Jonathan Fryer

Turkey to Have a “War” Election?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 19th August, 2015

imageYesterday the Turkish Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, resigned his mandate to form a new government having failed to come to any coalition agreement with opposition parties. This morning, President Erdoğan declared that the country is heading rapidly towards new elections; his AKP failed to get an overall majority in elections earlier this year, for the first time in a decade. Calling for a new vote is understandable, maybe even necessary, under the circumstances, but the worrying thing is the context in which any new election will be fought. The country’s armed forces are now engaged more directly in the fight against ISIS, but more importantly the uneasy ceasefire between the Turkish government and the banned Kurdish guerrilla movement the PKK is well and truly over. Turkish planes have bombed PKK forces within Iraqi Kurdistan (causing some civilian collateral damage) and the number of Turkish soldiers and policemen who have been killed by PKK sympathisers inside Turkey has risen sharply.

imageThe reconciliation process between Ankara and Turkey’s sizeable Kurdish minority is firmly on hold. This means that President Erdoğan will be tempted to call an election which the AKP will fight on a war footing, declaring that national security and the very unity of the country are at stake. His aim in doing so will be to get an overwhelming parliamentary majority, which will then enable him to push through his thwarted plans to move Turkey towards an executive presidential system, consolidating his own power. In the meantime, in any such “war” election, the predominantly Kurdish HDP — which broke through the grotesquely high 10% threshold barrier earlier this year, giving it a body of MPs for the first time — is bound to be unfairly stigmatised by the AKP and its compliant media as being allied to terrorism. That would be a serious step backwards for Turkey’s troubled democracy. But whereas a few months ago there was reason to be optimistic about the direction in which Turkey was heading the opposite is true now.

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Pessoa’s Lisbon for Tourists

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 18th August, 2015

imageimageOne if the things I so love about travel is the serendipity of chance encounters with unknown books in other people’s bookshelves, which is how I came across Fernando Pessoa’s Lisbon: What the Tourist Should See (Bilingual edition, Companhia das Lettras, 1992) here in Fortaleza, Brazil. Widely recognised as Portugal’s second most important poet (after Camoes), Pessoa spent his formative years in Durban, South Africa, where his stepfather was Portuguese Consul, and he wrote this little guidebook in English in the 1920s, by which time he was well installed in Lisbon, a city he adored. The manuscript was among the many papers found after his death and published posthumously. Although the book starts off as little more than a catalogue of sights that a casual visitor to Lisbon might see it starts to take on real life when Pessoa lets his romantic imagination roam in the bye ways of history. I particularly savoured glimpses of places now no longer extant, including the metallic covered market in the Praca de Figueira and the open-air public library that operated under the shady branches of a vast cedar tree. Lisbon has long been my favourite European city and this literary curiosity adds another little sparkle to its glory.

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Why Brazilians Are Protesting

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 17th August, 2015

imageimageWhen Brazilians take to the streets in their hundreds of thousands it is usually Carnival time — an explosion of popular music and celebration. But recently the crowds have been turning out for an entirely different reason: calling for the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff. Yesterday, in the main commercial city São Paulo an estimated 350,000 took part, with smaller demonstrations in other centers including the capital, Brasilia. There was even a modest turnout here in the North-Eastern coastal city of Fortaleza ( where I am spending August). The main trigger for the impeachment calls has been frustration at the corruption by which Brazil is riddled, including within the giant hydrocarbons company Petrobras where Dilma (as she is always referred to) used to work. But there is a wider disenchantment with her and her government because the Brazilian economy has stalled, while unemployment and inflation are both rising. There is very little chance that Dilma will be toppled (she is only one year into her second mandate) and it is doubtful whether anyone else could turn the country round quickly. But in the meantime the demonstrations have a certain therapeutic value as people come together to voice their individual and collective frustrations.

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Can the LibDems Fill the Widening Gap?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 15th August, 2015

Tim Farron 2The divide between Britain’s two major parties appears to be getting wider by the day, as David Cameron’s Conservatives drop all pretence at being One Nation Tories and instead adopt their default position of being the party of business and the rich. Labour, meanwhile, is in love with Jeremy Corbyn, or at least the bulk of its membership and newly signed-up supporters say they are, and the trade unions are therefore salivating at the prospect of acquiring more influence on politics than has been the case for decades. The net result is a yawning centre ground, and the challenge for the Liberal Democrats will be to show that we can fill it, by promoting policies that are radical but realistic, firmly rooted in liberal values which are shared by a sizeable proportion if the UK electorate, championing fairness and equality of opportunity, civil liberties, environmentalism and internationalism. I am not suggesting that is a complete list of priorities but they should be important foundations. With a much reduced contingent in the House of Commons, and the consequent inevitable fall in media interest, the LibDems will have a hard task ahead. Tim Farron, fresh from his well-deserved holiday will have to hit the ground running, as he did by showing a moral lead vis-a-vis the refugees and migrants in Calais. Next month’s Bournemouth conference must be a springboard that will grab the headlines. And local parties really must endeavour to fight every election that comes along, big or small. A golden opportunity has arisen because of Labour’s disarray but it must be seized before it slips away.

