Jonathan Fryer

When Will America Reject Guns?

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.

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The European Union: A Citizen’s Guide

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 8th June, 2016

Chris Bickerton European UnionCampaigning to Remain in the European Union ahead of the 23 June Referendum I have been struck by how little most people know about the EU. Perhaps that is inevitable, given that no previous British government has bothered to explain the Union to the electorate prior to the recent referendum brochure, which Brexiters have been damning as propaganda. Moreover, anyone relying on tabloids such as the Daily Mail or (worst of all) the Daily Express has been fed a diet of anti-EU prejudice and outright lies for years. So with little more than a fortnight to go before this crucial vote it was timely for Penguin Books to issue a dispassionate account of the EU, its history, its workings and its possible future: Chris Bickerton’s The European Union: A Citizen’s Guide (Pelican, £8.99). Europhiles will be disappointed that Mr Bickerton does not share their passion for the European project; he is quite dismissive of the peace dividend (despite the EU’s Nobel Prize) and does not really do credit to the founding fathers. However, he will equally dismay Eurosceptics because he does not write the whole thing off as an expensive, anti-democratic con-trick. Steering a middle line should in principle therefore enable readers to make up their own minds, though I personally wish that he could have made parts of text more engaging. He himself benefited from the EU’s freedom of movement, taking up teaching positions in the Netherlands and in France, but his main observation about that is how easy it was in Amsterdam because the Dutch speak such good English, whereas the wretched French insisted in speaking French. I can’t help but feel he somehow missed the point. That said, this is a useful and compact little volume which should help the uninitiated steer their way through the mysteries of the EU. Let’s hope it also then enc0urages people to vote on 23 June, preferably for Remain.

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Brexit: The Commonwealth Has Its Say

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 7th June, 2016

International Liberals Yes To EuropeOne of the favourite arguments of more lucid adherents to the Vote Leave campaign is that a Britain outside the EU would be able to rebuild a special trading relationship with the Commonwealth. However, the evidence does not bear this out. Trade links to the Commonwealth (as well as the nostalgia of Empire Loyalty) was a factor in Britain’s decision not to join the infant European Communities at the beginning, but the situation is very different today. Australia, for example, is much more focussed on China and the rest of East and South East Asia than on the “Mother country”, while Canada is closely tied economically to the United States. Former African colonies have grown and diversified their patterns of trade and relations, beneifitting from a series of aid and trade deals that they have enjoyed through the EU. Moreover, one after another, the leaders of Commonwealth states have been queuing up to declare to Britain: don’t opt for Brexit! One of the reasons we really like you these days is because you are part of the EU and its single market.

PA, KF, JEBut there is an even more important Commonwealth dimension to Britain’s EU Referendum on 23 June. All legally resident Commonwealth citizens in the UK (as well as the Irish) are entitled to vote, so long as they are on the electoral register (for which the cut-off time is midnight tonight). That means that people originally from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria and elsewhere can all have their say. Paradoxically, citizens of other EU member states — who risk being most affected by any vote in favour of Brexit — cannot, unless they happen to be from Cyprus or Malta.Some diplomatic missions, such as the Irish, worried about the impact of Brexit, have been urging their nationals to vote — and ideally for REMAIN. And a number of community groups and NGOs have been organising events, not least in London, to inform and energise their members. Last night, at the National Liberal Club in Westminster, an International Liberals Yes to Europe evening chaiored by Baroness Kishwer Falkner brought speakers from Canada (John English) and Cyprus (Praxoula Antoniadou), as well as a South African MP (Stevens Mokgalapa) via Skype link, all of whom stressed how crucial it is for Britain to be part of the EU if it wishes to remain a powerful player in the world. Otherwise, we attendees were warned, many richer Commonwealth citizens are likely to leave or to pull their money and investments out of Britain. This is not scaremongering. Already, billions of pounds have been withdrawn from Britain overall over the past six months, just because of the fear of Brexit. Praxoula Antoniadou, leader of the Cypriot (Liberal) United Democrats and a sometime Central Banker, warned that Britain after Brexit would see a brain drain, too. Even London would risk no longer being the magnet that it undoubtedly is today. That’s why so many Commonwealth citizens will be voting on 23 June — and they are numerous enough in a tight-run contest to make all the difference.

