Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for the ‘UK politics’ Category

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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Does Anyone Know Labour’s Brexit Plan?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 26th September, 2018

Keir Starmer 1Sir Keith Starmer caused great delight among Remainers at the Labour Party conference in Liverpool yesterday when he went off-script and said that not only was a public vote (he avoided the campaigning People’s Vote) on Brexit “on the table” but that this would include an option to Remain. After a moment’s stunned silence, hundreds of delegates were on their feet applauding, while veteran Eurosceptic Dennis Skinner sat scowling on the front row. He will not have been alone in his dismay, as some trade union leaders have been arguing that there should be a referendum, but only between Mrs May’s deal with the EU (whatever that turns out to be) or No Deal — a line also adopted by Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell. On Newsnight last night, Emily Maitlis tried valiantly to get a straight answer out of Diane Abbott about what Labour’s position on Brexit now is, but as so often with the Shadow Home Secretary, it was like trying to pin down blancmange. Basically Ms Abbott argued that we would have to wait and see what Mrs May came up with. But as nothing Mrs May can come up with is going to satisfy the Six Tests by which Labour said it would judge the Brexit deal, this is just kicking the can down the road. Surely the Opposition, just six months out from EU Departure Day, ought to have a coherent policy on Brexit by now? Instead their default position remains “We want a general election!” However, Theresa May has said there is not going to be a snap general election. So get off the fence on Brexit before it is too late, Labour. Are you now in favour of a People’s Vote (Like the Liberal Democrats and the Greens) and if so, will Remain be an option, as Keir Starmer stated, or is all this still an exercise in smoke and mirrors?

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Corbyn Has to Go

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 19th September, 2018

Jeremy Corbyn smallOn a personal level, I have always got on well with Jeremy Corbyn. We have sometimes shared platforms, at home and abroad, on issues of mutual concern, such as Kurdish rights and Palestine. On such occasions, his integrity and passion for justice shine through. I haven’t seen him so often since he became Leader of the Labour Party; in fact, I believe the last time was a glimpse of him within a huddle of admirers at (Lord) Eric Avebury’s memorial event. But of course I have been following what he has been doing. And not doing. Especially in respect to Brexit. Jeremy always had grave misgivings about the European Union, as a “capitalist club” which supposedly did not have the interests of the workers at heart. But one would have hoped that with the evidence about the economic and social benefits that Britain has enjoyed during the 45 years of its EEC/EU membership, he would have appreciated the fact that it is better to be in than be out. In principle, he backed Remain in the 2016 EU Referendum, but so sotto voce as to be almost inaudible. And despite the cross-party clamour for a People’s Vote on the Conservative government’s EU deal (always assuming it reaches one), he has basically sat on the fence about the whole issue. Indeed, that is putting it kindly, as in fact both his legs are dangling over the side of No New Vote and Leave.

Labour Party Conference 2018Meanwhile, despite the fact that the May government is probably the most incompetent in recent political history, with Brexit clearly going disastrously wrong, the Conservatives have been ahead of Labour in several recent opinion polls. This is not because voters believe Theresa May is doing brilliantly; on the contrary, her approval rating is dire. But Jeremy Corbyn’s is even worse, when people are asked who they would like to see as Prime Minister. Jeremy does of course have a huge fan club, not least the Momentum movement, which helped the Labour Party to surge to an astonishing 600,000+ members — more than all the other political parties put together. But Momentum does not speak for all Labour voters, let alone for the public at large. Moreover, the plain truth is that a very significant proportion of the British electorate do not see Corbyn as a credible leader to steer Britain through the approaching choppy waters. He could, of course, redeem himself at the forthcoming Labour conference in Liverpool by coming out in favour of a People’s Vote on the Brexit deal, as many of his MPs and indeed labour Party members want. But if he doesn’t, then I think most people (and certainly informed political commentators) will come away with the view that Labour is not ready for power, unless and until Jeremy Corbyn goes.

