Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘David Lloyd George’

Britain and the Arab Middle East

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 4th January, 2018

AD409BBC-8DAA-47D4-92AA-A809A7CA3A16Britain’s war against the Ottoman Empire, following the Turks’ decision to side with Germany in the First World War, was considered a side-show by many generals and politicians in London, who believed that the Western Front was the real battlefield. Yet British intervention in the Middle East, partly in harmony with Arab forces keen to liberate themselves from the Ottoman yoke, was to have resounding consequences that are still being felt today. Rober H Lieshout’s weighty study of the subject, essentially covering the years 1914-1919, Britain and the Arab Middle East (I B Tauris, £29.95), examines the voluminous public records covering the period, notably of the War Cabinet and Foreign Office, supplemented by diaries, presenting material in such detail that one almost believes one is present. There were wrangles aplenty about just how much encouragement the British Government should give Sherif Hussein of Mecca regarding the putative independent Arab Kingdom that was meant to come into being after peace was agreed, but there is little doubt that he and his sons were largely duped. Despite the Entente, France comes over very badly most of the time, and whereas by 1918 the Lloyd George government believed that the infamous Sykes-Picot Agreement carving up spheres of influence in the non-Turkish parts of the Ottoman Empire could not stand in its original form, because of the Wilsonian doctrine of self determination, Paris dug its heels in, determined that France should have its Syrian and Lebanese cake and eat it. Another issue that gave rise to huge disagreements within the British government was the Balfour Declaration, whose centenary was commemorated last year. The only Jewish member of the Cabinet, Edwin Montagu, was strongly opposed to the Zionists’ pleas as he believed the Arab population of Palestine would not agree to Jewish domination there and moreover that Jews elsewhere might suffer further persecution in their home countries if a Jewish state were proclaimed. Some of the most valuable parts of Lieshout’s book cover these sometimes heated discussions and the personalities involved. Largely, he lets the documents speak for themselves, keeping critical commentary and theorising to a minimum, which allows the reader to make up their own mind. Presumably for marketing purposes, the book uses a fetching photograph of T E Lawrence in Arab garb on the cover, though he was in reality quite a marginal figure, despite the publicity that his romantic derring-do later generated. The index will be of use to serious scholars of the period, as well as to amateur historians of the Middle East, as this well-documented narrative is a valuable resource.

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The Balfour Declaration, 100 Years On

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 7th October, 2017

Israel PalestineThis year is the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, which was contained in a letter from the then British Foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour,¬† to a leading member of the country’s Jewish community, Lord Rothschild, and in which the British Government, headed by David Lloyd George, said that it viewed with favour the establishment of a national home for the Jews in Palestine, providing the civil and religious rights of the non-Jewish population there were not compromised. That condition — which has yet to be fully respected — was added at a late stage in the drafting of the declaration partly at the insistence of the one Jewish member of Lloyd George’s Cabinet, Edwin Montagu, who had serious hesitations about the whole Zionist enterprise. To mark the Balfour centenary, the Liberal Democrats passed a motion at last month’s Bournemouth Conference calling for HM Government to recognise the State of Palestine, as a positive contribution towards a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. At the beginning of December, in Amsterdam, I shall be moving a similar motion at the Congress of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE). Several EU member states, including Belgium and Sweden, have in fact already done so.

Avi ShlaimBut motions at political conferences are by no means the only activities taking place in this centenary year. Today, at the British Library, Middle East Monitor put on a conference with a glittering array of academic and other speakers, analysing the origins, composition and consequences of the Balfour Declaration. For me, the two highlights of the day were the keynote address by Avi Shlaim, Professor of International Relations at Oxford University, and a film made by Independent Jewish Voices (which will be posted on YouTube from this coming Monday). Dr Shlaim has made himself unpopular among some of his co-religionists by denouncing the reality of the current Israeli occupation of the West Bank as an apartheid state, but growing numbers of Jews, especially the young, are determined to make their voices heard, maintaining that some of the things being done by the Israeli government and Defense Force, should not be considered to be “in their name”. The current British government, alas, is dominated by those Conservatives who are self-declared Friends of Israel, which means that Mrs May and many of her Cabinet colleagues will probably “celebrate” the actual anniversary on 2 November, whereas many of the rest of us will be deploring the fact that the partial implementation of the Balfour Declaration has left the Palestinians dispossessed and increasingly bereft of hope.

