Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for October, 2019

The People’s Vote March

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 19th October, 2019

Peoples Vote March 19 October 2019The sun was shining on the People’s Vote March in London today as several hundred thousand demonstrators manifested their wish to stay in the EU. As ever at such events, the mood was like a carnival and a cheer arose when it became known that the House of Commons — sitting on a Saturday for the first time since the Falklands War — had thwarted Boris Johnson’s attempt to get his Brexit deal passed today. Instead, an amendment by Oliver Letwin basically kicked the matter into next week, declaring that the deal cannot go through before all the necessary legislation is in place — and effectively obliging the Prime Minister to send a letter to the EU before midnight tonight requesting an extension to Article 50. Johnson was defiant in the House, insisting that he is still going to get Brexit done and dusted by 31 October but that is looking increasingly unlikely. If the EU has any sense it will provide a long extension which would enable the UK to sort out the current impasse through a confirmatory referendum on Boris’s deal or through a general election. Whatever happens the next few days are likely to be extremely fractious, which why it was so nice to have such a warm atmosphere on the march today. It was literally a gathering of all the generations and people from different political parties mingled convivially — a contrast to the raucous tensions in the House. There, the Speaker, John Bercow, had to limit speakers to three minutes each after a while, which graphically illustrated how outrageous the Prime Minister was in trying to get the deal with all its ramifications through in a single sitting.Many people may be heartily sick of Brexit by now, but the saga is far from over.

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Farmageddon ****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 18th October, 2019

SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE FARMAGEDDONI have long been a huge Aardman fan; I must have seen all the Wallace & Gromit films a dozen times. And Shaun the Sheep (2015) was a work of genius. In that, young Shaun and his motley little flock of helpers set out on an adventure into the city to rescue their farmer. But in Farmageddon, which opened in cinemas today, a much broader canvas is backdrop to some of the action: the universe. A young extraterrestrial alien girl mischievously goes for a ride in her parents flying saucer, crash-landing not far from Mossy Bottom Farm. Shaun soon becomes her bosom friend, once he has got over the shock of her being able to mimic any animal sound or noise. Mayhem ensues, as the iron maiden head of the Ministry of Alien Detection turns up with her team of assistants and robots, thrilled at the prospect of nabbing her first specimen. The farmer meanwhile has the idea of capitalising on all the local media stories about UFOs to turn his run-down property into a UFO theme park: Farmageddon. The only character who actually says anything is the little girl alien (slightly too Disneyesque for my liking), and one quickly learns the alien words for Mummy and Daddy. But this is far from a silent movie. The noises are a big part of the fun. And this movie is fun, from beginning to end, skillfully providing fodder for toddlers alongside cheeky asides to mature Dr Who fans and film references galore. The pace is breathless; in fact, the gags come so thick and fast one can easily miss some of them, but even adolescents with a short attention span are unlikely to get bored. I was sad that almost all the songs that accompany the film are American as Shaun the Sheep, like Wallace & Grommit, is quintessentially British, but I guess Aardman had to have an eye on the lucrative North American market. Nonetheless, the film is a joy and just what’s needed as Brexit enters its endgame — or not.

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The Day Shall Come **

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 14th October, 2019

The Day Shall ComeWhen a delusional young black pseudo-religious leader in Miami called Moses is intent on fomenting revolution against white capitalist society — with the aid of just four disciples, a horse and a battered old yellow school bus — he attracts the interest of the local chapter of the FBI, who have had little success in unearthing potential Islamist terrorist cells. Their dastardly plan is to frame him, with the assistance of various hapless characters, including a long-haired Persian paedophile and a fake neo-Nazi redneck group. The idea is that he should think he is going to earn $100,000 by trading what he is led to believe is uranium, so at last he will be able to pay the overdue rent on the tatty little farmstead where he lives with his wife and daughter. But Moses is so monumentally inept, as well as torn by moral doubts, that he manages to sabotage almost everything he does. The FBI agents meanwhile dig themselves ever deeper into a hole of their own making, leading to a catastrophic showdown in a roadside diner. In the meantime just about every politically incorrect remark has been made. The scandalous sentiments and behaviour are played strictly for laughs under the direction of Chris Morris, despite a few bitter twists. To a degree this is slapstick with a subversive political undertone, which many audiences may find riotously funny, but which left me pretty cold because most of the characters are such caricatures. The only saving grace is the very fine performance by the actor who plays Moses, Marchánt Davis; he conveys the sense that half-crazed Moses really believes in himself and his fantasies, so therefore the viewer can too.

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The London LibDem Conference

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 13th October, 2019

London LibDems conference 2019Yesterday London Liberal Democrats packed the congregational church in Kentish Town for an autumn conference that was a mixture of celebration and determination. The celebration was largely because of the brilliant European election results in May, when the party topped the polls in London, sending three MEPs to Brussels.Moreover, the region’s membership at 24,000 is three times what it was a decade ago — and many new faces were at the conference. These included Luciana Berger MP, formerly Labour but who will be standing for the LibDems in Finchley and Golders Green when the election comes around. She gave a short speech recounting this political journey and was clearly pleased to have found a welcoming new home. Luisa Porritt, a Camden councillor who was elected an MEP in May and who is now Deputy Leader of the 16-strong LibDem group in the European Parliament, briefed the meeting on what she and her colleagues are doing to encourage continental counterparts to help keep Britain in the EU.

