Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for June, 2017

Remember 1967

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 30th June, 2017

Remember 1967Next month will see the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act, which decriminalised sex between males in the UK, though only for consenting men aged 21 or older and in private. It was a landmark achievement, bringing an end to an injustice that has endured since the Labouchere Amendment of 1885 led to many homosexuals and bisexual men in Britain being imprisoned, blackmailed or disgraced. But as Peter Tatchell pointed out in a speech to a commemorative event in the City last night, after the Act was passed, police actually became more active in pursuing cases against gay men and teenagers, and the definition of “private” was deemed to mean that no person could be in the same house or flat at the time, even if they were not involved. It was only in 2000 that the age of consent for gay sex was reduced to 16, in line with heterosexual sex, and in 2013 that the Equal Marriage Act gave gay and lesbian couples the right to marry. So it is fair to say that it took almost half a century for the aspirations of early parliamentary campaigners on LGBT+ rights, such as Leo Abse MP and Lord “Boofy” Arran, to reach fruition. During much of that time, Peter Tatchell has played a key role in championing gay rights and fighting injustice, not only in the UK but all over the world. In many Commonwealth countries of Africa and the Caribbean, for example, gay sex is still illegal, often the basis of British colonial laws. But last night’s commemoration, organised and hosted by the public artist Martin Firrell, rightly celebrated the positive achievements of the past half century, as well as setting some interesting challenges for those present. One of Martin’s current projects is Gender Tender, in which people are invited to enter imaginatively into a future where gender is regarded as something essentially private and intimate — a future where children are not assigned a gender at birth but society waits until children themselves are able – and wish – to choose a gender identity. Those of us who attended last night’s function were the first guinea pigs in a big gender think-in. But everyone can follow how things develop via http://www.Remember1967.com

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No, We Don’t Need Patriotic Media!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 24th June, 2017

IMG_2519A UK government Minister, Andrea Leadsom, has urged British broadcasters to be more patriotic in their coverage of Brexit. US President Donald Trump would doubtless approve, but her intervention deserves to be greeted with a giant raspberry. The right wing of the Conservative Party loathes the BBC, in particular, and would like to force it to go commercial by threatening to abolish the licence fee that funds it. Actually, the BBC has leant over backwards to be as even-handed as possible over Brexit since last year’s EU Referendum, infuriating Remainers by giving particular prominence to Nigel Farage and the rump of UKIP. But what Ms Leadsom apparently wants is what the government already enjoys with the Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail, Daily Express, The Sun, etc, namely out-and-out champions of Theresa May’s “red, white and blue” Brexit, involving leaving the European single market and Customs Union and other bodies and instruments that have bound us to our EU partners for the past four decades. Hard Brexiteers, of whom Andrea Leadsom is by no means alone in the Cabinet, believe we need a Britain Stands Alone (from Europe) type of Brexit. The centenarian Vera Lynn will probably be brought out of retirement to sing again of the White Cliffs of Dover. But the plain fact is that opting for Hard Brexit is actually unpatriotic, as it will hit the UK economy, and therefore the living standards of ordinary Brits, hard. But don’t let’s get into an argument about true patriotism. I rather side with Dr Johnson, who declared that “patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” And, yes, that includes you, Ms Leadsom.

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Not a Happy Anniversary

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 23rd June, 2017

Today is the first anniversary of Britain’s EU Referendum. Doubtless some arch-Brexiteers, such as Nigel Farage and Jacob Rees-Maggie, have been celebrating what they consider to be the UK’s first anniversary of independence. This is of course tosh, on almost every level. We are still members of the EU until at least 29 March 2019, but more importantly, being an EU member state does not undermine a country’s independence, but rather member states voluntarily share aspects of sovereignty for the common good. Britain has done very well as an EU member state, though not a single UK Prime Minister since we joined in 1973 took full advantage of the opportunities offered. Theresa May, or whoever will replace her, can only look on impotently over the coming months as Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron help fashion a reformed and confident EU, in which the UK will have no formal role, unless Brexit is reversed, which at present seems unlikely. Last year I came to Lisbon  immediately after the Referendum, to salve my wounds with some continental culture and joie de vivre. By coincidence, I am in Lisbon again now, but this evening I did not raise my glass to celebrate the Brexit vote but rather to savour being a full European citizen while I still can.

