Jonathan Fryer

Cameron and the Belloc Principle

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 9th April, 2016

Cameron must goLondon’s Whitehall was blocked this afternoon by demonstrators calling on Prime Minister David Cameron to resign. There are many reasons why the public might want to see the back of him and the Conservative government, even though they were only voted in last May, but the cause of this particular rally was the PM’s delay in clarifying the degree to which he did or did not benefit from his late father’s offshore funds. He has certainly handled the matter badly, which is rather odd for someone with a PR background, but then it is often difficult to be entirely objective about oneself. But is this a resigning matter? It is not as if he has broken any law (so far as we know). I can understand why many people are angry that it seems that there is one set of rules and taxes for ordinary people and another for the rich, but in that case the solution is to address the issue of tax havens and offshore funds directly, rather than focussing on one individual. Besides, were David Cameron to go, would his replacement be any better? The Conservatives enjoy an overall majority in the House of Commons and there is unlikely to be a general election before 2020. Were Cameron to stand down, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove are two names in the frame, both of which make me shudder, not least because both are in favour of Brexit. As far as I am concerned, the most important challenge facing Britain at the moment is ensuring that the UK stays in the EU, even if it means a weakened David Cameron at the helm. So, let us take note of the cautionary lesson in Hilaire Belloc’s poem “Jim”, and for the moment “always keep a-hold of Nurse, for fear of finding something worse.”

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Caroline Pidgeon’s PPB

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 7th April, 2016

Caroline PidgeonThanks to crowd-funding from supporters, London Liberal Democrats have for the first time been able to put together a party political broadcast for the London mayoral election. That goes out today (Thursday), though party members who are well plugged into social media were able to get a sneak preview yesterday. The film rightly focuses on the LibDem candidate, Caroline Pidgeon, and her policies (unlike the weird Green Party video of children, which never even shows you their candidate) and features a good ethnic and age mix of other people, representative of multicultural London. Caroline presents herself as an ordinary Londoner and is seen in everyday situations, such as buying groceries in a street market and playing with children in a nursery. But the point that is subtly put over is that whereas Caroline shares the concerns of ordinary Londoners, on such issues as the lack of affordable housing, expensive public transport coupled with worsening traffic congestion, and the high cost of childcare, she is actually extraordinary, as the only mayoral candidate of any party or group who has been at City Hall for the past eight years, holding Mayor Boris Johnson to account. Moreover, she was a hard-working London borough councillor before that. She comes over in the PPB as knowledgable, responsible and caring and the film itself is vey professional, without being slick. All in all, an excellent initiative. Let’s hope millions of Londoners watch it and respond to Caroline’s distinctive messages!

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The London Mayoral TV Debate

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 6th April, 2016

London Mayoral debateITV and LBC are to be congratulated for staging an hour-long live debate this evening (Tuesday) between the five principle candidates in next month’s London Mayoral election: Sian Berry (Green), Zac Goldsmith (Conservative), Sadiq Khan (Labour), Caroline Pidgeon (Liberal Democrat) and Peter Whittle (UKIP). The show’s two hosts were robust enough in their questioning to hold people’s attention and there was some opportunity for audience members to participate. Peter Whittle soon proved to be a one-trick pony, ‘curbing immigration’ being his answer to virtually everything. But the other four were better prepared and better matched. The main topics for discussion were security/counter-terrorism, housing and public transport. Sadiq Khan stood up firmly against claims of having some dodgy Islamist associates but was unable to persuade people that freezing London Underground fares was economically feasible. Zac Goldsmith was very suave and had the advantage of being able to boast of having the ear of the Conservative government between now and 2020, though earlier in the day he had been embarrassed by showing a rather sketchy knowledge of the London Underground system. However, Zac’s Achilles heel is that he is favour of Brexit, which is a rather loopy position for a prospective London Mayor to adopt (yes, I know, Boris Johnson QED). Sian Berry was cool and collected, and were it not for the fact that the Greens’ policies would put London’s vibrant economy into reverse gear, in many ways persuasive. Caroline Pidgeon, physically well-placed at the centre of the quintet on stage, had obviously rehearsed the points she wanted to get across, including a one hour bus ticket, half-price tube fares before 7.30am and a continuation of the Olumpics precept, but hypothecated for council house building — all good, clear campaigning issues. She rightly avoided endorsing any other candidate for LibDem voters’ second preference. Her task, as London Liberal Democrats have always been clear, is to get as high a LibDem city-wide vote as possible to ensure that she is not the only LibDem London Assembly member elected in May.

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Time for a Novel?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 3rd April, 2016

novel 1Having recently finished a childhood memoir, which I hope will see the light of day later this Spring, the inevitable question I now face is: what next? The big difference betwen writers and would-be writers is that whereas the latter can’t start, the former can’t stop. Of course, writing blog posts, tweets and Facebook entries is a useful way of dissipating creative energy, but for anyone who has actually had a book published — or in my case, a dozen — the compulsion to get cracking on something more susbtantial is irresistible.