London LibDems conference 2019 1Deputy Leader Ed Davey, MP for Kingston and Surbiton, highlighted the work that the parliamentary party is doing to stop Brexit and urged everyone to go on the People’s Vote march next Saturday — and to bring along family and friends. For me, one of the most striking parts of the conference, however, was the impressive line-up of women PPCs who are standing in what are now winnable seats in heavily Remain parts of the capital: Rabina Khan, Humaira Ali, Hina Bokhari, Munira Wilson and Sarah Olney. There was a time not that long ago when the party’s MPs were embarrassingly uniformly male and white but these days the LibDems reflect the make up of multi-cultural London much more and that should be clearer still after the general election. That is likely to be the next challenge on the electoral horizon, but the conference was also focussed on the London Assembly and Mayoral elections next May. Caroline Pidgeon spoke of her work on the GLA, notably regarding transport, and mayoral candidate Siobhan Benita gave an inspirational keynote speech outlining her main priorities, ranging from a preventive approach to knife rime to the decriminalisation of cannabis.

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Eurocapitales 2019

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 7th October, 2019

JF speaking at Eurocapitales 2019I spent the latter half of last week in Paris attending the 2019 gathering of Eurocapitales, an association of individuals and groups mainly linked to the European Movement, celebrating some of the great cities of Europe while discussing topical subjects. Paris currently operates as the organisational hub as well, thanks in large part to the tireless efforts of Jean-Paul Doguet, though there are plans to set up a European not-for-profit body under Belgian law in Brussels. The four countries represented at the 2019 encounter were Finland, France, Greece and the United Kingdom, and the French provided generous and memorable hospitality at a couple of Paris’s notable restaurants as well as a closing dinner in the Salon Napoleon at the French Senate in the Palais de Luxembourg.

The discussion programme was in two halves, covering Brexit and Artificial Intelligence. I was one of the morning speakers outlining the current state of Brexit — less easy than that might at first sound, as the position changes almost daily and no-one — not even Prime Minister Boris Johnson, for all his bluster — knows exactly what will happen between now and October 31 (the theoretical UK departure day), let alone beyond. It was interesting to note that some of the French participants seemed to assume that Brexit will indeed happen, with or without a deal, whereas both I and fellow Brit, Mark Paterson, thought it may well not, particularly if there is a second referendum. In my speech I focussed particularly on the post-Truth nature of modern British political discourse and the media, Trumpian in its outlandish lies, of which Boris Johnson is a prime culprit. One thing everyone did agree on was that Brexit would be bad for the EU and even worse for Britain, though paradoxically the whole Brexit debacle has actually raised the positive understanding of the European project, on both sides of the Channel.

One might have thought that AI would prove to be a less heated subject, but not a bit of it. I was particularly interested in the contributions relating to Smart Cities and the increasing participation of AI in so many aspects of urban life today — which can only increase in the future. But serious concerns were raised about moral and ethical issues relating to AI, from driverless cars to critical non-human decision-making, which I suspect will indeed preoccupy many of us as what has been called the Fourth Industrial Revolution is rolled out.

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Eurasian Culture Week

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 3rd October, 2019

Chinghiz Aitmatov 1Last night I gave a talk about Oscar Wilde and the Central Asian writer Chinghiz Aitmatov, reprising a theme I focussed on in two presentations last December at two universities in Kazakhstan. Aitmatov (1928-2008) is revered in his home country of Kyrgyzstan and managed to assert his literary presence in Moscow during Soviet tomes despite the fact that his father had been purged as an Enemy of the People. He was thus an “outside insider”, just as Oscar Wilde, who came from Ireland, was able to conquer literary and social London before his downfall. Though the two writers were very different in many ways they both had a social mission and wrote about strong women and ambiguous aspects of human relationships, rejecting the white/black good/bad moral compass of both Victorian London and the USSR. Aitmatov’s writings are still not very widely known in Britain — with perhaps the sole exception of his story Jamila — though he was widely recognised in Germany, where he died. There is sure to be a big celebration when his centenary comes round in 2028.

AbaiAt the Eurasian Culture Week where I appeared, held in the Premiere cinema in the Mercury Centre in Romford, the main subject for literary attention was the Kazakh poet Abai Qunanbaiuly, with whom certain parallels have been drawn with the German master Goethe. Goethe himself, of course, was highly influenced by the Persian poet Hafiz, giving rise to his West-Eastern Divan. Such cross-cultural links have long intrigued me. The Eurasian Culture Week, organised by Marat Akhmedjanov and the Eurasian Creative Guild, also featured an exhibition of paintings by artists from Central Asia and displays of books and presentations by authors from the region. Earlier this year there was an Eurasian Film Festival, also at the Premiere cinema, so the cultural significance of the vast steppes is beginning to get its due notice, not just the hydrocarbon riches of the area.

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