Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for May, 2017

Mrs May’s Reckless Complacency

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 31st May, 2017

Theresa May alarmTheresa May called a snap general election, despite earlier saying she wouldn’t, supposedly because she wants a strong mandate to negotiate Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, though one can’t help wonder whether the true reason was because she thought she could wipe the floor with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and return with a huge majority in a parliamentary landslide. If the latter were the case then her calculation may prove to be wrong. Although just a few weeks ago the Conservatives were ahead by 20 per cent all recent opinion polls agree that that gap has narrowed considerably. Indeed, according to a new YouGov prediction, the Conservatives may not even have an overall majority on 9 June. Whether that turns out to be the case or not, what is clear is that the Prime Minister, far from being “strong and stable” — the slogan she keeps repeating, like some demented parrot — is distinctly wobbly. It’s not just that there have been a couple of major U-turns on the Tory manifesto, just days after it was published. Mrs May still shows no sign of knowing what her Brexit plan is and how she will get the best deal for Britain. She has succeeded in offending our continental EU partners and Ireland, compounding matters by snuggling up close to America’s Donald Trump, whom most Europeans view as beyond the pale. Moreover, the Prime Minister has arrogantly refused to take part in a multi-party leaders’ debate, thereby opening herself up to some pretty hostile questioning from interviewers. When she goes on visits around the country, she only appears before heavily vetted audiences, mostly made up of Conservative Party activists. The message not to engage with the electorate has obviously gone down to Tory parliamentary candidates as well. The Romford Recorder newspaper in East London/West Essex organised three Facebook hustings for the constituencies of Dagenham & Rainham, Hornchurch & Upminster and Romford, and no Conservative was present at any of them. It’s as if the Tories believe that their largely under-the-radar telephone and Internet advertising campaigns — buttressed by a largely sycophantic and Eurosceptic Press — will be enough to secure them victory. Such complacency is bad for democracy and may prove to be their undoing. Sadly, the Prime Minister’s complacency and arrogance could prove to be Britain’s undoing in the Brexit negotiations as well.

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Angela Merkel Nails It

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 28th May, 2017

Angela Merkel 2In a campaign speech in Bavaria, the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, today declared bluntly that Europe can no longer rely on the United States as a core ally, now that Donald Trump is in charge — and that Theresa May’s Brexit strategy has put the United Kingdom beyond the pale, too. Although Frau Merkel emphasized the need for friendly relations with the USA, Britain and Russia, she declared, “We Europeans must really take our destiny into our own hands.” The Chancellor is recently back from the G7 Summit in Taormina, Sicily, and what happened there clearly made her realise that America under Trump and the UK under May cannot be fully trusted as allies. “The times in which we can fully count on others are somewhat over, as I have experienced in the past few days,” she said.

Trump May 1 The Trump administration, of course, leaked sensitive security information following the Manchester bombing, which must make even Mrs May regret that she cuddled up so closely to the Donald following his election victory. Even more uncomfortable is the reality that in the minds of the leader of Germany and of several of her continental counterparts, Trump, May and Putin (albeit not in equal measure) are now a triumvirate of the unreliable. How shaming for Britain, and it’s all the fault of the UK Conservatives embracing the hard Brexit narrative with all the fervour of new converts to the religion of UKIP. For an ardent European and Liberal Democrat such as myself this is painful in the extreme. Mrs May declared some weeks ago that the nation is behind her, 100%, but that is not true, Mrs May. It’s not just many among the 48% who voted Remain in last June’s EU Referendum who can see that you are in danger of leading Britain over the white cliffs of Dover without a parachute. Many who for various reasons voted Leave now also see the folly of your strategy. Actually, strategy is the wrong word, as it is all too clear that when it comes to Brexit you have no strategy, and your three idiotic Brexit Ministers have no plan. There are just 10 days for this message to get across to the general public before the general election voting. But the conclusion is clear: if you care about Britain’s future and its place in the world, Don’t Vote Tory!

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Dump Trump

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 27th May, 2017

G7 SummitThe body-language at the G7 Summit in Taormina this weekend has been absolutely fascinating. Emmanuel Macron made a beeline for Angela Merkel, and rightly so. This is now Europe’s political power couple and their joint determination to reform the European Union is something we should all warmly welcome. This makes it doubly tragic that Britain is walking away from the EU, seemingly as ungraciously as possible, with Theresa May at the helm. To think that the UK was due to take on the six-month rotating presidency of the EU on 1 July and that the British Prime Minister could then have been part of a triumvirate of leaders helping promote positive change. Instead, Mrs May has thrown away any chance of being taken seriously by her continental and Irish counterparts and hovers on the fringes of EU meetings like a sad aunt whom nobody loves.

