The United Kingdom was scheduled to take over the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union on 1 July 2017, giving the Brits a wonderful opportunity to help steer an EU reform agenda with the support of several of its continental partners. But Prime Minister Theresa May has told her EU counterparts that Britain will not in fact assume the presidency. The reason is clear: she has declared that “Brexit is Brexit”, and even if the UK technically will remain a member of the Union until the end of 2018 or even beyond, it has already started to walk out of the door. With each day that passes, now, the government in London will have less and less influence in Brussels. British Ministers will not be listened to with the attention they previously got, British MEPs cannot expect to be appointed to key positions in the European Parliament and the other 27 states will inevitably focus inwards on how to move the EU forward without the obstreperous Brits. This all adds up to a tragic missed chance to help make the EU work better for all its members. The majority of EU states are now likely to integrate further, with Britain firmly on the outside. Perhaps the best Britain can now hope for is some sort of associate membership, or at least to be part of the EEA (European Economic Area), but that would of course mean accepting free movement of people, which is what many Brexiteers said they wanted to end. The sad truth is that the government still has no clear plan for what Brexit will mean, but is blindly heading in that direction. For me this is the greatest national tragedy since the end of the Second World War.
Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 20th July, 2016
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 17th July, 2016
This week, my childhood memoir, Eccles Cakes: An Odd Tale of Survival, was published and a number of people have asked me why I waited so long to write it. After all, I had produced 14 volumes of biography, history and other non-fiction since 1975, so why wait until I was in my mid-sixties? The simple answer is that I just wasn’t ready, emotionally, but of course, as Oscar Wilde famously said, the truth is rarely pure and never simple. The fact is that I could not have written the book until two important things happened (not that I realised that in advance). First was that, following a recurrence a few years ago of the panic attacks and blackouts that I had experienced as a child, along with depression and total lethargy, I was referred to a psychologist who rightly diagnosed the problem as being that I had not processed the period of sexual abuse I had suffered between the ages of about seven and 12. I had shut memories of this away in the deepest recesses of my mind, hidden behind a wall of metaphorical cotton wool, but now they had escaped and were starting to bite me. As a result of the daignosis, I underwent six months of counselling, culminating in several sessions of recovered-memory therapy. No drugs or hypnosis were used, but I was transported back to my childhood self and relived in graphic detail, technicolour and with smells and sounds, the episodes in which my adoptive father had sexually interfered with me, leaving me feeling confused, unhappy and eventually guilty. I then, through therapy, as an adult revisited my childhood self, and tried to come to terms with what had happened. As part of the therapy, I had to write short passages after the sessions, including a letter to my abuser and his wife.
However, I knew I would only get any meaningful level of closure if I extended these scraps of writing into a full-length book. The therapy sessions had retrieved all sorts of memories in graphic detail, and I still had copies of the diaries that I wrote from the age of 18 onwards. It took me 18 months of quite intense and often emotionally stressful work to produce a manuscript I was happy with. Yet I doubt if that would have been possible without the second, unexpected, factor, which was being reunited with my birth family, or at least two sisters and a variety of nieces and nephews. This happened two years ago following a letter out of the blue from my older birth sister after the younger one had tracked me down through a Google search. This reunification was the subject of a sensitively-produced documentary in the BBC series, Family Finders. Now they had become part of my life after a separation of more than half a century I had found some missing pieces of the jigsaw that completed the picture for Eccles Cakes. That memoir only goes up to shortly past my 19th birthday, but in it my unseen birth mother is a real presence, as she was in my mind as a child. The incidents recounted in the book where she watched over me, without my knowledge, are based on fact, as is, naturally,m everything else. So now it is out there, and I am indeed now able to achieve a form of closure.
paperback from Lulu books: https://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjLhvm01frNAhVFSBQKHaPmCZEQFggeMAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.lulu.com%2Fgb%2Fen%2Fshop%2Fjonathan-fryer%2Feccles-cakes-an-odd-tale-of-survival%2Fpaperback%2Fproduct-22780714.html&usg=AFQjCNFwlxg9Yjx9oJ6mMkVnDwZYX7aGqg
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 16th July, 2016
Like many people, I first became aware of the attempted coup in Turkey last night through twitter. I turned on the BBC News channel, but it was still examining the aftermath of the Nice terrorist attack; however, true to form, Al Jazeera was already screening rolling news footage from Istanbul, Ankara and Gaziantep. For an hour of so it looked as if the coup might be taking hold, as rebel soldiers took over Istanbul’s Ataturk airport and false rumours circulation on US news channels that President Erdogan had fled to Europe. Then he appeared on CNN Turk via a video call on his mobile phone and one after another the leaders of the country’s other main political parties issued statements condemning the insurrection. Mr Erdogan called on Turks to go out into the streets to demonstrate their resistance to this assault on democracy and hundreds of thousands of them bravely did so, despite the dangers. As it is, according to official figures released today, 161 civilians were among the 265 fatalities overnight. However, shortly after midnight London time it was clear to me that the coup had failed and I was able to go to bed with a clear conscience.
