Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for December, 2017

My New Year’s Resolution

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 31st December, 2017

75D3F4DB-40AC-4E69-931C-71CE29A3729CUsually I do not make serious New Year’s resolutions — or even frivolous ones. But this year it’s different. The reason is that, in my opinion, 2018 will be the make-or-break year for Brexit. And my resolution is to work as hard as I can with all Remainers to break it, before Brexit breaks Britain. With the May government ruling out continued membership of the European single market and Customs Union the likely economic damage to Britain will be even worse than was highlighted during last year’s EU Referendum campaign. Already devaluation and inflation have taken their toll on people’s living standards but that is only the beginning, as the prospects of tariffs or other trading restrictions loom as we drift away from our major trading partner. But it’s not all about economics. The EU has led to higher standards across all member states, including the UK, in such matters as consumer safety and the cleanliness of beaches. EU collaboration and funds have boosted research, for the benefit of all. EU citizenship gives us freedom of movement throughout the Union, but Mrs May and her rabid Brexiteers are prepared to throw that away in their defence of an outdated nationalism. That nationalism is itself a paradox, as Brexit presents the greatest threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom since the 1920s. Will it be Northern Ireland that decides to bolt first, or Scotland? Both voted heavily for Remain last year. Meanwhile it is clear that sufficient people have changed their minds about Brexit as the realities become clearer, added to more younger people coming onto the electoral roll, for a new vote on Brexit to deliver a different result, which is why the hardline Brexiteers reject the idea of having one, even on the details of the final “deal” that the Government may or may not come up with. But in the meantime, Brexit may well destroy itself, through the sincere complexity of disentangling Britain from four decades of harmonisation with our European partners. The whole Brexit project may prove impossible and the May government might fall. I hope that happens. But tonight I shall hold aloft a glass at midnight, I hope in harmony with countless others, to toast my New Year’s Resolution: Stop Brexit!

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Wonder Wheel ****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 30th December, 2017

3DF60832-ADAA-4597-BC4B-5E9615AC3666I was a huge fan of Woody Allen’s early films, with all their quirky introspection and New York Jewish humour, but in recent years his output has been more patchy. His two love letters to Paris and Rome, for example, were too saccharine for a hard-core European like myself. So I went to see his latest offering, Wonder Wheel, without great expectations. However, even if it is not one of his masterpieces, the film offers much food for thought. The setting is Coney Island’s funfair and beach in the 1950s, at a time when the resort was starting to lose its allure even for working class New Yorkers wanting a jolly day out. There are just four main characters (if one leaves aside a pyromaniac pubescent boy): the boy’s hardworking but disturbed mother (an almost unrecognisable, redhead Kate Winslet); the man who rescued and married her when she lost her musician first husband by cheating on him, a corpulent and formerly alcoholic carousel worker (Jim Belushi); the latter’s pretty daughter (Juno Temple) and a hunky lifeguard (Justin Timberlake), who aspires to be a playwright and has an affair with the mother before falling for the stepdaughter. One senses early on, rather like in a classic Greek drama, that things can’t end happily, despite several amusing little situations and some jokey commentary to the audience, of the kind given by Woody Allen himself in earlier films, but now handed over to Justin Timberlake. A great deal of the action takes place in the rickety rented apartment where the dysfunctional family lives, over a shooting arcade and in view of the big wheel, the Wonder Wheel. This means that some of the most intense scenes are rather like a stage play, and a Tennessee Williams stage play at that. Kate Winslet really comes into her own here, as her character slowly disintegrates as her 40th birthday looms and her dreams of a better life evaporate. The cinematography (Vittorio Storaro) is superb, the light and the colours in the outdoor scenes really capturing the atmosphere of the period, their gaiety barely masking the turmoil behind.

