Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for December, 2018

My New Year’s Resolution (for 2019)

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 31st December, 2018

7EF497C9-D1A4-4F68-A511-158B2B3DE9E4I’m not on the habit of making New Year’s Resolutions, but this year I feel it a must. 2018 has been pretty much of a disaster, as the storm clouds of Brexit have gathered, but 2019 is going to be much worse if Brexit actually happens. It seems incredible that both the Conservative Government and much of the leadership of the opposition Labour Party still believe in pressing on with leaving the European Union, despite all the evidence that the country’s economic growth will suffer and a wide range of sectors, from the NHS to the creative industries, will be hit hard. 2018 is ending on a sour note, as the Home Office tries to persuade millions of EU citizens and their offspring to register for permanent residence (at a charge of £65 per head for adults); some of them have lived in the UK for decades and have rightly considered it their home, but they are now being told they don’t have an automatic right to stay even in their own house. This is xenophobia, pure and simple, singling out people because they are foreign (European), even though most of them work and pay taxes like everyone else.

9F5643AB-A044-4E79-BF70-920A16E1D475Meanwhile, the government if throwing hundreds of millions of pounds away on extraordinary “preparations” for a No Deal Situation on 29 March 2019 — the latest and most grotesque example of which is a £100m+ ferrying contract to a company that actually has no ships, nor any expertise in the field. This is 21st Century P G Wodehouse, but deadly serious. The Brexiteer Press is cheering the end of Freedom of Movement for EU citizens so they can no longer just come to the UK to live or work, while ignoring that the Freedom of Movement for 65million Brits is likewise being taken away, with serious consequences both for the young and for retirees in particular. So by now it should be painfully obvious what my New Year’s Resolution for 2019 is: to fight Brexit with every fibre of my body and ounce of energy, ideally achieving a People’s Vote, with an option to Remain in the EU. I invite you to join me!

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Bolsonaro Betrays the Palestinians

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 30th December, 2018

46CF24F3-46D3-4B98-89F9-3FCE0752290FNext week, Jair Bolsonaro will take over as President of Brazil. But already this tough-talking right-winger is setting the cat among the pigeons. At a meeting today with Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, the announcement was made that Brazil will follow the US lead by moving its embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This is despite the fact that there is an international consensus that until there is a final status agreement for Jerusalem — which both the Israelis and Palestinians want to have as their capital — no such move should be made. Until 1967, Jerusalem was divided between predominantly Arab East and Jewish West, but after the Six Day War, Israel occupied the eastern sector and since then has conducted a policy of ethnic cleansing to reduce the Palestinian population and make Jerusalem the undivided capital of the Jewish Stage of Israel. Bolsonaro’s decision on the Embassy will enrage many Brazilians, who traditionally have had good relations with the Palestinians and have supported their quest for full statehood. But this will not bother the man who clearly wants to establish himself as the Donald Trump of South America — loud-mouthed, bigoted and against every progressive group from LGBT activists to environmentalists. In the traditionally left-wing state of Ceará in Brazil’s impoverished north east, where I am writing this, people are bracing themselves for some tough knocks in the year ahead.

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Diamantino *****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 23rd December, 2018

7DC8781F-E16E-4D52-A159-FFD18D589CECFew films merit the description “truly original”, but Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt’s Diamantino defies categorisation or comparison. The central story-line is deceptively simple: a super-talented and handsome Portuguese footballer (Carloto Cotta) with a childlike mind and understanding of the world has a kind of epiphany when he comes across a dinghy containing African refugees while out sailing on his yacht. Unfortunately the timing of this coincides with the sudden death of his beloved father and manager, leaving him at the mercy of his evil, scheming twin sisters. Things now take on surreal proportions in a whacky sequence of events that mix science fiction with political and social satire. The cinematic and popular culture references are legion, from billboards of our hero Diamantino in white briefs, David Beckham-style, to an exact Portuguese version of the ballot paper used in Britain’s 2016 EU Referendum. There is also a fairy tale quality to much of the narrative, where good battles evil in a swirl of conspiracies and gender fluidity. In short, this film is totally bonkers, but miraculously it works.