Today, I was glad to have the opportunity to join some of London’s Turks and friends at a SoldarityForDemocracy rally opposite Downing Street in Westminster. In my short speech to the crowd I said that people in Britain stand side-by-side with Turks as they protect their democracy. Military coups used to be a regular feature of political life in Turkey but they cannot be allowed to become so again. But the challenges facing Turkey now are enormous. Thousands of mutineering soldiers have been arrested and there is bound to be a witch-hunt against alleged coup plotters; many within the ruling AKParty blame supporters of Fetullah Gulen, even accusing him personally of orchestrating it from America. I was glad to see that the affiliated Hizmet Movement in the UK was quick to put out a statement condemning the assault on democracy, but I fear that in Turkey — where already media associated with the Movement has been closed down or harassed — the Movement will come under greater pressure. Hundreds of sympathetic judges are said to have been dismissed today. Moreover, Turkey’s tourist industry, already severely hit by a number of terrorist incidents in Istanbul, Ankara and elsewhere, is now likely to go into free-fall, which will seriously hit the livelihoods of many thousands of Turks.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 15th July, 2016
Earlier this week, in my role as Chair of the Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine, I was invited to a hearing on anti-Semitism at the Home Affairs Committee of the House of Commons, along with my LDFoP colleague Miranda Pinch and two representatives each of our Labour and SNP sister organisations (three of them MPs). Committee Chair Keith Vaz MP started off by asking me outright whether criticising Israel could be considered anti-Semitic, to which I was able to answer confidently “No!”; the continued occupation of the West Bank and other territories as well as some of the actions of the Israel Defense Force are in clear violation of international law and therefore can be justifiably condemned by anyone who has a sense of justice. As a Liberal Democrat I oppose all forms of discrimination and prejudice, so that of course includes anti-Semitism, but I argued that exceptionalism should not tempt us to single anti-Semitism out from other forms of ethnic, religious, gender or other forms of discrimination. The panel of MPs on the committee — which included David Burrowes as well as David Winnick — were astonished to learn that all six of us giving evidence and answering questions had been attacked as “racist” and “anti-Semitic” because we have campaigned for the Palestinian cause, but that is indeed the case. Miranda was able to give an interesting perspective as a (non-practising) Jew and she said that some of the worst attacks on her had come from Christian Zionists. We and the SNP participants pointed out that we try to avoid using the word Zionism because it can mean different things and instead are always careful to refer to the Israeli government or IDF, rather than saying, as many in the Middle East do, “the Jews”. Apparently Jeremy Corbyn, the embattled Labour Party leader, had a rough time before the committee a while ago, mainly because he had referred to representatives of Hamas and Hizbollah as “friends”. But one of the SNP MPs, Philippa Whitford (who has worked as a surgeon in Gaza, and hails originally from Belfast) pointed out that just as in Northern Ireland peace was only achieved by engaging with the IRA and Protestant extremists, so peace in Israel-Palestine will only come about if Hamas and other groups are included in talks. All six of us participants still in principle support a two-state solution, but all fear that ongoing settlement activity and the intransigence of the Netanyahu government mean that is in danger of being made impossible. But both Israelis and Palestinians will have be involved in determining their own future. The Home Affairs Committee report that will emerge from these hearings should be published in September.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: anti-Semitism, Binyamin Netanyahu, David Burrowes, David Winnick, Hamas, Hizbolklah, IDF, Israel, Jeremy Corbyn, Keith Vaz, LDFoP, Miranda Pinch, Palestine, Philippa Whitford | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 13th July, 2016
The Arab-Israeli conflict is often presented in black and white terms, depending on which side one’s sympathies mainly lie, yet when it comes to the lives and emotions of people on the ground in Israel or the Occupied Territories there are in fact many shades of grey. Journalist and novelist Jemma Wayne chooses for the principal cast of her new book Chains of Sand (Legend Press, £9.99) young people struggling to come to terms with the tensions and at times outright violence of situations not only in the Middle East but also in the Jewish diaspora living in London. A girl from West Jerusalem becomes romantically involved with a young Arab man from the East in a case of forbidden love that can only end in tragedy. A young British Jew, against the wishes of his family, wishes to emigrate to Israel despite the fact that he might get dragged into the ongoing conflict in Gaza, while in a neat mirror image a young Israeli wishes to shift his