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No Intenso Agora **

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 30th December, 2017

2A6569B5-2901-474C-8FF8-134B88199B8D1968 was a milestone in European history (with resonances beyond), thanks mainly to the May “events” in Paris and the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia. Both of these historic moments figure large, mainly in evocative black and white, in Brazilian João Moreira Salles’s documentary No Intenso Agora. But so, too, does colour home movie footage of his mother’s 1966 tourist trip to the People’s Republic of China with a group of similarly well-heeled art aficionados. As that was right at the beginning of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, some of those moments are a rich record, of temples boarded up to prevent vandalism by Red Guards and idyllic scenes (including of Shanghai’s Victorian Bund), now long since swept away by manic development. But no attempt is made by the director, through the narrator, to even hint at the horrors going on out of sight in China. Not a Red Guard rampage in sight, only singing children and cheering workers. Nor is a truly relevant link made to the twin stories of youthful revolt in Europe two years later. In the French section, we see extended clips of General de Gaulle and Daniel Cohn Bendit, and lots of good street action and workers’ strikes, but little sensible analysis. The Czech section is even thinner, and the attempt to bridge the two through coverage of the funerals of young victims in Prague and France rings false. Then right at the end there is a weird set of images, in which we see Chairman Mao age from young revolutionary of the Long March to a barely conscious old man. What on earth was that all about? Presumably João Moreira Salles felt that he had created a unified whole, but I couldn’t see it. Moreover, at over two hours, with some film clips, in both China and Europe, unnecessarily, even clumsily, repeated, the film is a good 30 minutes too long.

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Jeune Femme (Montparnasse Bienvenue) ****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 28th December, 2017

C11F57A1-7678-4A19-B810-FC6279A41A6ALeonor Serraille’s debut feature film, Jeune Femme (distributed in some territories as Montparnasse Bienvenue), won plaudits at the Cannes Film Festival and it is indeed a powerful, if not always enjoyable, piece of work. The focus is unrelentingly on Paula, the young woman of the title, 29 or 31 years old, according to her mood. Actress Laetitia Dosch puts in a tour-de-force as this not very intelligent and slightly disturbed woman tries to construct a new life for herself in Paris after a 10-year relationship with an older celebrity photographer, mainly in Mexico. That relationship hit the rocks but Paula purloins her lover’s cat (a beautiful creature, yet with a totally expressionless face), briefly becomes a hobo but then talks herself into two insecure jobs: as baby-sitter to a rather grumpy little girl (herself clearly starved of parental affection) and as a sales-girl at an upmarket department store. The best comic moment of the film is the interview she undergoes in order to get the second position, describing herself as calm and orderly, whereas by now we know she is just the opposite. Some of the incidents along her picaresque journey to self-realisation and self-fulfilment stretch the viewer’s imagination and I found the characters of both Paula’s mother and her photographer ex somewhat two dimensional. But then this is a film about one woman, made by a woman and with women contributing to much of its creation. In a way, it is a feminist film, in that Paula ends up taking control of her own destiny after her chaotic odyssey, but it is not only women who may find it intriguing, if not flawless.

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Trump or Obama: Who’d You Want at Your Wedding?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 27th December, 2017

0A8FA2F3-CA65-4CC7-83E7-0FE2E2E61D8EAccording to some reports (which in these post-Truth days one never knows whether one should believe), unnamed sources in the UK government have told Prince Harry, grandson of Queen Elizabeth, that it would be unwise to invite Barack Obama to his wedding, but rather he should welcome Donald Trump instead, in the interests of a post-Brexit trans-Atlantic relationship. What utter bollocks, if this is true. Surely it is entirely up to the Royal Family and Harry’s bride-to-be, Meghan Markle, who they wish to have at the nuptials. Traditionally there are various obligations to European Royal families, but not to foreign heads of state (short of a family massacre of Nepalese proportions, there is no way Harry will ever be King). Trump is virtually teetotal, which wouldn’t go down particularly well with the Merry Windsors, yet his conversation is sometimes so blue that even the Duke of Edinburgh might blush. Obama (and his wife Michelle), on the other hand, is a people person, as well as being erudite and intelligent. Besides, he knows Prince Harry (not just from the BBC Radio4 interview today). So there we have it. My recommendation is: Obama Yes, Trump No. Moreover, the Obamas would be welcomed by the British public with cheers, the Trumps with jeers.

