Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for May, 2019

Westminster Shows Its True Colours

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 30th May, 2019

Westminster aerial viewThere has been some very interesting number-crunching going on since the results of the European  elections in Britain were announced late on Sunday night. And one of the most intriguing outcomes relates to the Cities of London and Westminster (CLW), that quintessentially establishment constituency that embraces many of the great institutions of state, Parliament, Buckingham Palace and the Square Mile. It’s actually the first place I lived when I came to London after university, sharing a flat in Pimlico and campaigning for the then Liberal candidate for CLW, Trevor Underwood. It has always been Conservative ever since it was created, but Westminster is also a bastion of Remainers. This was reflected starkly by the votes as tabulated by Chris Hanretty, Professor of Politics at Royal Holloway, University of London. He has done admirable work breaking down the results in every constituency in the country, so here is his tally for CLW:

Liberal Democrats  10537

Brexit Party               4149

Labour                        3894

Conservative             3144

Green                          3126

ChangeUK                  1942

Others                        1301

As British general elections are held under first-past-the-post, that would be an easy win for the LibDems. I have to declare an interest, as I am the LibDem PPC for CLW, but as a keen European I am particularly thrilled to know that the area understands the importance of Britain’s membership of the EU. Had many (non-UK) EU citizens not been turned away from polling stations last Thursday thanks to an administrative cock-up,  I suspect the LibDem vote would have been even higher. But how gratifying that a national opinion poll published this evening by YouGuv for the Times is saying that the LibDems are now are just on top nationally (on 24%). That is an amazing turnaround and a lot of that is down to the fact that the party has a clear message on the biggest issue of the day> Stop Brexit!

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EP2019: London Votes Remain!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 27th May, 2019

EP2019 declarationThough Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party won most seats in this week’s European elections, just as its predecessor UKIP did in 2014, the striking difference from five years ago was the huge surge in support for the Liberal Democrats and to a lesser extent the Greens. It’s not hard to explain why (though the Government will doubtless try to spin otherwise). Both the LibDems and the Greens had an unequivocally anti-Brexit message, as indeed did the SNP, which did especially well in Scotland. In contrast, the Conservatives, who have been endeavouring unsuccessfully to push Theresa May’s Brexit deal through Parliament crashed to their worst result since the 1830s. And Labour — whose leadership continues to sit on the fence over Brexit, trying to please both Brexiteers and Remainers, therefore satisfying neither — also had a very poor result. In London, Labour fell from four MEPs to just two, though interestingly both successful candidates were forthright Remainers and Seb Dance used his short victory speech to berate the leadership for not clearly backing staying in the EU and holding a new referendum. The LibDems topped the poll in London, with 27% of the vote, reaping three MEPs, all newcomers to the field: Irina von Wiese, Dinesh Dhamija and Luisa Porritt. As Number 4 on the list I was sad not to join them, but I have been in this situation before! What is more important is that with the exception of the two Brexit Party MEPs (who came third in the popular vote in the capital), London is now represented by a rainbow coalition of Remainers who will be fighting hard to Stop Brexit — the pithy slogan that served the LibDems so well!

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Happy 150th Birthday, Robbie Ross!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 25th May, 2019

Edwin Thomas, Gyles Brandreth, JF“A real friend,” declared the American gossip columnist Walter Winchell, “is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.” That statement perfectly encapsulates Robert Baldwin Ross, erstwhile lover and devoted friend and literary executor to Oscar Wilde as well as mentor to several younger writers, including the First World War poet, Siegfried Sassoon. Last night, in the gorgeous ballroom of the Savile Club in Mayfair, members of the club and of the Oscar Wilde Society gathered to celebrate Robbie Ross’s 150th birthday, which falls today. The club Chairman, Robert Harding, spoke of Robbie’s short tenure at the Savile (at that time based on Piccadilly), as well as of Oscar Wilde’s failed attempt to join. The actor Edwin Thomas, who played Robbie in Rupert Everett’s film The Happy Prince, read the speech that Robbie had himself given at a huge dinner at the Ritz Hotel in 1908, when Wilde’s creditors had all been paid off (largely thanks to German interest in his work). The chef at the Savile recreated deliciously much of the menu of that event over a hundred years ago. I gave the after-dinner speech highlighting Robbie and the value of friendship. Gyles Brandreth was the Master of Ceremonies.

Robbie Ross cover 1Ross was born in Tours, France, on 25 May, 1869, but moved to London with his widowed mother and siblings while still a child. He was precocious and cheeky and remarkably confident in his own sexuality; at age 17 while a house guest he seduced Oscar Wilde. Later he was friends with Oscar’s passion, Lord Alfred Douglas, until they had a terrible falling-out. “Bosie” Douglas then persecuted Robbie for years, the stress undermining Robbie’s already weak constitution. For several years he had rooms in an extraordinary establishment run by Nellie Burton at 40 Half Moon Street, Shepherd’s Market — a haven for bachelor men of letters. It was there (and at the Reform Club) that Robbie entertained Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen and others. I wrote about all this in my biography, Robbie Ross, which is still available in paperback and as an ebook:    https://www.amazon.co.uk/Robbie-Ross-Oscar-Wildes-true-ebook/dp/B00J2SR9DM/ref=sr_1_4?keywords=Jonathan+Fryer&qid=1558766955&s=digital-text&sr=1-4

 

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The Putney and Wandsworth Euro-Hustings

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 15th May, 2019

Wandsworth hustingsThough this month’s European elections were organised in great haste in the UK (and through gritted teeth by the Conservative government), an admirable number of public hustings has been taking place round London, including one last night at St. Anne’s Church in Wandsworth, in which I took part. It was set up by the Putney and Wandsworth Societies and attracted about 100 members of the public, which was encouraging given the short notice. In fact there is far more interest in this set of European elections than ever before (and I can say that having stood in all but one of them!), to an extent becoming a sort of new referendum on whether Brits want to stay in the EU of not. Recent opinion polls confirm what I have been finding on the doorstep, namely that the electorate is polarising towards either Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party or to the anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats (and to a lesser extent the Greens).