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Remembering Paddy Ashdown

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 23rd December, 2018

85F45194-2F0C-4119-85D7-EDB22A8486DBI first met Paddy Ashdown, who died yesterday from cancer at the age of 77, in a queue for coffee at a Liberal Party Assembly (probably his first?), some time after he had been adopted as candidate for what was assumed to be the “safe” Conservative seat of Yeovil, in Somerset. He had the advantage of having put down roots in the area and of being eminently presentable. Only later would we all learn of his exotic background in India and elsewhere, his sterling service in the Special Boat Service and the Diplomatic Corps (possibly with an MI6 sideline). He was quite diffident at this stage and eager to learn. He thought it would take three elections to crack Yeovil, but in fact he did it in two, seizing the seat in 1983, the year that the great anticipated Liberal-SDP Alliance breakthrough failed to happen, mainly because of Mrs Thatcher’s fortitude and good luck in the Falklands War. The Liberal Democrat Party emerged out of the wreckage of the Alliance; Paddy would have preferred we rebrand ourselves as the Democrats, clearly underestimating the affection many Liberals had for their long tradition and values.

00280C49-71D1-42FE-A736-E5E1D0BD1818When David Steel’s leadership of the Party ceased to be really tenable, Paddy threw his hat into the ring, emerging triumphant in 1988. But triumphant over what? The Party’s standing in the opinion polls was so low that it once appeared as an asterisk — so minimal as to be within the margin of error of non-existent. Undeterred, he sought to rebuild it with the same military determination that must have helped him in Borneo. He was aided by a string of by-election gains in southern Tory seats, masterminded by Chris Rennard, and he established weekly meetings of an advisory group (inevitably, but misleadingly, dubbed the “kitchen Cabinet”), which foregathered early in the morning in his office. I was a member of this, each time rushing off afterwards to fulfill my work obligations at BBC World Service radio. I was impressed initially by how he did listen to other voices, but as time went on, he would become less tolerant of dissent, even impatient. This would eventually come to a head when he entered a political bromance with Tony Blair, which stuck in the craw of many of us who had had to deal with the nasty side of the Labour Party in the North.

7619CB55-4509-445A-932D-BBB8D58E5C87Blair’s landslide win in 1997 put paid to any possibility of a Lib-Lab coalition or working relationship, and Paddy started to look elsewhere for opportunities to use his talents. He had asked me to put him in touch with my literary agent, who placed his first book based on fact-finding visits he had made round the countr when he assumed the Party leadership, but later he would go on to produce much more substantial works, including volumes of diaries and military history. By then he had also moved into a new sphere as High Representative to Bosnia-Herzogovina, with plenipotentiary powers, which he clearly savoured. Later he made good use of being part of that anachronistic but often valuable institution, the House of Lords. I would run into him in Parliament or at various occasions and he would reminisce over all that had happened over the past four decades since our first meeting— often with a little cheeky side-remark in Mandarin Chinese, which we had both studied as young men and which created its own, special bond.

 

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Corbyn Slides off the Brexit Fence

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 22nd December, 2018

D36324D0-9152-474E-A3BC-BAB6AFD2BF61For months senior Labour politicians have been telling us that “all options remain on the table” regarding the Party’s policy on Brexit. In other words, Labour could possibly back a People’s Vote and campaign for Remain, which opinion polls tell us is what a significant majority of Labour members want. But the Party leadership clearly thinks otherwise. Jeremy Corbyn — probably encouraged by his two left-hand men, Seamus Milne and Len McCluskey — has made clear in an interview with the Guardian that if Labour wins a hypothetical election next year, Brexit would still go ahead. This is a clear betrayal not only of the millions of Remain-supporting electors who voted Labour in the 2017 general election in protest at Theresa May’s Brexit plans but also of the Labour Party’s autumn conference this year, which adopted a nuanced stance leaving various options open. Recently, both Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott have been making disgraceful, unsubstantiated comments about EU migrants pushing down wages, while attacking the principle of Freedom of Movement. Of course, no-one should be surprised that Jeremy Corbyn is at heart a Brexiteer, despite campaigning half-heartedly for Remain in 2016. The day after the EU Referendum, he called for Article 50 to be invoked immediately. Ideologically locked into 1970s socialism, he sees the EU as an impediment to his dream of a Utopian Britain, in which he could just dole out state money to support or create industries irrespective of economic viability. But with only three months to go before Britain’s scheduled departure from the EU it is now crunch time. Labour Remainers need to stop rabbiting on about having a general election (which the Conservative and DUP MPs won’t vote for anyway). Instead, the focus should be on getting a People’s Vote, with an option to remain, which would have wide cross-Party support in the House of Commons. If necessary, Labour MPs need to have the courage to sideline Mr Corbyn. The future of Britain is at stake.

