Jonathan Fryer

Clean Brexit: Another Post-Truth Myth

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 27th December, 2016

article-2737206-20e2281200000578-660_634x450A full six months have elapsed since Britain’s EU Referendum, yet the public is still being kept in the dark about what Brexit would mean. Prime Minister Theresa May refuses to divulge her “plan” (even to the Queen, which is surely a violation of convention). But many of us suspect that Mrs May still doesn’t have a clue about what should or should not happen. Alas, the clock is ticking towards her March 2017 deadline for triggering Article 50. Meanwhile, the Brexiteers have realised that the term “Hard Brexit” (whereby the U.K. would abruptly leave the European Single Market and the Customs Union) might sound a little off-putting, so they are trying to rebrand it as “Clean Brexit” — a euphemism that makes it sound sane, even desirable. George Orwell ought to be alive today to write about how language corrupts thought in post-truth Britain. It’s not just all the fanciful statistics that get bandied about, most of them plucked from the sky. The really invidious thing is the way that Nigel Farage and the Brexiteers are distorting language to persuade the public that somehow leaving the EU will be good for us. Never mind the fact that the EU has helped maintain peace in Western Europe for 70 years. Or that the UK economy has sunk from 5th in the world to 7th (or even 8th, according to some calculations) just since June. Or that the vultures in the United States and indeed some other EU member states are salivating at the rich pickings that may be waiting for them if the City of London loses some of its prime position. No, Farage, May and the three ghastly Brexit Ministers will continue to try to con us with soothing words, to make us believe that the future will be brilliant once we have achieved our “freedom” from the “dictatorship” of Brussels. It would be funny if it weren’t so serious. But it is serious, and Brexit will only be stopped if people stand up and shout, “No, that’s not what we wanted, at all!”

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Egyptians

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 24th December, 2016

img_1807Jack “HackneyLad” Shenker has been providing some of the most incisive and independent journalism coming out of Egypt since he first set off for Cairo as a young freelancer in the twilight yeas of the Hosni Mubarak presidency. Because he was there to watch the decline and fall of Mubarak and his state security infrastructure, as well as the joys and tears of Egypt’s Revolution, then “second choice” Morsi’s ascendancy to the highest office, followed by the reimposition of the old order under General Sisi, he had a ringside seat to the tumultuous changes affecting the Arab world’s largest state. He was also dug deep enough into the real Egypt of the common people, rather than the Europeanised elite of Zamalek, in order to really hear and report what was happening on the street and in the torture chambers of police stations and prisons. Thus he was able to produce this magnificent portrait of a land and its people, The Egyptians (Penguin RandomHouse, £15.99), which should be the first port of call for anyone wanting to get an understanding of the complexities of modern Egyptian society and who has the time and dedication to devote themselves to reading the book carefully, as it deserves. It is part reportage, part political and historical treatise, and  pulsates with the individual life stories of Egyptians who have fallen foul of the system, because they did not have the wasta or influential connections to get by. There is much to make one despair in Egypt’s modern history: so much injustice, corruption, violence and sheer inhumanity. And yet, the author emerges, as do I after 30 years of regular assignments and travels there, loving Egypt and its people, warts and all.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Illegal Israeli Settlements Condemned

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 23rd December, 2016

iraeli-settlementsThis evening the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution condemning illegal Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine, including East Jerusalem. The vote was 14:0, with the United States abstaining. Earlier in the day Israel had been putting heavy pressure on the US to veto the resolution, but in a rare demonstration of determination Barack Obama obviously declined. It is as well that the vote came now, as Donald Trump would certainly have vetoed the measure, had it come to the vote after his inauguration. Some people might argue that a UNSC resolution is of no real significance, but there I would have to disagree. For the first time in several years the rest of the world has made clear to Israel that its continued settlement activity is contrary to international law and should cease. It also effectively gives the green light for countries, including the UK and other EU member states, to ban trade in settlement products and to take other appropriate measures. Several members of the UNSC believe that it is now almost too late for a two-state solution to be possible in the Middle East, largely because of the settlements, but they would still like to try to make it happen. Britain should now take an important step forward in recognising the state of Palestine, as two-thirds of the UN member states have already done. For too long Israel has been able to get away with violeting both the Geneva Convention and the Hague Agreements with regard to the West Bank and Gaza and it is high time it was forced to stop.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Memories of Copeland

