Jonathan Fryer

Posts Tagged ‘David Cameron’

The Need for Grassroots IN

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 3rd February, 2016

Haringey in EuropeI was pleased to see that a local campaign for an IN vote in the forthcoming EU Referendum has got off the ground in the London borough of Haringey and hope that other local authority areas across the country will follow suit. Though people who really care one way or the other about Britain’s remaining in the EU or leaving, there is about a third of the electorate that is not really engaged — and the only way they are likely to become so is if they are contacted in their local communities and preferably told the facts about how EU membership benefits their area. In my home patch of Tower Hamlets, for example, there are numerous examples of projects from EU structural funds that have helped create jobs and boost the local economy. The OUT campaign is already quite well organised at a local level, especially in those areas where UKIP is active, and hopes to attract a lot of Tory voters and others to its cause.

Peter Bone, MP, wore an OUT campaign tie in Parliament today for Prime Minister Cameron’s statement on his attempts at EU renegotiation. I was pleased to see that it was a particularly hideous design, but it made me thing that the IN side needs to start wearing our colours too. There have long been some attractive and discreet lapel badges that figure both the British and EU flags, and which in my experience often generate questions or comment. But we also need to be organising street stalls and writing more letters to local newspapers. Some areas are already doing that, but most are not. We may not have all that much time to make a difference unless we get our finger out soon. Though Mr Cameron is still remaining coy about the date of the EU Referendum, he seemed to be hinting today that if he gets a deal he thinks he can sell to the British public, then the date will be the bookies favourite: 23 June, despite pleas from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to hold further away from May’s elections.

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Holocaust Memorial Day

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 27th January, 2016

Auschwitz BerkenauMore than 70 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, the lessons of the Holocaust are still highly relevant. Over the past year there has been a disturbing rise in anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and other instances of ethnic and religious discrimination, not least in Europe, and Holocaust Memorial Day is a stark reminder of just how terribly wrong things can go when prejudice and discriminatory behaviour are considered acceptable and reach extremes. The refugee and migrant crisis of the past year has given rise to some splendid spontaneous acts of generosity but it has also provoked negative reactions in some quarters. Hearing the British Prime Minister David Cameron in the House of Commons today refer dismissively to “a bunch of migrants” I found chilling, as well as reflecting a disturbing element of entitlement within the current Conservative government. Even worse has been the shameful proposition from the government in Denmark to seize valuables from asylum seekers. Don’t the Danes realise what dreadful echoes of the not-so-distant past that provokes? Europe is undeniably under pressure at the moment but the way forward is to cooperate with compassion, not to scapegoat vulnerable communities and incomers. Even among our indigenous populations in Europe there are growing numbers of marginalised and dispossessed people, including homeless in our cities, not least London. We should not fall into the trap of looking down on people, including those sleeping in the streets, because that is the start of a slippery slope.

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EU 2016: Dutch at the Helm

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 3rd January, 2016

Dutch EU presidency 2On 1 January the Netherlands took over the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union, with pledges to facilitate Europe’s economic growth and competitiveness, to enhance the EU’s role in the world, to promote forward-looking energy and climate policies, to improve cooperation on security as well as migration and asylum, and last but by no means least to empower European citizens by making them more involved in EU decision-making. These are in summary the five pillars agreed for the next 18-month period by the so-called Trio which will be at the helm until 30 June 2017: the Netherlands and their successors Slovakia and Malta. The role of the EU presidency has changed somewhat in recent years with the appointment of a President of the European Council — the gathering of EU Heads of Government — rather than that job being rotated twice a year along with the EU presidency. The incumbent as President of the Council since December 2014 is Donald Tusk, a former Polish Prime Minister. But the country that has the EU rotating presidency can still have a big influence in managing EU affairs, as well as hosting many meetings of the 28 member states. In the case of the Netherlands, well over 100 of these meetings will be held at the Maritime Museum in Amsterdam, underlining the importance of the EU’s being outward-looking.

Cameron Rutte 4The elephant in the room, not specifically mentioned in the Dutch programme of works, is trying to keep Britain as a member of the European Union. At a European Council meeting next month, the UK’s EU partners will respond fully to Prime Minister David Cameron’s four demands for EU reform, which he hopes can be the basis for then recommending that Britons vote to remain in the EU in a referendum that is likely to take place later this year. This could well prove to be the most tricky Council over which Mr Tusk will have to preside, as at least one of Mr Cameron’s demands — considerably extending the period during which EU migrants are unable to access benefits when in another member state than their own — has met great resistance, not least from Poland. Mr Cameron foolishly took the Conservative Party out of the largest European grouping in the EU, the European People’s Party (EPP) several years ago, which meant that he sacrificed a valuable opportunity to lobby and negotiate with EPP leaders, not least the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. Yet paradoxically one of his greatest allies is neither in the EPP nor in the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), which the Tories formed with a rag-bag of right-wing parties from a few other countries, but instead with the Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte. Mr Rutte leads the more conservative of the Netherlands’ two liberal parties, the VVD, and is therefore part of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), to which the British Liberal Democrats belong. But he has an excellent working relationship with Mr Cameron and as the Netherlands now has the EU presidency, 10 Downing Street will doubtless be hoping that the Dutch will facilitate a compromise that will deliver what Mr Cameron wants.

Link: http://english.eu2016.nl/

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Happy New Year, Saudi-style

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 2nd January, 2016

Embedded image permalinkThe Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has long had one of the highest levels of capital punishment implementation in the world, but this year it has really excelled itself by welcoming in the New Year by executing 47 individuals today in various parts of the country. The official reason is that these people were convicted of terrorism; having not been present at the trials I cannot comment on the legitimacy of the verdicts, however there are several important points to make about the sentences. The first, of course, is about the death penalty itself. In the European Union, it is not allowed. Indeed, any country aspiring to join the EU must remove capital punishment from their statute books; Turkey, for example, has done this. But the European objection to the death penalty is global in its concern, not regional, which is why governments such as the UK’s should be taking a public stand. They do it against ISIS/Daesh, correctly, and they should do it against that key Western “ally”, Saudi Arabia. David Cameron please note.

Nimr al-NimrSecond, there is the question of the impact of today’s executions, both inside Saudi Arabia and in the wider Middle East. Notably, one of those executed was a prominent Shia cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. This will not only inflame passions among Saudi Arabia’s Shia minority, concentrated in the Eastern Province, but has already brought howls of outrage from the most significant Shia-majority country in the region, Iran. Saudi Arabia and Iran are already fierce rivals in the Middle East (and are supporting opposite sides in the conflict in Yemen) and this latest development will only make things worse. Moreover, it is likely to exacerbate tensions between Sunni and Shia communities across the Gulf and the Middle East. If the government in Riyadh wished to cool passions in the restless Eastern Province they have alas succeeded in doing the opposite.

Cameron Saudi 4Finally, there is the question: should this be our business, or something just for Saudis themselves to comment on? I believe the answer should be an unequivocal “yes, it is our business”. Apart from the objection in principle to the death penalty, discussed above, there is the fact that there are particularly strong ties between the Desert Kingdom and Great Britain, both between the governments and between the two royal families. This relationship is something that should be reviewed. Behind-the-scenes diplomatic pressure has had no effect. The number of executions (many of them public beheadings) went up last year and after today’s executions (some by beheading, others byfiring squads) 2016 looks like being a record year. It is time for Britain and other Western countries to make it clear that we believe that human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia, including the extraordinary number of executions, are not acceptable in the 21st century. The Saudi monarchy seems intent on bringing about its own downfall, and if/when that happens, we should not be seen to have failed to take the side of humanity and justice.

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The Yawning Centre Ground

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 27th December, 2015

Jeremy CorbynCameron EU 1With Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn widely being predicted to purge his Shadow Cabinet of several right-wingers and Britain’s Conservative government rapidly becoming the most intolerant and anti-progressive since the dark days of Mrs Thatcher, there is a yawning centre ground in British politics. In principle, this offers an ideal opportunity to the Liberal Democrats as a third force. But to occupy that ground successfully won’t just happen; it has to be engineered. The way NOT to do it was illustrated in the final stages of May’s disastrous general election campaign, when a party political broadcast was aired showing a woman driving a car (while not wearing a safety belt, as thousands of TV viewers noted with disapproval) wondering whether to turn left or turn right but in the end deciding to go straight ahead. A neat idea from a PR firm’s point of view, perhaps, but as a political message totally vacuous. The LibDems were suddenly neither one thing nor the other, and nothing in particular; no wonder many of our wavering supporters went elsewhere.

Tim FarronThe late, lamented Charles Kennedy understood that the Party must not be seen as the soggy centre, and was good at articulating a narrative of being “actively forward”. That is something Tim Farron needs to emulate. Tim has rightly seized on human rights as a core Liberal principle, highlighting in particular the humanitarian crisis relating to refugees and migrants on the one hand and the disgraceful record of Saudi Arabia and some other badly performing countries on the other. But human rights — and indeed wider civil liberties — are always going to be a minority discourse, so the LibDems need to craft a “radical forward” political platform that draws more people away from left-leaning Labour and right-leaning Tories. With the Green Party wilting, environmental issues can be reclaimed by the Party. And so must the issue of fairness, often talked about in LibDem literature but as yet not turned into a campaigning message — one that is passionate, one that is angry about the growing inequalities within British society and one that challenges the Conservative head-on. The Tories may have been our Coalition partners between 2010 and 2015, but there is no doubt that they are our political opponents now.

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Cameron’s Awkward Dinner Date

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 18th December, 2015

Cameron EU 1British Prime Minister David Cameron sat down to a dinner of venison with other EU heads of government in Brussels last night, though for him the main item on the menu was his list of four demands for reform of the European Union. He had originally hoped to have had a satisfactory response from them by the time of this European Council gathering but it was clear some time ago that that was not going to happen. Several of his counterparts, as well as senior figures in the European Commission, had made clear that his proposal that EU migrants should have to wait four years before qualifying for benefits just was not realistic. So already earlier this week the Prime Minister was preparing his MPs and the British public for a retreat on that front. However, not all was gloomy for him at dinner, as the Italian PM, Matteo Renzi, came out as a surprise ally on some issues. Certainly, the other EU member states are keen to keep Britain on board, even if successive British governments have often been a pain in the arse.

The UK Parliament went into Christmas recess last night, so Mr Cameron will not have to face his more Eurosceptic Rottweilers until the New Year. His EU partners meanwhile have said that they hope to be able to respond formally to his four demands by February. That is then likely to lead to yet more negotiation before Mr Cameron has a deal he feels he can put before the British electorate — which means that the promised EU referendum in Britain is unlikely before Autumn 2016 at the earliest.

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EU: Turkey In, UK Out?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 15th December, 2015

EU free movementThe European Union is an ever-evolving organism and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future as it adapts to a changing world. Some challenges, such as increasing competition from emerging economies, can be planned for; others, such as the current refugee and migrant crisis, are less predictable and require some pretty nifty footwork by member states, both individually and collectively. Meanwhile, the geographical boundaries of the EU remain potentially fluid following two significant recent developments: the re-opening of talks with Turkey that have given new life to the possibility of Turkey’s accession to EU membership, on the one hand, and the troubled progress of UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s campaign for EU reform in the run-up to an IN/OUT referendum that could see Britain leave the Union, on the other. Both these developments have huge implications for the future of the EU.

imageEver since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk effectively forged the Republic of Turkey out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire the country has largely looked westwards rather than eastwards for its political and economic models, including the adoption of pluralist democracy and the free market economy, despite intermittent periods of military government and aspects of democratic deficit. Ankara’s aspiration to join the EU was acknowledged decades ago but the process stalled largely because of resistance from countries including Germany, France and Austria. But in Germany’s case, notably, that resistance has weakened and there seems to be a growing sense that it is better to have a dynamic Turkey inside the EU working with other member states rather than having a resentful Turkey outside, making its mark as a Middle Eastern rather than a European power. Even though negotiations with Turkey are unlikely to come to a conclusion any time soon, nonetheless there is now the possibility that the EU will take in a country that is not only more populous than any current member state, including Germany, but also overwhelmingly Muslim. Both these facts would undoubtedly change the nature of the EU.

Europe HouseBut so too would a British withdrawal. Although the UK stayed aloof from the nascent European Economic Community, largely out of fears that this would damage relations with the Commonwealth, it has been a member since 1973 and several continental leaders have stated that an EU without Britain is unthinkable. Alas, the unthinkable is now a real possibility. Succumbing to pressure from his own rebellious backbenchers, Prime Minister David Cameron made what now seems a rash promise to hold a referendum on whether Britain should remain within the EU or leave, to be held before the end of 2017. Although one would not necessarily know it from statements Mr Cameron makes, he is generally understood to be in favour of staying in the EU. But he sent a letter to other EU heads of government outlining four demands for reform, one of which was self-evidently unacbievable, as presumably his civil servants would have told him. Inevitably he is now having to retreat on that fourth demand, that EU migrants in the UK should have to wait four years before qualifying for benefits. The problem is that whereas a few months ago opinion polls suggested that voters would choose to stay in the EU, recent surveys indicate the opposite, albeit by a small margin. The government will be unable to give a firm steer in the campaign as several Cabinet Ministers have indicated that they will campaign to leave and Mr Cameron has promised them the freedom to do so. So it is going to be up to all the opposition parties to put the other case, along with business leaders and civil society organisations. There is a powerful message to put across, that Britain should lead not leave when it comes to the EU. But there is no guarantee that it will win over a majority of the British public, which would mean the UK will be isolated from the future evolution of the EU for better or for worse (the latter, in my view).

 

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Germany Wants Britain in the EU

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 5th December, 2015

Cameron EU 1At some stage between now and the end of 2017 voters in Britain will be able to have their say on whether they wish the country to remain a member of the European Union or to leave. One had hoped that by now David Cameron would have announced the date, so the referendum campaign could begin in earnest, rather than the phony war that has been stuttering along recently. But as it is highly unlikely that he will have definite responses from the UK’s EU partners to his list of four demands by the end of this month, as Downing Street had hoped, things will doubtless drift for some time longer yet. Meanwhile, the other 27 member states are hoping that Mr Cameron will be minded to recommend a vote to remain and that the referendum will indeed go that way. Despite often frankly being a pain in the arse in EU fora, Britain is too important a member to be allowed just to disappear by default and the message to London from other European capitals has been “please stay!”

McAllisterThat is particularly the case in Berlin. As David McAllister MEP, a close ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, told a gathering of the UK section of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ), the Germans believe the EU would be poorer and weaker without a British presence and will do almost anything (but not absolutely anything) to work with the British to try to find a compromise deal. However, there are red lines, not least of which is the Conservative government’s demand that the UK should be allowed to withhold benefits from EU migrants during their first four years of residence in the country. This would not only violate the principle of non-discrimination between workers from different EU member states but would also undermine the very principle of free movement of labour that is one of the cornerstones of the European single market. It is interesting to recall that much of the work in constructing that single market was done on the watch of British Conservative European Commissioner Lord Cockfield, who must be turning in his grave to see how it is now under assault (my observation, not Herr McAllister’s).

Any restrictions on EU migrants’ conditions and rights would of course have to be reciprocal, which would potentially hit the lives of many of the more than two million Brits living in other EU member states. Those who have lived outside Britain for less than 15 years and who have registered to vote in the UK will be able to vote in the referendum, which should boost the “remain” total. But the same is not the case for EU migrants who live in the UK, with the exceptions of the Irish, Cypriots and Maltese. As the outcome of the vote could have huge ramifications for the estimated 800,000 Poles in the UK, for example, that does seem unfair — especially as all legally resident Commonwealth citizens will be able to vote, even those from “new” Commonwealth states such as Rwanda and Mozambique, which were never even part of the old British Empire!

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Why I Would Have Voted No to Syria Airstrikes

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 3rd December, 2015

Syria bombs 2Had I been a member of the UK Parliament I would have voted against airstrikes in Syria, as I was pleased to note LibDem MPs Norman Lamb and Mark Williams did last night. While I share the British public’s repulsion at the activities of self-styled Islamic State, I fear the decision to join airstrikes was a knee-jerk reaction to the recent Paris bombings without thinking through a coherent strategy first. It is often true that if bombs are the answer then you are asking the wrong question, but I feel that is particularly apt in the current case. Syria is in a state of civil war, with numerous groups fighting with different objectives and a vicious governing clique trying to hang on to power with the support of Russia, Iran and others. But Britain does not have a clear strategy for responding to that situation and most well-informed analysts believe that David Cameron’s claim that there are 70,000 “moderate” fighters lined up against the Assad regime is pie in the sky.

Syria bombs 1Moreover there is a fundamental question that has not been adequately addressed, let alone answered. That is, how do we best counter IS/Da’esh’s ideological warfare which is still managing to rally radicalised Muslim youth to its cause? Moreover, how can IS ever be persuaded to lay down arms? Bombing is not an answer to either of those questions and in my opinion it is only likely to recruit more young fighters ready to martyr themselves (as well as to slaughter others) for the perverse IS cause. I understand completely why Tim Farron and five other LibDem MPs wanted to demonstrate their determination to stand up to ISIS, but I fear they have made the wrong all. And bombing Raqqa and other places in Syria will only increase the suffering of the Syrian people, not reduce it.

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Norman Lamb Climbs Every Mountain

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 25th November, 2015

imageMost of the Liberal Democrats’ big beasts in the House of Commons were swept away in May’s nightmare general election, but one exception was Norman Lamb, MP for North Norfolk and former Minister of State for Care and Support. It was largely through his determination as a Minister in the 2010-2015 Coalition government that mental health moved into more of a position of parity with physical health in the British government’s priorities and perceptions. So that was inevitably one of the major topics for discussion when he came to speak to Lewisham Liberal Democrats at a dinner in Blackheath last night. However, the thrust of most of his remarks was forward-looking, not backward-looking, in particular highlighting the size of the mountain that the LibDems have to climb in order to become a political force with clout once again. There is a fine cohort of more than 100 LibDem peers in the House of Lords which are doing sterling work in trying to hold the Conservatives to account. But in the House of Commons, there are only eight LibDem MPs left, making them not even the third largest party and therefore depriving them of some automatic rights to speak in debates. The media are mainly ignoring the Party and therefore an arresting new narrative, based on Liberal principles, is needed to grab people’s attention. Norman spoke fondly of the legacy of the passionate radical Jo Grimond, who in the 1960s helped the then Liberal Party punch above its weight thanks to his principles and rhetoric — an observation that resonated with me as I was rallied to the Liberal cause by Jo Grimond personally when he came to speak to my school in the run-up to the March 1966 general election. We have to find both the issues and the passion, to hone a distinctive message, Norman said, suggesting that one topic that might attract younger voters would be reform of Britain’s antiquated drug laws. I also believe that the LibDem MPs should be prepared to take a stand against David Cameron’s call for more direct military engagement in Syria unless United Nations involvement and diplomatic activity aimed at a political settlement are to the fore.

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