Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for July, 2017

Nostalgia for Brussels

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 27th July, 2017

Grand Place Brussels smallEncouraged by some heartening reviews of my childhood memoir, Eccles Cakes¹, I have embarked on a new volume of recollections, this time covering the years when I was based in Brussels, initially working for Reuters news agency, covering the European Economic Community (precursor to the EU) and NATO, then subsequently freelance, writing books, magazine articles and carrying out various assignments and commissions in Africa and the United States. The period concerned is 1974-1981 and it is sobering to think that for young people today that is effectively history. However, what may be surprising to many readers, when the volume eventually sees the light of day next year, is the great affection I developed for the city of Brussels. It’s not just that it boasts one of the most magnificent city squares in Europe, or that the food is scrumptious. The quality of life in general is high and I loved the fact that so many Belgians (and indeed foreign resident) had real art in their homes, not just cheap reproductions. I also grew to love the Belgians themselves, both Flemings and Walloons, for their zest for life and originality. They are so very different from the caricature that comes over in jokes about their nationality, not least from the French. And, yes, I was converted to the European project, having arrived in Brussels as a young Eurosceptic but gradually understanding the extraordinary potential of the European endeavour. My nostalgia for Brussels, as I write my current memoir, is thus not just about the place and the people, but for being part of the EU — a situation now seriously in jeopardy thanks to Britain’s Conservative government and complicit Labour Opposition.

¹ https://www.amazon.co.uk/Eccles-Cakes-Odd-Tale-Survival-ebook/dp/B01II737EM/ref=sr_1_2?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1501177046&sr=1-2&keywords=Jonathan+Fryer

 

 

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Decolonization

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 24th July, 2017

DecolonizationThe road to independence for former European and Japanese colonies was one of the most striking features of the second half of the 20th Century, yet the process of decolonization has received scant academic analysis. A lacuna in the market has thus been filled by Jan C. Jansen and Jürgen Osterhammel’s Decolonization: A Short History (Princeton University Press, £22.95). The two German authors provide a beautifully crafted account of historical developments and social changes, while also identifying the seeds of decolonization in events and personalities between the two world wars. Colonialism had outlived its function, even from the subjective and exploitative point of view of the colonial powers, but it was the passionate defence of the rights of colonised peoples by both political and intellectual leaders in Africa and Asia that helped tip the balance in favour of greater justice and and the acceptance of self-determination as a fundamental human right. Of course, the resultant new nations did not all progress smoothly once they had their independence, but a degree of dignity and self-worth had been reclaimed for their peoples. Jansen and Osterhammel’s great strength is to provide not only a credible and useful analytical framework for considering decolonization critically but also to do so within a fluent historical narrative. This means that their book, elegantly translated by Jeremiah Riemer, will be of great interest to both scholars and the interested general reader alike.

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Corbyn and the EU

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 23rd July, 2017

Jeremy Corbyn smallThis morning, on the Andrew Marr show, Jeremy Corbyn, leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party, argued that a country had to be a member of the European Union in order to remain part of the European single market. That is, of course, nonsense; Norway is a prime example of a country whose people voted not to join the EU but which enjoys the benefits of being within the single market. Given Corbyn’s more than 30 years as an MP (all the time as a back-bencher, until unexpectedly propelled into the leadership position) he must have learned enough about the EU to understand the difference. Or maybe he didn’t. The kindest interpretation of his remarks on the Marr show is that he believes that Britain must leave the single market as well as the EU (and presumably the Customs Union), presumably because he is implacably opposed to freedom of movement of workers in the EU, which is one of the pillars of the single market. But I fear his objection goes deeper. He knows he cannot build the sort of high-tax, dirigiste socialist Utopia that he and his Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, dream of. They do not support the European project; they denigrate it as a capitalist club. One should never forget how much Corbyn revered Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. During last year’s EU Referendum campaign, Corbyn in principle sided with the remain camp, but so sotto voce that it made no positive impact. Rather like Theresa May’s position, in fact. And now Britain has the terrible situation in which both the Conservative Prime Minister and the Labour Opposition Leader are essentially arguing for what has been dubbed a Hard Brexit: a future outside the EU, the single market and the Customs Union, with the real possibility of the country crashing out of the EU in March 2019 with no deal in place covering our future relationship with our current 27 EU partners. No wonder the pound sterling has dived and banks and companies are starting to transfer operations out of London and other UK cities to places such as Dublin, Paris and Frankfurt. This is madness and absolutely not what a clear majority of the British public wants. The Leave side won by a tiny margin last year, following a campaign based on lies and false promises. Mrs May bears a terrible responsibility for pressing on with a Hard Brexit since then, but Jeremy Corbyn is now clearly also in the dock, which is why a growing number of Labour MPs and activists are calling for the UK to at least stay in the single market and customs union, if not the EU itself. It was the groundswell of new Labour activists that shot Jeremy Corbyn to where he is now. Perhaps it is time for them to bring him back down to reality.

