Jonathan Fryer

Archive for November, 2013

ALDE Congress Opens in Good Heart

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 29th November, 2013

Guy VerhofstadtNick CleggThe fight against British Euro-scepticism is on! At the opening session of the London Congress of the ALDE (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) Howard Dawber of the Canary Wharf Group (our hosts, as the plenaries are taking place in Canary Wharf’s East Wintergarden) stressed that business and the financial sector strongly support Britain’s membership of the European Union and before handing over to ALDE President Sir Graham Watson underlined the area’s link to Liberalism and Liberal Democracy (William Beveridge did much of his investigation into poverty in the East End, and the Limehouse Declaration establishing the SDP was drawn up at David Owen’s house just up the road), which was noble, given Howard’s political affiliations elsewhere. Graham was in fine rhetorical form, the metaphors rolling off his tongue like the morning mist down the side of a mountain in the Scottish Highlands. He urged everyone to remember as we emerge from a deep recession the core values of social liberalism. Nick Clegg, of course, did not disappoint, speaking without notes about his own by now familiar mixed European heritage and his determination that the European elections will be fought by the Liberal Democrats as the unequivocal party of IN. He argued that the big division in Europe now is not so much between left and right but between those whose minds are closed and those whose minds are open (reflected in politician’s attitudes on such thing as freedom of movement within the European single market and towards others beyond Europe’s frontiers. EU Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom picked up the issue of Europe’s responsibility towards refugees and asylum seekers, as well as to economic migrants driven by despair to try risky passage across the Mediterranean from Africa to Europe. The appalling loss of life off the Italian Lampedusa is only the most striking example of an ongoing humanitarian tragedy. The finale of the opening session was a rousing speech by the (Flemish) President of the ALDE Group in the European Parliament, Guy Verhofstadt. He is an unashamed federalist, but he made clear that he understands the true meaning of federalism, not centralisation, as Euro-sceptics often misrepresent, but empowering downwards. That should mean that there is less but better EU-level regulation. For although the ALDE Party is the most pro-European of all the transnational groups in the European Parliament it is also the party of constructive reform.

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

ALDE Comes to London

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 28th November, 2013

East WintergardenALDE logoIf anyone doubted that only the Liberal Democrats are the true party of IN when it comes to the European Union the opening reception of the ALDE (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe) Party Congress at the East Wintergarden in Canary Wharf this evening would have persuaded them. It’s the biggest ever event of its kind and the turnout of members of the 12 governments in which Liberal Democrats are in power (alone or in coalition) was particularly impressive. The UK Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, was of course present and gave a brief speech, as did Sir Graham Watson, President of ALDE (and LibDem MEP for South West England). The working sesssions of the Congress will take place over the next two days, including discussion of the ALDE Manifesto for the May 2014 Euro-elections. All 28 EU member states will be voting then, and all EU citizens who are registered to vote in the UK — and sign a declaration that they will not vote in their country of origin as well — are entitled to vote here. That’s especially important in a global city like London, in which there are an estimated 300,000 French residents and countless other EU migrants. Most of them are the people who are helping London surge out of the economic doldrums (rather than being benefit scroungers, as the Daily Express and other posonous rags would have people believe). Obviously, the LibDems will be targetting them in the run up to May, being the only genuinely pro-European Party, as well as pro-Europeans who normally vote Tory, but who can;t stomach the party’s drift to Euro-phobia. Of course, we in the Liberal Democrats want to see reforms that will make the EU leaner and meaner (in a positive sense). But if you don’t succumb to the siren voices of UKIP and the Tory right, if you’re pro-Britain in the EU then LibDems are the place to be! Many thanks to the Canary Wharf Group for providing the venue, as they have for the London Liberal Democrat spring conference in recent years.

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

Tim Farron Goes Turkish

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 28th November, 2013

Huseyin OzerTim FarronWestminster Liberal Democrats may not have any local councillors, yet — though watch Bayswater ward closely next May! But they do have some dedicated and moreover interesting members, which means that their annual dinners are always particularly enjoyable. That is also due to the fact that these dinners have been hosted in recent years by Huseyin Ozer, proprietor of the Sofra restaurants, at his home base establishment in Covent Garden. When someone said that one of the items on the menu was Hittite rice I thought they must have misheard/misread, as my mind wandered back to T.E. Lawrence’s work on Hittite remains at Carchemish before the First World War. But they were quite correct, and the Ottoman (sic) delicacies that accompanied that rice were indeed fit for a Sultan. No Sultan being available, we were treated to the next best thing: Tim Farron, President of the Party. Before the meal Tim apologised to me that I had probably heard his speech before (well, we do both get around on the circuit), but amazingly I hadn’t (well, most of it, anyway). He has an engaging breezy style with a slightly cocky Cumbrian edge, which I can appreciate having spent (wet) holidays in the Lake District as a child. He doesn’t do bad language, but has a habit of using the word “flipping” where others might resort to something a little spicier. But the core of his message was that the party must go into next May’s European elections (for which he is the national supremo) confidently as the party of IN. Tim was not entirely complimentary about our Conservative Coalition colleagues, including the Prime Minister, but then such differentiation is now inevitable as we enter the final 18 months of the Westminster parliament, let alone the six months to next May’s European elections (combined with all-out borough elections in London). I have never met David Cameron, though I am sure he would be socially charming, but as a Lancashire lad myself originally I can understand those who look at him and feel he has no core beliefs other than that he believes people like himself should be in charge. Actually, to me that is still far less objectionable than the dreadful Tony Blair, with his Messianic  certainties, or indeed the angst of poor Gordon Brown (whom I did meet), who lumbered into the premiership far later than he would have liked with all the finesse of a bear chasing bees from a honeycomb. Anyway, despite mediocre opinion poll ratings averaging around 10 per cent (we have been in places much worse than that in our history), membership of the Liberal Demorcats is on the up and if we say the messages loud and clear enough, we should get across the fact that thanks to Liberal Democrats the tax threshold has gone up, the pupil premium has helped thousands of kids from disadvantaged backgrounds (including in my own borough, Tower Hamlets), and the 3,000 children of asylum seekers whom Labour had locked up are for the great majority now at liberty.

