Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for September 9th, 2013

The City in Europe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 9th September, 2013

Vince CableVicky PryceGisela Stuart 1Jesse NormanA 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.

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Kate Parminter’s Food for Thought

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 9th September, 2013

Kate Parminterhealthy foodfood productionFood 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!

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