Jonathan Fryer

Posts Tagged ‘Boris Johnson’

London Liberal Democrats’ Autumn Conference

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 14th November, 2015

Caroline PidgeonGiven the drubbing that the party received at the General Election in May — losing all but one MP, Tom Brake, in London — London Liberal Democrats were in amazingly high spirits at their AGM at the University of West London today. But then LibDems are the perennial Minions of British politics; knock one over and (s)he immediately bounces back up. One reason for the good spirit was undoubtedly the large number of new members that have joined the party over the past six months, of whom there were a goodly number present at the one-day conference. But the main reason was the relished challenge of the London Mayoral and Greater London Assembly elections in six months’ time. Current Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon, who is number 1 on the LibDem top-up list for the Assembly is the party’s mayoral candidate and has had good media coverage for her work on the Assembly, not least in the field of transport. She gave a short but rousing rallying speech, and the Number 2 on the list, Emily Davey, spoke on housing, which is her speciality and is rightly being promoted as the top issue for concern in the capital. Number 3 is Merlene Emerson and it would be wonderful if she were elected too; the LibDems have had as many as 5 Assembly members in the past, and as an ethnic Chinese, Merlene would add some much needed diversity to the ranks of LibDem elected politicians.

JF at London LibDem conferenceI spoke about the EU Referendum, which David Cameron has said will happen some time before the end of 2017, but which the Westminster village believes could come as early as June or July next year. I had stayed up until the early hours of this morning following the news of the horrific terrorist attack in Paris. In my speech I mentioned how pleased I was that Donald Tusk, President of the European Council (and former Polish Prime Minister) had in his message to French President Francois Hollande not only expressed solidarity with the French people but also declared that the attack was an assault on Europe and European values. How often does David Cameron talk of European values, I asked rhetorically. While obviously working closely with the Stronger in Europe campaign, the LibDems must be leaders in campaigning for Britain to remain in the EU — as Tim Farron showed he was willing to be, in a skype link from the Welsh Liberal Democrat conference in Swansea. We need to be talking about Europe on the doorstep and putting it in our literature during the GLA campaign. More than anywhere in this country, London benefits from our EU membership, whatever the oafish Boris Johnson may say to the country, and it is essential that we do not allow a Brexit by default.

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Theresa May Is So Wrong on EU Free Movement

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 30th August, 2015

Theresa May 1The British Home Secretary, Theresa May, set out in an article in today’s Sunday Times changes she would like to see made to the principle of freedom of movement within the European Union. This is one of the central planks of the European single market, which was largely put in place by the Conservative peer and European Commissioner Lord Cockfield and endorsed by Margaret Thatcher. Lord Cockfield, at least, must be spinning in his grave at Ms May’s outrageous demand that freedom of movement should be restricted to people who already have jobs, unlike the situation now, in which EU citizens can seek work in other EU member states, settle or retire there, study or simply make their lives more interesting by experiencing different European cultures, rather than spending their entire existence (apart from holidays) in an increasingly insular Tory Britain. One can only assume Ms May has set out her stall against free movement as part of a bid to outflank Boris Johnson in the next Conservative Party leadership contest, but if that is true then it is shamelessly self-centered and against the true interests of Britain.

EU free movementOne of the reasons that the UK has emerged more strongly from the post-2008 recession was because of the talented EU migrants who came here to work or set up businesses. The revolting Daily Express and at times the Daily Mail would have us believe that all EU migrants are benefit scroungers, which is a gross misrepresentation of the reality. The CBI, farmers and other groups of UK employers acknowledge the contribution EU migrants have made and I trust they will stand up and be counted against Ms May’s mean call. If David Cameron were to heed it and try to push for such a radical change to free movement with our EU partners it is certain that they would reject it, as the whole European project would start to unravel if it went through. Of course, that is what a disturbingly large number of Conservative MPs actually want to happen, not to mention UKIP. But the issue, if handled as badly as Ms May has done, could make it more likely that Britain would leave the EU, even though a “Brexit” would have serious consequences for our national economy. However, there is a more optimistic scenario following this new development which is that all those people who have benefited from the freedom of movement — the 2million+ Brits on the continent and the other EU citizens resident here — as well as young people who fancy studying or working abroad and older people who want to have the option to retire somewhere warmer will all gang up together to shout down this attempt to undermine their rights. And, one hopes, vote out this awful Tory government at the next election.

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The Sindbad Voyage

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 1st January, 2015

imageAs someone who travels a huge amount, researching, lecturing and writing, I never lose the thrill of encountering new places and new peoples. But I’ve always been a bit mystified by travellers for whom the journey and the mode of transport themselves provide the adrenalin: round-the-world yachtsmen, balloonists and so on. But occasionally one such traveller manages to convey the essence of their passion in a book, as is the case with Tim Severin’s The Sindbad Voyage (1982). Severin had form, having travelled by motorcycle with Boris Johnson’s father Stanley from Oxford to Afghanistan while they were undergraduates, then later in a tiny boat made of animal hide across the Atlantic to prove that many centuries before Christopher Columbus early Europeans could gave done it. The Sindbad Voyage project was the most ambitious of all: to build a traditional Arab boom of the type Arab traders used in the ninth century and then sail it all the way to China, as Arabs did when Haroun Al Rashid was the Caliph in Baghdad and the T’ang dynasty ruled the Middle Kingdom. Severin was fortunate to get sponsorship from the Sultan of Oman, and it was in Oman that the craft was built. Omani sailors made up most of the crew, along with a motley collection of European volunteers and scientists. Though the number of places at which the ship made landfall was limited — notably India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Singapore and China — the atmosphere of various ports is well captured. But essentially the book is a love song for the ship itself, the Sohar, with all its weaknesses as well as its strengths. And once again, Tim Severin had proved that something was possible.

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UKIP Gets Its “First” MP

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 28th August, 2014

Douglas CarswellHaving debated against the eloquent Euro-sceptic Conservative MP for Clacton, Douglas Carswell, during May’s European election campaign, I am not particularly surprised by his defection to UKIP. In a sense it is odd he didn’t do it before — indeed, during that campaign — but maybe UKIP’s strong showing in May persuaded him that it is now a risk worth taking. Honorably he is causing a by-election, though precedent suggests that might be a double-edged strategy. When Bruce Douglas-Mann, Labour MP for Mitcham & Morden, switched to the newly-formed SDP and caused a by-election in 1982, the seat was seized by the Conservatives. However, Mr Carswell may feel that his personal vote will bring over many Conservative supporters. His 12,000 majority over Labour in 2010 was pretty healthy and Clacton is the sort of Essex coastal constituency where UKIP is currently popular. Interestingly, UKIP didn’t field a candidate in 2010 (though a BNP candidate almost saved his deposit). The Conservatives are bound to throw everything they’ve got at this by-election; if they were really brave, they’d field Boris Johnson. But if they fail to hold the seat and Douglas Carswell becomes UKIP’s first elected MP it doesn’t mean he’ll hang on in May next year. Anyway, he has certainly put a bit of vim into the pre-Party Conference season’s politics. And may the best man (or woman) win!

(NB: Bob Spink MP defected from the Conservatives to UKIP in 2008, but was later reclassified as an Independent, as there was no UKIP whip in the Commons. He lost his seat in the 2010 general election, standing as an Independent with UKIP support)

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Could the G20 Sort out Syria?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 2nd September, 2013

Assad and PutinRussia G20I don’t always agree with (Lord) David Owen, but he made a valid point in an op ed piece in today’s London’s Evening Standard when he suggested that the G20 Summit in St Petersburg later this week could offer an important opportunity for negotiations to find a way out of the Syria impasse. The host of the Summit, of course, is Vladimir Putin, who is Bashar al-Assad’s closest European ally. And the G20 brings together an interesting mix of developed, emerging and developing countries: the Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, UK and US, plus the European Union. It is clear that there is stalemate on the ground in Syria; Assad is not losing, but he’s not winning either, and in the meantime yet more people get killed — over 110,00 already — and more refugees are created. The Syrian economy, as well as the country’s infrastructure and heritage, is being systematically destroyed. Despite the UK Parliament’s rejection of a military option last Thursday, it is still possible that the United States (if President Obama persuades Congress), France and Turkey may take part in a strike. But what exactly would that achieve. The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, wrote in a piece in this morning’s Daily Telegraph that it would be possible to call another vote in the Commons and that the aim of any military strike should be to punish Bashar al-Assad. Well, there is a growing consensus that the Assad regime was responsible for the 21 August chemical weapons attack; the NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen was the latest authority to state that today. But as I said in a live interview on BBC Radio London this evening, surely the way to “punish” Assad and his clique would be to bring them before the ICC in The Hague, to face charges of crimes against humanity. I genuinely believe that is the best outcome, though I have no illusions about how difficult it may be to get him and his cohorts to The Hague. In the meantime, surely the prime concern must be to prevent as many deaths and as much suffering as possible. And the only plausible way to do that is convene the Geneva 2 peace conference that has been in the air for some time now. It may be uncomfortable to sit down with a dictator, but that may be the only sensible option — and it won’t happen unless Mr Putin is on board.