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Arise, Sir Nick

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 26th December, 2017

D34327C6-5366-405B-A62B-E81EDCC1B26CThe news of Nick Clegg’s knighthood in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List has been so widely leaked that I think we can safely assume that it is true. Not surprisingly, there have been some sqwarks of protest from people on the Left of the Labour Party, who still haven’t forgiven him for taking the Liberal Democrat’s into Coalition with the Conservatives in 2010 — or “propping up the Tories”, as they prefer to put it. But let’s look at his record. As I sometimes recommend to my students, when they are writing essays, we shall start with the counter-arguments. In my view, Nick Clegg made two, serious mistakes (neither of which will come as a surprise to him, or indeed to most LibDems). First, it was unwise to endorse the National Union of Students’ campaign to freeze student fees, including urging all LibDem parliamentary candidates to sign up for it, as it clearly was going to be difficult to persuade any Coalition partner to agree to that at a time when the country was financially squeezed. Not surprisingly, the issue blew up like a hand grenade in his face, when the Conservatives insisted fees must rise instead.The damage to the voters’ trust in the LibDems was massive. But the second mistake was in many ways equally damaging, namely the enthusiasm with which he bounced into the Rose Garden at Number 10 Downing Street alongside David Cameron, as if they were the best of mates, almost brothers. There needed to be a clear distance between the Coalition partners, as usually happens on the Continent. Subsequently, the LibDems got blamed for some uniquely Tory policies, ranging from austerity measures to the iniquitous “bedroom tax”, but Nick Clegg’s detractors usually ignore the fact that he and other LibDem Ministers during the 2010-2015 government got through a whole raft of positive, progressive changes, despite their numerical weakness, including the pupil premium, free school meals fo the youngest kids, equal marriage, the triple-lock on pensions and a range of environmental measures. And by guaranteeing a stable government for five years, the Coalition helped Britain weather the economic storm. Of course, one could list more issues, on both sides of the argument, but on balance I believe Nick Clegg did serve his country well in government and even if I am sceptical of “honours”, I believe he is as worthy as most recipients to get one. He is badly missed from the House of Commons during these tumultuous Brexit times, and his ousting in the general election earlier this year was a tragedy, not least because the voters of Sheffield Hallam now appear to be represented by a total (Labour) noodle.

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Thinking of Bethlehem at Christmas

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 25th December, 2017

8751E2A9-3354-405F-911C-FDFAE85020C3I’ve never really been “into” the traditional British Christmas, partly because my adoptive parents (who I disliked anyway) had taken to spending their winters in South Africa when I was still a student, but also because of the tackiness of the festival’s commercialisation, which in London now begins in mid-October. Christmas carols set my teeth on edge and I resent the fact that American Christmas songs have achieved a global hegemony. Happy Holidays! Bah, humbug! I always make sure I am travelling over Yuletide. OK, gripe over. Let’s get down to the serious stuff. One of the things that attracted me to the Quakers, after I fled the uncomfortable fold of Anglicanism, was that Christmas and other religious celebrations, such as Easter, were not given special significance. All days should be equally spiritual, as well as a cause for celebration. I know many of the pilgrims and tourists who go to Bethlehem find visiting the Church of the Nativity there an uplifting experience, but for me it is the living, breathing town of Bethlehem itself that has more of an impact. I have seen it in good times and bad, crowded and deserted, and am distressed by the way that is increasingly being cut off from Jerusalem and nearby Arab towns by the continuing illegal Israeli settlements and that terrible Wall of Separation. This year is the 50th anniversary of the Occupation, longer even than the Soviet occupation of the Baltic States. The birth of Jesus has been heralded over two millennia as a message of hope, but it is hard to find much hope in Bethlehem today. How much longer must the Palestinians suffer before they are granted the dignity of statehood and genuine independence that should be the birthright of all humankind?

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Europe at Sea *****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 23rd December, 2017

Federica Mogherini 1The year 2017 is the 60th anniversary of the launching of the European project, but never since its foundation has the European Union (formerly the EEC) been under such pressure from its immediate neighbourhood. Russia has been interfering in the Baltic states in particular — and maybe in Britain’s EU Referendum, too — but most serious has been the flood of refugees and migrants fleeing conflict in Syria or poverty in Africa. Italy alone took in more than half a million Mediterranean boat people between 2014 and 2017. More than 17,000 such boat people have perished at sea since 2011. Both Italy and Greece were put under huge strain by the sheer scale of the humanitarian demand and shamefully not all of the other 26 EU member states rallied round to help, notably several in central and eastern Europe. Meanwhile, much of the responsibility for dealing with the influx and with security matters (such as the threat of terrorism) has fallen on the shouders of the EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini. She is the prime focus of Annalisa Piras’s new hour-long documentary, Europe at Sea, now available on Amazon VOD. Though she had served briefly as Italy’s Foreign Minister, Ms Mogherini was considered a light-weight when she was first appointed, and therefore not a danger to the vested interests of some of the EU’s more powerful member states, but she has more than proved her mettle, both in dealing with the migration crisis and in building on the complementarity between the EU and NATO. She comes over in the film as compassionate (“You can be both strong and human”) but also hard-headed. She put together a Global Strategy for the EU”s response to the mulltifareous external challenges facing the Union, launched the day after Britain’s Brexit vote.