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Tinta Bruta ****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 21st December, 2018

B0CD9F9F-79A2-4E28-9924-9C4043FC74EFPedro is a young man with two big issues overshadowing his life. The first is a criminal assault charge after he attacked a guy, blinding him in one eye, but the second issue is in many ways more serious: an inability to socialise or communicate normally with virtually everyone except his sister and grandmother. He survives, both psychologically and financially, by doing Internet strip shows, smearing his body lasciviously with phosphorescent colours. The number of subscribers watching his show suddenly falls off, and just before his sister moves out of the apartment they share, to live thousands of kilometres away, she informs him that someone else has copied his idea. Plucking up courage, Pedro decides to confront his imitator, Leo, though when they meet things develop in a totally unexpected direction. The location for all this is Porto Alegre, in Brazil’s far south, but the city is portrayed as an anonymous agglomeration of dreary blocks of flats, many being vacated as people seek better opportunities elsewhere, while older residents stand at their windows menacingly observing what goes on below.

C0950E85-CB0E-4270-8673-CF589BBA7D07Filipe Matzembacher and Marcio Reolon, who both directed the film and wrote the screenplay, present a grey cinematic canvas, against which the neon colours of Pedro and Leo’s erotic body art contrast shockingly. The chat room comments on Pedro’s site are strikingly authentic and the gay sex, when it occurs, is graphic. But for most of the film, Pedro (brilliantly played by a slim, long-haired Shico Menegat) is half locked inside himself, making him a natural victim for bullies, until something snaps and he lashes out with ferocious energy. The film’s pace is slow — at times a little too slow, perhaps — but the extended shots of Pedro’s face communicate more than a thousand words. In many ways, Tinta Bruta (Hard Paint) tells a depressing story, but even if it is not artistically flawless it is definitely memorable.

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Taking Oscar Wilde to Kazakhstan

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 20th December, 2018

01D71BDB-BC00-4005-8EF1-0221582BB0EFEarlier this month I did a whirlwind lecture tour of Almaty, Taraz and Kulan in Kazakhstan, in the company of the Aitmatov Academy’s Director, Rahima Abduvalieva. The trigger for the visit was the 90th anniversary celebrations of the esteemed Kyrgyz writer, Chinghiz Aitmatov, author of Jamila and other novellas and short stories, as well as evocative memoir. I had prepared a lecture on interesting parallels between Aitmatov and Oscar Wilde, which I delivered at Al-Farabi and TIGU universities. Though the two writers lived in different centuries, thousands of kilometres apart, they were both outsider-insiders, who had moved from the colonial periphery — Ireland and Kyrgyzstan — to the metropolis (London and Moscow) and won literary success. That was all the more remarkable in the case of Aitmatov, whose father was a victim of Stalinist oppression as an “enemy of the people”.

9326E15F-E174-4CA8-A6F2-71AACBE68C7CIn Almaty I gave master classes on Wilde’s life and work to both Kazakh and Russian language philology students and presented copies of my short biography of Oscar Wilde to the universities. I was interviewed in Kulan by a local TV channel, and on my return to London took part, with Rahima Abduvalieva, in a full-length programme on Chinghiz Aitmatov for the BBC Kyrgyz Service. Oscar Wilde was of course a major feature of my contribution then as well, and I like to think that he would have guffawed with pleasure at the thought of having been transported to the Kazakh steppes.

The BBC Kyrgyz programme is available on YouTube.