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Why Jeremy Is Top and Liz Is Bottom

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 12th August, 2015

imageI hadn’t expected the Labour leadership election to be quite so engrossing, but it really is riveting. As Labour is currently Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, this is all far more important than just jousting among lefties. In fact, it isn’t about jousting among lefties at all. Only my old friend Jeremy Corbyn would place himself well left of centre (though whether such political geography is relevant in the 21st century is a different matter). The other three are in the crowded middle ground, with Liz Kendall positioning herself as the safe, sane candidate. So why is Jeremy stomping ahead while Liz is trailing last, with less than 10% in the internal party polls?

imageI have to say, as a media man, I though her video message was dire; set in a featureless modern office space (presumably hired for the occasion) it showed not a single ounce of personal character or affection. It was identikit New Labour at its worst, and had it not been for Liz’s voice-over I would have thought it was an advert for Apple, as their computers were the real star of the show. In contrast, Jeremy is wonderfully human, real, even shambolic, which is why people are warming to him. I have campaigned with him over the years on issues we both support, just as I have found myself on the opposite side of the politcal divide from him on other occasions. Do I think he is the best person to lead the Labour Party? Not necessarily. But given the dire alternatives and his own sincerity, he deserves to win.

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Peace and War: Britain in 1914

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 10th August, 2015

imageThe avalanche of books that came out last year to mark the centenary of the beginning of the First World War concentrated mainly on the causes of that hellish conflict, which consumed millions of young lives during the more than four years that it ran. The assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, in Sarajevo in the summer of 1914 was in many ways a pretext for bellicose action on a continent whose leaders were itching for a fight. At first their was division within Asquith’s Cabinet in London about the wisdom of Britain’s getting involved, though once the Germans entered neutral Belgium the dye was cast. Largely forgotten by many, but given rightful prominence in Nigel Jones’s lavishly illustrated volume Peace and War: Britain in 1914 (Head of Zeus, £25), troubles in Ireland were more of an immediate headache in London for much of the year. The summer started early and the weather was fine which meant that this codicil to to Edwardian era (by now presided over by King George V) was bathed in a light that afterwards would be viewed with nostalgia — at least by the leisured classes who enjoyed the full privileges of their rank and their wealth. However, even without the looming War, change was on the way. One of the strengths of Nigel Jones’s book is that he gives due attention to the Suffragettes, socialism and other novelties that had come to the fore in the previous years. He also highlights some of the young artists, writers and bohemians — some of whom would perish on the battlefields — with helpful commentary. The net result is a sweeping social history of a fundamental period of social change, rather than a mere examination of the causes of the First World War. The book will therefore retain its relevance when others have been forgotten.

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Along Came a Spider

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 1st August, 2015

Along Came a SpiderAnna Paola has been a familiar figure round Soho for many years. I remember her playing the piano at Kettner’s when that restaurant was owned by my friend (and great Liberal) Peter Boizot, but much of her adult social life has also been lived in the narrow grid of streets along and around Old Compton Street. Like many Sohoites, she has moved joltingly between jobs — ranging from teaching at Gordonstoun school in Scotland (when Prince Charles was a pupil) to performing in some of the more louche gentlemen’s clubs in Mayfair — just as she moved between a variety of different rented rooms and flats in London and even a series of relationships with older men. Truly a bohemian life, with highs and lows, ecstasy and depression, all of which she lays bare in her memoir Along Came a Spider (Avanti Books, £8.99), which is as much a stream of consciousness as a stream of memories, across more than 50 very short chapters. Anna was both talented and beautiful, a composer as well as a performer, which guaranteed that she would get back on her feet each time she took a tumble, and tumble she often did, whether as a result of the death of someone dear to her, or of a failed relationship. She is candid about the mood swings and the oft-faltering confidence, which at one point led her to turning down what could have been her great break in the United States. Her friend and fellow Bach aficionado, the comedian and pianist Dudley Moore, did go West before succumbing to progressive supranuclear palsy. Rather a lot of people in her book similarly meet awful ends in hospitals. Yet defiantly the author affirms hope and life at the end. She puts much of her instability down to having been given away for fostering as an illegitimate baby, so that all her life she has to an extent been searching for herself. Her prose is guileless, raw and immediate, sometimes resembling how I imagine she must have spoken during therapy sessions. It’s just a pity that this nicely presented paperback has apparently not been edited; her anarchic punctuation and the proliferation of single words or short phrases with quotation marks around them become grating, and even a wise friend could have gently pointed out that Beirut is not in Syria and doctors do not take the ‘Hypocritical Oath’.

