One of the joys of living in a big city like London (not that anywhere else is quite like London) is the constant discovery of new people, new place, new organisations. My latest new discovery, thanks to a presentation by Suran Dickson at a gathering of Gay Professionals Network, to which I was invited, is Diversity Role Models, whose mission is to give young people the confidence to be who they are and allow others to do the same. Britain has made great strides in gender and LGBT+ awareness in recent years, but homophobic bullying in schools is still a problem in some instances, which is why Diversity Role Models’ work is so important. The organisation sends both LGBT and straight role models into schools (with the school’s cooperation, of course) to speak directly to the pupils about their own experiences. The youngsters are then able to ask questions or make comments and through this experience they gain a greater understanding of the impact of homophobia and transphobia as well as of the positive contribution that they can make. I’m pleased that the Coalition Government (including Home Secretary Theresa May) have backed Diversity Role Models, but it is a charity and therefore relies heavily on donations. Hearing Suran talking about her work and reading some of the anonymous post-it questions that schoolchildren had written, I couldn’t help think back to my own school, where we never got even the most basic sex education, let alone any introduction to diversity. Not surprising, ignorance, confusion and prejudice reigned.
Archive for May, 2014
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 31st May, 2014
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 27th May, 2014
In 1959, at the height of the Cold War, the British photographer Gerald Howson was sent to Poland to take pictures for Queen magazine, in principle to illustrate an article that would be written by a friend of mine (long since deceased), the writer Frank Tuohy, who was then working for the British Council in Warsaw. What Gerald found was a country trying to recover from being marched over, occupied, divided up for centuries and latterly dominated by Soviet Russia. He took his cameras into the streets of Warsaw, Krakow and other towns and cities, photographing ordinary people and everyday scenes, deliberately not artfully constructed, almost surreptitiously, though many people realised he was snapping away and were quite unconcerned about it. Frank never wrote his article, as he worried that identifiable people might suffer because of it, and Gerald did not find it easy to place many of his pictures on his return home, as they did not fit into the then popular genres of fashion or glamour. The Polish authorities weren’t too happy, either, asking him where were the pictures of people dancing and being happy (as Gerald says openly now, “there weren’t any!”). Many years later, a former BBC World Service colleague of mine, Bogdan Frymorgen, who was searching for images for a museum of 20th century Polish history, from the layperson’s point of view, went to see Gerald and discovered the treasure trove of black and white images that he had stored in a chest of drawers. The net result is a fascinating exhibition, which has already been shown in Poland but is now in the 12 Star Gallery at Europe House in Smith Square, London (the HQ of the European Commission and European Parliament’s offices in London) until 13 June. There are some stunning images, several of them drawing their power from their very banality, but often with an unspoken deeper message behind, such as the almost deserted but rubble-strewn streets of the Jewish quarter in Krakow or two little boys with cows in a field, with the menacing fence of Auschwitz in the background. Gerald — now in his 90s, but scintillating in conversation, as well as in the historical writings that have occupied his later years — captivated the people present at the exhibition’s London vernissage this evening when he declared that people in Poland in 1959 were just so bored of the Soviets being there. The same cannot be said of him or his work; one can get a good flavour from the following video clip on YouTube:
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 27th May, 2014
It might seem an odd way to wind down from the exhaustion of the European election campaign — and the frustration at the results — but I’ve used the time (when not asleep) to read Chris Bowers’ biography of Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, which I bought in a bargain bookstore a few weeks ago. Although published by Biteback in 2011, much in the book still resonates. I’ve known Nick since he was MEP for the East Midlands, but there was much about his early life that I was unfamiliar with. I am also well aware that his public persona, as caricatured by opponents in the Labour Party particularly, is a travesty of the man himself, who is warm and humorous and often far more effective in one-to-one conversations or small gatherings than on a wider public stage or in front of a television camera. That said, I thought his performance in the LibDems’ European elections broadcast was brilliant. That made it all the more dismaying that the European results were so catastrophic, with only the South East of England’s Catherine Bearder being re-elected. The Party rightly pinned its European colours to the mast, and fought a principled campaign that underlined its internationalism and its refusal to get caught up in the anti-migrant hysteria of UKIP and the tabloid Press. Those within the Party (not to mention those outside) now gunning for Nick because of the three consecutive years of bad local election and now European election results should try to be more objective about the qualities