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Boris Johnson: Trump or Chump

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 7th September, 2018

Boris Johnson scowlThe Daily Mail and the Sun today are both headlining a story that former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has been thrown out of the family home by his wife because of yet another alleged extramarital affair. It’s hard to feel sorry for him, however, as he has behaved like a cad in this and other matters. Besides, he earns so much from his cringe-worthy column in the Daily Telegraph that he can afford to stay in a smart hotel near Parliament while it is sitting. Or indeed buy a house in his constituency, Uxbridge; I can imagine his nose wrinkling at that thought. But of course peccadilloes are not the real reason Boris should be in the dog-house. It’s his political dishonesty and overblown ego that grate. Even some of his senior fellow Conservatives have started to call him a charlatan. It is well known that in the run-up to the 2016 EU Referendum he couldn’t decide whether to back Leave or Remain, eventually opting for Leave because he thought that way he would win the backing of genuine Brexiteers in his party. And having done so, he became their cheerleader.This was clearly all part of his plan to become Prime Minister. Theresa May bought him off by making him Foreign Secretary, rather than sacking him — inflicting harm on Britain’s reputation abroad in the process — but one has to feel a little sorry for Mrs May, as she knows that Boris would metaphorically slip a plastic bag over her head when he feels the time is ripe. Moreover, opinion polls suggest that Boris would be Conservative voters’ preferred candidate as a replacement Leader, which is a pretty damning indictment of the quality of other Tory Ministers. And Boris does reach parts of the electorate that other Tories don’t; I’ve lost count of the number of young black Londoners who have told me they think Boris is great — a laugh. But Boris is much more than a comedian with a handy way with words. He sees himself as an English Trump, which at this delicate stage in Britain’s political evolution is the last thing the country needs. I rather doubt that sufficient Conservative MPs would give him their backing to make a leadership bid viable, anyway, as they realise Boris is more chump than Trump. And they have no wish for Britain to become even more of an international laughing stock than it is already, thanks to Brexit.

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Britain up a Cul-de-sac

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 22nd August, 2018

May Corbyn 1August is traditionally the political silly season, where nothing of import happens and the media look for quirky stories to fill newspaper pages or broadcasting airtime. We have had a little bit of that this year, for example all the hype given to the rescue of a woman who somehow managed to “fall” off the back of a cruise ship. But otherwise here in Britain there is an air of gloom about the place, like an invisible pea-souper fog, all to do with Brexit. Prime Minister Theresa May must know that she is on a hiding to nothing, pursuing her Chequers vision of a Brexit deal with the other 27 EU member states; Michel Barnier quiet rightly said after his meeting with Brexit Minister Dominic Raab on Monday that Britain cannot expect the rules-based EU to change its principles or to undermine the integrity of the single market just because Britain is hell-bent on leaving. But the official Opposition gives no cause for cheer on this front either. Jeremy Corbyn yesterday failed six times to give a straight answer to a straight question from Channel 4 News, as to whether he believed Britain would be better off outside the EU. Of course, both he and Theresa May know the answer to that is “No”, as is becoming increasingly clear, but they are afraid to say so. The Armageddon option on Brexit is a “no deal” situation, which Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt recently rashly suggested was a strong possibility, which professional bodies such as the British Medical Association and the Road Hauliers Association have warned would lead to serious shortages and cuts to services, as well as higher prices and a possible run on the pound. The plain truth is that Brexit Britain is up a cul-de-sac, and with both major parties (accordingly to Ipsos MORI) currently polling 40% each, the electorate clearly doesn’t know which way to turn. But as anyone who drives into a narrow cul-de-sac knows, there is only one sensible strategy to follow: back up and back out.