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

Danny Alexander’s Diwali Dish

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 26th November, 2013

Diwali dinnerFor the British United Indian Liberal Democrats (BUILD) Diwali is a movable feast, and the fact that tonight’s dinner in the excellent Seasoning north Indian restaurant in Fulham took place long after most other Diwali celebrations were over in no way dimmed the light of the occasion, organised by my indefatigable fellow London LibDem Euro-candidate Anuja Prashar. In fact the timing was perfect, in that the keynote speaker, Treasury Secretary Danny Alexander, recently went on his first ever visit to India to help promote British trade, and duly loved the place (his colleague Vince Cable, incidentally, is virtually an old India hand). The way some UKIP and Tory Eurosceptics spin things you’d think the UK would need to leave the EU to do trade promotion with India effectively, but the opposite is true. Danny is of course also a thoroughbred Europhile, having worked in the not too dim and distant past for the European Movement, which means that both LibDem members of the Coalition Government’s core quartet (the other being Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, of course) are completely on message when it comes to the Liberal Democrats being the party of IN so far as the EU is concerned. In his speech, Danny did a fine balancing act, on the one hand justifiably claiming LibDem credit for helping get Britain in a healthier economic shape than it was in 2010 as well as bringing in fairer policies such as raising the tax allowance to £10,000 (as it will be in April), and saying that for all their obvious policy disagreements he gets on with the Chancellor, George Osborne well. But on the other hand Danny came out strongly on differentiation from the Conservatives, not just on Europe — though that is increasingly self-evident — but on a range of issues, as the Conservative Party is being tugged to the right by many of its backbenchers and Labour is once more being cosy with left-wing trade unions. We are the party of the centre ground, Danny declared — though I personally prefer one of Charles Kennedy’s old sayings: that we are neither left nor right but centre forward. Danny usefully trailed the ALDE (European Liberal Democrats) Congress which will be taking place in Canary Wharf later this week (which I will be attending) and at which he will of course feature, along with other UK government stars and some heavyweight delegations from across our wonderful, diverse continent.

Photo of Danny Alexander, Jonathan Fryer, Anuja Prashar and Geoff Payne (by Merlene Emerson)

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

Donald Sinden at 90

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 5th November, 2013

Before I left London on my latest foreign lecture tour I was delighted to join the celebrations marking the actor Donald Sinden’s 90th birthday at the Garrick Club in Covent Garden. He has lost none of his impish sense of humour and is one of those thespians who has won thousands of admirers. His voice is unmistakable and even the slightest anecdote becomes a memorable performance when he delivers it. Along with fellow Garrick member Stephen Fry, Donald and I are honorary Patrons of the Oscar Wilde Society, but whereas I have merely written about the great playwright and social reformer, and Stephen impersonated him, Donald encountered Oscar’s nemesis Bosie Douglas when he was a lad – an encounter he enjoys recalling with particular relish. Very unusually, the Garrick renamed one of its function rooms in Donald’s honour, and it was a most merited accolade.

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

Malcolm Rifkind and the Secret Services

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 2nd November, 2013

Malcolm RifkindMI6Until the 1990s there was no parliamentary scrutiny of Britain’s intelligent services; they reported directly to the Prime Minister and in principle were answerable to him alone. That changed with the Intelligence Agencies Act pf 1994, but as Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Chairman of the Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, explained at an AEJ UK Section lunch at Europe House, until 2010 MPs could only request information from MI5, MI6 and GCHQ. However, the Coalition Government changed all that; these days the agencies are required to provide information to his parliamentary committee and indeed on Thursday next week, for the first time ever, evidence presented by agents will be televised. The Committee reports to Parliament and the Chairman is elected, rather than appointed by the Prime Minister. Moreover, the operations of the security agencies, which were previously not part of the scrutiny remit now are. Only the most sensitive information with national security implications is withheld or else shared on a strictly confidential basis. In the Q&A session after Sir Malcolm’s presentation I highlighted the anger felt in Germany by revelations that the NSA in the US has been tapping Angela Merkel’s phone for the past decade and asked for an assurance that the UK’s special relationship with America in the intelligence sphere did not mean that we are in on that sort of activity with regard to our allies too. Sir Malcolm expressed surprise that the Americans would do such a thing, given the obvious likelihood of negative diplomatic fallout if, as happened, the bugging came to light, and he felt it should have been a matter for a political decision at the highest level, not an initiative of the US secret services, as seems to have been the case. He also explained the use of “selectors”, which are key words or other indicators which a computer system tracking phone calls or emails will recognise and then sound an alarm; otherwise the mas of traffic is not even read or listened to, he said. He obviously takes a dim view of the way that the Guardian newspaper has used some of the material that came to light because of the work of Edward Snowden but insisted that the intelligence work done was essential, especially in combatting terrorism. As it costs the British taxpayer £2 billion a year it had better be worthwhile.

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