of the man and the way he brought Liberals into government for the first time since the Second World War. I agree with Chris Bowers’ assessment that the Rose Garden launch of the Coalition and Nick’s determination that the Party should be seen to be “owning” the Coalition (i.e. be seen to be fully engaged) dulled the distinctiveness of the Liberal Democrat message and helped Labour portray Clegg as joined to Cameron at the hip. And despite the Party’s best efforts, its real achievements in Government (e.g. raising the tax threshold, the pupil premium, sensible pension reform) have not really got across to the public. As I discovered on the doorstep during the election campaign, the issue of trust is still a problem, because of the tuition fees debacle, though largely unfairly so. Moreover, the Cleggmania just before the 2010 General Election made a fall from political grace almost inevitable, when the new kid on the block suddenly became part of the Establishment. The current new kid, UKIP’s Nigel Farage, is a very different cup of tea, but it will be interesting to see how quickly he is now knocked off his pedestal.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Biteback, Catherine Bearder, Chris Bowers, Cleggmania, coalition government, David Cameron, European elections, Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, Nigel Farage, UKIP | 1 Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 20th May, 2014
On a couple of occasions, I’ve spoken to Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking communities in London — in Lambeth and Newham, to be precise — as part of the Liberal Democrats’ European Election campaign. Here’s what the Ibero-American community website MINKA NEWS had to say about it:
Liberal Democrats’ Jonathan Fryer: For the recognition of the entire Iberian American community and the Amigo Month
As a Liberal Democrat candidate for the European Parliament for London I recognise the great contribution that the Iberian-American community has made to both the economy and the social life of our capital, which has become not just the premier city of Europe but truly a global metropolis. The European Union officially celebrates our continent’s ethnic, cultural and linguistic diversity and we can see the glorious richness of that diversity in the streets of London. Spanish and Portuguese — both of which I speak reasonably well, though not perfectly — are of course among the official languages of the European Union, but I feel they have not yet been given sufficient attention in Britain, whether in terms of language teaching in our schools or in the provision of services to the Iberian-American community.
The current European elections are to my mind the most important ones since direct elections to the European Parliament began in 1979. UKIP and some elements of the Conservative-leaning Press have demonised immigrants — and in particular, EU migrant workers from central and eastern Europe — echoing some of the deplorable xenophobic rhetoric we encounter in some other EU member states. Liberal Democrats categorically reject this scapegoating of immigrants; we enthusiastically acknowledge the positive contribution that immigrants have made to economic growth in London and the wider UK, and we resolutely defend the principle of labour mobility for citizens of the EU as an inalienable part of the European Single Market. Moreover, if I am elected to the European Parliament on 22 May, I shall work hard to promote EU-wide legislation to counter xenophobia and hate crimes, and to strengthen human rights so that everyone across the EU can live in dignity and security.
In past years I have backed calls for the regularisation of the situation of undocumented immigrants from outside the EU, which includes many people from the Americas and lusophone Africa. Individuals, families and communities can never be fully integrated into our diverse London society until they enjoy full rights and access to services.
Many of the specific questions I have been asked are about matters that are dealt with at a borough council, Great London Authority or British national parliament level, rather than being a European competence, but I happily pledge to work with my Liberal Democrat colleagues at those different levels of government to further the interests of the Ibero-American community. My personal opinion on specific points raised are as follows:
— yes, Portuguese should be an additional language option available for purchasing London Underground tickets, given the large number of residents and visitors from Portugal, Brazil, Angola and other lusophone countries;
— yes, it seems self-evident to me that ethnic monitoring forms should in future have a category for Ibero-Americans with which they can comfortably identify;
— I would be prepared to lobby the relevant authorities regarding the erection of statues, commemorative plaques and the like for truly worthy Iberian-Americans or British subjects with an Iberian-American connection, on a case-by-case basis;
— I hope that the Amigo month becomes an annual fixture in London’s cultural calendar and would be happy to help promote it and encourage cooperation between different cultural institutes and embassies from relevant countries, as well as seeing it recognised in our schools and other educational and cultural institutions;
— I would be delighted to take part in events during this year’s Amigo Month, as far as is possible given other constraints on my time or absence in Brussels or elsewhere;
— I am very enthusiastic about the idea of a latino corridor in Southwark and Lambeth and will be happy to work with my Liberal Democrat colleagues on those two borough councils, as well as on the GLA, to try to further the project.
