Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for May, 2018

House of Lords Lobby Fodder

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 18th May, 2018

Eric PicklesAs widely expected, the Government has announced the appointment of 10 new Conservative peers (subject to approval), as well as one for the DUP. This is despite the fact that the Conservative group in the upper chamber is already larger than any other, and the move is clearly designed to try to avoid more Brexit-related defeats, of which there have been quite a rash recently. If Mrs May hoped that by announcing the appointments on the eve of the Royal Wedding they might pass unseen she must be sorely disappointed by the storm of protest on twitter. Not so much condemnation from some people in the Labour Party, though, as Jeremy Corbyn has been given the sweetener of three peers for his own team. But the media focus is inevitably on the 10 Tories. Though some like Catherine Meyer may on account of their special expertise or experience have a decent claim to the privilege — and it is a privilege, albeit an anchronistic one — most of the others are former government retreads, incuding Sir Eric Pickles and Peter Lilley. Dubtless all ten have been instructed to support the Government loyally on Brexit (and perhaps more). But I can’t help wondering whether some of the current members of the Lords will feel a little peeved about having this lobby fodder casually thrown in, which might mean some more of them may be in a mood to “rebel”. The Upper House has done some sterling work scrutinising and amendings parts of the EU Withdrawal Bill and it is a sad reflection of the state of politics in Britain today that having failed to win the argument in debates in the Lords, Mrs May is indulging in behaviour more characteristic of a century ago.


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Nuls Points for Israel on Naqba Day

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 15th May, 2018

Gaza protestsSome Israelis may still be celebrating their Eurovision Song Contest win at the weekend, but as Palestinians today mark the 70th anniversary of the Naqba or Catastrophe that sent an estimated 700,000 people fleeing from their ancestral homes, the mood should be one of respectful mourning on both sides of the Gaza border fence. Dozens of Palestinians have been killed and many hundreds wounded as Israeli forces have fired live ammunition at Palestinian protesters. Arab youths who see little hope for their future living in the blockaded Gaza Strip have been mown down in their prime with a callousness that demonstrates just what little value the Israeli Defense Force and government put on Palestinian lives. One can criticise Hamas for encouraging action along the heavily fortified border — indeed, the British government has done just that — but the real blame for the ongoing massacre rests firmly with the Israeli state. Tensions have been inflamed by President Trump’s disastrous decision to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, adding insult to injury for those Palestinians living under occupation in the eastern part of the city by sending his daughter Ivanka to do the honours at the temporary embassy compound yesterday, as if she were opening a garden fete. The final status of Jerusalem is something that still has to be settled, but by unilaterally declaring the city to be Israel’s undivided capital, Binyamin Netanyahu has guaranteed the anger, even hatred, of hundreds of millions of Muslims (and many Christians, as well as liberal Jews) around the world. Israel is celebrating the 70th anniversary of its creation now, but for Palestinians the legacy of their dispossession is a bitter one. Today in London and in many other cities there will be demonstrations and vigils to mark Naqba Day. These should be matched not just by words of condemnation for the disproportionate Israeli actions (as is happening) but also with sanctions of some kind. Israel is literally getting away with murder, and in doing so undermines its own legitimacy as a self-styled Western nation in the heart of the Middle East..