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Can There Be a UK Consensus on Brexit?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 22nd June, 2017

Queen's speech 2017The Queen’s Speech to Parliament today, setting out what Theresa May’s minority government hopes to achieve over the next couple of years — if it survives that long — was a watered-down affair. Gone were many of the more contentious pledges in the Conservatives’ election manifesto, such as increasing the number of grammar schools and organising a vote on whether to bring back fox hunting. But so too were the  threats to major legacies of the Liberal Democrats in the 2010-2015 Coalition government, such as the triple lock on pensions and free school lunches for infants. So there was some reason for cheerfulness. But of course the big issue was and is Brexit; the speech asserted clearly the government’s intention to lead the country out of the European Union by the end of March 2019, though there was precious little detail about any of the colossal aspects of this.

Theresa May 12 Later Mrs May rather cheekily said in the House of Commons that 82% of the British electorate had voted for parties that are pledged to make Brexit happen. I suspect that many of the first-time younger voters who backed Labour because of its appealing message of free tuition fees, public sector spending rises and higher taxes for the very rich, did not quite intend their ballot to be a blank cheque for Brexit. However, it is regrettably true that Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell have made clear their belief that the UK should withdraw from both the European single market and the customs union — one of the few things they agree on with the right-wing Protestant DUP MPs from Northern Ireland, who are reportedly holding out for more money for Ulster before they formalise a confidence-and-supply agreement with Mrs May. Interestingly, the Queen’s speech did refer to trying to find a consensus among the people of Britain about the best way forward, which might prove to be deeply challenging. There are MPs in both major parties who still think leaving the EU is a terrible mistake, not to mention the Liberal Democrats, the SNP and others. Perhaps therefore the best hope of a consensus would be around a soft-Brexit, however that might be defined. But with only 18 months to try to achieve that, as negotiations with our current 27 EU partners continue alongside, I do believe we will reach a stage sometime next year when Britain will be asking for more time to try and sort things out.

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Liberals Embrace the Diplomatic Community

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 19th June, 2017

NLC terraceFor many years, Liberal International British Group (LIBG) hosted a winter reception for London’s diplomatic community at the National Liberal Club, but the cost of this became increasingly difficult for such a relatively small organisation to bear, despite occasional welcome sponsorship. So it was with huge relief all round that the National Liberal Club (NLC) itself, under the dynamic chairmanship of Janet Berridge, took over the responsibility. The Club had the brilliant idea of rescheduling the event for summer instead, and this evening the gods were with us as it was a perfect June evening for a reception on the Club’s magnificent Terrace [pictured empty, but packed at the event]. The New European weekly newspaper sponsored the venture and former LibDem Leader Nick Clegg (who sadly lost his House of Commons seat in this month’s general election) was the guest speaker, emphasizing the Liberal Democrats’ commitment to internationalism as well as to Europe. There was an eclectic range of Ambassadors and High Commissioners present, as well as numerous LibDem Peers and paying guests from both LIBG and the NLC. Diplomats are only too aware that social gatherings oil the wheels of diplomacy and it is to be hoped that many of those present tonight will cement their relations with this section of Britain’s electoral spectrum by attending the LibDems’ autumn conference in Bournemouth in September.

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May Go? Might Go? Must Go!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 18th June, 2017