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Growing the European Liberal Family

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 5th June, 2016

image.jpegAt the ALDE (European Liberals and Democrats) Party Council in Vilnius this weekend, new full member parties were welcomed from Spain, Poland and Ukraine. The first two were particularly significant, as we did not have a national Spanish member party, only the (very strong and active) Catalan regional party, Convergencia. Last year, I was one of a number of European Liberal Democrats who went to Madrid for a day-long event with Cuidadanos, to check them out. Although new, they have already performed quite strongly in elections, and are undoubtedly a liberal, centrist force. Paradoxically, several key figures in the party are Catalan, and have therefore found themselves on the opposite side of the regional independence argument from Convergencia, but that will not stop the two working side-by-side within ALDE. As for the new Polish party, Nowoczesna, it is relatively small but is bravely standing up against the forces of illiberalism in Poland, where the government has even attracted formal EU concern. As the next ALDE Congress will be held in Warsaw at the beginning of December, one hopes this will give our new member a significant boost. The Ukrainian newbie, Civic Position, is also quite small but is a welcome liberal addition to that conflict-ridden state’s political landscape. ALDE has member parties right across Europe, not just in the EU, though Brussels-centred activities are a core area of operation. Being part of ALDE can help liberal parties outside the EU to feel part of a wider family, and indeed to receive practical assistance in some cases. Of course, in less than a month Britain could be starting its own bumpy journey out of the EU into the periphery, though the call from all the Continental and Irish delegates at the ALDE Party Cluncil was clear: “Please don’t leave!”

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The Trumpification of British Politics

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 2nd June, 2016

When Donald Trump first started campaigning for the Republican nomination in the US presidential election few people in Britain took him seriously, with his bluster, balderdash and downright lies. But now he has the nomination in the bag he can’t be ignored, though I am pleased that Nicola Sturgeon and other politicians in the UK are going to give him the cold shoulder when he goes to Scotland the day after the EU Referendum. But for all those (including myself, until recently) who think “Someone like that could never get to the top in Britain”, beware. I now believe it is not impossible, thanks to what I have styled the Trumpification of British politics that has become glaringly obvious during the EU Referendum campaign. Boris Johnson, of course, is just the most egregious example, pandering to latent xenophobia as well as trotting out Euro-myths left, right and centre. It has been alarming to see how many senior Conservative politicians — including several Cabinet Ministers — have joined Nigel Farage in what was previously the loony corner, ramping up their poisonous anti-EU and anti-immigration rhetoric with each day that passes. Alas, even some in the REMAIN camp have been tempted down the road of exaggeration and hyperbole, devaluing British polical discourse in the process. In Boris’s case, there does seem to be a definite attempt to emulate Trump in manner and diction, as his ego and ambition inflate like a giant balloon. But when I mentioned Trumpification at a Federal Trust event on Brexit the other evening, a German academic said he though the main cause was Twitter and the way that politics is now often just the exchange of short, pithy, often unsubstantiated statements, coupld with aggressive character assassination. As a keen Twitter user, I find that a depressing thought, but he might well be right.

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Oscance: Toasting Oscar and Constance Wilde

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 30th May, 2016

Oscar Wilde married Constance Lloyd on 29 May 1884 at St. James’s Church, Paddington, a short walk from the bride’s grandfather’s house in Lancaster Gate. For the past dozen years or so, that event has been commemorated at the church with an afternoon ceremony called Oscance, with readings, interviews and performances. But yesterday’s commemoration was special, as it centred on the unveiling by their only grandson, Merlin Holland, of a beautiful memorial to the couple, made by he young letter-cutter, Thomas Sergeant. As one of the Patrons of the Oscar Wilde Society, I was then asked asked to propose a toast (with prosecco), which I did as follows:

Wilde plaqueEvery time I come to St. James’s, I can feel the presence of Oscar Wilde. Spooky, as Dame Edna Everage would say, though spooky in a most pleasant way. He’s up there somewhere, among the rafters, looking down on us. But he’s not alone, because half concealed behind one of the pillars — not hiding, but watching the proceedings with a wry smile on her face — is Constance. As was mentioned in the reading from Franny Moyle’s biography, Constance was a strong character in her own right — for example, being an active member of the Chelsea Women’s Liberal Association — though the drama of Oscar’s later life left her overshadowed. I sometimes wonder how things would have been if the couple had lived a hundred years later, in our own, more liberal age. But maybe there would not have been this more liberal age had it not been for the lesson of the downfall of Oscar Wilde. It is most fitting now that all the planning and commissioning and the tooling of the memorial are complete that Oscar and Constance in the form of the beautiful plaque will now greet everyone who comes into this church and will bid us farewell this afternoon. I therefore ask you to raise your glasses: to Oscar and Constance!