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Trump’s Christmas Carol ***

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 18th December, 2018

2FAD63ED-0E38-47BA-999D-6189F9410C89Donald Trump is such a preposterous individual that he is actually quite hard to satirise. Satire tends to exaggerate characteristics and exaggerating his is quite a challenge without appearing absurd. However, the pseudonymous author Watt T. Dickens found a nice conceit by recrafting Charles Dickens’s Christmas Carol with Ebenezer Trump taking the part of Scrooge (Ebury Press, £7.99). He is visited in turn by Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton (the ghost of Christmas past) and Barack Obama (the ghost of Christmas present) before the deathly ghost of Christmas Future shames him into a modicum of compassion. Barely has his last visitor left, however, before Trump reverts to being the greedy, sexist, racist narcissist that he was at the outset. All his loud-mouthed pussy-grabbing faults are laid bare, and whereas some of the earlier passages are indeed quite funny, by the end one really feels quite sick with the ghastliness of it all. However did that tangerine egomaniac with the impossible hair get into the White House? And how is it only too credible that he might get re-elected in 2020?

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Remembering Peter Boizot

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 17th December, 2018

3FE2B540-18B3-4045-A8FE-5FD8184CA09BThe entrepreneur, jazz lover and philanthropist Peter Boizot, who died earlier this month aged 89, was not one’s usual idea of a successful business. Affable, generous and at times curiously diffident, he nonetheless had the secret of many self-made millionaires: he had a brilliant idea and ran with it. That idea was to mormalise pizza as a British favourite dining out food, through what would become a huge network of restaurants under the name Pizza Express. The menus were largely familiar (and therefore teassuring) but the locations were often in unusual or beautiful converted premises. His two top restaurants were Pizza on the Park, near Hyde Park Corner, which hosted many jazz performances, and Kettner’s in Soho, the once grand Victorian dining establishment with several private rooms, where Oscar Wilde famously feasted with his young panthers. It was there that Peter launched, along with a Westminster Liberal, Harry Ball-Wilson, the monthly Kettner lunches with visiting political and historian speakers, usually of a Liberal bent. Peter wasn’t always able to attend them himself, but when he did, many bottles of wine would magically appear, to fuel lively and convivial conversation. The lunches continue today, under the auspices of the Kettner Society, but in the splendid surroundings of the National Liberal Club.

Soho was central to Peter’s life, though his London home was on Lowndes Square. It was in Soho that he heard jazz at Ronnie Scott’s and where he both ate his first pizza and opened his first pizza restaurant. However, his heart remained in his home city of Peterborough (which he fought twice, unsuccessfully, as a Liberal parliamentary candidate) and whose cultural and social life was the beneficiary of much of his charitable action. Though the last few years of his life were removed from his earlier social and business whirl, he will be much missed by legions of friends and faithful customers.

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The AEJ Congress in Greece

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 4th December, 2018

AEJ Congress Greece 1The Association of European Journalists (AEJ) held its annual Congress over the weekend, hosted by the Greek section. We were based in Agrinio, a rather pleasant little town of which, I confess, I had previously never heard, though sessions also took place in Vonitsa and Messolonghi. The Greek hospitality was wonderful, but of course it was the content of the discussions that was paramount. Greece has suffered a double whammy in recent years, with its economic crisis (it should never have been allowed to join the euro!) and the mass influx of refugees from Syria and elsewhere. The European Union has failed to enact a satisfactory strategy for dealing with this migration, largely because of a lack of unity among member states, ranging from Germany’s open door policy to stiff resistance from Hungary. There is an undoubted but unwelcome link between this situation and the rise of far right political parties in several EU member states — an issue that attracted much concerned debate within the AEJ.

AEJ Congress Greece So, too, did the matter of growing threats to media freedom, for example in Hungary (again!), but also to the extreme extent of assassinations of journalists, as in Malta and Slovakia. Though not all AEJ sections are in EU member states, the organisation is essentially supportive of the European project, so the challenges facing the EU currently were something of a dampener on the Congress, despite the warmth of the Greek hospitality. So, too, the issue of “fake news” or disinformation, which is not just an issue in Trump’s America. And as if that were not enough there is the whole horror show of Brexit, which is having a big impact beyond Britain’s shores, not least in Ireland. The British AEJ section held out the hope that Brexit may be stopped; the feasibility of that may become more obvious over the next few days.

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