Theresa May 11According to the Sunday Times, Conservative MPs have told Prime Minister Theresa May she has 10 days to prove herself before they ditch her. Frankly, that is 10 days too long. It’s not just that she ran the worst election campaign in living memory. Or her inability to have human contact with people, including after the terrible Grenfell Tower disaster. The sad truth is that Mrs May is a liability, not just for the Tory Party but for the country, which is far more serious. In the face of all logic she has insisted that Britain’s talks with our 27 EU partners about Brexit should start as planned tomorrow, despite the fact that the government’s position is totally unclear. On the Continent the UK has become a laughing stock, with a pig-headed woman of little political ability in No 10 and a clown for a Foreign Secretary. What makes this situation tragic rather than comic is that our EU partners really want to have a good, ongoing relationship with Britain, ideally within the EU, but if not, then at least within the European Single Market and Customs Union. But Mrs May and the hardline wing of her party are ruling that out, as are, shamefully, Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell of the Labour so-called Opposition. Philip Hammond, the Chancellor of Exchequer, is bravely trying to be a voice for reason inside the Cabinet, and there are a large number of MPs within both major parties, as well as of course the Liberal Democrats, SNP and Greens, trying to stop the lemming-like rush over the cliff edge of a Hard Brexit. The task for them now is to unite across party lines to resist the May Brexit national suicide cult. Might May go within the next 10 days? If the Conservatives have backbone they will indeed topple her. But whatever the political method used, May must go — and now!

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Celebrating Oscar Wilde

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 17th June, 2017

JF and Gyles BrandrethThough I can’t claim to be a founder member, I have been a keen supporter of the Oscar Wilde Society for many years, and am proud to be one of its Patrons. Not only has it filled a lacuna in the academic market with its scholarly publication, The Wildean, but it also puts on extremely jolly events, from the annual summer lunch at Oscar’s alma mater, Magdalen College, Oxford, to the annual birthday dinner each October at the National Liberal Club in London. Today the Society tried a new venue, Obicá, in South Kensington, for one of its occasional authors’ lunches, this time for our President, no less: Gyles Brandreth. Gyles has been producing a series of sleuthful stories embracing the historic personalities of Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle (who did indeed know each other) and in his latest sortie into London’s underworld, Gyles takes on that most lurid of 19th century serial killers, Jack the Ripper.

Gyles Brandreth Jack the RipperAs well as explaining the background to how he came to write Jack the Ripper: Case Closed (Little, Brown), Gyles shared affectionate recollections of his recently departed literary agent, Ed Victor, as well as making charming asides to the various Wildeans in the room. Gyles’s Wilde mysteries have been a huge success worldwide, not least in France, and although he seems to have abandoned his trademark crazy jumpers Gyles himself is still one of the most instantly recognisable and genuinely delightful television “personalities” around. Oscar would, I am sure, have approved, had he been with us now, and he might even have co-opted one of Brandreth’s witticisms as his own, as he did with his Chelsea neighbour, friend and deadly rival, James McNeill Whistler.

Link: http://oscarwildesociety.co.uk/

 

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Tim Farron Bows Out

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 14th June, 2017

Tim Farron 4Earlier today, Tim Farron stood down as Leader of the Liberal Democrats after barely two years in the job. He didn’t have to do so, as the LibDems increased their number of MPs by 50% last week, in contrast to 2015, when there was devastation for the party at the polls, and Nick Clegg had little alternative but to fall upon his sword; that was despite having achieved really rather a lot as Deputy Prime Minister of Britain’s only post-War Coalition government. I did not back Tim in his leadership contest with Norman Lamb, partly because of his seeming ambivalence over LGBT rights, despite the fact that LibDems had been instrumental in bringing about Equal Marriage during the Coalition government. But that wasn’t the only reason. I thought Tim had been absolutely brilliant as President of the Party and he can certainly wow an audience of the faithful, with a good line in jokes and self-deprecation. But could I see him ever as Prime Minister, or indeed Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition? The answer had to be “no”. Of course, there was little other choice on offer two years ago, as most of the so-called Big Beasts of the previous parliament had lost their seats. At least the situation now is better, as several of them have returned to the green benches, including Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Jo Swinson (as well as some brilliant new talent). Tim was brave to pin his pro-European colours to the mast in the election that was sprung upon the nation a few weeks ago by Theresa May; I could only applaud that. But at times during the campaign he did seem to be coming across (unfairly) as a one-trick pony. Moreover, catastrophically, for weeks he failed to address the issue of whether he considered homosexual sex to be a sin, despite urgent pleas from LibDems’ LGBT+. Similarly, though he was perfectly entitled to declare himself a true Friend of Israel (as many Christian Evangelicals are), he turned a deaf ear to appeals to balance that with an equally clear stand on justice for the Palestinians and against Islamophobia.

