Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for June, 2016

Don’t Let Jo Cox Die in Vain

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 17th June, 2016

imageI never met the young Labour MP Jo Cox but for some time I had been aware of her campaigning — on International Development, Syrian refugees and, most recently, for the Remain side in the EU Referendum. The image of her that will ways stick in my mind was of her and her husband Brendan and their two very excited young children in a rubber dinghy on the River Thames on Wednesay,  waving an IN flag at the Brexit flotilla commanded by Nigel Farage. The Coxes got sprayed with water by one of the fishing boats in response. But that small act of aggression was nothing compared to the awful murder of Jo Cox yesterday, by a man who several eye witnesses say shouted “Britain First!”

A few days ago I wrote of what I called the Trumpification of British politics, the way that a respect for truth and rational debate has increasingly gone out of the window in British political discourse. I lamented the way some politicians and campaigners are happy to lie brazenly, while on social media — not least Twitter — vile abuse against political opponents has become commonplace. I guess like many Brits I thought we might be spared the sort of physical aggression and outright violence that has been a feature of some of Donald Trump’s rallies in the United States, but clearly this is not the case. We even had Farage yesterday warning that people’s alleged anger at the number of foreign migrants coming to Britain could lead to violence. The poster he proudly stood by, showing a huge throng of migrants clamouring to be let in was horribly reminiscent of Nazi propaganda in 1930s Germany.

jo Cox’s widower put out an extraordinarily dignified statement after his wife’s murder, asking people not to forget what she stood for and to act in that spirit. It was right and fitting that political programmes such as BBC’s Question Time were cancelled last night as a sign of respect and that much of the Remain campaigning has been suspended. We need a period of calm reflection in Britain for us to come to terms with what has happened and its significance, and to bring us back from the brink. This evening, at 7pm, in Parliament Square, Westminster, there will be a vigil for Jo Cox and I hope to get back from Riga (where I was speaking yesterday at an event on the possible consequences of  Brexit) so I can attend. This should not just be an act of remembrance for a remarkable woman who during her brief year in Parliament was a beacon of decency and commitment but at least as important a loud statement that as Britons, we will not let her die in vain.

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Cypriots for REMAIN

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 14th June, 2016

Norman Lamb CypriotsGiven some of the depressing opinion polls about the EU Referendum over the past few days it was uplifting to be in a hall packed with Cypriots in north London this evening cheering on the campaign for Britain to Remain in the EU. There was a first rate line-up of politicians, including MPs Nicky Morgan (Conservative), Secretary of State for Education, Norman Lamb (LibDem) and Catherine West (Labour), all singing from the same song-sheet. As Commonwealth citizens, Cypriots registered in London can vote in next week’s referendum (as can Maltese and Irish) unlike other EU citizens, alas, and there are enough of them to make a difference. It was good to see the Cypriot High Commissioner (one of the most engaged members of London’s diplomatic community) sitting in the front row, in an audience that struck me as predominantly made up of businessmen and businesswomen (no bad thing). Norman Lamb stressed the positive aspect of immigration (including EU migration), whereas Nicky Morgan highlighted how many young Brits have benefited from Erasmus+, studying or getting work experience on the continent. Catherine West pointed out that the Labour Party has come out wholeheartedly in favour of EU membership (even if not all Labour voters agree). There is only a week to go before the vote, which means that it is vital that meetings such as this happen all over the country, to motivate those who back Remain to actually go out to vote, otherwise the Brexiteers could win by default.

Nicky Morgan Cypriots.jpg

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When Will America Reject Guns?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 13th June, 2016

