Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Protect Our EU Citizenship Rights

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 11th May, 2017

Retaining European CitizenshipThis morning I was contacted by a lady living in France who is registered to vote in the UK constituency of Dagenham & Rainham where I am standing as the Liberal Democrat candidate in next month’s general election. I suspect she will be the first of many, as hundreds of thousands of British expats on the Continent are concerned about what the future holds for them once Brexit happens. One of my sisters and her husband are among that number, having retired to Spain some years ago but now left wondering if their rights (including access to health care) that have been guaranteed under our common EU citizenship will continue. Similarly, a significant proportion of the teachers I work with at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) are nationals of other EU member states and they are understandably worried about their future status. It is unforgivable of Theresa May’s Conservative government to present these people on both sides of the Channel as bargaining chips in the Brexit negotiations. Key negotiators on the EU27 side, such as Guy Verhofstadt on behalf of the European Parliament, have indicated their willingness to find a formula that would allow those Brits who wished to to preserve elements of EU citizenship and certainly they are keen that the position of EU citizens in the UK and British citizens on the Continent is clarified quickly. The constituent in France who contacted me asked for a pledge of support for two specific things, which I was delighted to be able to give, namely:

  1. the lifetime continuation of UK and EU citizens’ rights, as proposed in the EU negotiating directive*; and
  2. the ring-fencing of the agreement on these rights from the rest of the negotiations

These demands strike me as not only reasonable but essentially humane. The result of last year’s EU Referendum has been unsettling in many ways, from the fall in the value of the pound sterling to the recent slowing of UK industrial growth. But the most critical thing to get settled first is to put the minds at rest of those people who are British citizens living in other EU member states and of EU citizens based here. Mrs May and your three Brexit Minsters: can you demonstrate that you actually care?

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On the Theme of Islands

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 9th May, 2017

Europe Day concert 2017The annual Europe Day concert in St. John’s Smith Square is always an emotional occasion for me. Although I abandoned any ambition for a musical career in my early teens, music still has the ability to move me more than any other art form. So strong is its influence that I cannot write with music on in the background, as it distracts my mind from the task at hand. But it’s not just the music that stirs my emotions on Europe Day; my belief in the European project is unshaken, while arguing that the EU should certainly reform — as many political leaders on the continent, such as the European Commission’s Foreign Affairs supremo, Federica Mogherini, now concede. And yes, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy does sometimes bring tears to my eyes. How brave Emmanuel Macron was to use that European anthem for his victory celebration in the Louvre on Sunday, rather than the Marseillaise! Would even Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron dare to do that in the UK? I have attended several Europe Day concerts and for me tonight’s programme beat all previous offerings. The Maltese presidency chose a subject thread for the evening: Music on the Theme of Islands — underlining not only Malta’s maritime history but also the situation of the British Isles, too. There was a brilliant selection of both orchestral and choral music, from Sibelius’s The Tempest to Martinú’s Ariane. Of course, there was an added edge to this evening’s concert as everyone was aware that it might be the penultimate occasion of its kind, assuming Britain leaves the EU by the end of March 2019. In common with many people in the church this evening, I find that a matter of immense sadness. But while I would prefer to stop Brexit in its tracks it is absolutely vital that a Hard Brexit is avoided and that the UK maintains as close a connection with the EU27 as possible.

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Singing for One’s Supper

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 8th May, 2017

JF speaking at Newham HustingsThis afternoon I spoke to Kingston U3A about my Life as a Foreign Correspondent — undoubtedly the most popular of all the talks that I have been giving since I joined the lecture circuit a decade or so ago. Most writers and many broadcasters sing for their supper in that way, whether for women’s clubs, Rotary Clubs and other professional bodies and U3A — the University of the Third Age, which has hundreds of thousands of members in Britain (the Kingston branch has well over a thousand). So whereas many people, not least the young, get their information and entertainment online or through their mobile phones or other post-modern platforms, others still want to hear stories from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. And it is all about stories. Whether I’m giving a talk directly related to one of my books (such as on Oscar Wilde) or instead recounting my journalistic exploits round the world from the Vietnam War onward, or aspects of modern history and current affairs, such as the so-called Arab Spring, I paint a picture in words, exactly as I do when I am writing a script for Radio 4’s From Our Own Correspondent. Well-delivered, the spoken word can convey so much, without the need for visual illustration.