Trump May Even at the G7 Summit she was at one moment pictured looking down in the dumps seated next to Donald Trump, who was pointedly ignoring her. So much for the special relationship! That relationship has anyway been soured as the British intelligence services have unilaterally stopped sharing sensitive information with the Americans as Trump’s White House is as leaky as a colander, as well as apparently having an open hotline to the Kremlin. So while Donald Trump stared into the distance, presumably already bored with the whole thing and tetchy because people were not fawning around him, Angela Merkel turned her cheek to be kissed by Canada’s Justin Trudeau (well, who wouldn’t?). It became ever more noticeable that there are two wallflowers in the G7 now: Trump and May, and Mrs May probably now rues the day she allowed the orange-hued POTUS to grab her hand so forcefully in the White House. Trump is in especially bad odour with everybody else in the G7 because he may well scupper the Paris climate agreement. Teasingly, he said he’d let the others know next week. This is the future of the planet he’s casually playing with! So, dear Americans, the ball is in your court. Most of Europe is saying to you imploringly: Dump Trump! Certainly don’t re-elect him in 2020. But if you can get rid of him through impeachment or whatever in the meantime, please do so. He’s not just a national embarrassment for you. He is globally toxic.

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Democracy Must Endure

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 25th May, 2017

Election 2017Following the bombing atrocity in Manchester campaigning in Britain’s general election was suspended out of respect for the victims and their families, which was right and proper. Moreover the people of Britain needed a couple of days of quiet reflection for the news to sink in. Not that social media were as reticent or reflective; among loving messages of solidarity there was also much anger and some outright hatred, with people hiding behind anonymity to call for reprisals against Muslims, as if somehow a whole community were responsible for the evil doings of a young extremist indoctrinated by the propaganda of ISIS/Daesh. But the election is now only a fortnight away and it is important to demonstrate to the world, as well as to potential terrorists, that not just Manchester but Britain as a whole is unbowed and our democracy will survive and thrive despite this bloody setback. Local campaigning starts again today (and therefore I will be appearing, as planned, as the studio guest at the East London and West Essex radio station 107.5FM’s phone-in between noon and 1pm), while full-scale national campaigning will resume tomorrow. Inevitably the mood will be more subdued than one would normally expect during the fine weather of early summer. But I hope that the turnout on 8 June will be massive. Whoever people vote for, the very act of voting is an act of defiance to those who hate our British values and lifestyle. Democracy must endure.

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Manchester and the Viler UK Media

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 23rd May, 2017

Manchester-Arena-incidentLike many Mancunians who have spent most of their working lives in London, I was shocked and saddened by the news this morning of the bombing at the Manchester Arena that claimed 22 lives and injured well over a hundred other people, many of them children and adolescents. Nothing can adequately explain, let alone exonerate, such wanton barbarity. I was disappointed — but not surprised — by how many politicians described the bombing as a “cowardly” act; suicide bombers are not cowards but instead are driven by a degree of hatred and misguided conviction that makes them prepared to sacrifice their own lives as well as depriving so many innocents of theirs, in aid of a spurious “cause”. Social media predictably went into a frenzy during the day, fizzing with the anger with which most of us can identify, though some people who took to twitter to vent their feelings veered into the totally unhelpful territory of blaming all Muslims, seemingly deaf to the condemnations of the atrocity from Muslim leaders in the UK and blind to the acts of kindness and generosity by Muslim taxi-drivers, restaurateurs and others in Manchester throughout Monday night and today.

Katie HopkinsShamefully, rent-a-gob media pundits such as Piers Morgan and Katie Hopkins joined the fray, the latter disgracefully calling in a tweet for a “final solution”. Despite the sick referencing of the Holocaust that claimed the lives of six million Jews the implication (which, were she taken to court over the matter, Ms Hopkins would doubtless try to deny) is that Muslims deserve the same fate. At a time when the people of Manchester were rallying round, and a wave of support came from not all over the UK but from much of the rest of the world as well, the viler parts of the UK media were wallowing in the chance to be shock-jocks and their print equivalent. I am often embarrassed by the excesses of the nastier end of the British media, from the Sun to the Daily Mail and Daily Express, but others were jumping on the bandwagon today, spewing their bile. Katie Hopkins is still employed by LBC Radio, as well as several right-wing newspapers, and I was pleased to see that a number of “celebrities” are calling for a boycott of LBC until the radio station gets rid of her. But frankly I will be surprised if they do so, because being shocking  and offensive is now considered entertaining in this country, as it has been in the United States for many years. This not only debases political discourse, it also debases Britain. But this will continue until signifiant sections of the British public stand up and shout “Enough!”