The massacre of clubbers at a gay venue in Orlando, Florida, is the worst mass killing by a gunman in US history. Fifty people are dead and several others wounded; across the world there have been spontaneous vigils and acts of mourning. The gunman’s ex-wife says he has a personality disorder, which underlines why there need to be stricter controls on who can get access to guns and other weapons. Personally, I don’t think anyone outside the armed forces should have the ability to purchase a weapon that can slaughter so many people (and the armed forces should only have them for defence). Inevitably, there has been much comment — not least on social media — about the fact that the mass murderer, Omar Mateen, is Muslim and that he was said to have been offended recently by the sight of two men kissing. It is true that there are what in modern terms would be called homophobic passages in the Koran, just as there are in the Jewish and Christian bibles, but it would be wrong to use this incident as a stick with which to beat Muslims in general, especially during this holy month of Ramadan. I was pleased to see that Islamic groups in America have been among the first to offer condolences and material relief. Any people who might like to claim that Christianity is so much more enlightened when it comes to LGBT issues should examine how fundamentalist US churches promoted the hateful anti-gay legislation in Uganda and other parts of Africa, or look at the evangelicals in America who parade with signs saying “God Hates Fags”. What is clear is that the fight for LGBT rights and equality is far from over, both within religious communities and in the wider world. But for me the most striking thing about this dreadful incident is that yet again the United States has shown that its adherence to the “freedom” to bear arms has murderous consequences. I would argue that religious intolerance of homosexuality is an anachronism that needs to be confronted, but so too, sure;y, is America’s love of guns, more appropriate to the frontier age of the 19th century than to the postmodern 21st century. Until that issue is addressed, there will be more shootings by hateful or deranged individuals. And although the Orlando shootings have beaten the record for the number of dead, sometime before too long another atrocity will top that figure. While offering the Orlando victims, their families and friends our deepest condolences, we can only hope that one day the American public and legislators will see sense on gun control.

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The European Union: A Citizen’s Guide

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 8th June, 2016

Chris Bickerton European UnionCampaigning to Remain in the European Union ahead of the 23 June Referendum I have been struck by how little most people know about the EU. Perhaps that is inevitable, given that no previous British government has bothered to explain the Union to the electorate prior to the recent referendum brochure, which Brexiters have been damning as propaganda. Moreover, anyone relying on tabloids such as the Daily Mail or (worst of all) the Daily Express has been fed a diet of anti-EU prejudice and outright lies for years. So with little more than a fortnight to go before this crucial vote it was timely for Penguin Books to issue a dispassionate account of the EU, its history, its workings and its possible future: Chris Bickerton’s The European Union: A Citizen’s Guide (Pelican, £8.99). Europhiles will be disappointed that Mr Bickerton does not share their passion for the European project; he is quite dismissive of the peace dividend (despite the EU’s Nobel Prize) and does not really do credit to the founding fathers. However, he will equally dismay Eurosceptics because he does not write the whole thing off as an expensive, anti-democratic con-trick. Steering a middle line should in principle therefore enable readers to make up their own minds, though I personally wish that he could have made parts of text more engaging. He himself benefited from the EU’s freedom of movement, taking up teaching positions in the Netherlands and in France, but his main observation about that is how easy it was in Amsterdam because the Dutch speak such good English, whereas the wretched French insisted in speaking French. I can’t help but feel he somehow missed the point. That said, this is a useful and compact little volume which should help the uninitiated steer their way through the mysteries of the EU. Let’s hope it also then enc0urages people to vote on 23 June, preferably for Remain.

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Brexit: The Commonwealth Has Its Say

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 7th June, 2016

International Liberals Yes To EuropeOne of the favourite arguments of more lucid adherents to the Vote Leave campaign is that a Britain outside the EU would be able to rebuild a special trading relationship with the Commonwealth. However, the evidence does not bear this out. Trade links to the Commonwealth (as well as the nostalgia of Empire Loyalty) was a factor in Britain’s decision not to join the infant European Communities at the beginning, but the situation is very different today. Australia, for example, is much more focussed on China and the rest of East and South East Asia than on the “Mother country”, while Canada is closely tied economically to the United States. Former African colonies have grown and diversified their patterns of trade and relations, beneifitting from a series of aid and trade deals that they have enjoyed through the EU. Moreover, one after another, the leaders of Commonwealth states have been queuing up to declare to Britain: don’t opt for Brexit! One of the reasons we really like you these days is because you are part of the EU and its single market.