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Mr Erdoğan Comes to Town

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 14th May, 2018

Erdogan in London.jpgThe Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is in London at the moment, partly, he says, to thank Britain for being a steadfast supporter in the wake of the 2016 failed coup. A possible post-Brexit trade deal also featured in his official talks, with some media reporting that Ankara hopes to extract a commitment from the Conservative government to allow free movement of people between our two countries — not exactly something most Leave voters in the EU Referendum were expecting. However, last night, at the Turken Foundation UK dinner that I attended at the Intercontinental Hotel in Mayfair, Mr Erdoğan addressed most of his remarks to the (predominantly Turkish) students in the room; the Turken Foundation provides cheap accommodation and other support for hundreds of them. He declared that his government will stand resolute against terrorists, in which category he lumped Da’esh, Al Qaida, the PKK and the Gülen movement all together — as well as promising that he will defend Muslim values. He lambasted European countries for doing so little to help Syrian refugees, of whom Turkey has taken in 3.5 million, and the West in general for allegedly tolerating racism and Islamophobia. Though Turkey as a modern state has been in existence less than a century, Mr Erdoğan claimed the legitimacy of the Ottoman Empire and its footprint in three continents, in which people of different ethnicities, faiths and languages lived side by side, in particular citing how Jews fleeing persecution in parts of Europe had been taken in. Armenians and Kurds would probably have had something to say about some of that, of course, just as elements of the Turkish media would take the President to task over recent arrests and curbs on freedom of expression. But last night was not the occasion for that. Indeed, the latter part of the President’s speech was a clear election pitch for the vote that has been brought forward to next month. In that regard, the message was clear: if you want more of the prosperity and stability that I have brought, you know whose party you should support!

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Have We Reached Peak London?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 10th May, 2018

City of LOndonLondon likes to present itself — with some justification — as the world’s premier global city. But it may be falling off its pedestal. Whereas until 2016 people flocked to London to find jobs in everything from banking to being a barista, these days the movement is more towards the exit door, as applications for NHS jobs from EU27 nationals plummet and European academics here search for pastures new. There is no doubt that Brexit (and the associated, barely concealed xenophobia manifest among certain sections of the British population). is the main reason for London losing some of its shine. Yes, Far Eastern investors are still buying property in London, but that’s mainly because the sharp fall in the value of the pound sterling has made even high-end property a good deal for them. Of course, cities go up and down. London was a comparative dump in the 1970s, with a shrinking population, whereas Paris was where it was at. But Paris subsequently lost it.

Steve Norris small At a fascinating seminar on Making London Succeed for Everyone post-Brexit, hosted by the international law firm Eversheds Sutherland in the City this evening, Steve Norris — former Conservative MP and onetime London mayoral hopeful — declared that he thought we are maybe are at Peak London; actually, I think that we are already on the way down from that peak — and given the shambolic way that Theresa May’s government is mismanaging Brexit, that descent could accelerate. Paris, Frankfurt and Dublin are salivating at the exodus of financial services and other economic actors from London, while meanwhile cities like Berlin and Lisbon are asserting themselves as cutting edge cultural and high-tech centres, as Cool Britannia’s image fades. Steve Norris was probably right when he said that Cool Britannia was actually Cool London, but how much longer will that be the case? Research suggests that the high Leave vote in many of the English provinces reflected a Sod London feeling (as well as Sod David Cameron), but being an overwhelmingly Remain city may not save London’s skin. Obviously, from my perspective I hope Brexit doesn’t happen and that the plug is pulled before further damage is done. But I cannot be wildly optimistic. Britain risks becoming a not-particularly-important offshore island and London will struggle not to be pulled down with it.

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Europe Day 2018

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 9th May, 2018

Europe Day 2018In recent years I have always celebrated Europe Day (9 May) at a concert in St John’s, Smith Square. But this year was different. London4Europe, the London branch of the European Movement, put on a celebratory occasion this evening, which I would have loved to attend, but I felt I ought to be at the post-Council election wash-up and planning meeting of the London Liberal Democrats at Party HQ — not least because a parliamentary by-election has been triggered by the resignation today of the Labour MP for Lewisham East, Heidi Alexander, so she can take up the position of Deputy Mayor of London with special responsibility for Transport. Ms Alexander is on the more sensible end of the Labour Party, at a time when far-left Momentum has tightened its grip, and has been sound on Europe. So it will be very interesting to see who Labour chooses to stand as a candidate for the seat. According to a friend in the Labour Party, Momentum have the selection sewn up, so watch this space. This by-election, by its very timing, will inevitably feature Brexit prominently; Lewisham was strongly pro-Remain in the 2016 EU Referendum and that situation is not likely to have changed. So a strong pro-European campaign — calling for a People’s Vote on the proposed deal between Britain and the EU27 — is a natural position for the Liberal Democrats to adopt. It’s all being called very quickly, with voting on 14 June — so just five weeks to send a message, not only to Theresa May in 10 Downing Street but also to Eurosceptic Jeremy Corbyn too.