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Boris and the “Burka Ban”

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 8th August, 2018

NiqabThe former Foreign Secretary and Tory bad-boy, Boris Johnson, has well and truly put the cat among the pigeons with his Daily Telegraph column in which he likened Muslim women who wear the “burka” to letter boxes and bank robbers. I am sure he well knows that what he is talking about is the niqab (face veil) rather than the burka, but he is happy to chime with the populist riff in which “burka ban” has a satisfyingly alliterative resonance. This is more than a storm in a tea-cup, as several important issues are at stake. First, we live in a liberal, multicultural democracy in Britain, in which everyone should be free to wear whatever he or she wishes. Many white British may find the niqab unattractive or disturbing, but similarly many Muslims find topless bathers at least as offensive. As for the burka, while I saw lots of these in Afghanistan, and know that they have appeared in parts of north-west Pakistan, I have never seen one in England, though some of the many hundreds of people who have responded to a tweet of mine earlier today about the burka affair have assured me that  they have seen some in Ilford and Leicester. Anyway, the point is that it is not for us to tell people what they should wear, otherwise we become like some of the authoritarian societies which we rightly criticise.

burkaBut of course, there is a more important political point, namely that Boris Johnson has refused to apologise for his offensive remarks, despite being urged to by the Chairman of the Conservative Party, Brandon Lewis, and, more weakly, by the Prime Minister. By refusing to agree, Boris Johnson is essentially showing two fingers to Theresa May, knowing she is too weak to sack him (he resigned as Foreign Secretary, remember; he was not sacked, though he should have been). I agree with Lord Sheikh, founder of the Conservative Muslim Forum, that Boris Johnson should have the Conservative whip withdrawn if he stubbornly refuses to back down. Islamophobia is a problem within the Conservative Party, and whereas I do not believe Boris Johnson is personally Islamophobic (indeed, part of his pedigree is Turkish), I do believe that he is shamelessly pandering to the more disgusting of right-wing prejudices. He appears to be modelling himself on Donald Trump, saying the most outrageous things, knowing that he will carry a certain amount of the population with him. But Britain does not need such populism, nor should be tolerate it. We said “No!” in the 1930s, and we should say “No!” now.

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Devaluation of Political Discourse

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 25th July, 2018

Donald Trump 5Last night I did one of my occasional slots on the one-and-a-half hour (Bangladeshi) Channel S TV current affairs show, Let’s Talk. It was sweltering in the studio — the air conditioning was too noisy to be left on during live transmission — and all three of us (me, the host and another studio guest) were roasting in suits and ties. Moreover, the topic for discussion was a heated one: reactions to Donald Trump’s recent visit to the UK and the effect of Trumpism on politics globally. A caller for Oxford bemoaned the fact that Trump has encouraged people to follow his example to use coarse words (as well as bending the truth, of course), which enabled me to talk about what I see as the davaluation of political discourse. Rational debate has often given way to shouty confrontation, and “alternative facts” are seen as equally valid as the truth, providing you believe in them. I am all in favour of satire at appropriate moments — and indeed quite often poke fun at the more absurd arguments of Brexiteers on twitter. But it is clear that social media have encouraged the decline in respect for logic and evidence-based judgments. Mr Trump is partly to blame for this, as some people, on both sides of the Atlantic, feel that if the Tweeter-in-Chief can blast off like an angry child in a playground, so can they. The mainstream media has aided and abetted this lowering of standards. As I said on the programme last night, it was disgraceful that a newspaper such as the Daily Telegraph should pose the question whether Theresa May is a “traitor” because of her Chequers Soft Brexit plan. The gutter Press, not least the Express and the Mail, have continued their obnoxious Brexiteer tirades; do you remember that awful headline about Supreme Court judges being “enemies of the people”? Brexit and Trump are two sides of the same coin, and just as Trump’s rhetoric encourages white Americans to turn against immigrants, Muslims and Mexicans, so the Brexiteer narrative, personified by Nigel Farage, has turned a section of the British public against East Europeans, other ethnic minorities and Islam — fuelling support for anti-hero “Tommy Robinson” and the English Defence League. The BBC, for which I worked almost full-time for 20 years, is itself guilty in giving undue oxygen to extremists; Farage has appeared on Question Time more than any other guest. Meanwhile, both in the United States and here in Britain, society is polarising to such a degree that it is no longer fanciful to draw parallels with the 1930s. We all know what the devaluation of political discourse led to then. It is in everyone’s true interest to ensure that doesn’t happen again.