Merkel Macron Since the election of French President Emmanuel Macron, there is new impetus in the Franco-German relationship that will help steer the EU through its choppy waters at a time when Donald Trump is largely withdrawing the United States from the European scene. The great tragedy is that Britain should be in pole position too, but instead is tied up in its own Brexit navel-gazing prior to exiting the EU in 2019. The core message of this film is that the EU member states need to pull together if they are not to sink under the weight of the external challenges; the implication naturally is that Britain is once again missing the boat. Unlike Pisar’s earlier film, The Great European Disaster MovieEurope at Sea does not use any gimmicks of fantasy; rather, it is a straight-down-the-line, powerful,  factual documentary, with an eclectic range of top-rank interviewees and some occasionally harrowing footage. It is a tribute to Federica Mogherini’s work and determination, as well as to the potential for good that rests in European collective action. Brexiteers will hate it, but they should watch it, as they will learn something, as will everyone else. The film is a fine exposition of a noble cause.

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The Sun’s “Iconic Passport” Con-trick.

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 22nd December, 2017

0D80C254-AD73-484B-B5FB-0895D3509F6CThe Sun newspaper is trumpeting its “success” in getting Britain’s “iconic” blue passport back, after a long and at times hysterically nationalistic campaign. But the whole thing is a con-trick. The new, pale blue passport that will in principle come into use from October 2019 is nothing like the old one. It’s the wrong colour, the wrong size, the wrong texture and doesn’t have the little windows that the old British passports had. Although I haven’t seen the inside pages of the proposed new passport, I bet they will be different too. So, in a nutshell, the new passport has nothing whatsoever in common with the “iconic” old one, other than it is not the burgundy EU-UK passports that we have now. But in a post-Truth world, why would a pernicious rag like the Sun care about facts? Like the Daily Mail and the Daily Express — and the Daily Telegraph on a bad day — the Sun is just concerned with anti-EU propaganda, sometimes in the ugly forms of migrant-bashing and outright xenophobia. No other EU member state has such an irresponsible gutter Press like the UK’s, which is a major reason why the Brexiteers won — narrowly — in last year’s EU Referendum. That’s why it is so important to expose their lies, as well as to campaign to keep our burgundy passports, with all the European citizenship rights that they represent.

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Trump’s Threats over Jerusalem Backfire

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 21st December, 2017

73DED4EB-9FA8-41BE-A18A-5810B588398D.jpegToday, the United Nations General Assembly voted to condemn Donald Trump’s declared intention to move the US Embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, by 128 votes to 9 (and 35 abstentions). I am pleased to say that the United Kingdom, the former mandatory power over the whole of historic Palestine, voted in favour of the motion, as did almost all the other EU member states; none opposed. The nine nay-sayers were the United States and Israel, naturally, plus Guatemala, Honduras, Togo and four micro-states in the Pacific — all poor, developing countries heavily dependent on foreign aid. That latter point is important, because the US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, made clear in no uncertain terms that the Trump administration would note who opposed the motion and deal with them accordingly — an outrageous threat in the sovereign body of the UN, confirming that the acid-tongued Ms Haley is indeed the Donald’s loyal handmaiden. However, not all countries were cowed by the menace of financial or trading retribution. On past performance, Canada could have been expected to back the US line on Israel’s capital, but Ottawa was reportedly so incensed by Trump’s threats that Canada abstained instead. So all in all, this was a good day for all those who believe that the final status of Jerusalem must be negotiated between sovereign Israeli and Palestinian states. But Mr Trump, like a cornered bear, is alas likely to bite back.

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