Sometimes people ask me, “Why do you do it?”, in other words, give talks, which I do mainly in London and the Home Counties, though for several years I lectured on cruise ships as well. “Surely it takes away valuable time from your writing?” Well, yes, up to a point that is true, though writing is a very solitary occupation and it’s good to have a speaking engagement lined up that means I actually do have to shave, get fully dressed and go out into the world and converse with real live people. Besides, these days writers of books, in particular, are urged by their publishers to go out and promote the product, not just at literary festivals, but in other fora, as well as keeping up a visible presence online and on social media. Finally, yes, the money does help. Unless one is fortunate enough to pen a blockbuster, writers’ income from their craft has fallen sharply in recent years. A recent survey by the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), on whose Board I sit, discovered through a survey that the average income of writers in the UK is £11,000 a year. That means many are having to survive on much less. So speaking fees (usually calculated on a per capita basis on the size of the expected audience, can make all the difference, even when the group (and therefore the fee) is modest. But I mustn’t grumble. I am one of those writers and broadcasters who actually enjoys giving talks, unlike some of my colleagues who loathe it. So my advice to fellow scribes is: don’t knock it. Be brave! Go with it!

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Weak and Unstable: Britain’s Brexit Government

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 7th May, 2017

Theresa May 8Theresa May and her camp followers have adopted with gusto the rather tiresome mantra “Strong and Stable”. I wonder if they realise that it was Adolf Hitler who brought that phrase to prominence, in Mein Kampf. Now, I am not suggesting Mrs May is a neo-Nazi, like Marine Le Pen. But apart from the fact that she scores nuls points for originality in political slogans, the Prime Minister’s “strong and stable” catchphrase repeated ad nauseam is an egregious example of alternative facts, an Orwellian distortion of words that chimes with the era of Donald Trump and Brexit. And, of course, in this case it is all about Brexit. What the Conservative government is doing, having co-opted UKIP’s agenda, is trying to hoodwink the British public into agreeing that it is providing decisive leadership in Britain’s best interests — whereas the reality is that it is doing precisely the opposite. The cack-handedness of their whole approach since the EU Referendum last June has illustrated their incompetence. They hadn’t planned for a Leave vote, and once it happened they floundered around, with chief ditherer and fantasist Boris Johnson despatched to the Foreign Office to try to explain things to the rest of the world. The rest of the world, with the possible exception of Putin’s Russia and other enemies of liberal democracy plus Donald Trump, is aghast. And instead of dealing sensibly with our 27 EU partners in the prolonged negotiations that are about to start, Mrs May has indicated that she intends to try to brow-beat them, cheered on by rabid Brexit media such as the Daily Mail and the Daily Express. No-wonder several of her key Downing Street advisors have resigned, as even true blue apparatchiks know that you do not succeed in negotiations if you insult the other side to their face. The sad truth is that the whole Brexit thing is going to go horribly wrong, with serious damage to the British economy and not least to the poorer parts of the British population — and Mrs May is going to blame it all on Brussels, as she wraps herself Boudica-like in the Union Jack. But she should remember that Boudica lost, as she will lose. “Strong and stable” May is a myth. She is weak and unstable, but the only way to stop her is to vote her out of office.

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Nothing Like a Murder before Bedtime

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 6th May, 2017

Nordic NoirThe German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, once confessed that her favourite television programme is Midsomer Murders. This raised a few eyebrows, but I completely understand. Those of us who have busy and sometimes stressful lives, especially if this involves lots of face-to-face contact with strangers, need to wind down from time to time. And there is nothing like a good murder mystery to lift one out of one’s daily concerns and send one to bed somehow relaxed. Psychologists would doubtless have an explanation for this, not necessarily sublimation. I used to like Midsomer Murders too, though these days I find it a bit too formulaic and occasionally archly twee. Much more my style are the sometimes extremely gruesome Nordic Noir series that BBC Channel 4 broadcasts on Saturday nights, especially the ones from Denmark. The acting is often superb, the stories imaginative and the settings spectacularly atmospheric. The fact that they are sub-titled, not dubbed into English, is a definite plus as far as I am concerned, as one really enters into the spirit of the programme. Actually, I don’t own a television (though I do have a TV licence), so I watch them on my desktop computer, whose screen is as big as many TVs. That means I can complete my evening’s work at my desk and just switch over to iPlayer, journalism and politics pushed to one side, as I settle down to the latest grisly murder drama. So, guys, what’s on tonight?

