling of well-being, nor can the comments of Tory blogger Iain Dale and others mocking her unpreparedness for government. I have known Sarah for many years, long before she set foot in Brent and won that extraordinary by-election victory in Brent East. But of course, she did not do it alone. Many hundreds of LibDem activists, including myself, piled in while Tony Blair’s Labour government floundered around. It was interesting, but also sad, that a few weeks ago, when there was a London Liberal Democrats regional action day in Brent, the turnout was much lower than at similar events across the capital. I have no doubt that Sarah’s vote on equal marriage contributed to that. And what now? She obviously needs some time to think about what she can and should do with her life after May 2015. But she mustn’t be surprised if some of the people who did flog their guts out to get her elected 10 years ago feel aggrieved, particularly given the timing of her announcement just one week before the Liberal Democrat autumn conference in Glasgow . She has served the diverse community of Brent well on most things over the past decade. And if she had renewed her commitment to be a voice for social justice within Parliament, rather than throwing in the towel and implying that the Party had lost its principles (rather than facing up to the realities of Coalition government) she would have been better regarded. In any event, I sincerely wish her well.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Brent Central, Brent East, equal marriage, Iain Dale, Liberal Democrats, Sarah Teather | 1 Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 7th September, 2013
Citizens of other European countries who come to live in England are often perplexed by the hysterically anti-EU tone of much of the tabloid Press. It’s been going on for years and continues unabated, lately supplemented by the propaganda drive for a “Brexit”: leaving the European Union as a result of what proponents hope would be a decisive vote in an In-Out referendum, currently envisaged by Mr Cameron’s Conservatives as taking place in 2017 (on the assumption that they will still be in power). This is not the most helpful atmosphere in which to run up to the 2014 European elections, which will take place in the UK on 22 May, the same day as the London borough council elections and many other local contests. So it was timely of Europe House — headquarters of the European Commission Representation and European Parliament London office — to host an event yesterday on the British Media and the EU. Interestingly, though there is no lack of journalists paid by their newspapers to write negative stories about the EU — not least for the Daily Express and Daily Mail — none of them had been able or willing to take part in the event’s two panels, chaired by David Aaronvitch of The Times. So there was a bias in favour of the shocked and dismayed that was equally evident in the large audience. We heard from members of the French and Dutch Press, as well as the Economist, with more political speeches from Catherine Bearder (LibDem MEP for South East England) and Evan Harris (former LibDem MP, representing Hacked Off). I suggested that some of the anti-EU bile produced by the British tabloids was attributable to xenophobia: the insular Little Englander’s contempt for The Other, “them” rather than “us”, Brussels being the ultimate “them”. A young man from YouGov polling agency made the sensible point that whereas a sizable proportion of the British electorate says it does want a referendum and the Outs currently outpoll the Ins, unless there is some sort of renegotiation/reform, Europe is way down the public’s list of priorities. Jobs, the economy, public services etc are much more of concern, and even if the EU is indeed related to the former, the public does not necessarily make the connection.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Catherine Bearder, Daily Express, Daily Mail, David Aaronovitch, EP2014, Europe House, Evan Harris | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 6th September, 2013
Brief YouTube clip of JF:
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Brick Lane, Canary Wharf, EU, Tower Hamlets | Leave a Comment »