Lastly, may I stress how important it is that everyone in London’s Ibero-American community who is registered to vote here does vote here on 22 May. We need to show the world that UKIP and the Euro-sceptic wing of the Conservative Party are not the true voice of London — and the clearest way of doing that is to vote for the one political party that has stood up forcefully against UKIP and has defended the worth and rights of EU migrants and immigrants from other parts of the world: the Liberal Democrats.
No. 2, Liberal-Democrat European List for London
(JONATHAN FRYER WAS SPEAKING IN FLUENT SPANISH AND PORTUGUESE TO HUNDREDS OF IBERIAN-AMERICAN LEADERS IN WEST NORWOOD LAST WEEK. ON SUNDAY, HE ALSO SPOKE TO HUNDREDS OF LATINOS IN A CHURCH IN CANNING TOWN)
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 20th May, 2014
Last night, at Friends House in Euston, the North East London branch of the World Development Movement (WDM) organised a Euro-election hustings focussing on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which the Green Party and several NGOs involved in overseas development issues have been campaigning against. The timing was well-chosen, not just because of the elections on Thursday but also because yesterday the fifth round in bilateral negotiations began in Arlington, West Virginia. Proponents of TTIP claim that it will create millions of jobs, as well as adding significantly to the GDP of both the US and the EU, as well as third countries, though opponents see it as a means by which US corporations will be able to get easier access to wield their power in Europe. There are two issues relating to TTIP which do concern me, namely the provision that would allow companies to sue governments (at an independent tribunal) if they believed they had suffered financially by being excluded from a lucrative contract. And secondly, I believe the NHS should be ringfenced, so that it is not opened up to competitive tendering from US companies. There is currently a consultation going on in which the European Commission in Brussels is soliciting comments from the public, and it is unlikely that any TTIP agreement could be finalised before the end of 2015. I would only support it if the two points I raised above are met, and if the guarantees that the current EU Trade Commissioner, Karel de Gucht, has made that Europe would not be forced to lower food safety standards, for example allowing in chlorine-washed US chicken or GM foods. So a lot of hard negotiation needs to happn. I hope the outcome is successful, as I believe it could lead to greater prosperity and employment, but that must not be at any price.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 10th May, 2014
The Spanish- and Portuguese-speakers in London claim to be the capital’s largest ethnic minority, self-estimating to be about 10 per cent of the population, and it’s not hard to believe when one sees the vibrancy of the Portuguese in Lambeth, the Spanish across the capital, the Latin American Hispanics in Elephant and Castle and the Brazilians just about everywhere, etc. Just how many hundreds of thousands they amount to altogether is hard to gauge, as on top of those who are fully integrated into the system there is an unknown quantity of others who arrived, as students, tourists or whatever, and never quite left. Some years ago I spoke at a huge rally organised by London Citizens in Trafalgar Square, arguing that the position of undocumented migrants from Latin America should be regularised, not least so that their children can grow up secure in our society. Anyway, today I saw the other end of the spectrum: predominantly young business people from the Iberian (Spanish and Portuguese) and Latin American community — plus a good few from lusophone Africa — fizzing with entrepreneurship at a networking breakfast at a large and beautiful church complex in West Norwood, compered by my old friend from Minka News, Isaac Bigio. In the short speech I gave (in both languages) at the beginning of their proceedings (as a candidate in the current European elections), I stressed how important it is that all those who have European Union passports and who are registered to vote in London do so in order to help counter the populist xenophobia of UKIP and the more disreputable wing of the Conservative Party. I was fascinated over the breakfast to discover some of the new Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese publications just launched or about to appear in London. This is a phenomenally well-organised community on the way up and we can expect it to make its political voice increasingly heard.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 9th May, 2014