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Trump out on a Limb over Iran

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 8th May, 2018

Trump IranWith much fanfare, Donald Trump today carried out his threat to withdraw the United States from the Iran Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, or Iran Nuclear Deal). While this move will be loudly welcomed in Tel Aviv and Riyadh, Washington can be left in no doubt about the displeasure of most of the rest of the world, including the other JCPOA signatories, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. Indeed, because the Europeans knew what was coming, the EU as a whole — through the High Representative, Federica Mogherini — immediately declared its disapproval. Emmanuel Macron has failed to win Mr Trump over on the issue when he was in Washington recently, and the British Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, flew to the US capital specially over the Bank Holiday weekend to make the case for staying in the agreement, but to no avail. But if President Trump believes the Europeans and others will now meekly fall in line behind him on this then he is sorely mistaken. The deal took several years of careful negotiation before it came into force in 2015, with Barack Obama a keen supporter. One can’t help feeling that a major motivation for Trump’s behaviour was to have the chance to make a swipe at his predecessor. But like a school bully, Trump is in the wrong on this — out on a limb, indeed, for all the cheers from his recently appointed cohorts Mike Pompeo and John Burton. The other signatories will now work with Iran to try to keep the agreement on track. The US President, meanwhile, has been sent to stand on the naughty step — and probably wearing a dunce’s hat too.

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A Cambodian Spring ***

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 7th May, 2018

A Cambodian SpringWhen the wave of popular uprisings — given the misnomer The Arab Spring — swept across North Africa and the Middle East in 2011, few of us international journalists paid much attention to what was going on over in Cambodia. But for some time already, residents of marginal housing round Boeung Kak Lake in the capital, Phnom Penh, had been protesting about the flooding and in some cases destruction of their homes because of land reclamation and the industrial activities of a company with close links to senior figures in the government. Chris Kelly’s documentary, A Cambodian Spring, shot over a period of six years, focuses in particular on two young women activists in that campaign, who speak truth to power, though later they were to have an irrevocable personal falling out. Assisting them at times was a media-savvy Buddhist monk, the Venerable Sovath, who filmed the harassment of demonstrators and the demolition of homes and increasingly became an outspoken activist himself, to the extent that he was evicted from his pagoda by a religious hierarchy that accused him of having become political. Such occurrences reminded me of the Buddhist monks who self-immolated in Saigon during my period in Vietnam, though nothing so extreme occurred with Sovath. The rather idyllic city of Phnom Penh that I remembered from 1969 would soon have its population expelled wholesale by Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge to the countryside, where hundreds of thousands perished in the killing fields, while others were instead tortured and murdered in hideous urban concentration camps. A later Vietnamese invasion therefore came as something of a relief, but the Cambodian People’s Party government of Hun Sen that has been top dog for the past 30 years has proved itself to be less interested in defending the rights of poor people but rather in allowing key figures and allies to enrich themselves, including through land grabs.

Sam RainsyHad Chris Kelly just limited his film to the story of the three main protagonists and had he provided an effective running commentary throughout, I think A Cambodian Spring  would have been a very powerful movie. Instead, the viewer is left to make his or her own sense of what is going on, and in the first part the story is confused by some coverage of farmers in Siem Reap province who were also clashing with the authorities. Later, the opposition politician Sam Rainsy [pictured] is suddenly shown returning to Phnom Penh from exile, to be met by enthusiastic crowds, but we are not told that he would soon have to flee again, his democratic tail between his legs, under merciless assault from the government and state media. The film runs to two hours, which is probably 30 minutes too long; some strict editing would have been beneficial. As it is, there is much that will fascinate those who want to learn more about Cambodia. But should a documentary leave quite so many unanswered questions?

