Many tens of thousands of people, of all ages and ethnicities, marched from Marble Arch to 10 Downing Street in London this afternoon in solidarity with refugees, especially those from Syria. The main chant and slogan on banners was “Refugees Welcome Here!”, echoing the actions of citizens in Germany and calling Prime Minister David Cameron to account for not being more generous — or indeed, precise — about how many refugees Britain will take and when. There were a good number of Socialist Worker Party members present, celebrating the triumph of Jeremy Corbyn in Labour’s leadership election and also a few genuine Trots, who made up for their small number by employing a mobile sound system that enabled them to drown out some of the pro-refugee messages with their diatribes against capitalism and all the “corrupt” mainstream political parties (including the Greens!). There was an excellent turnout of LibDems, not just from London, and Tim Farron was one of the keynote speakers. We were blessed with the most perfect Indian summer’s day, which added to the festive atmosphere. A sizable proportion of British people are ready to respond to the current refugee and migrant crisis, however hard media such as the Daily Express tries to poison minds against them. But clearly this is an issue which Britain cannot solve on its own, which is why the British government should be cooperating more closely with France, Germany and other EU member states that have taken a lead, as well as boosting global action by the United Nations. Some Syrian refugees are being driven by hunger to return to Syria from refugee camps in neighbouring countries, because the World Food Programme has had to halve rations as it has run out of cash. Saudi Arabia, for one, could fund what is needed there without blinking an eye.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 12th September, 2015
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 10th September, 2015
The artist Clive McCartney is inspired by the power of the sun. Light and movement are all, as witnessed in so many of his canvasses in the exhibition currently running at the Catto Gallery in Hampstead. His visions of Grand Central Staion in New York, busy with faceless travellers, as well as his exteriors of almost deserted Paris café terraces are particularly affecting. Had I a spare square two metres of wall space in my house, I would happily buy one. He is far more confident in acrylic on board that oil on canvas, and some of his London views, such as Greenwich from the top of the hill in the park, are disappointing. But the rest more than make up for this. He is an artist supremely conscious of place, as well as the light that iluminates it, and even if Paris and New York might seem old hat as themes for an Engushman abroad — even one based in Tunbridge Wells — he brings something fresh and appealing. Go and see the exhibition. I don’t think you will be disappointed.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 8th September, 2015
Of all the mega-constituencies in London’s city-wide elections City and London East has long been the Cindarella as far as the Liberal Democrats are concerned. Though once strong in the borough of Tower Hamlets the Party currently has no Councillors there or in Newham or in Barking & Dagenham. The “City” part is the Corporation of London, whose Common Councillors are usually devoid of party political affiliation. However, that situation may be about to change, as, in common with many other parts of Britain, the east of London has seen a large influx of new members, many of them young and keen. For many of them, 2016 offers the first chance of direct political engagement as LibDems, in the London Assembly and Mayoral elections next way and, probably, the EU in/out referendum in the Autumn. This evening, in Bow Church, a hustings was held to choose the candidate for the GLA constituency; both women who put themselves forward were Damian to many, as Elaine Bagshaw fought Poplar & Limehous in May’s general election while Teena Lashmore fought neighbouring Bethnal Green & Bow. Elaine was also the LibDem candidate in the rerun of the Tower Hamlets mayoral election earlier this summer. Both candidates highlighted the issue of housing it homes, and each had her own salient qualities. Elaine stressed her campaigning experience on the doorstep and online, while Teena argued that being a visible ethnic minority woman made her look like the face if the electorate in a East a London today. In the event, it was Elaine who just won through — by one vote! Warm congratulations to her and also to Teena for putting up a spirited fight. Teena is also standing for the LibDems’ GLA top-up list, for which online voting is currently underway.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 8th September, 2015
It was recently revealed that the RAF used an unmanned drone to kill two British ISIS fighters based in Raqqa in Syria last month. Now Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has declared that the Government would not hesitate to repeat the action. I loathe ISIS and its perverted ideology as much as anyone, but British use of drones for targeted killings in a country with which we are not even officially at war leaves me deeply uneasy. It is noteworthy that Dominic Grieve, former Attorney General and one of the relatively good guys within the parliamentary Conservative Party, has warned that such drone strikes could be challenged on human rights grounds. Already Amnesty International’s Director Kate Allen has issued a statement saying, “it is extremely alarming that the UK has apparently been conducting summary executions from the air. In following the United States down a lawless road of remote-controlled summary killings from the sky the RAF has crossed a line.” I agree. I have been deeply concerned by the way that President Obama has increasingly relied on drones to carry out military operations (so much for his Nobel Peace Prize) and am dismayed that Britain is now following suit. If it is legitimate for Western countries to use such methods then how can one criticise others from doing the same? As Kate Allen says, “if we allow this to become the norm, we could have countries all over the world conducting aerial execution of perceived enemies on the basis of secret, unchallengeable evidence.” Drones have many legitimate civilian uses, as well as a role to play in military surveillance. But as unmanned killers from the sky that can be targeted precisely at whoever some power wishes to annihilate they are for me a step too far.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 7th September, 2015
