Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for October, 2018

What Happened to Jamal Khashoggi?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 13th October, 2018

Jamal KhashoggiThe disappearance and possible murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has taken on an added disquieting significance with claims in the Turkish media that either his smart-watch or phone recorded him being questioned and tortured in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, to which he had gone for formalities ahead of his forthcoming marriage to a Turkish citizen. The Saudi government, meanwhile, insists that he left the consulate unharmed at the end of his visit, but as there has been no further sign of him since, that statement seems increasingly thin. There have been stern reactions to the affair from a range of world leaders, not least French President Emmanuel Macron; even Donald Trump has said there will be consequences if foul play is confirmed (having earlier expressed concern about any impact criticism might have on tens of billions of dollars-worth of US arms sales). The United Kingdom is also a key ally of and arms supplier to the desert Kingdom and there is growing dismay in London as the days go by with no convincing explanation. The official Saudi line, not surprisingly, is that all the furore is an effort to besmirch the country, though the accusatory finger is tellingly being pointed specifically at Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, “MBS”, who is the very public face of Saudi “reform”. Meanwhile several leading international figures have pulled out of a big event due in Riyadh shortly. Certainly, the Khashoggi case is something of a PR disaster at a time when MBS is championing his country’s new look. Exactly two weeks ago, I saw Jamal Khashoggi, a contributor to the Washington Post, here in London, where he was one of the speakers at a seminar on Oslo at 25 put on by the Middle East Monitor, MEMO. He looked preoccupied, which I put down to jet lag; surely, he cannot have had any inkling of what may have been waiting for him in Istanbul. There is a certain irony that his disappearance occurred in Turkey, however, given the clamp down on journalists and media organisations there. Perhaps the Saudis — assuming the plot theory is true — hoped that the Turks wouldn’t make too much of a fuss. But this is ot a story that can be easily quashed.

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Gareth Parry at the Thackeray Gallery

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 10th October, 2018

Gareth ParryLast night I was able to call in at the Thackeray Gallery in Kensington for the opening of a new exhibition, predominantly of seascapes, by the Welsh artist Gareth Parry. We are almost exact contemporaries, and although we have never met, my childhood summers were spent on the Llyn peninsula which figures so prominently in his work. Moreover, the isolated buildings that appear in some of his paintings are redolent of that rather shabby but calm 1960s’ era in North Wales, a far cry from the Swinging Sixties in London or even the Beatles in Liverpool (who I did listen to excitedly when their first records were played on the radio, a transistor placed between me and my sister, who was on a day’s exeat from Howell’s School in Denbigh. I love the way Parry captures the play of light on water, and although his use of bold strokes with the back of a palette knife preclude much precise detail in much of his work, he communicates a persuasive vision, slightly romanticised, yet not at all picture-postcard twee. Most of his work was done outside and it has a certain raw edge to it, of beauty and yet sadness, thoughts drifting out to sea.

The exhibition runs until 26 October.

http://www.thackeraygallery.com/

 

 

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Bollocks to Brexit!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 9th October, 2018

Bollocks to BrexitThe founder of Pimlico Plumbers, Charlie Mullins, is to be congratulated for not submitting to pressure from (Labour) Lambeth Council to remove the giant sign over his company HQ saying Bollocks to Brexit! He has argued persuasively that Britain’s leaving the European Union — which it is scheduled to do on 29 March next year) will be bad for his customers and bad for his workforce, which has benefited from the Freedom of Movement that is part and parcel of the European Single Market. Rather than take down the sign he has instead invested in many more advertisements with the slogan posted near stations and other prominent places around London. After all, the Leave campaign was allowed during the EU Referendum campaign in 2016 to get away with driving a bus round with the lying slogan that the money the UK sends to the EU (itself a dodgy statistic) could be spent on the National Health Service instead. No surprise to learn now that that is not going to happen. In fact, Brexit is already costing this country hundred of million of pounds each week, and it hasn’t even occurred yet. And any increase in NHS funding (indeed needed) will probably have to come from higher taxation instead.