There was no Brexit candidate at last night’s hustings, bizarrely, though they were invited; maybe they knew they would get a frosty reception in such a pro-Remain part of the capital. However, UKIP was represented by Freddy Vachha, one of the more politely eccentric members of his party; he caused the biggest laugh of the evening by describing the Conservatives as neo-Marxist! The Conservatives had Scott Pattenden from Bromley, who had to counter some quite pointed questioning about Theresa May, David Cameron and the Brexit mess. The Greens were represented by Gulnar Hasnain, who adopted the line that the Greens are the largest pro-EU UK party in the outgoing European Parliament (true for 2014-2019, though that is unlikely to be the case after 23 May). ChangeUK’s candidate was Hasseeb Ur-Rehman, who essentially read a quite detailed policy paper in his allotted four minutes. Labour, naughtily sent not a Euro-candidate but the PPC for Putney, Fleur Anderson, which earned a rebuke from a Labour Party member in the audience. Fleur maintained that Labour is a Remain Party because the two leading MEP candidates are, but the audience wasn’t going to let that pass without adverse comment about Jeremy Corbyn and Lexit. I had a fairly easy ride as a LibDem, though inevitably came under fire from the small number of UKIP or Brexit Party supporters in the church, demanding to know why I was neither Liberal nor a Democrat by calling for a People’s Vote when there had already been a referendum in 2016. It was clear from the majority voices in the room, however, that a People’s Vote was a popular option for this audience, with a heavy preponderance of Remain.

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How Not to Go to War

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 13th May, 2019

How Not to Go to WarWith tensions rising in various parts of the world and forceful leaders in power in China, Russia and the US, we are right to be concerned about things boiling over into global conflict (and on more local levels, not least in the Middle East, such conflicts are ongoing). Moreover, with global warming and desertification taking a hold over large areas of our precarious planet, the possibility of water wars and other disputes over resources rises as we head to what otherwise risks becoming auto-destruction. But is war inevitable? Vijay Mehta, veteran peace campaigner and author, argues in his latest book, How Not to Go to War (Catapult, £9.99), that it is not. He makes the valid point — proved by historical evidence — that making war is part of the male psyche (Margaret Thatcher being the exception that proves the rule), so by addressing issues of postmodern masculinity one might be able to challenge conflict as a default option. But new technologies also mean that we really should be terrified at the prospects of any Third World War. The annihilation that would be brought about nuclear weapons in a war has long been known, but nuclear deterrence (MAD — mutually assured destruction) may not necessarily guarantee a no-use situation forever. Safer to get rid of the lot of them, as well as more “moral”. Mehta does of course take moral positions, but the strength of this book is in the practical details, for example how establishing Departments of Peace and Peace Centres worldwide could reduce tensions and pomote understanding. There are extensive appendices describing various countries’ experience in setting these up — they are not theoretical pie in the sky — such as Costa Rica, Ethiopia and Nepal. But the section that struck me most covers the development of miniature drones programmed by AI to target individuals or types of people discriminately. The image of swarms of these insect-like devices coming in through the window is absolutely chilling. No, let’s try and make Peace work instead!

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The UK Local Elections Verdict

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 4th May, 2019

F5FF8AE5-5C6A-4797-B8A2-8AE9528248B4Now that the dust has settled on this week’s local elections In England — the biggest set of such elections since 2015, though not including London and various other cities and counties — the spin doctors of both the Conservative and Labour parties are in overdrive, bizarrely both pitching the same message that the massive gains by the anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats and substantial wins for the equally anti-Brexit Greens are somehow a sign that the public just wants the government to “get on” with Brexit — an aim shared by the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, despite the fact that Labour has registered a net loss of nearly 100 seats at a time when the worst government in living memory is staggering from one crisis and embarrassment to the next. Some noble Conservative and Labour MPs have bravely defied their masters and declared that this is tosh — some in far more rigorous terms than that. Others have parroted the official line.

30B377CD-DEBD-4E9C-856D-7A48E234FC92Nonetheless, as I tweeted earlier, this is an Orwellian misrepresentation of facts more reminiscent of the former Soviet Union than of a mature parliamentary democracy.  Such is the sorry state of political discourse in Britain since the 2016 EU Referendum. In that Referendum, tainted by some very dodgy campaigning and funding, Leave beat Remain by about 52:48. But the latest opinion poll out suggests that were such a referendum to be held today, Remain would get 61%. In the meantime the country is bitterly divided and Nigel Farage and his new Brexit Party will ensure that the political temperature is kept at boiling point. However, European elections loom on 23 May, and although Mr Farage will probably mop up previous UKIP voters and numerous right-wing Tories, both the Conservatives and Labour are likely to lose seats to pro-Remain parties. Will Mrs May and Mr Corbyn listen then? We must make them listen!

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