life in the other direction. The characters’ dilemmas are exacerbated by politics, religion, gender, generational differences and above all by a quest for their true identity. Even when they are socialising, in the bars of Tel Aviv or the coffee shops of Golders Green, unseen but keenly felt dangers lurk off-stage, sometimes bursting in on them with shocking intensity. So many books on Israel-Palestine — both fact and fiction — embrace the narrative and perspectives of one side or the other, but to her credit Jemma Wayne avoids that easy option, instead weaving interlocking stories that constantly question one’s own understanding of the situation as well as that of the characters. That makes the novel unsettling, challenging, at times an uncomfortable read but stimulating in its acceptance of the complexities of the human condition and the challenge of conflicting loyalties.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 4th July, 2016
Despite what most Brexiteers believed, the European Union has been a great success as a peace project. That is the central thesis of veteran Indian peace and justice campaigner Vijay Mehta’s latest book, Peace beyond Borders (Catapult, £9.99), in which he argues that exporting the EU model to other parts of the world would help end conflicts. In fact, several other parts of the world have indeed been regionalising in recent decades, from South East Asia (ASEAN) to the Gulf Arab states (GCC) and South America (UNASUR). None has up till now gone as far in terms of economic let alone political integration as the EU, but they all acknowledge that they are stronger together. The author looks at each continent or sub-continent in turn, seeing how cooperation has overcome divisions and historic rivalries, as well as championing the potential of further cooperation. This strengthening of a multipolar global reality is healthy, he believes, rather than the United States being the only super-power (as it became after the collapse of the Soviet Union), acting like some sort of world policeman. In a final section, Vijay Mehta acknowledges that there are nationalist forces resisting the sharing of sovereignty, just as within some countries (including the UK and Spain) there are forces that want more regional autonomy or even independence. Scotland, of course, may well re-examine the case for independence if Brexit is now successfully implemented, preferring to remain within the EU. Reading this book one can only lament that just over half the voters of Britain did not understand the elements of peace and hope inherent in the European project. Had some been able to read it before they cast their vote on 23 June, maybe it would have changed their minds.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 3rd July, 2016
I was so shattered by last week’s EU Referendum outcome that I haven’t been able to write my blog, but yesterday’s March for Europe in central London lifted my spirits. An estimated 50,000 people congregated at Hyde Park Corner, before marching to Parliament Square, waving UK and EU flags and holding aloft hand-made signs, many bearing witty puns. There was a large Liberal Democrat contingent, with Tim Farron leading; both he and the party got numerous cheers, as having campaigned overtly for Remain. What I found most encouraging was the response of the public as the march went past: waves and yells from visitors on the London Tour buses and lots of honking horns from motorists. There was a carnival atmosphere, aided by the sun and spontaneous outbursts of song, yet there was no ignoring the fact that many people in the crowd (including me) were angry that Britain may be taken out of the EU on a narrow referendum vote at least partly influenced by the lies of the Leave campaign. Having brought about this disaster, by calling an unnecessary referendum, Prime Minister David Cameron has now washed his hands of all responsibility, though he will stay in office over the summer, a lame duck while five contenders of varying degrees of charm/repulsiveness slug it out to succeed him. All, alas, are committed to going ahead with Brexit, though many on the march yesterday hopes that the almost inevitable failure to come up with a desirable post-Brexit plan might change some minds. Other marchers were demanding an election. And where was Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition? At an event in his constituency, apparently; having been lukewarm at best in backing Remain he had doubtless been advised that he risked getting booed if he turned up on the march.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 17th June, 2016
I never met the young Labour MP Jo Cox but for some time I had been aware of her campaigning — on International Development, Syrian refugees and, most recently, for the Remain side in the EU Referendum. The image of her that will ways stick in my mind was of her and her husband Brendan and their two very excited young children in a rubber dinghy on the River Thames on Wednesay, waving an IN flag at the Brexit flotilla commanded by Nigel Farage. The Coxes got sprayed with water by one of the fishing boats in response. But that small act of aggression was nothing compared to the awful murder of Jo Cox yesterday, by a man who several eye witnesses say shouted “Britain First!”