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Suffragette

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 18th October, 2015

imageThe dramatic struggle for female enfranchisement in Britain is so much part of the country’s political history that it is amazing it has not been the subject of a major feature film until now. But Sarah Gavron’s “Suffragette”, which is now out on general release, has been well worth waiting for. Wisely the storyline focuses not so much on the Pankhursts (though Maryl Streep puts in a memorable cameo performance as the indomitable Emmeline; instead, it follows the politicisation and then radicalistion of an ordinary East End laundrywoman (beautifully played by Carey Mulligan) who is inspired to join the fight by a mixture of painful circumstances and the example of others. The scenes in the Bethnal Green laundry are particularly strong and evocative and the film’s whole atmosphere is skilfully created and maintained. It is a sobering thought, not least for modern Liberals, that even Lloyd George and his Ministers were not at first prepared to give way on female suffrage, preferring to believe the poppycock about women being too emotional and irrational to be trusted with the vote. Sobering, too, to think that just a century ago women were indeed second class citizens, with few rights of their own, including over their children.

imageGreat strides have been made since then, but the film is right in its implied suggestion that had Emily Davison not thrown herself in front of the King’s horse on Derby Day 1913 progress would have been a lot longer in coming. That extraordinary self-sacrifice was a shocking crime in some people’s eyes, but it galvanised much of the nation and I am glad that Sarah Gavron ends her film with real-time footage of Emily Davison’s funeral, for which Londoners lined the streets as hundreds of women in white, wearing black sashes, marched slowly behind her flower-bedecked funeral carriage.

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Michael Bloch’s Jeremy Thorpe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 28th March, 2015

Jeremy Thorpe 1Thorpe biographyJeremy Thorpe was the Liberal Party’s most charismatic leader since David Lloyd George, whom in many ways he tried to emulate. I first met him when he came to speak at the Oxford Union while I was Secretary of the university’s Liberal Club and I was dazzled by his wit, his talent for mimicry and his genuine interest in everyone he spoke to. All those charms, and more, are evident in Michael Bloch’s magisterial biography (Jeremy Thorpe¬†Little, Brown ¬£25), which means that the reader gets a good idea of the substance of the man before his catastrophic downfall in 1979, when he was a co-defendant in a trial on a charge of conspiracy to murder. The supposed target of this plot was the sometime model and horseman Norman Scott (n√© Josiffe), with whom Thorpe developed a most unfortunate relationship, which he then spent many frustrating years trying to shake off. His constituency association in North Devon adored him, as did much of the electorate until his disgrace — and even after that, many friends and political acquaintances stood by him. Very soon after the trial — at which he was acquitted — it became obvious that he was suffering from Parkinson’s disease, but it is tribute to his fortitude (one might even say his cussedness) that he lived for another 25 years, mostly confined to the beautiful house in Orme Square which his second wife Marion received as part of her divorce settlement from Lord Harewood with trips to their other two homes in North Devon and Suffolk. Marion’s loyalty to Jeremy was quite extraordinary and is rightly acknowledged as such in Michael Bloch’s book. Neither Jeremy nor Marion were particularly happy about the book’s being written, and having read it in draft nearly two decades ago, Jeremy insisted that it not be published while he was alive. That was a pity in many ways, as he could not have wished for a fairer and more scrupulous biographer, who over 500 impeccably researched pages gives a brilliant picture of the man, warts and all, critically but ultimately affectionately.