Brexit's Barking MadCharlie Mullins isn’t the author of the catchy Bollocks to Brexit! slogan, but it has gone viral, not only on social media, but also through sticky labels that have been appearing all over the place. On Sunday, I attended the Wooferendum march of Remainers and their dogs in Westminster, and many of the pooches were festooned with it as well. Over the coming weeks, in the run-up to a parliamentary vote on whatever Brexit deal is or is not agreed with Brussels, we can expect more campaigning activity, with a massive march in London on 20 October calling for a People’s Vote — i.e. a referendum on the deal, with an option to Remain — with support from people from every political party (except UKIP, probably) and none. Meanwhile, several local councils have been debating motions about whether to support a People’s Vote. I took part in a LibDem-led demonstration outside Camden’s temporary council offices last night, urging councillors to back such a motion, though sadly time ran out at the Full Council meeting before that part of the agenda was reached. I hope to attend a similar gathering outside Haringey Town Hall on Thursday. Both Camden and Haringey voted heavily Remain in 2016, yet the ruling Labour Party in both cases is divided on the issue. Conservative Brexiteers such as Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg have received massive media attention, but the Labour Party is home to “Lexiteers” as well, not just on the right (such as Kate Hoey) but also the left, including among some supporters of Momentum. Party leader Jeremy Corbyn was a Euro-sceptic for most of his 30-odd years in parliament, campaigned very quietly for Remain in 2016, but then called for Article 50 to be invoked immediately afterwards. He is still sitting on the fence over Brexit, though the Opposition Brexit spokesperson, Keir Starmer, did say clearly at the Labour conference in Liverpool that a People’s Vote should be on the table, including an option to Remain. He looked rather startled when this provoked a standing ovation, but it is not really surprising, as over 80% of Labour members reportedly support staying in the EU. Moreover, according to a poll-of-polls in the London Evening Standard last night, a large majority of the 150 recent opinion polls on the Brexit issue have shown a majority for Remain if a new referendum is held. In a democracy, it is a fundamental right for people to change their mind and maybe that is indeed happening as the complexity and cost of disentangling ourselves from the EU become clearer. So, yes, let’s have a People’s Vote. And let Bollocks to Brexit be our proud Remainer chant!

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The Wife ****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 6th October, 2018

The WifeIt has often been said that behind every great man there is a great woman — or maybe in this postmodern world one should say “great Other”. This is as true of artists as it is of politicians, though the license to abuse such a relationship often given to painters and writers goes way beyond what most political figures would dare to try to get away with. Think Picasso and Augustus John, or in the literary field V. S. Naipaul or Evelyn Waugh. So the initial premise of Bjorn Runge’s movie The Wife, in which a Jewish American Nobel Prize for Literature laureate sets off to Stockholm with his wife and son to collect his medal and cheque while manifesting a certain degree of nerves seems fairly straightforward until it gradually becomes clear — with the help of flashbacks to the beginning of his career — that things aren’t that straightforward at all. His wife — a tour de force by actress Glen Close — increasingly demonstrates that she is much more than just his loyal spouse and nursemaid and that burning within her is a deep resentment at what has been a concealed truth ever since he left his first wife for her. As one begins to understand the greater depth of her character one simultaneously becomes uncomfortably, even nauseatingly, aware of the writer’s shallowness. In its own way, Jonathan Pryce’s performance as the insecure, selfish and manipulative novelist is also remarkable as one’s reaction to the character migrates from sympathy to disgust. Max Irons, as the son crying out for his father’s approval, is in contrast a little two-dimensional and Christian Slater as the slimy young biographer determined to make a killing by writing an exposé about the writer’s true limitations is something of a caricature. However, it is probably right that the minor characters are denied a real opportunity to be in the limelight as it is the wife, and therefore Glen Close, who emerges towards the end as a butterfly, escaping from the cocoon into which her marriage and sense of duty had encased her. Not a perfect film, then, but one that makes one think.

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The Robbie Ross Centenary

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 5th October, 2018

Robbie Ross photoOne hundred years ago today, the Canadian art dealer and literary figure Robert Baldwin Ross — Robbie to his friends — died in London at the age of 49. He had made the British capital his home, though he was born in France and had plans to move to Australia to establish a gallery. His health had been poor, yet his death was unexpected and received little public attention in a country focussed on the final stages of the First World War. But for a close band of friends — including young poets such as Siegfried Sassoon, to whom he had served as a mentor — the news was a shock. Robbie was cremated and his ashes later transferred to Paris to be placed in the tomb of playwright Oscar Wilde, to whom he had been a devoted friend, lover and literary executor. That relationship with Wilde somewhat overshadowed other aspects of Robbie’s life and was in sharp contrast to Oscar’s tempestuous affair with Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas. Douglas cost Wilde a fortune, as well as his reputation, and was instrumental in Wilde’s conviction for gross indecency. Robbie, on the other hand, was waiting for Oscar in France when he was released from prison, together with a significant sum of money that had been raised from friends and supporters. It was he who managed Oscar’s allowance — delivered in installments, as he knew the profligate Oscar would blow the lot if given the chance — and after Wilde’s death it was Robbie who carefully managed the literary estate so that Wilde’s two sons would benefit. In December 1908, a grand dinner at the Ritz Hotel in London was held to honour Robbie when Wilde’s debts were cleared, and it is in the spirit of that dinner that some of us will be celebrating Robbie’s 150th birthday next May. Coincidentally, Rupert Everett’s film The Happy Prince, about Wilde’s last two years of life, prominently features Robbie, played by Edwin Thomas, is now in cinemas on both sides of the Atlantic and available on DVD. My own biography of Robbie is available as a paperback and ebook:

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Why Theresa Is Cross at Boris

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 2nd October, 2018

May Johnson 1Boris Johnson reportedly attracted over 1,000 people to his fringe meeting at the Conservative Party conference today. He remains the Tory activists’ darling. But the Prime Minister is not amused. In fact she told the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg that what she had heard about her former Foreign Secretary’s speech had made her “cross” —  which is strong language from a woman who confessed a while back that the naughtiest thing she had ever done in her life was to run through a field of wheat as a child. Typically, Boris did a photo shoot yesterday in a pair of his ghastly Hawaiian shorts running across a field in a move clearly aimed to poke fun at Mrs May and to draw attention away from other politicians present at Birmingham. His “Chuck Chequers” performance today had Boris groupies queuing round the block, while the main conference chamber has often been three-quarters empty. The real reason for Theresa May’s anger (other than his gross disloyalty and the fact that he has been singularly rude about her Chequers Brexit plan) was sparked because, she said, “he wanted to tear up our guarantee to the people of Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is part of the UK.” As for Chequers, Boris reportedly said in a typical Johnson flourish that the PM risked being prosecuted under a 14th century law saying that “no foreign court or government shall have jurisdiction in this country” — describing Chequers as an “outrage”.

Boris Johnson runningHowever, many of Mrs May’s Cabinet colleagues share her distaste for Boris’s antics at a time when the government is trying to rally support behind Brexit negotiations. Those negotiations are looking increasingly fraught, however, with little likelihood of a breakthrough unless the UK government compromises on Chequers quite significantly. But that would provoke a backlash from MPs belonging to Jacob Rees-Mogg’s European Research Group, as well, probably, as from the DUP, on whose support Mrs May depends for her parliamentary majority. That means whatever deal is put to Parliament has a strong probability of being voted down. Mrs May’s future as leader would then be very much in doubt, though that may not lead to Boris taking over. As I pointed out in an interview with HispanTV this morning, under the Conservative Party rules, in a leadership MPs choose which two candidates to put before the wider membership for selection, and Boris has made many enemies among his colleagues in the House. “Charlatan” and “egotist” are two of the politer words being used about him, but should there be a contest some time over the next few months we can probably be assured of some far more colourful language as Tory MPs plot how to Stop Boris.

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Europe: The Tories Have Lost the Plot

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 1st October, 2018

Jeremy Hunt 1Yesterday, at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt compared the European Union to the “prison” of the Soviet Union and accused the EU of trying to prevent member states from leaving. That is the sort of intemperate language we came to expect from his predecessor, Boris Johnson, so it appears Hunt has taken over Johnson’s agenda as well as his role — an agenda that may well include a pitch for the Tory leadership when Conservative MPs feel it is time to ditch Theresa May. Mild-mannered Sir John Major is the only former Conservative Prime Minister left alive (apart from David Cameron, who initiated this Brexit mess) and he has made quite clear that he thinks Brexit is a terrible mistake. What a pity that Edward Heath and Margaret Thatcher are not still around as well, as from their different perspectives they too would have put their boot into this pathetic government that has swallowed UKIP’s rhetoric hook, line and sinker.

May Juncker 1 Instead of negotiating with our 27 EU partners Mrs May and her colleagues have been increasingly insulting and threatening them. How not to win friends and influence people. If Britain crashes out of the EU on 29 March 2019 without a deal it will be entirely this government’s fault and we shouldn’t be surprised if the remaining EU members sigh “good riddance”! Britain under the Tories is becoming a nasty, xenophobic nation with a domestic “hostile environment” and an arrogant foreign policy akin to that of Donald Trump. But the UK is no USA, however much Tories wallow in the nostalgia of an Empire long since gone. It is no longer a top rank player on the world stage. Britain is now a middle-ranking country gradually slipping down the world economic league, and instead of using our membership of the EU to protect and grow our prosperity, the government is kicking our European partners in the privates, including and particularly the Republic of Ireland. One result could well be the break-up of the United Kingdom as the Scots, Northern Irish (and one day, maybe the Welsh) decide they do not want to be hitched up to the English nationalists. Listening to some of the people attending the Conservative Party conference, especially the youth wing of the Jacob Rees-Mogg fan club, it is obvious they do not really care about the social fabric of this country and are happy to make prep-school jokes about Johnny Foreigner. This used to be a party that prided itself on being competent, but on Europe — as on so much else — it has totally lost the plot. Interestingly, in London, Tory party membership has fallen below that of the resurgent Liberal Democrats’. But as the Tories sink beneath the waves somewhere in the mid-Atlantic they risk pulling the country down with them.

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