PA, KF, JEBut there is an even more important Commonwealth dimension to Britain’s EU Referendum on 23 June. All legally resident Commonwealth citizens in the UK (as well as the Irish) are entitled to vote, so long as they are on the electoral register (for which the cut-off time is midnight tonight). That means that people originally from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria and elsewhere can all have their say. Paradoxically, citizens of other EU member states — who risk being most affected by any vote in favour of Brexit — cannot, unless they happen to be from Cyprus or Malta.Some diplomatic missions, such as the Irish, worried about the impact of Brexit, have been urging their nationals to vote — and ideally for REMAIN. And a number of community groups and NGOs have been organising events, not least in London, to inform and energise their members. Last night, at the National Liberal Club in Westminster, an International Liberals Yes to Europe evening chaiored by Baroness Kishwer Falkner brought speakers from Canada (John English) and Cyprus (Praxoula Antoniadou), as well as a South African MP (Stevens Mokgalapa) via Skype link, all of whom stressed how crucial it is for Britain to be part of the EU if it wishes to remain a powerful player in the world. Otherwise, we attendees were warned, many richer Commonwealth citizens are likely to leave or to pull their money and investments out of Britain. This is not scaremongering. Already, billions of pounds have been withdrawn from Britain overall over the past six months, just because of the fear of Brexit. Praxoula Antoniadou, leader of the Cypriot (Liberal) United Democrats and a sometime Central Banker, warned that Britain after Brexit would see a brain drain, too. Even London would risk no longer being the magnet that it undoubtedly is today. That’s why so many Commonwealth citizens will be voting on 23 June — and they are numerous enough in a tight-run contest to make all the difference.

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Growing the European Liberal Family

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 5th June, 2016

image.jpegAt the ALDE (European Liberals and Democrats) Party Council in Vilnius this weekend, new full member parties were welcomed from Spain, Poland and Ukraine. The first two were particularly significant, as we did not have a national Spanish member party, only the (very strong and active) Catalan regional party, Convergencia. Last year, I was one of a number of European Liberal Democrats who went to Madrid for a day-long event with Cuidadanos, to check them out. Although new, they have already performed quite strongly in elections, and are undoubtedly a liberal, centrist force. Paradoxically, several key figures in the party are Catalan, and have therefore found themselves on the opposite side of the regional independence argument from Convergencia, but that will not stop the two working side-by-side within ALDE. As for the new Polish party, Nowoczesna, it is relatively small but is bravely standing up against the forces of illiberalism in Poland, where the government has even attracted formal EU concern. As the next ALDE Congress will be held in Warsaw at the beginning of December, one hopes this will give our new member a significant boost. The Ukrainian newbie, Civic Position, is also quite small but is a welcome liberal addition to that conflict-ridden state’s political landscape. ALDE has member parties right across Europe, not just in the EU, though Brussels-centred activities are a core area of operation. Being part of ALDE can help liberal parties outside the EU to feel part of a wider family, and indeed to receive practical assistance in some cases. Of course, in less than a month Britain could be starting its own bumpy journey out of the EU into the periphery, though the call from all the Continental and Irish delegates at the ALDE Party Cluncil was clear: “Please don’t leave!”

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The Trumpification of British Politics

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 2nd June, 2016

When Donald Trump first started campaigning for the Republican nomination in the US presidential election few people in Britain took him seriously, with his bluster, balderdash and downright lies. But now he has the nomination in the bag he can’t be ignored, though I am pleased that Nicola Sturgeon and other politicians in the UK are going to give him the cold shoulder when he goes to Scotland the day after the EU Referendum. But for all those (including myself, until recently) who think “Someone like that could never get to the top in Britain”, beware. I now believe it is not impossible, thanks to what I have styled the Trumpification of British politics that has become glaringly obvious during the EU Referendum campaign. Boris Johnson, of course, is just the most egregious example, pandering to latent xenophobia as well as trotting out Euro-myths left, right and centre. It has been alarming to see how many senior Conservative politicians — including several Cabinet Ministers — have joined Nigel Farage in what was previously the loony corner, ramping up their poisonous anti-EU and anti-immigration rhetoric with each day that passes. Alas, even some in the REMAIN camp have been tempted down the road of exaggeration and hyperbole, devaluing British polical discourse in the process. In Boris’s case, there does seem to be a definite attempt to emulate Trump in manner and diction, as his ego and ambition inflate like a giant balloon. But when I mentioned Trumpification at a Federal Trust event on Brexit the other evening, a German academic said he though the main cause was Twitter and the way that politics is now often just the exchange of short, pithy, often unsubstantiated statements, coupld with aggressive character assassination. As a keen Twitter user, I find that a depressing thought, but he might well be right.

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