As Greece currently holds the six-monthly rotating European Council presidency there was a Greek theme to tonight’s Europe Day concert in St John’s, Smith Square. The programme included two lively folkloric dances by the 20th century Greek composer, Nikos Skalkottas (1904-1949), but most of the other works drew their inspiration from classical Greek legends and literature. Thus we heard extracts from Monteverdi’s Orfeo, Gluck’s Alceste and Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, among others. The Richard Strauss Interlude added to to Mozart’s Idomeneo in 1931 was a novelty for me; apparently in Strauss’s time the original opera was considered a bit serious and dated. The combination was certainly intriguing. As ever, the European Youth Orchestra, conducted by Dominic Wheeler, was of a phenomenally high standard and four young singers — Monica Bantos, Elsa Galasio, Sophie Rennert (who I’d heard previously performing at Europe House) and Camille Tresmontant — enchanted, not least in a comparatively frivolous Offenbach Finale. Beethoven’s ODE to Joy (the European anthem) rounded off the evening, with the entire audience rising to their feet. It was enough to give any UKIP supporters in the church an apoplexy, but I guess there were none. And I am sure I was not alone in rejoicing in the display of the flags of all the EU member states flying in Parliament Square as I made my way home.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 5th May, 2014
Every time I go somewhere abroad for a Liberal International or ALDE (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe) gathering I make sure to tag on at least one cultural outing or event. No matter how much one travels, there are always new things to discover, not least in the great cities of Europe. Hearing that the ALDE Council and European Election Rally was going to be in Vienna this Bank Holiday weekend I knew immediately that my cultural treat this time would be the Albertina Museum, home of Albrecht Durer’s astounding portrait of a hare, which is still able to cause wonderment over five hundred years after its creation. Like many great works of art, it is small, almost modest, and it is displayed at the Albertina in a row of other watercolours and drawings, but one is immediately pulled towards it, not just by its celebrity (as I felt was the case with the Mona Lisa in the Louvre) but rather by its perfection, both as a life study of a creature of the field and in the way it captures the essence of hare-ness, as a Zen Buddhist might say. It takes a great deal of force to produce such an image of calm that could be at any moment be shattered if the hare is alarmed and scampers away. So I was certainly not disappointed. But there is so much more than just tat one miniature masterpiece in the Albertina, including a wonderful current show, from Monet to Picasso, with works by many of the greatest painters of the age of Modernism. The paintings of this show are hung sparingly across the exhibition rooms, so one can take in the full impact of each, and unlike in the Louvre or the Hermitage or many of the other great art galleries in the world, one can linger in front of each image as there are no great thronging crowds. Then after the eyes have been satiated with works of art, one can walk through the furnished rooms of the palace itself, redolent of the grandeur of the Habsburgs (who ruled over so much of central Europe), beautifully restored and maintained. In short, a real treasure house.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 4th May, 2014
The NEOS Party in Austria is a new force on the scene, incorporating the former Liberal Forum, but it is predicted to win as much as 14 per cent in this month’s European elections — a figure the UK Liberal Democrats can only envy. This is despite the fact that NEOS is an overtly Federalist Party, calling for a United States of Europe. or maybe that is the reason why, and also why it has attracted so many young, idealistic supporters, who thronged to the Marx Halls in the city for a huge rally on Friday night, at which the speakers included the twin heads of the ALDE (European Liberal Democrats) campaign, Guy Verhofstadt and Olli Rehn, as well as the president of ALDE, Sir Graham Watson. The rally was also the culmination of the ALDE conference and Council, which NEOS had bravely decided to host, despite being the new kid on the block. It all went remarkably smoothly, with no contentious issues raising their ugly head. Indeed, the mood was one of celebration, though in several EU member states the Liberal and Democrat cause is under threat by populist forces on both the right and left.