Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for June, 2014

Pride in Europe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 24th June, 2014

gay prideThis week, for the first time ever, the LGBTi Pride Rainbow Flag is flying from the facade of Europe House in London’s Smith Square, headquarters of the European Parliament office and European Commission representation. Yesterday afternoon, there was a seminar there on extending LGBT rights in the EU, learning from the UK experience. For once it was good to celebrate an area in which Britain is actually a leader in the European Union. Things are not nearly so advanced in some formerly Communist states of Europe, but the point was interestingly made at the seminar that labour mobility within the EU had helped to alter attitudes in some central and eastern European states radically. Poland is a good case in point; until recently overwhelmingly conserative an often homophobic it has recently liberalised, partly thanks to migrant workers who came to Britain, for example, and for the first time engaged with LGBTi people and later returned home with a different opinion. Alas, in some eastern European states that are not part of the EU the situation is still dire. It was good (but a little depressing) to hear of work being done to help activists in Belarus who have been prevented from setting up a solidarity group. In Russia, the situation is actually regresing, as Putin has led a red-blooded heterosexual counter-offensive as what he decries as gay EU expansionism. Anyway, when Conchita Wurst will lead the London Pride celebrations in Trafalgar Square this Saturday, so those of us living in London will have much to be joyful about,  which should fortify us to help defend the rights of those living in jurisdictions that are not so inclusive.

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GDIF 2014 at the Cutty Sark

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 20th June, 2014

GDIF 2014GDIF MuaréThe Greenwich and Docklands International Festival (GDIF) has relatively quickly established itself as one of Britain’s premier outdoor cultural events, all the remarkable because it is FREE. Artistic Director Bradley Hemmings has a keen eye for what’s hot in Continental Europe and beyond and the Festival makes brilliant use of the diverse historic and contemporary venues on offer in the Royal Borough of Greenwich, as well as over the river in Tower Hamlets and Newham. This evening, as I made my way to the GDIF opening reception at the Cutty Sark (impressively reborn after the terrible fire of 2007 and now exposed in all its copper-bottomed glory in a fine exhibition space) I watched a company of dancers from Antwerp performing on the surrounding piazza, in front of a mirrored mobile van in which 20 privileged spectators had a keyhole view of the action from the inside. At the reception, fitting tribute was played to sponsors, including the Royal Borough of Greenwich, Arts Council England and this time the Flanders representation in London. Whilst we invitees swapped notes over canapés and wine, a select few were wired into another dynamic experience, their perception controlled by computer, which gave them the impression of walking through the streets of Brussels, including at one stage carefully stepping along a narrow balustrade in front of Belgium’s Palais de Justice. Later, the guests moved to the Greenwich Maritime Museum to watch Muaré, a psychadelic extravagance involving aerial theatre by artists from Spain and Argentina descending from giant revolving optical art mobiles. The Festival runs on until 28 June and I am particularly looking forward to events in Mile End Park, just along the road from my home, and at the Olympic Park in Newham.

Link: http://www.festival.org/festival/overview/12/2014/

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Do Not Lose Euro-heart!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 17th June, 2014

The following first appeared in yesterday’s London Liberal Democrats’ weekly email bulletin:

JF at homeThe result of the recent Euro-elections was deeply dispiriting, not least because for the first time ever the Liberal Democrats pinned our pro-European colours to the mast — the only major party to do so. Yet we lost all but one of our MEPs (the exception being Catherine Bearder in South East England), including London’s Sarah Ludford, who has done so much good over the past 15 years, especially in the field of Justice and Home Affairs. At least we do not “lose” Sarah completely, as she can now return to the House of Lords and play an active role there, with all the benefits of her Euro-experience.

The important thing now is to learn from the May 2014 experience and to rebuild, so that we ensure we once again have at least one LibDem MEP for London in 2019. I believe there are two main lessons, though other people may suggest more. First, although being the Party of IN was the right strategy, the message was wrong: it should have been “We’re IN it to Fix It!”, as we are the party of EU reform, not of the status quo. Second, whereas I understand the argument for targeting held seats and strong boroughs (especially when there were local elections on the same day), we cannot just ignore two-thirds of London’s electorate in a PR election. So we need somehow to raise the funds for a London-wide Freepost in 2019.

On Friday, I was in Brussels for the governing Council of the Alliance of European Liberals and Democrats (ALDE), our “family” in the European Parliament. Despite the dire results in Britain and Germany the mood was good, as ALDE member parties had done well elsewhere. So I am returning to London re-energised and ever more determined to make 2019 a year for London Liberal Democrat Euro-celebration!