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The Buxton Festival

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 26th July, 2015

Lucia di LammermoorOne of the most encouraging developments on Britain’s cultural scene in recent years has been the upsurge in festivals, not just the well-established ones like Edinburgh’s but dozens of other cities, towns and venues now offering a variety of cultural events, some predominantly literary, others more diverse. Among those, one that has been receiving increasing attention internationally as well as nationally is the Buxton Festival, held in that Derbyshire spa town, which has just completed this year’s event with an overall attendance equalling its best ever. I was honoured to be part of the final event: a literary lunch sponsored by the Oldie Magazine with fellow speakers Prue Leith and Kate Mosse. We were a heterodox trio but the mixture worked well and the event was sold out well in advance. Thanks to the festival organisers I was able to travel up to Buxton 24 hours in advance, thus catching some of the street theatre that was going on in different areas around town during the afternoon and later attending a performance of Donizetti’s opera Lucia di Lammermoor in the lovely Victorian opera house. That was especially memorable for the brilliant command of the title role by the Welsh soprano Elin Pritchard. It was a balmy evening, too (not always a given in the Buxton valley), allowing the audience to spill out onto the forecourt for interval drinks. Some people had travelled long distances to attend the festival’s highlights, which featured dozens of well-known writers and performers as well as newcomers. Indeed, this is something to watch.

Link: http://www.buxtonfestival.co.uk

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Community Voices: EU Migrants in England

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 22nd July, 2015

New Europeans seminarFreedom of movement is one of the pillars of the European single market, something that is not only good for business and the economy but good for individuals as well, as a majority of younger people in this country understand. Yet the Conservative government, egged on by the more repulsive elements of the right-wing Press, is trying to renegotiate some aspects of freedom of movement as part of a package that David Cameron wants to put before the British public in a referendum on the country’s EU membership some time over the next couple of years. On that he will fail, as there is no way that countries such as Poland will accept some of the things he has been suggesting. And why should the Poles? They — along with migrants from our other 26 partner states — have made a huge contribution to the British economic recovery. They pay in, in taxes, NIC etc, far more than they take out of our welfare state, and although UKIP and the more extreme Tory head-bangers may moan about the fact that there are over two million EU migrants in the UK they conveniently ignore the fact that there are almost as many Brits living on the continent. Yet the British public knows very little of the reality, often preferring to swallow scare stories from the Daily Express.

New EuropeansSo it is a matter for congratulation that the NGO New Europeans has been running a series of meetings in England and Wales looking at the reality of the impact of EU migration on communities. The final one of these was held at Europe House in Westminster this evening, featuring a couple of academic presentations on the evidence before break-out sessions on the themes of health, education, housing and jobs. One point that really came home to me was how the Labour government in 2004 failed to make adequate provisions for the inevitable influx of workers from Poland in particular. The Labour Party has now renounced that policy of opening up to the new EU member states (just as it is busy renouncing most of its previous progressive policies at the moment in a scramble to sell itself to middle Britain). In the event, the migrants were blamed for what were in fact the British government’s shortcomings. It was interesting to hear from young researchers from Southampton how many Poles there have set up businesses, creating jobs, not ‘stealing’ them.Although we do not know when the referendum is going to be, it is essential that the true facts be in the public domain. Too often, with organisations such as Migration Watch active in the field we are seeing policy-driven evidence rather than evidence-driven policy being propagated. And as every true academic knows, that is classic bad practice.

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Simon Hughes Conquers Everest

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 21st July, 2015

Simon Hughes 4One of the key policy areas many Liberal Democrats will be focussing on now we are in opposition to the Conservatives is human rights, which have been prominent in the campaigning values of both the national party and our wider Liberal International family. So it was timely that Lewisham Liberal Democrats this evening hosted a dinner in Blackheath at which the speaker was the recently knighted Simon Hughes, who was Minister for Justice for a short period before the May election. A lawyer by training, Simon had an interesting slant on the subject to help us finesse our campaigning tactics in that he is not necessarily opposed to the idea of a British Bill of Rights so long as that retains the core principles enshrined within the European Convention on Human Rights (which was of course largely framed by British legal minds). As he told the gathering at the Everest Inn Nepalese restaurant, the Conservatives (with some noble exceptions) have been damning the Human Rights Act as a flawed Labour invention, which while technically true rather misses the point.

Nepal eathquakeSimon also pointed out that with the exception of unqualified rights such as that against being subject to torture and degrading treatment most of the articles in the ECHR do have qualifications, which are often ignored or misrepresented by the more unscrupulous sections of the British Press. Most of the ‘scandals’ highlighted in the Daily Mail and the Daily Express have been related to Article 8 of the Convention, in particular regarding the right to a family life, but it is perfectly possible for British courts to make sound judgments without offending the principles of the Convention. There seemed to be a feeling among members present — many of whom had campaigned for Simon in his sadly unsuccessful attempt to retain his parliamentary seat in Old Southwark and Bermondsey — that the Conservatives are in danger of wanting to throw the baby out with the bathwater on this issue, though they may find changing our relationship to the ECHR difficult to get through the House of Lords. It would be crazy as well as self-defeating for the UK to withdraw from the ECHR, but that message needs to be got over to the general public in an understandable way. At the end of the evening, instead of the conventional raffle, a collection was made for relief efforts in Nepal, in which the owner of Everest Inn has been involved, as the after-effects of the eathquake are still severe.

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