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Drawings from Leonardo to Rembrandt

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 12th July, 2017

Rembrandt sheet of figuresThe National Portrait Gallery in London has put on some blockbuster exhibitions in recent years but the show The Encounter: Drawings from Leonardo to Rembrandt, which opens tomorrow, conquers in a more subtle way. The Old Master European portrait drawings, ranging from Leonardo’s study of a male nude to Rembrandt’s sheet of figure studies is both intimate and intense. I have previously seen Old Master drawings mainly in folders or drawers at Chatsworth and other great houses in England and beyond, but seeing this captivating miscellany in mellow light on the bottle green walls of a windowless gallery really entices the observer into a personal relationship between both sitter and artist — a sort of triangular dynamic that clicks in when one stops in front of each portrait. Most are quite small and drawn with pale inks, but that in a sense draws one in closer. Some of the subjects are known court characters, or friends of the artists, while others are anonymous but full of character. One can sense their personalities across half a millennium. I particularly like the portraits by Hans Holbein the Younger, including a series borrowed from the Royal Collection, not least the stern yet somehow vulnerable, somewhat androgynous Woman Wearing a White Headdress. The joy of a July morning’s Press View today was that the gallery was almost empty, so I could linger and savour. But I suspect the exhibition will soon bring in the crowds, and rightly so.

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Flat on My Back

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 11th July, 2017

teddy bear in hospitalLast week I had to go into the Royal London Hospital for a major hernia repair. It was meant to be a daycare job, but proved more complicated than originally hoped so I was an in-patient for a couple of days. Hats off to all the wonderful staff at the hospital (only one of whom was British, Brexiteers please note). I was warned that it would take two weeks before I could resume work, and six weeks before I would be my usual bouncy self. All but my most essential appointments for the following fortnight were duly cancelled. Even so, like most energetic people I have been deeply frustrated over the past seven days by my physical inability to do much more than lie flat on my back, often asleep. The abdomen is a hyper-sensitive part of the body, which makes sitting or even standing something of a trial, though I am shuffling round a little more today. And for the first time since the op, I am actually capable of writing a piece for my blog; because it is not just the physical toll an operation and general anaesthetic take; the brain gets sapped as well. Even a Facebook posting was too high a hill to climb, though I did manage a few tweets. Ah well, I suppose these temporary setbacks are there to remind us of our own mortality, or at least, fragility. And as one of the nurses said when I was finally discharged, “Go home, lie down and enjoy the rest!”

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Britain’s Wasted Opportunity

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 2nd July, 2017

Macron MerkelThis weekend the United Kingdom was due to take over the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union, but as the government in London is focussed on Brexit it declined the honour. Estonia has stepped up to the plate instead, and its progressive, tech-savvy Liberal government will doubtless make a good fist of it. But what a wasted opportunity for Britain! Two years ago, the then Pime Minister, David Cameron, said he was in poursuit of EU reforms but by unwisely pressing ahead with the EU Referendum before any significant reforms had taken place he was almost condemning Britain to leave. The tragedy is that now that Emannuel Macron is in the Elysée Palace, he and Germany’s Angela Merkel can be the dynamic duo promoting change. Of course this is not the first time that France and Germany have ruled the European roost, but had Britain stuck in there we could have seen a powerful triumvirate, with London, Paris and Berlin all determined to see a more efficient and forward-looking European Union.

Boris During the referendum campaign in the UK, Brexiteers argued that by leaving the EU Britain would “free” itself and be able to capitalise on new market opportunities. But what is abundantly clear is that instead the UK is in the process of cutting itself off from its biggest trading partner, alienating our friends and neighbours and is apparently in danger of heading for an economic recession. A year ago, we had the fastest growing economy among the G7, whereas now we have the slowest, and whereas wages have grown in other G7 countries here they have fallen, accentuating the pain of austerity. The Brexiteers claimed that the EU was a sinking ship and that we were better off jumping overboard. But that argument will look ever more fanciful as Britain gets tossed around in choppy waters while the EU steams confidently on ahead.

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