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Ciao, UKIP?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 5th May, 2017

paul-nuttallThough the UK media are mainly focusing on Conservative gains in yesterday’s county council elections, in many ways the more remarkable story is the complete collapse of UKIP. The party lost every seat it was defending and one can’t help but wonder how long the sole UKIP candidate who gained a seat, in Burnley, in Lancashire, will last. Of course, there are still some UKIP local councillors left, but presumably not for long. UKIP’s leader Paul Nuttall was trying to put a brave face on it today, claiming that he did not really mind if UKIP voters had defected en masse to the Tories, as Theresa May is implementing the sort of Brexit that UKIP wants (though maybe not quite quickly enough). It’s true that in the process Mrs May is sounding ever more like a UKIP Prime Minister, lambasting not just Brussels but Johnny Foreigner. It will be interesting to see if her tone changes after next month’s general election, though it almost certainly will not before then, as she wants to ensure those former UKIP voters turn out for the Conservatives on 8 June. Paul Nuttall, meanwhile, is standing in the uber-Leave constituency of Boston and Skegness, but as all of Lincolnshire’s UKIP country councillors were swept out yesterday the likelihood of his winning that parliamentary seat is little better than zero. Nor is any other seat likely to go UKIP’s way. Instead, there is an interesting polarisation over Brexit between Strong and Stable Mable in the blue corner and chippy Tim Farron in the yellow. Where Labour is depends on which Labour candidate you speak to, though Jeremy Corbyn’s offer of a People’s Brexit sounds suspiciously like Mable’s red-white-and-blue Brexit. Of course, the general election is not going to be all about Brexit, nor should it be, but the Conservatives are portraying the Brexit challenge as Mrs May’s Falklands moment, in the hope that she will be able to mirror Mrs Thatcher’s jingoistic triumph at the polls in 1982-1983, with most of the mainstream Press cheering her on.

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Standing up for Dagenham & Rainham

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 4th May, 2017

JF wityh Afzal Sayed MunnaLast night in Havering I was adopted as the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for the constituency of Dagenham & Rainham, in East London/Essex. Apart from the fact that I have for years had dealings with local LibDems there while I was campaigning to be elected to the European Parliament (just missing out in 2004 and 2009!), I also give talks regularly to women’s clubs, Rotary clubs etc across Havering. The constituency straddles the boroughs of Havering and Barking & Dagenham and is remarkably diverse. Dagenham was of course best known as the major centre for car production in southern England, though more recently the Ford factory was widely-publicised as the setting for Nigel Cole’s endearing true-life story film, Made in Dagenham, about women who struck for better pay and working conditions. The borough is busy rebranding itself as an area for regeneration in which the authorities hope the film industry will have an important role to play — something I strongly support. Rainham, on the other hand, is celebrated for Rainham Marshes, a site of special scientific interest loved by migratory birds. The last time I went there I ended up rescuing a stray dog that someone had apparently just dumped. The parish of Rainham is quite ancient. There’s a nature park (Chase) in east Dagenham as well, in Eastbrook ward. So plenty of green spaces to stretch one’s legs between campaigning sessions!

[photo with Dagenham LibDem activist Afzal Sayed Munna and son]

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Mrs May’s Other Galaxy

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 3rd May, 2017

May JunckerAll of us who have had a finger on the European pulse over the past 40 years have sensed that Britain’s Conservative government is on another planet when it talks about the possibility of the country having at least as good a deal with our current EU partners after Brexit as we have now as a full member of the EU. This literally defies reason. But I was dismayed by the reaction (as reported in leaks to the media) from European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, after his cosy chat over dinner at 10 Downing Street with Prime Minister, Theresa May, and Brexit Secretary, David Davis, to learn that he thinks Mrs May is actually in a different galaxy. This is all too credible, alas. The UKIP-Tory Brexit is the ultimate omni-shambles, the blind leading the blind; at least they recognsie that Boris Johnson is so bonkers and uncollegiate that he needs to be side-lined. But that is not enough. It would appear that Mrs May, ignorant and stubborn (always a dangerous combination in politics), is determined to lead the country over the precipice of a hard Brexit. With the arrogant attitude that she and the three Brexiteer Ministers have displayed there is not a cat in hell’s chance of a decent Brexit deal being reached before the two-year period from invoking Article 50 expires in March 2019. And that means a hard crash, which will hit the poor first, as well as EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens living in other EU member states. But Mrs May and her Brexit Taliban crew don’t care. They will still have their salaries and pensions and spousal or family money, while the poor bloody infantry sinks into poverty and unemployment. What is particularly infuriating is that Her Majesty’s official Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, is facilitating Brexit, rather than doing their job in pointing out the madness of it all (even though some Labour MPs, and indeed some Tory MPs, know that this is crazy). So it is left to the Liberal Democrats and the Greens and the nationalist forces in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, to sound the alarm. But will the population hear it, given the flood of anti-European, sometimes xenophobic, even neo-fascistic bile being poured out through the country’s popular Press? Brave souls like the philosopher A.C. Grayling keep up the good fight from outside mainstream politics, but all of us who care about not just the future of the EU but the healthy future of the United Kingdom should also stand up and shout, too. And, yes, that means you young people on social media, many of whom never quite got round to voting in last year;s EU Referendum. It’s our future, but especially your future. And Mrs May needs to be sent off into orbit in her own galaxy while we bring Britain back down to earth.