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Ming Campbell’s View of Britain and Europe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 6th June, 2014

Ming CampbellNeither hard nor soft power by NATO and the EU can be as effective as when carried out in tandem, the Liberal Democrat MP Sir Menzies Campbell declared in his Tim Garden Memorial Lecture at Chatham House last night. He stressed that there are no plans to create a European army, despite claims to the contrary, but said there is much to be gained from European military cooperation, not least in cost effectiveness. Most of Ming Campbell’s text was about the political benefits of British membership of the EU (as one might expect from one of the grandees of the Party of IN), and included a mea culpa that he and his parliamentary colleagues had not done enough over the past four decades at promoting those benefit to the British public. If people had listened to the Liberal Party in the 1950s and enabled Britain to join what evolved into the EU at the beginning, we would have had more chance to shape it, Ming said. He was scathing about the Conservative obsession with an EU Referendum, declaring this is not the time to be scaring away foreign investment from those for whom Britain’s place in the EU is considered value added. However, Ming will have disappointed the federalists in the audience (of whom there were undoubtedly some, as the event was organised by Liberal International British Group) by stating flatly that Jean-Claude Juncker (the European People’s Party candidate for President of the European Commission) would be completely the wrong choice at the moment, as he is a man from another time, when ever closer political union was a driving force within the EU. Stephen Sacker, the presenter of BBC World’s Hard Talk, who was moderating the event, asked some probing questions of the speaker, but I for one was disappointed that Ming did not go into greater detail about what sort of reforms the Liberal Democrats would like to see happening in the EU. I am happy to be in the Party of IN, but one of the reasons we did so poorly in the recent European elections was because we did not explain that we are the Party of  IN because we are “in it to reform it” — and how.

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Egypt: Where Next?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 3rd June, 2014

Egypt elections 1Egypt elections 2Last night at the National Liberal Club, Liberal International British Group hosted a panel discussion on the political situation in Egypt, with former Nile TV presenter Shahira Amin, democracy activist Ahmed Naguib (via skype), the Treasurer of Liberal International, Robert Woodthorpe Browne (who has been involved in a lot of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s recent work in Egypt) and myself. As the discussion was (rightly) held under the Chatham House Rule, I cannot divulge what any of the others said, but I can share some of the things I talked about. As the two Egyptian participants gave such a comprehenesive and coheremnt picture of today’s political realities and challenges, I complemented their presentations by reminding people about the highs and lows of the mood on Cairo’s Tahrir Square in January/February 2011, including the prominent role played by brave women and the way that Muslims and Christian Copts protected each other when they were at prayer. But those who dubbed the phenomenon that started in Tunisia the previous December “The Arab Spring” were always way out on their time-frame. I believed that then and believe it even more strongly now: it will be 30 or 40 years before it becomes clear how the whole New Arab Awakening works out, but what is sure is that Egypt is the test case of its success or failure. It has always had a pole position in the Arab mentality, not just because it is by far the most populous nation in the the Arab world but also because of Cairo’s (Sunni) religious and intellectual pre-eminence. Field Marshal Sisi’s victory in the recent presidential election was a foregone conclusion, though it was notable that in each electoral district there were tens of thousands of spoiled ballot papers. But for the majority of Egyptians (rather than the wealthier, educated elite) the prime concern at the moment is economic survival: bread not ballots. Western commentators like myself rightly focus on matters such as human rights abuses, including the systematic use of torture in detention centres. But the key thing that any Egyptian government, now and for the foreseable future, has to tackle is how to overcome the huge inequalities in Egypt and to provide enough, reasonably-paid work for the predominantly young population. Otherwise, there is likely to be a growing, disenchanted body of youth who could be tempted by something far more radical than the Muslim Brotherhood that was ousted from power. And that bodes ill.

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Long Live EU Labour Mobility!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 1st June, 2014

EU labour mobility 2EU labour mobilityI was saddened, but not surprised, to see in the Observer this morning that Frank Field, Kate Hoey and a few other UK Labour grandees have called on Ed Miliband to pledge to “constrain” EU labour mobility, i.e. undermine the principle of freedom of movement of people, which is a core element of the European single market. Such curbs, which many Conservatives also back, are of course a central plank of the UKIP agenda — so long as Britain remains an EU member. I understand why the UKIP surge in last week’s European and local elections last week has unnerved Britain’s two largest traditional parties, but that does not mean that the anti-immigrant and anti-EU rhetoric of Nigel Farage’s crew is right. On the contrary, true statistics — as opposed to UKIP propaganda and Daily Express lies — show that Britain has benefited hugely from labour mobility. Though over 2 million EU migrants have come to this country, a not much smaller number of Brits have moved to the continent. One in seven new businesses that have been set up in this country have been started by EU migrants, bringing new vibrancy to town centres in places like Southampton. Often people here complain that the migrants are “taking our jobs”, but the evidence does not back that up. Often the migrants are doing work that Brits just don’t want to do (such as fruit-picking and being waiters in restaurants). Moreover, to the predominanly young British who can’t find a job at the moment, I urge: skill up, maybe learn a language or two, improve your work ethic and throw yourselves into the energetic UK economy that is now the fastest growing in the OECD! Of course, the rise in population attributable to immigration has put real pressure on housing and schools and some social services, but the solution to that is to build more homes and other facilities, something Labour singularly failed to do during its 13 years in power. Moreover, I love the diversity that EU migration has brought to this country, especially to multicultural London. Far from being made uncomfortable by hearing people in the train speaking a foreign language, as Nigel Farage claimed, I see this as one aspect of our wonderfully rich and varied culture: an opportunity to learn more, not to go off into a nationalistic corner and sulk.

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