The European Commission has today endorsed a plan put forward by the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the French President Francois Hollande over the weekend in response to the current refugee and migrant crisis. Germany has agreed to take in 40,000 refugees and France 30,000. Smaller quotas have been allocated to several other richer European countries such as Austria. However, despite receiving the Commission’s imprimatur the Plan is still rejected by a number of formerly Communist central and eastern European member states, notably the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. Poland has said it will take up to 2,000 refugees, though the Commission is asking the Poles to take in six times that many. You might be wondering where Britain is in all this. Well, as so often, it is outside. Britain, Ireland and Denmark have an opt-out from EU arrangements on refugees and asylum-seekers. Ireland, to its credit, has nonetheless offered to take in 600 asylum-seekers. Denmark, to its shame, has launched a campaign in ten different languages discouraging asylum-seekers from applying to settle in Denmark. Mr Cameron this afternoon brought moral dignity back to Britain’s tardy response by announcing that the UK will take in 20,000, though staggered over a long period. He is to be quietly congratulated for that, though he would have done himself and Britain far more credit if he had gone along to meet Ms Merkel and Mr Hollande to make this a trilateral Plan instead of a Franco-German one. Alas, Mr Cameron does not really “do” Europe, which is why under his watch the UK is becoming increasingly marginalised from the EU and seemingly ever nearer the exit door.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 6th September, 2015
On both sides of the Atlantic something very interesting is happening: politicians who already qualify for their old age pensions have been enthusing mass audiences, many of them young. Of course, it might just be coincidence that “Corbynmania” — which should see Jeremy Corbyn elected as the new leader of the UK Labour Party next week — is happening at the same time as veteran senator Bernie Sanders is pulling in the crowds in the United States, but I doubt it. I believe what we are seeing is the rejection of the slick vacuousness of a younger breed of politician for whom image is all and who avoid saying anything that might offend anyone. In politics, as in so many things, Britain was influenced by what was happening in the United States, so all three main parties learned not only American campaigning techniques but also to carry out opinion polling and run focus groups to discover what the voters really thought about a range of issues so that they could tailor their policies accordingly. But what the Corbyn and Sanders phenomenon has shown is that in reality the voters do not want bland, look-alike politicians who spout what they think the public wants to hear. Instead, in their tens of thousands, people are rallying to the cause of two men who have very strong views, based on principle not pragmatism. One may not agree with everything they say, but their sincerity is transparent, and that is new and exciting, in contrast to the political discourse of the past decade or so. Though Jeremy Corbyn would be horrified with the comparison, he is really the first leading UK politician since Margaret Thatcher to strand up and say what they believe. Other politicians need to learn from that, if they are to offer an appealing alternative. Tim Farron, the new Liberal Democrat leader, must assert himself as a man with principles and beliefs and not be afraid of doing so. I doubt whether Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron has that within him; he is the ultimate PR politician, no doubt a basically decent chap but as insipid as a used tea-bag. In the meantime, politicians on both sides of the Atlantic need to recognise that something has changed in the political landscape. Whereas before older politicians had to keep their eyes on ambitious younger rivals snapping at their heels these days the real challenge may be from older, sometimes wiser, more experienced colleagues who are paradoxically more in tune with the zeitgeist..
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 5th September, 2015
Last night, at Hamilton House in Camden, London Liberal Democrats held a hustings for shortlisted candidates who had put themselves forward to be selected for the “top-up” list of 11 members of the London Assembly (the other 14 being elected in geographical constituencies). As there were 16 hopefuls and all had to make short presentations as well as answer a few questions it was quite a marathon affair, but aided by the grace and good humour of the Chair, Baroness (Liz) Barker. One candidate, Duwayne Brooks, challenged the worth of asking candidates about elements of policy and walked out half way through, while another, Annabel Mullin, was legitimately absent because of a work commitment abroad, but the others battled on bravely. Housing came across as the biggest single issue of concern in London, with other oft-mentioned subjects including transport and the environment. We currently have just two GLA members (Caroline Pidgeon and Stephen Knight, both of whom are standing for re-election) but in the past we have had as many as five, so it is a realistic goal as part of the LibDem fightback to hope for a minimum of three in 2016, now the Party is not tainted by being in coalition with the Conservatives. Given London’s population profile, it is to be hoped that at least one of our successful candidates should be from an ethnic minority and certainly there was a very diverse choice on offer last night with almost half of the shortlisted candidates not being Anglo-Saxon white. All London LibDems members can vote for the order of the GLA list via a quick and easy electronic link that is already up and running. Caroline Pidgeon is also standing as the Party’s candidate for London Mayor and is unopposed for that.