Isherwood coverI had a complete break over Easter, while getting a couple of dental implants done, but I am now chomping at the bit, in more ways than one. As my childhood memoir ends with me just turned 19, in Karbala in Iraq, it might seem logicial to pick the story up from there. But I know that that is not what my impulses are telling me. Instead, I shall fast forward to the mid-1970s when I was in Brussels, initially wotking for Reuters news agency, subsequently freelance. The exact location of the action and the main characters are all so clear in my head, but this will be a novel, not a memoir, even if it is inspired by a lot of personal experience (rather like Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin stories, though I would be lucky to achieve anything like as good an end-product as his novels). I wrote a biography of Isherwood,.which involved two summers in California, interviewing him, while I was still based in Btussels and I remember him saying that having started his writing life as a novelist, he had ended up as a biographer and memoir-writer. My trajectory hopefully will be in the opposite direction, but here goes.

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Brazil’s Crisis: Tragedy or Farce?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 1st April, 2016

Dilma Rousseff 1George HiltonThe resignation of Brazil’s Sports Minister, George Hilton, just four months before the Rio Olympics are due to start, has added another twist to the tortuous political crisis that the country has been suffering in recent months. The government insists his departure will not affect Brazil’s ability to deliver on the Games, but there is growing scepticism abroad about that event given the country’s slow but steady economic decline over the past few years, as well as confrontations between sports authorities, property developers and poor communities who are being evicted to make way for arenas. More seriously, George Hilton may not be the last Minister to quit the current ruling Coalition, as five others who belong to the PMDB party are under pressure to do the same. The Coalition is currently led by the PT’s Dilma Rousseff, who inherited the political capital of her hugely popular predecessor ‘Lula’ da Silva, but she has since been the focus of various corruption allegations, including supposedly massaging the country’s deficit figures to make them seem better than they are. The problem is that in Brazil almost all politicians are assumed by the general public to be corrupt, whethe it is at the municipal, state or federal level. Construction contracts, in particular, are often linked to back-handers to politicians. Similarly, petty bribery is rampant. So why, one might wonder, are so many Brazilians — not just PT members but whole groups of NGOs  and social movements — regularly going out into the streets to demonstrate in favour of Dilma?

Fortaleza demoThe reason basically is to be found in 20th century history, not just of Brazil but of the whole region. Military or other right-wing dictatorships thrived in Latin America until well into the 1980s, often with the covert support of the United States. Indeed, that support was sometimes overt, as with the overthrow of Salvador Allende’s Marxist government in Chile by General Pinochet. Socialists and other leftist groups in Brazil are terrified that the move to impeach their soul-mate Dilma and bring down the current government is just a prelude to a political coup d’état, in which the far right would take over and crack down on dissidents and the marginalised, as happened in the past. The fact that the Military Police (a most alarming section of the security forces during the periods of dictatorship) was flying low overhead in helicopters last night in Fortaleza while a pro-Dilma rally was going on down the road from where I am staying did nothing to calm the nerves of those who fear that the country could suddenly succumb to a right-wing take-over.

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RIP Zaha Hadid

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 31st March, 2016

Zaha HadidZaha Hadid building 1I was appalled today to hear of the death from a heart attack of the architect Zaha Hadid, who has been responsible for some of the most remarkable and mellifluous buildings of our age. An exact contemporary of mine, she was born in Baghdad, Iraq, and like many talented young Arabs went to study at the American University in Beirut — mathematics in her case. But it was when she moved to London to study at the Architectural Association’s School of Architecture that her creativity really took root. Though in some ways influenced by the modernism of Le Corbusier, she developed her own flamboyant and visionary style, deeply feminine in many aspects yet anything but ‘gentle’. A woman with a dramatic sense of personal presence as well as of attire, she succeeded despite being both a woman and an Arab — both of which were to a certain extent handicaps at the start of her career — to become one of the most significant architects of our times. She founded her own practice in Britain, became a naturalised British citizen and was recognised with a Damehood by the Queen for her services to architecture, as well as winning numerous prizes. Not all of her completed designs have actually been built, so perhaps the greatest tribute to her would be to ensure that some more are. As it is, there are specactular buildings to enjoy in several parts of the old. She was a genuinely global figure and loved to travel, but while in Miami, Florida, being treated for bronchitis, died of a heart attach today. RIP.