Brian PaddickThis afternoon, (Lord) Brian Paddick, who had been acting as the LibDems’ Shadow Home Secretary recently, resigned from that post because of the Leader’s apparent ambivalence on LGBT rights and other classic “liberal” issues. I support absolutely an individual politician’s right to hold strong religious or moral views, but as Tim made clear today in his dignified resignation statement, there was a perceived contradiction in his own situation which was played on mercilessly by sections of the media and the Labour Party. All of Tim’s constituents that I have met over the years praise him to the skies, even if his majority was slashed last week. I hope whoever takes over after the forthcoming leadership contest (which, according to party governance, must go out to the whole membership) will find an appropriate role for him as a policy spokesman. Tim’s two years at the helm saw a doubling of the party membership and without doubt he had a different, distinctive voice from that of either Mrs May or Jeremy Corbyn. So, thank you, Tim, sincerely, for all that you have done. Now we LibDems must brace ourselves to go onwards and upwards.

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Robbery Hurts

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 13th June, 2017

pickpocketsLast night, as I was making my way to Lisbon airport on a crowded metro train some nifty pickpocket succeeded in unfastening my shoulder bag and stealing my wallet. Fortunately, I still had my passport on me, so was able to take my flight back to London, with just enough time to make a formal report at the airport police station, where I was not alone in recounting such woes. Once home, I was immediately on the phone to my bank and all the credit card companies, who obviously train specially soothing overnight staff to deal with calls about lost or stolen cards. No-one had tried to misuse one of my cards and now I just have to wait for the replacements to arrive. Actually, I suspect the thief merely pocketed the money that was in the wallet and may well have dumped the rest in a bin. But that is not always the case. A few years ago, a pickpocket grabbed my wallet from my jacket pocket in a restaurant in London and before I could get home to report the thefts, he had managed to withdraw £800 from my bank account and bought a £8000 watch on my American Express card! I suspect it must have been a very professional guy with inside contacts as I don’t see otherwise how he could have managed it. Mercifully both Amex and my bank refunded the money/credit. Although last night’s loss was less significant, it will nonetheless mean the hassle of getting replacements for everything from my driving licence to airline loyalty cards, and the sense of vulnerability and outrage is acute. There is something deeply unsettling about being robbed, even when no violence is used. It hurts psychologically, if not physically, and makes one think less of the world and of humanity. But I shall draw comfort from the civility and concern I experienced both from staff I dealt with after the robbery and from friends on Facebook who reacted to news of the loss. After all, it was only a wallet, not my life.

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Flying the Flag, Politically

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 11th June, 2017

IMG_2486Last year, London Liberal Democrats took the sensible decision to get snap election candidates in place in all the seats that were not targets in the party’s overall strategy. Thus it was that I agreed to fight a seat that had the dubious distinction of being the least Liberal Democrat of all London seats: Dagenham &  Rainham, in East London/ Essex, straddling the boroughs of Barking & Dagenham and Havering. This was not unknown territory for me, as I had covered Havering in particular during various Euro-elections, which were fought on a London-wide basis, and had helped in by-elections in Barking & Dagenham, one of which we actually won. Moreover, my lecture circuit to women’s clubs and professional associations has often taken me to Rainham and other parts of Havering. Like most snap-election candidates, by the time April came, I assumed there was not going to be an election, but then Theresa May surprised us all, to what must now be her lasting regret. Rather to my relief, I enjoyed the campaign, which from my point of view was almost entirely media-focussed, and even if the constituency once again won the booby prize as far as LibDem votes were concerned, it was good to feel a sense of determination among both the Havering and the Newham, Barking & Dagenham local parties; both have, like their counterparts up and down the country, enjoyed a surge in LibDem membership over the past 12 months, so there is base on which to build for the 2018 London borough local elections, or even (Heaven forfend!) for another general election later this year. In the meantime, the flag was flown, and for those who rallied to it, both in Dagenham & Rainham and in the neighbouring seat of Barking, a huge thank you!

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