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A Summer of Discontent

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 18th July, 2018

The Summer of Our DiscontentWere the likely effects of Brexit not so serious, the shambolic way the Government is handling matters would be laughable. At a weekend Cabinet gathering at Chequers earlier this month, Theresa May put forward her version of a Soft Brexit plan. All the Cabinet supported it at the time, but within days, David Davis and Boris Johnson had both resigned and the latter was extremely rude about the proposed deal, which he said would make Britain a colony of the EU. I’d been saying for months that Mrs May should sack Boris before he had the chance to resign, but in the event, both have been weakened by the way things have happened. In the meantime, several other (junior) Ministers have resigned, as well as other Conservative party luminaries, most of whom one had never heard of. But the debates about related bills in the House of Commons this week have taken the whole Brexit saga down to a new low. Mrs May caved in to the demands of Jacob Rees-Mogg and his euphemistically-named European Research Group and made her Soft Brexit a little harder. A dozen Tory rebels nobly voted to keep the UK within EU medicines regime, but on other issues the Government saw off amendments, with the help of the Labour Brexiteer Gang of Four, Kate Hoey. Frank Field, John  Mann and Grahame Stringer. The Government hoped to prorogue Parliament tomorrow, five days early, to limit inconvenient debate, but dropped that idea when it became clear that the suggestion was dead in the water. The problem is, Mrs May’s Soft Brexit is dead in the water, too; a country can’t effectively be within the Single Market for some things and outside it for others. The EU, rightly, will not compromise on the four freedoms, so Mrs May is just wasting time pursuing pipe dreams. In the meantime, Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn is failing pathetically to stand up to this government nonsense — mainly because he has always been hostile to the EU. And even though a majority of Labour MPs were Remainers (and most probably still are), they are frightened to stick their heads too far above the parapet, with noble exceptions such as Chuka Umunna, David Lammy and Ben Bradshaw. Doubtless the Prime Minister will be hoping that things go quiet over the recess, but I woudn’t count on that. With both the Brexiteers and the anti-Brexiteers angry about the current mess, it is likely to be a long, hot summer of discontent.

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Bye-bye BoJo

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 10th July, 2018

Boris Johnson and John McKendrickYesterday there was a collective sigh of relief within the Westminster village when Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson finally resigned. His sudden departure from one of the four great offices of state had been looming for months; the only question was: would Prime Minister Theresa May sack him or would he quit? It was probably quite shrewd of Mrs May to leave the initiative up to him, therefore making herself theoretically blameless, though the drama of his leaving was anyway upstaged by Brexit Secretary David Davis jumping ship first. As ever not a gentleman, BoJo sent the PM a particularly unpleasant letter of resignation, effectively calling her compromise deal on Britain’s strategy for the Brexit negotiations (which he had in principle endorsed at the weekend Cabinet gathering at Chequers) a betrayal of Leave voters, as well as claiming Britain will become a “colony” of the EU as a result. However, the general feeling around Westminster is that Johnson has weakened, not strengthened, his own political position (the only thing that ever really concerned him) and that he is therefore further away from his goal of becoming Prime Minister. Several of his erstwhile colleagues in government have been quite uncomplimentary about him, but the prize for unfond farewells must go to the Attorney General of Anguilla, John McKendrick QC, who tweeted the photo shown here with the caption: “Meeting the worst Foreign Secretary we’ve ever had amongst the destruction of Hurricane Irma in Anguilla. Disinterested and out of his depth he cared nothing for our situation. Good riddance.” Touché!

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