A few days ago I wrote of what I called the Trumpification of British politics, the way that a respect for truth and rational debate has increasingly gone out of the window in British political discourse. I lamented the way some politicians and campaigners are happy to lie brazenly, while on social media — not least Twitter — vile abuse against political opponents has become commonplace. I guess like many Brits I thought we might be spared the sort of physical aggression and outright violence that has been a feature of some of Donald Trump’s rallies in the United States, but clearly this is not the case. We even had Farage yesterday warning that people’s alleged anger at the number of foreign migrants coming to Britain could lead to violence. The poster he proudly stood by, showing a huge throng of migrants clamouring to be let in was horribly reminiscent of Nazi propaganda in 1930s Germany.
jo Cox’s widower put out an extraordinarily dignified statement after his wife’s murder, asking people not to forget what she stood for and to act in that spirit. It was right and fitting that political programmes such as BBC’s Question Time were cancelled last night as a sign of respect and that much of the Remain campaigning has been suspended. We need a period of calm reflection in Britain for us to come to terms with what has happened and its significance, and to bring us back from the brink. This evening, at 7pm, in Parliament Square, Westminster, there will be a vigil for Jo Cox and I hope to get back from Riga (where I was speaking yesterday at an event on the possible consequences of Brexit) so I can attend. This should not just be an act of remembrance for a remarkable woman who during her brief year in Parliament was a beacon of decency and commitment but at least as important a loud statement that as Britons, we will not let her die in vain.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 14th June, 2016
Given some of the depressing opinion polls about the EU Referendum over the past few days it was uplifting to be in a hall packed with Cypriots in north London this evening cheering on the campaign for Britain to Remain in the EU. There was a first rate line-up of politicians, including MPs Nicky Morgan (Conservative), Secretary of State for Education, Norman Lamb (LibDem) and Catherine West (Labour), all singing from the same song-sheet. As Commonwealth citizens, Cypriots registered in London can vote in next week’s referendum (as can Maltese and Irish) unlike other EU citizens, alas, and there are enough of them to make a difference. It was good to see the Cypriot High Commissioner (one of the most engaged members of London’s diplomatic community) sitting in the front row, in an audience that struck me as predominantly made up of businessmen and businesswomen (no bad thing). Norman Lamb stressed the positive aspect of immigration (including EU migration), whereas Nicky Morgan highlighted how many young Brits have benefited from Erasmus+, studying or getting work experience on the continent. Catherine West pointed out that the Labour Party has come out wholeheartedly in favour of EU membership (even if not all Labour voters agree). There is only a week to go before the vote, which means that it is vital that meetings such as this happen all over the country, to motivate those who back Remain to actually go out to vote, otherwise the Brexiteers could win by default.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 13th June, 2016
The massacre of clubbers at a gay venue in Orlando, Florida, is the worst mass killing by a gunman in US history. Fifty people are dead and several others wounded; across the world there have been spontaneous vigils and acts of mourning. The gunman’s ex-wife says he has a personality disorder, which underlines why there need to be stricter controls on who can get access to guns and other weapons. Personally, I don’t think anyone outside the armed forces should have the ability to purchase a weapon that can slaughter so many people (and the armed forces should only have them for defence). Inevitably, there has been much comment — not least on social media — about the fact that the mass murderer, Omar Mateen, is Muslim and that he was said to have been offended recently by the sight of two men kissing. It is true that there are what in modern terms would be called homophobic passages in the Koran, just as there are in the Jewish and Christian bibles, but it would be wrong to use this incident as a stick with which to beat Muslims in general, especially during this holy month of Ramadan. I was pleased to see that Islamic groups in America have been among the first to offer condolences and material relief. Any people who might like to claim that Christianity is so much more enlightened when it comes to LGBT issues should examine how fundamentalist US churches promoted the hateful anti-gay legislation in Uganda and other parts of Africa, or look at the evangelicals in America who parade with signs saying “God Hates Fags”. What is clear is that the fight for LGBT rights and equality is far from over, both within religious communities and in the wider world. But for me the most striking thing about this dreadful incident is that yet again the United States has shown that its adherence to the “freedom” to bear arms has murderous consequences. I would argue that religious intolerance of homosexuality is an anachronism that needs to be confronted, but so too, sure;y, is America’s love of guns, more appropriate to the frontier age of the 19th century than to the postmodern 21st century. Until that issue is addressed, there will be more shootings by hateful or deranged individuals. And although the Orlando shootings have beaten the record for the number of dead, sometime before too long another atrocity will top that figure. While offering the Orlando victims, their families and friends our deepest condolences, we can only hope that one day the American public and legislators will see sense on gun control.