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Should EU Migrants Fear Brexit?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 25th May, 2016

The American novelist Mark Twain was fond of saying that there are three types of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics. And with both the Remain and Leave sides in Britain’s EU Referendum campaign sharing sometimes completely contradictory statistics in the run-up to the vote on 23 June, it’s no wonder people are confused.

How do EU citizens in the UK feel?

There are an estimated 2.2 million EU migrants who live and work in the UK, having taken advantage of the European Single Market’s freedom of movement of people, goods and services. How do they feel about the possibility of Britons voting to leave the EU?

Unsurprisingly, 87% of the 1,000 continental EU citizens living in the UK surveyed by totaljobs in May 2016 said they are concerned about Brexit. There is no guarantee that they could stay in Britain post-Brexit, though 75% of respondents said they would try to do so. That might mean they would have to apply for a work visa, which may not be guaranteed.

If they were pushed out of Britain after Brexit – perhaps passing thousands of expatriate Brits returning home from their lives in mainland Europe because of a reciprocal withdrawal of rights – many say they would go back to their home country. But slightly more would look for work in another EU member state, the survey uncovered. Wage differentials certainly make that worthwhile for people coming from low-wage economies.

Some British tabloids have claimed that EU migrants, especially from formerly communist states of central and eastern Europe such as Romania and Bulgaria, came to Britain essentially to take advantage of the country’s relatively generous, non-contributory benefits system, but the totaljobs survey findings do not support the idea of such a powerful ‘pull factor’.

Europeans-and-Brexit-2

Working in the UK

Fewer than half of respondents cited better benefits when asked how working in the UK had affected their career, whereas two thirds mentioned higher earnings. Notably, a majority of the European migrants surveyed were earning less than the average British salary of £26,000 a year. Career progression and a healthier work-life balance also figured prominently in their responses.

For a clear majority of respondents, coming to Britain was all about work: Better job opportunities and higher salaries than those available back home. By far the biggest group represented among the EU migrants in Britain are people aged between 25 and 44 – a prime stage of life for developing their careers.

Others cited educational opportunities, including the chance to improve their English, which is recognised as the number 1 language in the EU and in the wider world.

Some came to Britain for personal reasons, being married to or in a relationship with a Brit, or else joining family already living here. Yet others simply wanted to experience another culture, with many settling in London, which is currently enjoying a particularly vibrant period culturally and economically.

Employers in both the manufacturing and agricultural sectors in the UK often say they like to have workers from the continent because they have a good work ethic. In some cases, employers find it difficult to recruit suitable British workers to do the job.

Similarly, while some Brits argue that competition from EU migrants pushes down wages, a recent study by the London School of Economics maintains that is in fact not the case.

How many Europeans are in the UK?

EU migrants probably make up no more than 5% of the total labour force in Britain. The Poles are by far the largest single group of (non-Irish) EU migrants in the UK, and made up a fifth of the totaljobs survey respondents.

In 2004, when Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Malta and Cyprus joined the EU, Britain, unlike most other existing member states, did not impose transitional arrangements that would have stopped migrants from the accession states moving in for a number of years.

Inevitably Britain was something of a magnet, though not all those who came in the first wave stayed very long, particularly after the financial crisis of 2008. Incidentally, the government considers those who stay for less than a year to be ‘short term migrants’ and does not include them in the headline immigration statistics.

That largely explains why considerably more EU migrants were given National Insurance numbers than show up in the official immigration figures provided by the Home Office. Yet these statistics may only tell some of the story; although the British border force monitors people coming into the country, it does not check those leaving, so no one can be completely sure how many continental EU citizens are living here at any given moment.

Also notable, each year the EU migrants arriving in Britain are outnumbered by immigrants from other parts of the world, a higher proportion of whom are hoping to settle permanently.

Europeans-and-Brexit-1

Do EU citizens think it’s worth staying?