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 21st December, 2016

img_1801Copeland is a UK parliamentary constituency that I still associate in my mind with Jack Cunningham, MP, rather than his successor, Jamie Reed, who has resigned, thereby triggering another by-election. Mr Reed says he feels he can serve people better working in the nuclear energy sector, where he has headed. Ah, yes: Sellafield. Not a choice I would have made, but it’s a free country. Meanwhile, the name Copeland has conjured up a couple of memories for me. The first was a day trip to Whitehaven with a scout troop from my school, Manchester Grammar; I think the scoutmaster must have had some link with the place, as I can’t think why else he would have organised a visit there, on a Sunday, no less. I remember wandering around the town, under a grey sky, finding little to appreciate other than a rather striking church. Much more attractive was Keswick, added to Copeland constituency under boundary changes. As described in my childhood memoir, Eccles Cakes, I went on a week’s camping trip to the Lake District in my first year at MGS, and discovered that me and camping did not mix. But I did enjoy visiting Keswick, and bought my one and only souvenir from there: a tiny, kitsch, fold-out book of photos, which I presented to my adoptive mother, who didn’t seem very impressed. Anyway, depending on when the by-election is called, I hope to renew my acquaintance with the place after half a century — and will encourage others from London to come along.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Yes, the World Has Gone Bad

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 19th December, 2016

Six months ago I thought the world had gone mad, but now I know the world has gone bad. For Liberal Democrats and others of good faith 2016 is proving to be an annus horibilis like no other in living memory. First there was the Brexit vote, followed by Donald Trump’s election “victory”, confirmed today by the US electoral college. But today has itself been a real stinker: the assassination of Russia’s Ambassador to Turkey by a Turkish policeman outraged by the agony of the siege of Aleppo; a mosque bomb in Zurich; a truck careering into a Christmas market in Berlin. How much horror awaits to unfold over the 12 days left of the year? Yet absolutely the wrong reaction to all this would be to throw our hands up in the air and say there is nothing we can do about the global espousal of hatred, violence and post-truth politics. That is the way to let a 21st century version of fascism take hold. No, all people of good faith need to stand up and say, “No, no, no!”. Let’s make a premature New Year’s resolution now to make 2017 a year of hope, not a year of despair.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Thank you, LibDem Members!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 17th December, 2016

Today Liberal Democrat headquarters announced the results of the all-member ballots for elections to internal federal committees — the first since the Party moved to One Member One Vote (OMOV). Though the turnout was predictably low, the numbers who took part were considerably higher than in previous internal elections by local party federal conference representatives, thus improving their democratic legitimacy. It was interesting to see that women polled particularly well in the elections, as well as a number of BAME candidates, showing that members have taken the diversity message to heart. I was delighted to be comfortably re-elected to both the International Relations Committee and the ALDE Party Council*, for which I thank sincerely all those who voted for me. The LibDems are the most genuinely international of all Britain’s political parties and it is essential that we nurture our links with sister parties in Europe and the wider world. I will post regularly on this blog about those links and the various events and conferences that I attend as one of the Party’s elected representatives.

* The governing Council of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE)

Posted in Blogroll, Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Trump, NATO and the EU

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 15th December, 2016

img_1788Earlier this week I was one of the speakers at a Global Diplomatic Forum event in London on the foreign policy consequences of Donald Trump becoming US President. The other members of the panel were the new Latvian Amnassador to the Court of St James’s and the Conservative MP, Daniek Kawczynzki. By chance, the Ambassador and I were seated on a sofa on one side of the Chair, Andrew Wilson, while Dan Kawczynski was alone on another the other side, and that was exactly how our alignment went when it came to the discussion. Mr Kawczynski set the tone by focusing his opening remarks on why a Trump presidency is welcome and how we should engage more with Russia. It is disconcerting how pro Putin so many right wing Conservative as well as UKIP politicians are. The Ambassador countered with a resume of how Latvia suffered under Soviet Occupation and I spoke of what I had seen of Russian encroachment in Georgia this summer, as well as the assassination of journalists and liberal politicians in Moscow. But I also spoke of my wider concerns of what promises to be greater US isolationism under Trump, regarding international trade, climate change and so on. The appointment of Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State does not bode well, either. I would have liked to discuss things further with Daniel Kawczynski in the coffee break, but he shot out of the event like a bat out of hell.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Why I’m Re-standing for the ALCS Board

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 11th December, 2016

alcs-new-logoTo the general public, ALCS is a meaningless set of initials, but for tens of thousands of writers in Britain (and beyond) who have signed up as members of ALCS the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society is like a fairy godmother who, year in year out, sends one a cheque (or these days usually a bank transfer), derived from secondary royalties from photocopying, retransmission of audio-visual material and other such sources, the bulk of it channeled to ALCS from the Copyright Licensing Agency  (CLA). Anyone who works in universities or the NHS will probably have spotted CLA notices next to their photocopiers. Rather like Public Lending Right (PLR), which pays authors modest sums for loans of their books from a representative sample of public libraries, ALCS works on the basic and important principle that writers should be paid for their work. But ALCS is not just another writers’ organisation; it is a highly professional organisation, which is what it should be, as it has a turnover of more than £30 million a year. Like any reputable company it therefore also has a Board, which in ALCS’s case has a number of Non-Executive Directors who are elected by ALCS members — over 90,000 at present, though only a small proportion of those usually take the trouble to vote in the annual election of Non-Execs. Having come to the end of my three-year term on the Board, I am standing for re-election this month (as one is allowed to do, just once).