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The Liberal International’s 70th Anniversary Congress

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 19th May, 2017

IMG_2400The Liberal International was founded in Oxford 70 years ago, as Europe and the wider world emerged from the physical and psychological trauma of the Second World War. The idea was to bring together political parties, originally predominantly in Europe, who had enough of a shared ideology to collaborate in the interests of promoting liberal values of individual freedom, human rights and a (regulated) free market economy. I went to Wadham College, Oxford, a few weeks ago to celebrate the 70th anniversary and to help put the finishing touches to a new Liberal Manifesto which aims to update what was put together in 1947, without losing the central principles. Tomorrow, in Andorra, at the Liberal International Congress, we will adopt the new document and I will have the honour of signing it on behalf of the UK Liberal Democrats.

IMG_2411I am sure the founding fathers (and, yes, in keeping with the times they were almost all men) would have been thrilled to see how LI has grown and how these days European parties are outnumbered by counterparts from Africa, Asia and Latin America. Indeed, Liberals are now in government in so many countries in the world, from Taiwan to Côte d’Ivoire, Canada to the Netherlands. Will the new French President, Emmanuel Macron, be the next new recruit? The reason the current congress is in Andorra is because the LI President at the moment is Juli Minoves, former Foreign Minister of Andorra, who has done us proud reminding us just how ancient the principality’s parliamentary system is. But on Sunday I shall return to London and throw myself back into the general election campaign, in Dagenham & Rainham and beyond.

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The Liberal Democrats’ Manifesto Launch

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 17th May, 2017

Tim Farron manifesto launchDespite the dismal rain outside, the atmosphere in the Oval Space in Bethnal Green was electric this evening for the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto launch — reminiscent of the very best LibDem autumn conference events, packed with activists and complete with a well-stocked bar. After a warm-up act (and fundraising pitch) by St. Albans candidate Daisy Cooper, Tim Farron hit the stage to give a barnstorming speech which can have left no-one –including those watching via the numerous TV channels filming — where the party’s heart lies. Right at the fore of the manifesto and in Tim’s speech was the restated belief that Britain is better off inside the EU. No ifs, no buts. And, not surprisingly, Theresa May got a roasting for adopting not only UKIP’s language but their policies too. Similarly, Jeremy Corbyn was criticised for instructing his MPs and peers to embrace Brexit and vote for Article50 to be invoked.

Tim Farron’s line could not have been clearer: although the party that accepts that a (narrow) majority voted to leave the European Union in last June’s EU referendum, the vote indicated a departure but not a direction. Did all those who voted Leave really endorse leaving the European single market with all the likely economic shock that that will deliver? Palpably not. So, say the LibDems, when Mrs May has a deal hammered out with our current 27 EU partners that ought to be put to the people in a referendum, not just to politicians in Parliament. And, yes, one option in that fresh vote would be to stay in the EU is voters thought that was preferable. Many people are a bit punch-drunk from votes at the moment, but will that be the case in 12 or 18 months time, when the effects of looming Brexit really bite? Already inflation has increased ninefold, largely as a result in the sharp fall in the value of the pound sterling, and the economy has stopped growing. Let;s see. But certainly among the hundreds of LibDem candidates and supporters at the manifesto launch this evening, Tim Farron’s clear message could not have been sweeter.

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So What Will Happen after Brexit?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 16th May, 2017

Theresa May 9Theresa May’s UKIPTory government is ploughing on with Brexit, giving every impression that she expects to walk away after two years of talks with our current 27 EU partners without a deal. The one realistic part of her scenario is that Britain won’t get a worthwhile deal if the Prime Minister and her unsavoury trio of Brexit Ministers insist that they want to have their cake and eat it, i.e. leave the European single market and end freedom of movement and yet somehow still enjoy all the benefits of EU membership. Impossible, as any rational human being must realise. You are either a member of a Club or not, paying your subs and obeying the rules, or the best you can hope for otherwise is some sort of reciprocal arrangement that won’t be anything like as good as the real thing. During the EU referendum, the Brexiteers attacked the Remainers for what they called “Project Fear”, in other words the projections that experts (much derided by those on the Leave side who prefer emotions to facts) that the British economy would take a massive hit if we do have a hard Brexit. We are still in the EU at the moment and are therefore still benefiting from our open trading relationship within the biggest trading bloc in the world. Yet already the shocks are being felt just because the government is pressing ahead with Brexit, shamefully cheered on by the supposed Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, who has declared that “Brexit is settled”. No it isn’t! And because there are still more than 18 months left before Britain goes over the cliff edge there is still time to soften the blows or, if the British electorate wants it, even to stop Brexit in its tracks.