The full list of candidates is: Adrian Hyyrylainen-Trett, Annabel Mullin, Ben Mathis, Caroline Pidgeon, Dawn Barnes, Duwayne Brooks, Emily Davey, Marisha Ray, Mark Platt, Merlene Emerson, Pauline Pearce, Rob Blackie, Stephen Knight, Teena Lashmore, Zack Polanski.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Adrian Hyyrylainen-Trett, Annabel Mullin, Ben Mathis, Caroline Pidgeon, Dawn Barnes, Duwayne Brooks, Emily Davey, GLA, Liz Barker, London Liberal Democrats, Marisha Ray, Mark Platt, Merlene Emerson, Pauline Pearce, Rob Blackie, Stephen Knight, Teena Lashmore, Zack Polanski | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 3rd September, 2015
The British public has become more sensitised to the plight of refugees fleeing conflicts in Syria and Iraq with the publication today of pictures of two little boys who died (along with their mother) when their father tried to take them from Turkey to Greece, en route to Canada, where his sister lives. But until this evening the Conservative government had failed to step up to the plate on the issue, unlike Germany and several other EU member states. However, Prime Minister David Cameron has now bowed to public and media pressure and agreed that the UK will take in several thousand refugees, over and above the few score that have been admitted already. This is a very welcome development.The British government has also been very generous in providing aid to refugees in countries neighbouring the conflict zones and Mr Cameron says it is important to focus on finding a solution to the Syrian civil war, in particular. That is true, but with the best will in the world, including organising an international peace conference involving Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the US and the EU, among others, as well as the warring parties, there is not going to be a solution in the short term. So Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande were right to call for an EU-wide plan, with quotas, to deal with the refugee emergency. It is a matter of regret that Britain was not in there at the time. But better late than never. At a meeting of Newham and Barking & Dagenham Liberal Democrats at View Tube in the Olympic Park this evening, I pointed out that Britain has an historic responsibility for some of the current troubles in the Middle East, from the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, by which Britain and France decided how they would divide the spoils after the inevitable collapse of the Ottoman Empire, to the 2003 Iraq War. But Britain can also give a moral lead; it was after all in London that the first meeting of the infant United Nations was held and British human rights lawyers were central to the formulation of the European Convention on Human Rights. Mr Cameron’s Conservatives are very wobbly on human rights, thinking it more important to cosy up to Saudi Arabia and President Sisi’s Egypt than to stand up for values. As I said this evening, this situation poses for Liberal Demorats the moral duty as well as the political opportunity to campaign hard on these issues, to be seen to be taking the lead, above all because that is what is right.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 1st September, 2015
There was a very convivial meeting of Liberal Democrats in Communications this evening, hosted by Rob Blackie in the basement of a welcoming upmarket pub in Pimlico. Apart from networking the idea was to hear from two speakers: Richard Morris, a successful advertising executive and author of the popular A View from Ham Common blog, and the journalist and broadcaster Miranda Green (both LibDems themselves). The participants were overwhelmingly young, maybe partly because “taster” publicity for the evening suggested that it might help those who sought a career in Communications or the Media. But even an old hack like me found it interesting. Richard spoke particularly about how he views the applications of people who want to work for his agency; in a nutshell, they have to captivate with their introductory lines so that those hiring think “that person sounds interesting; I’d like to talk to them”. He told the cautionary tale of some poor sod who had the bright idea of writing their CV on the icing of a delicious cake sent to the interviewing penal. Unfortunately, they ate the cake before realising that there was no other copy of the CV or way of knowing who the person was.
Miranda — who served in Paddy Ashdown’s office in the days when the LibDem leader was up at 5am and wondering why everyone else was not already busy at work. focused more on the May election campaign , or debacle, as some of us now fondly refer to it. It is not enough to keep pushing dozens of leaflets through people’s doors any more, and while television is still extremely important (especially for older voters) digital media can have a big impact, as Obama’s campaigns in the United States have shown. It was unfortunate, to put it mildly, that having promoted the slogan “stronger economy, fairer society” for four and a half years of the Coalition government the LibDems suddenly switched to “neither left nor right”, leaving many activists, let alone the electors, wondering “Huh?” Obviously a very high digital media presence can have a big effect, especially in motivating younger people, but there is no use smothering Facebook or twitter with posts if there are no clear messages within. LDHQ please note. As Rob Blackie is running a very high profile digital media campaign in his effort to be selected with a chance of winning a seat on the London Assembly it was good of him to devote an evening to this worthwhile venture. One was also pleased to see fellow GLA contenders Merlene Emerson and Mark Platt present.