ALCS, in common with the creative industries, is facing some critical challenges, no least from the uncertainties generated by Brexit and the digitalisation of so much content. In tandem with CLA, ALCS needs to investigate new revenue streams, but it also needs to keep abreast of legislative changes, at both the international and European level. One of the things I have found most satisfying about being a Board member, given my political experience, has been working with the Executive on some areas of what is effectively lobbying, to help protect writers’ rights. That has meant being one of the ALCS representatives on the steering group of UKWriters, a recently-formed umbrella group that tries to ensure that writers do not lose out in a changing world. As it is, the income of most writers has fallen sharply in recent years, as was demonstrated in a study commissioned by ALCS. I have found it fascinating sitting on the Board itself, learning the dynamics of the company and collaborating with its dedicated staff. So, I would be very grateful for a vote from anyone who is an ALCS member. If you are, you should have received an electronic communication about the election (unless you opted for postal communications only) and voting is open until 23 December.writing

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Writers in Parliament

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 7th December, 2016

simon-rendell-and-valerie-amosYesterday the House of Commons terrace hosted the Winter Reception of the All Party Writers Group, sponsored by the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), on whose Board I sit. These events seem to grow each year, which is a good reflection of a growing awareness in both the Commons and the Lords about the challenges facing writers today. The creative industries contribute at least £70 billion a year to the UK economy and writers are a vital part of that production, yet writers’ incomes have in general fallen drastically in recent years. The J. K. Rowlings of this world are the exception, as the average professional writer these days earns only about £12,000 a year, which is barely enough to subsist on. Moreover, tough challenges are coming down the line, not least Brexit and the advance of the digital age. This means a lot of uncertainty lies ahead, which is why it is so important that writers have allies in Parliament to intervene as appropriate when relevant legislation is being discussed, from the digital economy bill to EU copyright directives. In recent months a new body, UKWriters, on whose steering group I sit, has been coordinating some of the lobbying work and priority-setting by writers’ organisations, including ALCS and the Society of Authors.

andy-mcnabSeveral of the MPs and peers present at yesterday’s receptions are authors themselves (and therefore beneficiaries of secondary royalties from ALCS, as well as Public Lending Right (PLR). It was good to see, among others, Tim Clement-Jones, Valerie Amos and Richard Balfe. However, the peer most in people’s minds was the late Ruth Rendell, in whose name an award was created, to recognise the work of someone who has promoted literacy brilliantly. I was honoured to be the ALCS representative on the judging panel and delighted that the first winner was Andy McNab whose back-story as a writer and brave exploits in “unsafe spaces” for literature (such as factories and prisons) richly merited the accolade. He was alas unable to be present to accept the award from Ruth Rendell’s son, the psychiatric social worker, Simon, as he was yomping somewhere far-flung. But Simon had come over from Colorado, where he lives, and Andy McNab was represented by a witty and impressive recorded message redolent of the sort of originality and quirkiness that makes him so special.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Taste of Europe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 6th December, 2016

bulgarian-eveningLast night Kingston Liberal Democrats hosted a very successful Bulgarian evening at the Bulgarian House restaurant in Surbiton. This is one of a whole series of social events initiated by former MP Ed Davey to celebrate different member states of the European Union. Those of us who felt bruised by the outcome of the EU Referendum welcome such opportunities to savour European diversity, and what better way than through sharing food? It is interesting to note that according to opinion polls the popularity of the EU has gone up in the UK since June 23rd; perhaps people are beginning to realise just what we seem to be about to throw away. It’s a pity more was not done to celebrate EU membership before the Referendum; successive governments failed to make the case, instead lazily falling into the habit of blaming Brussels for anything that went wrong while claiming full national credit for anything that went right. It is telling that on the morning after the Referendum the most common google search in the UK was reportedly “What Is the EU?” If only more people had taken the trouble to find out before they voted! As the UK will remain a member of the EU for at least another two-and-a-half years, however, it is not too late to make up for lost time, not just celebrating the cuisine and cultures of our 27 partners but championing the cause of Europe as well. At the very least we should stay in the Singe Market, but of course, if we do that, we might as well stay in the EU as well. This should be an option in any future referendum that might occur after Brexit negotiations have produced a putative deal.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »