Jonathan Fryer

Posts Tagged ‘David Cameron’

Witney: A Golden Opportunity

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 19th October, 2016

img_1518Tomorrow the voters of Witney in Oxfordshire will be going to the polls in a by-election caused by the resignation of former Prime Minister David Cameron. Normally this would be safe Conservative territory (despite the fact that one previous incumbent defected to Labour), but these aren’t normal times. David Cameron made the disastrous mistake of calling June’s EU Referendum, convinced that he would win, and his successor as PM, Theresa May, seems determined to march down the road to a “hard Brexit” despite all the warnings from economists about the damage that will do to Britain’s GDP. Interestingly, West Oxfordshire (of which Witney is the administrative seat) voted for Remain in the Referendum, but the Tory candidate is a Brexiteer. All this could produce a perfect storm for the Liberal Democrats as the party  that is not afraid to show its European colours. The LibDem candidate, a personable local businesswoman and councillor, Liz Leffman, is well known, having fought the constituency in 2005. Several pro-EU groups have endorsed her and hundreds of LibDem volunteers have been pouring in daily to campaign for her. The Tories deliberately called the by-election quickly, to avoid any opposition head of steam building up, so it is probably not likely that Liz can win, but coming a very strong second would send a very powerful message to 10 Downing Street. And if Liz did pull off an Orpington-style victory then the whole story of Brexit could be changed.

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UK Press Coverage of the EU Referendum

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 21st September, 2016

eu-referendum-uk-pressBritish newspapers are notoriously partisan, which is a polite way of saying politically biased. But do they actually influence the way people think and vote, or rather do readers gravitate to titles that reflect their own opinions? It has often been argued that the latter is the case, which might suggest that the bias does not really matter, yet when so much of the UK Press argued for Brexit, I couldn’t help wondering if that contributed significantly to the narrow vote to leave the EU. So I was pleased to be able to attend a seminar last night at Europe House, headquarters of the European Commission and European Parliament London representation, to listen to a panel discussing the findings of a report on UK Press coverage of the EU Referendum, published by the Reuters Institute for the study of Journalism in association with PRIME Research. The study, which looked at the Tuesday and Saturday editions of nine leading newspapers, found that 41% of the articles that focused on the referendum were pro-Leave whereas only 27% were pro-Remain. When the readership reach of the different newspapers was factored in, the imbalance was even more marked, as 48% were then identified as pro-Leave and only 22% pro-Remain. The study noted that Europe was not a particularly important issue for voters until 2010 and only became so after it was linked to immigration. The referendum campaign itself coincided with a decline in David Cameron’s popularity and the Remain campaign appeared unable or unwilling to articulate a positive vision for Britain’s EU membership instead focusing on the risks of Brexit. The Leave side then cleverly exploited what it dubbed Project Fear. The Remainers concentrated almost entirely on economic arguments whereas the Leavers gave more weight to matters such as sovereignty and migration. Neither side could claim to have told the unblemished truth, though the most egregious lie was the £350 million a week claim the Leave campaign could be saved by no longer paying in to the EU budget, instead spending the money on the embattled NHS. The Daily Express maintained a barrage of anti-EU migrant stories, though the reach and therefore impact of the Sun, the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph was more significant. The pro-Remain newspapers were essentially the Daily Mirror, the Guardian and the Financial Times, though interestingly polling results later showed that a significant number of Daily Mirror readers voted to Leave, underlining the social/economic class dimension to the vote.

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The Challenge for the Liberal Democrats

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 16th September, 2016

tim-farronAs Liberal Democrats gather in Brighton this weekend for Autumn Conference, it’s a timely moment to consider the challenges facing the party. Despite the turmoil within Britain’s official opposition party, Labour (graphically illustrated on BBC’s Question Time last night by a cat fight between John McDonnell MP and Alastair Campbell), the LibDems seem stuck in the national opinion polls in the range 6-8%. Pretty pathetic for a party that was in government (albeit in Coalition) between 2010 and 2015. Yet the position is nowhere near as bleak as that headline figure might imply. There has been a whole series of very strong LibDem gains in local council by-elections over the past few months; there was another one yesterday, in Derbyshire. These suggest that the party has bottomed out electorally and is now on the road to recovery (as Paddy Ashdown argues in today’s Guardian). Moreover, there is what I see as a golden opportunity in the parliamentary by-election due to be held in Witney on 20 October. Witney was of course David Cameron’s seat. Just a year after winning an unexpected overall majority in the last general election, David Cameron’s fall from grace has been spectacular. In the wake of June’s Brexit vote, he resigned as Prime Minister and then on the eve of a highly critical Foreign Affairs Committee report on his handling of the Libyan crisis, he resigned his seat. Interestingly, in West Oxfordshire (in which Witney is the seat of local government) Remain triumphed in the EU Referendum, which means that there must be many thousands of disgruntled voters there who in a by-election situation might be persuaded to vote for an explicitly pro-European party. That certainly won’t be Labour, given Jeremy Corbyn’s self-evident ambivalence about the EU. But it could be the Liberal Democrats, if the party seizes the opportunity, selects a brilliant by-election candidate with the right credentials and pours members and supporters into the constituency for an intense month-long campaign. Tim Farron is expected to make the clarion call for pro-Europeans at Brighton this week. Let that also be the trumpet sound for Witney, which, if handled well, could be a milestone in the LibDem Fight Back!

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Grilling Frederick Forsyth

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 14th September, 2016

frederick-forsyth-1“I have no respect of admiration for the Establishment,” novelist and occasional MI6 collaborator Frederick Forsyth declared yesterday at a gathering of the London Grill Club, an informal lunch club for journalists and other professionals who give a prominent public figure a grilling once a month. Forsyth campaigned for Brexit long before this summer’s EU Referendum campaign, but he was as scathing about British politicians as he was about Brussels bureaucrats. David Cameron’s resignation from Parliament obviously figured large in the conversation, but the novelist felt the now departed Prime Minister only had himself to blame: he should have been neutral in the referendum debate, as Harold Wilson was in 1975, rather than being the “chief prosecutor” for Remain. Tony Blair also came in for criticism; although Freddie supported the Iraq War, he was appalled by what he saw as Blair’s lying to Parliament, and he backed Reg Keys, father of one of the Iraq casualties, when Mr Keys stood against Blair in Sedgfield at the 2005 general election. Forsyth at 78 is a more mellow personality than even five years ago, but he still has some robust opinions. “Political correctness has replaced Christianity as a religion in Britain,” he pronounced at one point. He does not intend to write any more books; his autobiography The Outsider “is my swan song”. But that does not mean that he will abandon campaigning when there is an issue he feels strongly about, his current hobby-horse being to expose what he sees as “a stitch-up” involving a Royal Marine convicted of shooting a wounded Taliban fighter in Helmand province in Afghanistan in 2011.

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London’s March for Europe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 3rd July, 2016

Tim Farron on Europe marchI was so shattered by last week’s EU Referendum outcome that I haven’t been able to write my blog, but yesterday’s March for Europe in central London lifted my spirits. An estimated 50,000 people congregated at Hyde Park Corner, before marching to Parliament Square, waving UK and EU flags and holding aloft hand-made signs, many bearing witty puns. There was a large Liberal Democrat contingent, with Tim Farron leading; both he and the party got numerous cheers, as having campaigned overtly for Remain. What I found most encouraging was the response of the public as the march went past: waves and yells from visitors on the London Tour buses and lots of honking horns from motorists. There was a carnival atmosphere, aided by the sun and spontaneous outbursts of song, yet there was no ignoring the fact that many people in the crowd (including me) were angry that Britain may be taken out of the EU on a narrow referendum vote at least partly influenced by the lies of the Leave campaign. Having brought about this disaster, by calling an unnecessary referendum, Prime Minister David Cameron has now washed his hands of all responsibility, though he will stay in office over the summer, a lame duck while five contenders of varying degrees of charm/repulsiveness slug it out to succeed him. All, alas, are committed to going ahead with Brexit, though many on the march yesterday hopes that the almost inevitable failure to come up with a desirable post-Brexit plan might change some minds. Other marchers were demanding an election. And where was Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition? At an event in his constituency, apparently; having been lukewarm at best in backing Remain he had doubtless been advised that he risked getting booed if he turned up on the march.

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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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Barack Obama Is Right on EU

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 22nd April, 2016

Obama EUThe US President, Barack Obama, has taken the opportunity of his short visit to Britain to underline why he believes it is in Britain’s interest — as well as that of the rest of the world — for the UK to remain in the European Union. He argues cogently that Britain is stronger IN and has more global influence. Most of British business, as well as international institutions such as the IMF, agree, but that has not stopped the advocates for Brexit attacking Barack Obama with all guns blazing. UKIP’s Nigel Farage, disgracefully but predictably, has called Obama the most anti-British President ever, but much more shameful have been the comments of the outgoing Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. Not content with accusing the Americans of hypcosrisy in wanting Britain to be part of the EU, on a very dodgy use of analogy, BoJo has now declared that maybe the fact that Obama’s father originated from Kenya means he has an axe to grind with post-colonial Britain. This is barely concealed racism, as well as an unsavoury use of innuendo. Perhaps we should be not surprised, given the way that his putative successor, the Tory candidate Zac Goldsmith, has been been resorting to barely disguised Islamophobia in his attacks on Labour opponent Sadiq Khan. Boris Johnson seems to be inspired by the tousle-haired populist on the other side of the Atlantic, Donald Trump, and is throwing his principles to the wind. Maybe he thinks that will give him a better chance of becoming Tory leader after Cameron retires, but he deserves to be proved wrong. Barack Obama is an infinitely greater politician  than BoJo and it is his voice the British public should listen to, not the self-serving porkies and insults of second-rate Trump Johnson.

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Has Boris Blown It for Brexit?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 15th April, 2016

Boris JohnsonA distinctly underwhelming crowd of Vote Leave supporters gathered in Manchester today to hear some of the campaign’s supposedly leading lights, including Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. Having kept people guessing for months about which side of the argument he would come down on (typically contradicting himself in the process), Boris finally decided that it was in his own personal interest to campaign for Leave in the UK’s EU Referendum, which will take place on 23 June. For those of us who were familiar with his cavalier attitude to news stories when he was a foreign correspondent based in Brussels, inventing stuff when it allowed him to take a swipe at Europe, this did not come as a great surprise, but the vitriol the Mayor is now pouring out a against those campaigning to Remain in the EU is pungent, even by his standards. Today he accused Prime Minister David Cameron & Co of being the Gerald Ratners of the EU campaign, implying that they know that the EU is crap. That is so far from the truth as to be derisory. Moreover, does Boris not realise how oafish he looks beside Nigel Farage, George Galloway and other poster-boys of the Leave campaign? I believe he has called this whole thing wrongly, which will mean not only will the UK stay in the European Union but also his chances of ever becoming Conservative Prime Minister diminish daily.

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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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More UK Double Standards over Israel

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 2nd March, 2016

Juli EdelsteinThe Speaker of the Israeli Knesset, Yuli Edelstein, is due to address MPs and Peers in Parliament today at the invitation of his British counterpart, John Bercow. Nothing strange about that, one might think, except that Mr Edelstein lives in the illegal Israeli settlement of Neve Daniel in the occupied West Bank and declared ahead of his visit that he will “represent the Knesset, the state of Israel and the West Bank with pride” during his visit (my emphasis). Mr Edelstein has no right to represent the West Bank, whose Palestinian inhabitants have lived under oppressive Israeli occupation for the past 49 years. Several elements of that occupation are in clear violation of both the Geneva Convention and the Hague Agreements, not least the way that Israel has settled hundreds of thousands of its own people in the occupied territories. This is in clear violation of International Law and indeed successive British governments have condemned it. Yet it is clear that the current Conservative government in London speaks with a forked tongue, as in principle it is opposed to the occupation yet Mr Edelstein will be welcomed with open arms. No wonder Palestine’s envoy to Britain, Manuel Hassassian, has declared that he is “incredulous that Mr Edelstein is being given a platform in Parliament itself – the self-same Parliament that only a short time ago voted to recognise the Palestinians’ right to self-determination.” During his visit, Mr Edelstein is expected to meet both the Prime Minister, David Cameron, and Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, underlining the cosy relationship that the UK Conservatives have with Israel’s Likud-led government. This includes people like Mr Edelstein who would love to see a “Greater Israel”, which formally incorporates all of the West Bank into the Jewish state. As it is, there is now so much illegal Israeli settlement in the Occupied Territories that many informed observers, including myself, fear that things have passed a point of no return, as there is no longer enough contiguous territory left for a viable, independent Palestinian state. It is shameful that the British government is essentially acquiescing to this situation rather than using the diplomatic and economic tools that it has at its disposal to demonstrate that its pubic statements against Israel’s occupation policies are not just empty words. No wonder so much of the Arab and wider Islamic world accuses Britain of double standards in the Middle East. Moreover, they are correct.

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