UK inflationIn the meantime, inflation has shot up from 0.3% to 2.7%, almost entirely because of the fall in the value of the pound sterling and the associated increase in import costs. That is hitting people on low incomes, even those in employment whose modest wages are not now keeping up with inflation. Moreover, leading financial services firms and other companies have started expanding their premises in cities such as Dublin, Paris and Frankfurt as they prepare to move thousands of their employees out of London once their ability to operate freely in the EU from London is curtailed. And it’s not just people on generous City salaries who will leave or lose their positions. Jobs will soon go in various sectors of manufacturing industry as well as the hospitality industry and services. I accept that a slim majority of those who voted in last June’s EU Referendum indicated that they would prefer Britain to leave the EU. But did all of them really realise what the sort of hard Brexit Mrs May and her colleagues are pursuing would mean? I don’t believe so. And I can’t help feeling that the reason the Prime Minister called this snap election is not so much because she think Labour is on the ropes, but rather because she wants to get the election out of the way before the Brexit shit really hits the fan.

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Eurovision: A Return to Authenticity?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 14th May, 2017

NB&D Eurovision nightMost years I watch the Eurovision song contest in the company of fellow Liberal Democrats, and this year was no exception, with a jolly event last night at the home of the Chair of the Newham and Barking & Dagenham local party and his wife. Even during an election campaign it’s good to let one’s hair down once in a while. Besides, the idea of European nations coming together to celebrate — along with the odd outlier like Australia — chimes in well with the LibDems’ pro-European character. Among the membership of the local party there are nationals of a range of other EU member states, as well as Asian and Afro-Caribbean activists, making it one of the most multicultural in the country.

Salvador SobralAs for last night’s Eurovision show, even though I still lament the passing of Terry Wogan, it struck me as a distinct improvement on some recent years, for a couple of main reasons. The first, naturally, was Portugal’s victory with Salvador Sobral and his ballad Amar Pelos Dois. Quite apart from the poignancy of the singer’s health problems, he showed that you don’t need over-the-top light shows and pyrotechnics to win. The simple act of singing a good song well is rightly what it takes. The second thing that cheered me about last night was that far more entries than usual sang in their own language, rather than in English, as had become the fashion. In my view, that is how it should be, as Europe is a stunningly diverse continent when it comes to languages and culture. We should champion that diversity, and celebrate it (as indeed the European Union does). And what better way than the annual songfest that is Eurovision?

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All White in Barking

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 13th May, 2017

InteGreat_BritainLast night I was at the Stratford Picturehouse for a special screening of Marc Isaac’s 2007 documentary, All White in Barking, organised by the City Circle, with which I have been marginally involved for a few years now. The Circle, originally based at Toynbee Hall in Tower Hamlets, provides a safe space for communities to self-critically discuss and debate issues that concern them. According to its founding principles it aims:

i) to empower the Muslim community network to regain the moral and ethical voice of Islam in Britain and to promote this actively in the mainstream British media

ii) To provide a genuine opportunity for strategic alliance building between Muslim and non-Muslim groups

iii) To challenge the belief that there is a conflict between a Muslim and British identity

iv) To channel talent into strategic projects which practically help to put back into wider British society.

All White in Barking 1The City Circle runs a range of outreach programmes, such as feeding the homeless in central London, Saturday schools and regular talks at their new base off the Edgware Road. Currently it is showing a series of films looking at related issues of immigration, integration, race and identity in Britain, “InteGREAT BRITAIN,hence All White in Barking. Though now a decade old, the film still has relevance (by no means only to the borough of Barking & Dagenham) in its exploration of people’s often irrational fears and prejudices regarding other races and religions. Most of it is fly-on-the-wall style reportage, following a small number of central characters, such as the late middle-aged white couple who suddenly find Albanian and African neighbours living on either side and have to be coaxed into having anything to do with them, or the elderly Jewish Holocaust survivor living with his much younger Nigerian “carer”. The dialogue is at times shocking, at others hilarious. At least one of the people featured never faces up to the new multicultural reality and moves to Canvey Island.

When the film was made, there were 12 BNP councillors in Barking & Dagenham. All of them subsequently lost their seats, though I was saddened to see that there is a BNP candidate standing in Dagenham & Rainham constituency in next month’s general election. The BNP wins were a wake-up call not only to the Labour Party that has dominated the area for decades but also to local community organisations, and I believe the situation has improved a lot since then. Barking & Dagenham is, if anything, even more diverse than it was a decade ago, but there does seem to be more interaction between communities, not least among the young. But that does not mean everything is hunky-dory. The central message of All White in Barking is as relevant today as it was back in 2007: confront your inner fears and prejudices, engage with those who are different and open your minds.

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