Well over half of the migrants polled said they were satisfied with the experience of working in Britain and that they felt more comfortable in the work culture of Britain than they did back home. Yet not all were comfortable in the current political climate as the EU Referendum approaches.

A third of respondents, notably those who had been in the UK for less than five years, said they would feel discriminated against if they were looking for a job now. They also worried about possible political developments in the country after a potential Brexit.

One option for some would be to protect themselves by applying for UK nationality. Half of the 1,000 survey respondents said they had indeed considered it and nearly 10% were in the process of doing so. Yet in contrast, a significant proportion of the total believed they would leave Britain within the next two years.

The British government says it called the Brexit referendum in response to public demand; the last such vote, to confirm Britain’s membership of the then-European Economic Community, occurred back in 1975.

The decision to hold this referendum has affected many migrants’ opinion of Britain negatively, especially among those aged 34 or younger. Perhaps they belong to a generation that takes the realities of the European single market for granted and are especially unhappy that freedom of movement might be curtailed.

Job security is the top concern, with younger migrants in particular fearing they will be kicked out of the country. Some also worry about a possible rise in xenophobia and possible discrimiation.

Other preoccupations are primarily financial. Currency fluctuations could mean that the pounds migrants earn by working in Britain would be worth less back home post-Brexit, while air fares – important for those who return to their home country regularly to visit family and friends – might rise substantially.

The information and speculation about the consequences of Brexit available are so inconsistent that it is hard for people to judge what the likely impact really would be. To make matters worse, according to the survey, 60% of the EU migrants questioned said the HR departments of the firms where they worked had not kept them informed about the potential work policy changes caused by Brexit.

That may appear shocking, until you realise that the HR people probably have no idea themselves.

More questions than answers

The truth is, no one knows exactly what the consequences of Britain leaving the EU would be, or indeed what sort of future relationship the UK would have with Europe. A Norwegian or Swiss model – both of which have been suggested – would mean that freedom of movement for EU workers would continue, whereas a Canadian model would see that right ended.

What does seem certain is that it would take several years of negotiation and legislative changes for Britain to disentangle itself from the EU, which means that a vote in favour of Brexit would not be the end of a process, but just its beginning.

[This article was first published by Totaljobs Group: http://www.totaljobs.com/insidejob/impact-brexit-europeans-working-uk/   ]

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Liberal International Executive in Georgia

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 22nd May, 2016

imageLiberal international held its first-ever Executive Committee in the South Caucasus republic of Georgia this week, fortuitously coinciding with the 38th anniversary celebrations for our host party, the Republican Party of Georgia. Security issues were at the fore outside of the purely administrative session, including a trip to the “separation line” — where Geirgian troops face encroaching Russians, who have taken over South Ossetia and occasionally push forward their barbed wire barrier, separating Georgian farmers from their land and cutting them off from friends and family on the other side. On Friday night a fading party came over and killed one young Geirgian man. The Georgian Defence Minister, Tinatin Khidasheli, was a keynote speaker. Slovenia’s former Defence Minister, Roman Jakic — recently one of LI’s Treasurers — made the point that NATO cannot say it has an open door policy and then turn people away, which offers a potentially challenging situation with regard to both Georgia and Ukraine.

imageLooking further afield, there was a debate on whether the world can unite successfully in its fight against ISIS/Daesh. But I was especially interested in a session on the implications of the nuclear deal with Iran. Former Belgian junior Foreign Minister, Annemie Neyts, echoed my feelings by arguing that we need to engage with the Iranians and to recognise their historical importance, while not keeping our eyes off the security ball, whereas Dan Kucawka from Argentina took a much more hawkish position, basically asking how we can trust a country whose forces are helping Bashar al-Assad in Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon. All in all, the world seems a more troubled place than it did a decade ago, though one of the positive developments has been the expansion of Liberal International to take in new member parties, not least from Africa.