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Pidgeon Curry in Greenwich

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 3rd June, 2013

Caroline PidgeonCutty SarkTransport is the one thing that gets most Londoners hot under the collar and is probably the area in which Liberal Democrats have made most impact on the London Assembly — first through Lynne Featherstone and now Caroline Pidgeon. London is a preeminent global city — certainly Europe’s unrivaled metropolis — but it does not have a public transport system to match. This is despite constant upgrades and one of the highest fare structures in the world. Part of the problems is that the underground system is 19th century in its origins, but it also has to be said that Mayor Boris Johnson has had some pretty odd priorities since he took over the helm of the Greater London Authority from Ken Livingstone in 2004. His Routemaster+ buses are proving to be expensive disaster+ buses, with costly conductors who cannot take fares or even oversee the back door off-peak. At a curry and discussion evening in Greenwich this evening, Caroline Pidgeon, AM, regaled Liberal Democrat members from Greenwich, Lewisham and further afield with stories of her holding the Mayor to account. I picked up on a passing reference she made to his latest harebrained suggestion that commercial companies should be able to sponsor tube stations. Anyone for Starbucks Temple, or Oval MacNuggets or Winga Wembley Park, anyone?  But it’s not just Boris Johnson, and the even more out-of-touch right-wing Tory group on the GLA, that Caroline has been taking to task. She has been having a go at Greenwich’s Labour Council leader, Chris Roberts, who as a matter of principle refuses to respond to any request or approach from her, despite her London-wide role. One party Stalinism rules in Labour Greenwich, and alas not only there!

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Tope’s Hopes

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 22nd May, 2013

Graham TopeGT A Life in PoliticsOver the past 40 years Graham Tope has served at almost every possible level within the British political system: MP (thanks to the famous by-election victory in Sutton and Cheam), local councillor, Leader of the Council, GLA member, Member of the House of Lords, member of the EU Committee of the Regions and more besides, but throughout all this he has avoided falling into pomposity. He still cooks a mean lasagne for local activists every autumn and dutifully goes out on the rubber chicken circuit — this evening as guest speaker at an Islington Liberal Democrats pizza and politics. The starting point for his very informal, extended presentation was the book that he wrote at his son Andrew’s bidding, A Life in Politics, recounting the highs and the lows of four decades at the political coalface (mainly the first part), most of it — as he confessed tonight — transmitted to his son through his Blackberry. As was the case with me, Graham was inspired to join the Liberal Party by Jo Grimond, a truly remarkable man of principle and vision. Indeed, I wondered aloud tonight whether one problem of the current political scene is that we are missing charismatic figures such as Grimond or indeed Jeremy Thorpe, who was truly magnetic in his heyday. That is not to criticise Nick Clegg, but it is true that there is a certain similarity between David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband; none pops and fizzes in the way that, alas, Nigel Farage or Boris Johnson does. Graham is himself not a showman, but rather a solid man, someone you can count on and someone who continues to give a great deal to the Party and to Sutton. He will not be standing again for the Council in 2014 — after so long he can be excused handing on to others. But in the Lords and on the Liberal Democrat social circuit he will doubtless continue to make his contribution and, as tonight, offer hope for the future — that basically Liberal values are as important today as they ever were. Next May will not just be about winning seats, at London borough council and European Parliament level (important though that is) but also inspiring people with Liberal vision.