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Brazil: Check Mate for Dilma?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 30th March, 2016

Dilma RousseffMichel TemerToday in Brazil the largest party in the country’s ruling Coalition, the PMDB (Brazilian Democratic Mvcement Party), pulled out, declaring that the game is up for President Dilma Rousseff. Ms Rousseff is in danger of being impeached over allegations that she manipulated government accounts to hide a yawning deficit. The Brazilian economy has been contracting each year these last few years, following an earlier spurt of growth during which Dilma’s predecessor, ‘Lula’ de Silva, proudly declared that the country had grown out of its traditional syndrome of being ‘the country of the future — and which always will be!’ Opponents of Dilma’s Workers Party (PT) have accused Lula of pulling the strings since Dilma succeeded him, and that impression was hardly lessened when the other day she attempted to make him her Chief of Staff. Opponents derided this as an attempt to put him beyond the reach of Justice, and the matter will now be examined by the Supreme Court. In the meantime, millions of Brazilians have been taking to the streets in demonstrations and counter-demonstrations for and against Dilma’s impeachment. Whichever way it goes, one thing is sure: the PMDB’s withdrawal is a cruel blow for the chances of Dilma’s survival. But whether it amounts to ‘check mate’, as the PMDB is crowing tonight, remains to be seen. One clear reason the PMDB might wish so is because if Dilma is ousted, the PMDB leader Michel Temer, currently Brazil’s Vice-President, would succeed her as Head of State.

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Brazil Rejects Israel’s Dayan

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 28th March, 2016

Dani DayanIn the face of Brazil’s firm refusal to accept former settler leader Dani Dayan as Israel’s new Ambassador to Brasilia; Israel has today admitted defeat and named him as its next Consul General in New York instead. The government of Dilma Rousseff has been one of the strongest supporters the international recognition of Palestinian statehood and considered the nomination of Mr Dayan; who was born in Argentina; emigrating to Israel as a teenager; as unacceptable b,ecause of his strong support for illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied West Bank. This situation led to a seven-month stand-off between Tel Aviv and Brasilia, but the Brazilians dug in their heels and now the Israelis have conceded defeat. It is very unusual for a country to refuse the credentials of a designated ambassador, but the Brazilians are to be congratgulated for refusing to compromise on a core matter of principle. The United States, alas, has no such qualms, but Mr Dayan’s arrival in New York is likely to spark at least some protests, not least from US Jewish groups who oppose Israel’s 49-year-old occupation of Palestine and Tel Aviv’s efforts to delegitimise the nascent Palestinian state.

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Remembering Gary Pulsifer

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 26th March, 2016

Gary PulsiferThe American publisher, Gary Pulsifer, who died yesterday from cancer chose to spend most of his professional life in England, where he became a much-loved feature of London’s literary scene. Quite small and slight, he was a bundle of energy, with a waspish tongue that relished mocking the pretentious without being viscious. I met him through the novelist Francis King, at whose dinner parties Gary would keep up a running commentary on authors of the day, including special favourites such as Shere Hite, as well as giving devastating impersonations of figures such as his earstwhile employer, Peter Owen. Gary thrived on gossip, whether it was the latest goings-on within the tightly-knit expat community in Tangiers or the tempestuous domestic life of Britain’s royal family. He really came into his own when he founded Arcadia, which became one of the UK’s most interesting independent publishers, though one that often lived from hand to mouth. Finance was not Gary’s strong suit. However, he did have an eye for interesting new ventures, spotting the potential of Norwegian and other Nordic fiction long before this became mainstream. His personal life had its ups and downs, which is largely why he ended up living at the Retreat at Park Langley, where members of the book trade on limited incomes could roost. He seemed unperturbed by being surrounded by fellow residents who were considerably older than himself, and he relished the chance to garden in the Retreat’s grounds. Eventually Arcadia went into receivership, and not very long after it was bought out and relaunched he was dismissed. The official reason for this was financial savings, but Gary commented stoically that he could see it coming as there was not room for more than one big fish in such a small pond. While ending his days in a hospice, typically he left instructions that there should be no funeral, but I do hope there will in time be a giant wake, at which his legions of friends will drink late into a summer’s afternoon, while Gary emits his characteristic shriek of mock horror and delight from the beyond.

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Russia and the Arts

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 25th March, 2016

Russia and the ArtsIvan MorosovOne hundred and sixty years ago, the National Portrait Gallery in London was founded, to house pictures of celebrated Britons. By a quirky coincidence that very same year, a similar but private institution was established in Moscow by the millionaire philanthropist, Pavel Tretyakov, who personally bought or commissioned portraits of notable Russians. His collection survived the Boshevik Revolution, becoming the State Tretyakov Gallery, one of the jewels of Moscow’s cultural crown. In a splendid example of cultural exchange (all the more remarkable because of the curent poor political relations between Britain and Russia these days), the two galleries have each arranged exhibitions of some of the other’s finest pieces. The NPG show (which runs until 26 June) offers a sumptuous selection of portraits from Russia’s golden age from the late 19th century up to he outbreak of the First World War. The names of many of the sitters will be familiar to all: Chekhov, Tolstoy, Thcaikovsky et al, but seeing them as vivid personalities captured on canvas is a rare treat. One can also chart some of the evolution of style and technique in Russian art from the portraits, from Realism through to Impressionism. In brief, this is an exhibitiion that should not be missed. A once in a lifetime opportunity for Londoners. There is also a beautiful companion book, Russia and the Arts, by Rosalind Blakesley.

{Illustration: Ivan Morosov by Valentin Serov}

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