 

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INtogether Action Day

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 15th May, 2016

INtogether NewhamAcross Britain yesterday, hundreds of local Liberal Democrat parties organised street stalls promoting a Remain vote in the Euro-Referendum. I briefly manned the one outside Stratford Station in Newham and although inevitably many people rushed past without stopping, anxious to catch their train or to do their Saturday shopping, it was encouraging just how many people did engage, voluntarily approaching the stall (where we had about 10 activists from across the capital) to take literature and ask questions. Newham is an ethnically very diverse area, but there was just as much interest among Asian and Afro-Caribbean passers-by as among the whites. What was very striking, though, was the difference of attitude according to age. Many older white women in particular said “I’m voting OUT!”, whereas younger people were almost all in favour of Remain. The keenest of all were 15- and 16-year-olds, not least black girls, though of course they cannot vote. If Mr Cameron had thought about things more deeply he should have tried to get the franchise reduced to 16, as happened in Scotland’s independence referendum. After all, it is the young people whose future will be most affected by the decision to stay or go. Moreover, older people tend to vote more regularly than the young, that could skew the result. Doubtless that is what UKIP and Tory Outers like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove hope. Nonetheless, I feel that a narrow vote in favour of Remain is the most likely outcome, especially now that the Governor of the Bank of England and other authoritative non-politicians are weighing into the argument. Depressingly, the Brexit camp is still putting out lies, the two most common being that Britain pays £350 million into the EU every week and that the accounts of the Union have never been approved. That’s why it is so important to be out in the streets and knocking on doors putting the INtogether case.

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Palestine’s Nakba Continues

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 11th May, 2016

Manuel HassasianAcross the world, Palestinians this week are commemorating the Nakba or “Catastrophe” — the 1948 flow of more than 700,000 Palestinian refugees from territory that had been declared as the new state of Israel. Many Palestinian villages were destroyed and countless people had to leave their homes at a moment’s notice, never to return. The memory is a wound that never heals, even among second and third generation Palestinians of refuge families who were born in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and elsewhere. Many remain stateless, thereby denied full freedom of movement. Last night, following a joint initiative by the SNP Friends of Palestine and the London-based Palestine Return Centre (PRC), there was a large gathering at the House of Commons, addressed by Manuel Hassassian (Palestinian Ambassador to the UK), Tommy Sheppard MP (SNP), Sameh Habeb (PRC), Karma Nabulsi (Palestinian academic and human rights campaigner, based at my old college, St. Edmund Hall, Oxford), Caroline Lucas MP (Greens) and myself (as Chair of Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine). In the audience were Muslims, Jews, Christians and others, united in their concern to bring an end to the Israeli Occupation.

Palestinian refugee campsAmbassador Hassassian made a blistering attack on the Conservative government for its hypocrisy in saying that it is in favour of international law and human rights while doing nothing for the Palestinian cause; indeed, David Cameron and several other Ministers have stated openly that they are great supporters of Israel. Caroline Lucas particularly focussed on the arms trade and the fact that British arms manufacturers are selling some of the weapons used in the Israeli occupation. I urged people to look forward, as well as backwards to the start of the Nakba, pointing out that public opinion has shifted dramatically in the UK in favour of addressing the injustices of the current situation. I called on the British government to follow Sweden’s lead in recognising Palestine, without pre-conditions, and asked that people stop referring to Israeli “settlers” in the West Bank, instead acknowledging that they are “occupiers”. “Colonisers!”, Ambassador Hassassian chimed in. All the Palestinian speakers were doubtful that a two-state solution is now possible because of the fact that there is no contiguous unoccupied Palestinian territory that would be a viable core. However, Palestinians will within five years outnumber the Jewish population in Israel-Palestine, so it is urgent that a different kind of road map is drawn up for the future. Perhaps I am an incurable optimist, but I said that I felt that the fact the pro-Israeli lobby is trying to damn anyone standing up for Palestinian rights as “anti-Semitic” is actually a sign of weakness, not of strength. The Israeli government is beginning to understand that its narrative of victimhood — perfectly understandable historically — in 2016 no longer washes among many people in this country because of the Occupation and the daily injustices and humiliations inflicted on Palestinians. Furthermore, Britain, as the mandatory power over Palestine between the two world wars, has a historical responsibility to put pressure on Binyamin Netanyahu and his colleagues to change their policies radically. The Israeli government says it will only listen to the United States, where millions of Christian Zionists are blind supporters of Israel because they believe in the biblical prophecy that after Armageddon there will be a second coming of the Messiah. But it would be precisely to stop Armageddon in the region that Britain, in concert with other EU member states, should take the lead in trying to bring the Occupation to an end. International Law must prevail and the Nakba must end, so that both Palestinians and Israelis can live in a secure peace and in growing prosperity.

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