Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for the ‘UK politics’ Category

No, a General Election Is Not the Answer

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 10th January, 2019

jeremy corbyn 3The Leader of he Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn has made a speech calling for a general election, arguing that this is the most “practical and democratic” solution to the current Brexit impasse. Quite apart from the fact that almost all recent opinion polls suggest that Labour would not win such an election, however much Mr Corbyn may dream of being Prime Minister, with less than three months to go before EU Departure Day, a general election would be a time-consuming distraction from the matter at hand. Besides, it is hard to see how such an election would be brought about, as most of the Tory rebels who have inflicted a couple of significant defeats on the Government in recent days would not vote for an election, and it needs two thirds of the House of Commons to do so. After Jeremy Corbyn’s speech, Channel 4’s Jon Snow asked a very pertinent question about whether the Labour Leader has given thought to the young people — including those not old enough to vote in the 2016 EU Referendum — who overwhelmingly want to stay in the European Union and who back a People’s Vote. Mr Corbyn’s response was that young people would benefit from the policies of a Labour government, which completely misses the point. The sad fact is that Jeremy is a Brexiteer, despite his half-hearted support for Remain in 2016, and what he wants to try to deliver is a Labour Brexit. This again is cloud cuckoo land fantasy, as the EU has made perfectly clear that there cannot be a new Brexit negotiation. The deal brokered by the Conservative government is the only one on the table. So instead of fantasizing about going to the country in the hope of bringing about a Socialist Britain the Labour Leader should listen to his members and supporters, who by a large majority want to Remain, and back the campaign for a People’s Vote.

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Brexit Is Breaking Britain’s Politics

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 8th January, 2019

anna soubry demonstratorsI’m often on College Green, Westminster, filming TV interviews for Middle Eastern channels, but whereas the atmosphere there used to be rather jolly, things have recently taken a more sinister turn. One had become used to anti-Brexit campaigner Steve Bray photo-bombing shots and couldn’t help but smile when he turned up with an immense pole so that he could hold up his placards even when the BBC installed high gantries in an effort to thwart him. But what has been happening in recent days is of an entirely different nature and that is the aggressive behaviour of far-right Brexiteers — often wearing yellow high-vis jackets — heckling and threatening both politicians and journalists. Anna Soubry, the brave Conservative former Minister who has been calling for a People’s Vote on the Brexit “deal”, was called a Nazi by hecklers and closely followed by them after a TV interview in a most intimidating way. While police were around, they were low-key in their response, apparently unsure how to balance the traditional British attitude to free speech with the right of citizens to be protected against serious abuse, including death threats. Fifty MPs have reportedly urged the Metropolitan Police to be more protective and many of us have in the back of of our minds the dreadful murder of MP Jo Cox in the run-up to the 2016 EU Referendum. The current Brexit Minister, Steve Barclay, has argued that the bad behaviour by the far right is a reason why we should not have a People’s Vote, as public division would become even more strident if we did. But that is a profoundly undemocratic position to take, in my view. One should not give in to intimidation. Meanwhile, things are likely to get worse over the next few days, with a parliamentary vote on Mrs May’s deal scheduled for next Tuesday. If it is defeated — as is highly likely — then the country will enter into uncharted political territory; even the Prime Minister does not seem to have much clue what would happen next. All the more reason, therefore, to curb the activities of extremists who are threatening the peaceful conduct of political debate in this country. They claim they are defending British values (though their Britain is a white, racist construct), whereas in fact they are in danger of destroying them. Brexit is breaking Britain’s politics as well as trashing the country’s international reputation. The voices of reason, backed by the Law, must prevail.

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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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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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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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