A CAMBODIAN SPRING will premiere at Curzon Soho on 17th May 6.30pm and released in cinemas from 18th May

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May 68

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 6th May, 2018

May 68Fifty years ago this week, the Left Bank in Paris was rocked by student protests, later followed by workers’ strikes. Revolution was in the air. I can’t claim to have been there then, though I watched as much as was available on British TV news. I was studying French ‘A’ level at the time, my mind totally caught up in the works of Albert Camus and André Gide, and I had been to France the year before on an exchange visit (as recounted in my childhood memoir, Eccles Cakes). So the cobblestones that the student activists were tearing up from the streets of Paris to hurl at police were still vividly in my mind. I had already become very political — with the Young Liberals, some of whom were branded Red Guards by the then party leader, Jeremy Thorpe, in mocking reference to what was happening in China’s Cultural Revolution. But neither we nor many of the students in Paris were Marxists, being more libertarian with a touch of anarchist, though I was totally opposed to violence. I longed to go over to join people at the Sorbonne, but with exams looming that was hardly feasible. And after a few weeks the whole thing fizzled out. General de Gaulle — who had fled to an army base in Germany at one stage in the protests — called a general election and the Gaullists were returned with an overall majority in the National Assembly. The bourgeoisie had won. Yet May 68 did leave an indelible mark on that generation of French youth, as well as impacting on cinema and other aspects of French culture. And it convinced me that I would live in Paris at some stage in my life, though it was to be another 12 years before that happened. Looking back now it seems impossible that les événements were half a century ago, as they are still so fresh in my mind. It’s even weirder to realise that half a century before that, young men were dying on the battlefields of the First World War — which as an 18-year-old I had thought of as ancient history.

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The LibDems are Right to be Happy

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 4th May, 2018

Kingston LibDemsWhen it comes to results, local elections in England can be frustrating as it often takes a long time for the details to come through and the early returns from super-keen places like Sunderland are not necessarily representative. But now that all but one Council has declared, the pattern is clear. UKIP has had an utterly disastrous election, losing all but three seats (-123). This undoubtedly helped the Conservatives, who picked up many former UKIP seats, but they still finished down (-31). Labour are up 59, but that is well short of what they were hoping for. Indeed, in London — which many Momentum supporters hoped was still infected by Corbynmania — Labour got nowhere near winning any of its key targets of Barnet, Wandsworth and Westminster. Indeed, in Barnet, as a result of the fallout of the allegations of anti-Semitism against some Labour activists, Labour fell back badly.  However, the real news of the election is the LibDem bounce-back: the party had a net gain of 75 seats, and gained control of four councils, including spectacular victories in Richmond and Kingston in south-west London. Of course, the LibDem successes have not been uniform, but significantly the party also advanced in northern cities such as Hull, Sheffield and Manchester, whereas the Tories are nowhere to be seen there. The overall LibDem vote nationwide was around 16 per cent, well below its level in pre-Coalition days, but still substantially better than the national opinion polls. In Richmond, interestingly, they entered into a sort of pact with the Greens, which meant that four Greens have been able to savour the delighted of ousting the Conservatives, though not every part of the country would be prepared to go along with such arrangements.

Tower Hamlets town hallSo, what of the one Council that has still to declare? No prizes for guessing which, as, yes, it is my home borough of Tower Hamlets, which is near as London politics comes to a basket case. The previous (ex-Labour) Independent Mayor was forbidden to stand again for public office because of various alleged malpratcices, but several of his former pals did. In fact, four of the Mayoral candidates had previously been Labour councillors, including the Tory! It was shocking but typical to hear on election day itself that some presiding officers were turning EU27 voters away from polling stations, not letting them cast their ballot, on the grounds of ineligibility, whereas in fact they are barred only from voting in general elections — an elementary bit of electoral law that even the most junior official should have known. But having lived in Tower Hamlets for 30 years, nothing surprises me anymore when it comes to elections, from harassment of voters to illicit acquisition of postal votes. I’m waiting for the day when it is reported that the total number of votes cast exceeds the size of the electorate. In the meantime, we await this year’s council results, including in my home ward of Mile End. But I shan’t stay up, as on past experience it might be tomorrow — or next week — before we know.

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