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May Day Blues

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 1st May, 2017

Mayday 2012 Clerkenwell LondonI was having lunch at the Café Rouge in Kingsway, Camden, watching the rain outside when a May Day parade of trade unionists and socialists went past. I’ve always had a soft spot for trade union banners, some of which are truly beautiful, though my eyes nearly popped out when one particularly well-crafted banner went past with a large picture of Stalin on it. I’ve always considered Stalin to be just as bad as Hitler — two sides of the same coin — both guilty of presiding over the deaths of millions of their own people (not that Hitler considered Jews, Roma, gays etc as truly German). There are obviously still some Communists about in London, as the flurry of red flags, proudly bearing the hammer and sickle, went past on Kingsway, along with some banners proclaiming “Smash Capitalism!” Those made me feel almost nostalgic for the student revolutionary politics of the late 1960s and early 1970s, though such revolutionary romantic feelings evaporated when a large contingent of Venezuela’s government went past, seemingly unconcerned that years of socialism in that oil-rich country have brought the economy to its knees, while supermarket shelves are empty and those fortunate enough to live near enough to the border with Colombia go shopping there. As I saw for myself in Nicaragua in the mid-1980s and Cuba a decade later, leftist policies just don’t work. And whereas slogans such as Workers of the World Unite sound lovely and fraternal, the class hatred engendered by Marxism-Leninism and some of its later offshoots promises not nirvana but mayhem. Doubtless many of those marching on the parade today are all fired up because there is an election on and they have a new hate figure in Conservative Prime Minister, Theresa May. Well, I dislike her too, mainly because of the way she has embraced Brexit, but I don’t buy into the discourse of smashing things in the name of the people. Besides, after the thousandth red banner went past, I felt quite bilious. Ah well, to all of those who were stirred by today’s May Day festivities:  enjoy its closing hours and reflect on the fact that Britain’s early May bank holiday won’t actually fall on May Day again for several more years.

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Guernica 80 Years On

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 26th April, 2017

GuernicaEighty years ago today, German planes bombed the Basque town of Guernica in support of General Franco’s fascist forces in the Spanish civil war. For the Nazis, it was an experiment: to see if Blitzkrieg would work. And it did, incinerating not only the buildings but a sizable part of the defenceless population in a firestorm. It would be another two years before the start of the Second World War (which Spain basically sat out), but the Guernica atrocity served as a warning to Europe of what was to come. Hitler’s Germany would eventually be defeated, after killing directly or indirectly many millions of people, including the six million Jews as well as other minorities who perished in the Holocaust. But fascism itself was not defeated; in continued in Spain until Franco’s death in the mid-1970s, in Portugal and for a while in Greece. The restoration of functioning democracy enabled these southern European states integrate into what has become the European Union, but military dictatorships continued to flourish in Central and South America and parts of Africa. Most of those countries are now also multi-party democracies. But one should not be lulled into a false sense of security that the monster of fascism has been slain. It is like a virus that can lie undetected for years before taking hold of the body politic once more. The rise of nationalism in many parts of Europe is an unnerving warning that people can be talked into supporting demagogues, even when they are spouting lies. Hungary is particularly worrying, but it is not alone. And just as the Nazis scapegoated Jews for the economic ills of the Weimar Republic so now populist politicians on both sides of the English Channel are blaming refugees, Muslims and sometimes foreigners in general for their societies’ shortcomings. Decent people need to speak out about this. And as we commemorate the horrors of Guernica we should remember that it is not just a lesson from the past but a warning about a possible future.

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