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Boris Is a Barnacle

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 18th January, 2013

barnacleBoris Johnson 4Any formal function at the Mansion House in London is normally the Lord Mayor’s show, but the annual London Government dinner — always held in early January — offers the incumbent Lord Mayor  a challenge, as he is inevitably playing second fiddle to the Mayor of London, i.e. the man in charge of the whole city rather than just the City (financial district). The current Lord Mayor, Alderman Roger Gifford, acquitted himself far better than most, being skilfull in both cadence and content. That is no mean feat when one has the blond bombshell, Boris Johnson, to follow. What Boris had to say was hardly a surprise, as it had been extensively previewed in a leaked story to the Evening Standard. Basically, he was arguing that Britain should stay in the European Union — a rare bit of supportiveness for Prime Minister David Cameron, who is due to make what is billed as a “landmark speech” on Britain and Europe in the Netherlands tomorrow (how pleased he must be to be pre-empted by Boris) — but that we need to scrape the barnacles from the ship of Europe that are slowing us down. This is, frankly, bollocks, and I was pleased to see that many of the City figures predictably present on this occasion had their heads in their hands as Boris rambled genially on. It is simply not true, as Boris asserted., that the great outside world is just waiting for a dynamic Britain to go it alone, or at least situate itself in some far looser arrangement with our continental partners. As the Americans made abundantly clear the other day, they are interested in the UK precisely because it is a gateway to Europe. Close that door and we risk becoming an irrelevance. Of course Boris can be witty, and raise a laugh. But it was self-evident tonight at the Mansion House that he struck completely the wrong note. The City knows full well that it needs a prosperous Britain within a prosperous EU. And it is about time more City types stood up to be counted on the issue — and to blow Barnacle Boris a giant raspberry.

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Tom Spencer’s In-Out Referendum

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 17th December, 2012

Tom SpencerTom Spencer is one of those rare birds: a green, federalist, pro-European Conservative. This meant that things were not always comfortable for him when he was leader of the Tory MEPs in the European Parliament, but in a sense it was as well that he stood down from his seat; he would have been hung, drawn and quartered (metaphorically speaking, of course) by the Party now. Tory MPs at Westminster — including government Ministers, who ought to know better — have been trumpeting the case for Britain’s leaving the EU. At least it was good to see The Economist, as well as the more predictable Observer, recently demonstrating why neither the Norway nor the Switzerland option is feasible for the UK. As guest speaker at the annual Christmas Dinner of the European Movement in London in an Italian restaurant in Bloomsbury this evening, Tom pointed out that Norwegians pay more per capita into the EU budget than Brits do, but have absolutely no say in the formulation of rules and regulations relating to the European single market, by which they must abide. He also declared with the sort of emphatic certainty that is his trademark that there EMiL logowill be an In-Out referendum on Britain’s EU membership in 2016 or 2017. And despite the efforts of political personalities such as London’s Mayor Boris Johnson — who Tom described as “highly intelligent, but not very nice” — he believes UK voters will vote to stay in once the case for the benefits of membership — and the perils of pulling out — is firmly put. That is certainly what happened in the 1975 referendum on confirming Britain’s then very young membership of the European Economic Community. At the start of the campaign, opinion polls suggested the voters were 2:1 against staying in, but the actual vote was 2:1 in favour. That was thanks to the efforts of political activists including a then much younger Tom, and heavyweight politicians from all three main national parties. Will the line-up next time be as impressive and as broad church? And will the European Movement — now definitely weaker — be a motor for the referendum campaign, or does a new body, like the one-time “Britain in Europe” need to be created? It’s not too early to be thinking of answers to those questions.


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Caroline Pidgeon’s Transport Overview

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 14th September, 2012

photo by Anuja Prashar

As someone who has lived in London for more than 30 years I know how important public transport is to most people’s lives in the city, so it was hardly surprising that Caroline Pidgeon, Liberal Democrat member of the Greater London Assembly (GLA) and Chair of the Assembly’s Transport Committee, attracted a good audience and a barrage of questions when she spoke to Merton Liberal Democrats last night. She paid tribute to the way that many Londoners shifted their working patterns during the recent Olympics and Paralympics, which meant that the underground system and Docklands Light Railway managed to cope despite the millions of extra journeys by visitors. With ongoing advances in communications technology, there is good reason to assume that some London companies and their employees will build more home-working, video-conferencing etc into their lives, reducing the need for daily commutes. Yet there is every reason to suppose that the pressure on the public transport network will increase. The underground system — the oldest in the world — still needs massive new investment to be fit for purpose, though Crossrail — now progressing after several decades of inexcusable dithering and delay — should ease the east-west congestion. Caroline was a great supporter of the proposed cross-river tram, which would have eased north-south congestion too, but the project was alas abandoned. Indeed, Mayor Boris Johnson does not seem to be aware of the true potential of trams, Caroline said. She also argued that much more use could be made of the River Thames as a transport highway, and she spoke up strongly for more, better and safer cycling provisions. I raised the issue of aviation, as the Liberal Democrats need to have more of a coherent policy than merely opposing a third runway at Heathrow. That will be the subject of a debate at the up-coming party conference in Brighton. In the meantime, what is clear is that both the Conservatives and Labour are deeply divided on whether there should be increased air capacity in London and the South East, and if so, where.

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