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Nigel Jones at the NLC

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 15th April, 2014

Nigel JonesTo most Liberal Democrats the name Nigel Jones means the former LibDem MP for Cheltenham and latterly Peer. But this lunchtime, thanks to the Kettner lunch club, another Nigel Jones spoke in the David Lloyd George room: the writer, broadcaster and historian Nigel Jones, who came to talk about his latest book: Peace and War – Britain in 1914 (which I hope to review shortly). The setting was appropriate, as Lloyd George figures prominently in the narrative of the run-up to and beginning of the so-called Great War, even though for a long time he thought war was unlikely, unlike some of his colleagues who had a dimmer view of the Kaiser’s intentions. Nigel Jones — who has recently been honing his performing techniques at literary festivals in Oxford and elsewhere — gave such a polished performance that the professor in the audience who asked the first question declared that it was quite the best lunchtime speech he had heard at the Kettner lunch. As someone who has spoken there myself, I am happy to agree. Nigel and I — who, we realised over lunch, had met previously at a Biographers’ Club event years ago — have largely produced works of biography (including literary biography) and history, both being fascinated by the real world, which can itself be subject to endless interpretations. I thoroughly enjoyed his “Through a Glass Darkly: A Life of Patrick Hamilton” some years ago. He tells me that whle living in Vienna he got the idea of writing a life of the painter Lucian Freud, but as with so many who have contemplated this task came up against something of a brick wall. I count myself lucky that in my case the prickly and litigious Freud merely demanded the withdrawal of the first edition of my book on Soho in the Fifties and Sixties because of an incorrect caption. His brother Clement (a one-time Liberal MP) wouldn’t speak to him, but I never got the chance to check the artist out at first hand.

Link: http://headofzeus.com/books/Peace+and+War:+Britain+In+1914?field_book_type_value_1=Hardback&bid=9781781852538

 

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Will Hutton Effs and Blinds for Europe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 18th February, 2010

There was an unusual twist to tonight’s Gladstone Club Annual Dinner, held at the National Liberal Club in Westminster, as the guest speaker, economics writer and Chief Executive of the Work Foundation, Will Hutton, asked each table to come up with things they wanted him to talk about in his speech. Not surprisingly, there were many questions about tax policy, the national deficit and the solidity (or otherwise) of China’s economic performance. But things got really heated when one young man — clearly a Euro-sceptic — asked in a rather convoluted way whether Will thought Britain’s ‘subscription’ to the EU was worth it and whether Greece¬†wouldn’t be better off¬†leaving the eurozone. At this, Will sprung¬†into a spirited attack — liberally laced with effing and blinding — about the British¬†public and their refusal to accept that much of what the media feeds them about the EU is lies. Some diners were stunned by the language — there are many, quite formal¬†Conservative and non-aligned members of the Gladstone Club, as well as numerous Liberal Democrats — but Will got a hearty round of applause for his tirade from the Euro-enthusiasts present. It’s a long time since the David Lloyd George Room at the NLC has seen such fireworks, but I can’t feeling that both the Grand Old Man and Lloyd George himself would have been pleased with the passion, if not with all of the vocabulary.

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Remembering Conrad with David Starkey

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 28th November, 2009

Like many Liberal Democrats, I was deeply fond of Conrad Russell (1937-2004). When his slightly shambolic figure, dressed in a grubby overcoat and carrying his papers in a plastic carrier bag, hove into view, one knew that one was in for an intellectual feast¬†as soon as¬†he opened his mouth. The Chamber of the House of Lords would fill up when¬†the 5th Earl Russell rose to speak. He was an eminent historian, notably of the 17th century, but he had his feet firmly planted in the contemporary world as well. He cared deeply about injustice and poverty and social exclusion, lacing his erudition with compassion and wit. So it was fitting this evening that a goodly crowd gathered to remember him¬†at a memorial dinner organised by his younger son, John (a LibDem Councillor in Lewisham), in the Lloyd George Room (‘Lloyd George jailed my father,’ quipped Conrad) in the National Liberal Club. The keynote speaker was the historian and TV ‘personality’ David Starkey, who gave a predictably bravura performance, basically arguing that Conrad marked the end of an age.¬†Dr Starkey¬†was not at all complimentary about the standard of the current membership of the Upper Chamber, despite the fact that Baroness (Sally) Hamwee was sitting by his side. I’m not sure that some of Conrad’s progeny would have welcomed David Starkey’s claim that Conrad would have been an incomprehensible phenomenon except as a noble, an aristocrat. But he deployed his arguments with such sly humour, rhetoric and trademark camp arrogance that one surrendered to the bonhommie of the occasion, the good food and wine — and pondered how much Conrad would have savoured the prospect of the LibDems’ great surge in Lewisham in 2010.

Link: www.lewishamlibdems.org.uk

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Lloyd George Society Weekend

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 22nd February, 2009

david-lloyd-george¬†¬†¬† For over 50 years, the Lloyd George Society¬†or¬†previously the Welsh Liberal Party¬†have¬†held annual residential weekend schools,¬†originally intended for Welsh Liberal parliamentary candidates to bone up on party policy, though these days they are opened up to a wider group of the faithful, to discuss topical political issues and to socialise. It must be over 20 years since I was last at one, but I had been invited back this weekend to give a presentation on ‘Europe, the United States and the Obama Effect’. Because of a diary clash with the London LibDem election training day on Saturday, I wasn’t able to travel up to Llandrindod Wells (via Crewe and Shreswbury) until yesterday afternoon, arriving just in time for a Welsh lamb dinner at which the speaker was Chris Huhne. He pointed out that (Baron) Emlyn Hooson, who was also sitting at the top table,¬†was one of only six Liberal MPs back in 1970 — quite¬†a different matter from the 63 returned in 2005. Moreover, Chris was upbeat about the chances of LibDem MPs who have¬†small majorities over the Conservatives (including himself) holding their seats at the next general election, as studies show that the incumbency factor works well for LibDems. And he was confident we would pick up a swath of new seats from Labour, as their support continues to crumble.

This morning, in the graveyard slot after breakfast, as well as giving a tour d’horizon of European and US relations within the new world order, I focussed on positive lessons we in Britain can learn from the Obama campaign. Firstly clear messages, simply put (in the Euro-elections concentrating particularly on the economy, the environment and crime/civil liberties); outreach to specific groups, such as students and resident citizens of other EU countries; and utilising new technologies (e-campaining etc). The morning was rounded off with a¬†question time¬†panel¬†including the Number 1 on the Welsh Euro-list, Alan Butt-Philip, Lord (Martin) Thomas, Baroness (Celia) Thomas (no relation) and¬†the inimitable Lembit Opik, MP, who was in combative form, not least on the subject of tabloid journalists.

Link: http://lloydgeorgesociety.org.uk

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Makers of the Modern World

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 10th November, 2008

This lunchtime I was at the Imperial War Museum in London for the launch of a new series of biographies¬†called ‘Makers of the Modern World’ — leading figures from the Paris Peace Conferences of 1919-1923 and those conferences’ aftermath and legacy —¬†being brought out by the independent publishers Haus (who will issue my new¬†book on T.E. Lawrence next year). As Haus’s Director, Barbara Schwepcke, explained, the inspiration for the series came from a picture in the War Museum’s collection showing figures at¬†one of the Paris conferences. The series editor is Alan Sharp, who is¬†also author of one of the volumes, on David Lloyd George: Britain. Others in the series¬†that I will be particularly looking forward to include Jonathan Clements on Wellington Choo: China, my old Bush House colleague Andrew Mango on From the Sultan to Ataturk: Turkey, and Hugh Purcell’s Maharajah of Bikaner: India.

Link: www.hauspublishing.com

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Obamamania in Welsh

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 5th November, 2008

Every mainstream political party in Britain is celebrating Barack Obama’s victory in the US presidential election. The messages of change and hope resonate as loudly on this side of the Atlantic as they do on the other. I stayed up until 3.30am watching the states being called, going to bed happy to know that Colorado had clinched it. Then this morning, I was up early again to¬†attend the Presidential breakfast organised by the Welsh Liberal Democrats, appropriately in the Lloyd George Room of the National¬†Liberal Club in Westminster, the profit going to fund the¬†Welsh Euro-campaign which will be trying to get Alan Butt-Philip elected next June as¬†the first LibDem MEP for Wales. It was good to see at least three Welsh LibDem peers at the event — Alex Carlile, Richard Livesey and Roger Roberts.

There are many lessons the LibDems can learn from Obama’s campaign, both in the quality and the consistency of his messages and in the military precision of his campaign. The Democrats’ use of the Internet was particularly impressive, as was their ability to motivate sections of the public¬†who usually give elections a miss. I loved the 104-year-old black woman for Georgia who was casting her ballot for the first time. Martin Luther King must be¬†grinning from beyond the grave. Interesting, too, to see just how many people in multicultural London are visibly excited¬†by what has happened. For Europe and for many other parts of the world, this is the best news we have had in a generation.

Links: www.welshlibdems.org.uk and www.nlc.org.uk

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