Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Denis MacShane’

Cross-Party Campaigning against Brexit

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 26th January, 2018

European Movement Question TimeAn impressive line-up of London MEPs and other senior politicians gathered at the Irish Culture Centre in Hammersmith last night at an event organised by the Hammersmith & Fulham and Kensington & Chelsea branch of the European Movement. Charles Tannock MEP (Conservative), Mary Honeyball MEP (Labour) and Jean Lambert MEP (Green) were joined by former LibDem MP for Richmond Park and North Kingston, Sarah Olney (standing in for Catherine Bearder MEP, who was in Ireland), at a packed Question Time event moderated by former Labour MP and Europhile, Denis MacShane. Dr Tannock is one of a number of Conservative MEPs who disagree fundamentally with the British government’s policy of pursuing a so-called Hard Brexit, leaving both the European Single Market and the Customs Union. He would prefer Britain to stay within the EU but doesn’t believe Brexit can be stopped, so argues for a Soft Brexit instead. The other speakers were more focussed on how the UK can reverse the outcome of the 2016 EU Referendum; Sarah Olney set out the LibDems’ official line that there would need to be a new referendum when the details of the proposed new EU-UK deal are known, with an option to remain in the EU. Mary Honeyball expressed frustration at the Labour leadership for not campaigning hard enough for Remain in 2016, as well as for its current Hard Brexit stance. Jean Lambert said that whereas the Greens had reservations about some aspects of EU policy, she hoped the European Parliament could play its part in preventing a Hard Brexit. In theory, the Parliament could veto the deal, though that is probably not likely. There were far more questions from the audience than could possibly be addressed, but several people made the point that despite the large turnout — mainly middle-aged, middle-class and overwhelmingly white — the exercise was largely a matter of preaching to the converted. But everyone was urged to go out and campaign, on a cross-party basis and in particular to get the message out to younger people, including through social media. The Leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Council, Stephen Cowan, who was in the audience along with local MP Andy Slaughter, got a warm round of applause when he announced that his Council had declared itself pro-Remain — an initiative that some other London boroughs could perhaps be encouraged to follow.

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Alaa Al-Aswany Gets a Grilling

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 7th December, 2014

Alaa Al AswanyAlaa Al Aswany democracyLike millions of people who have read The Yacoubian Building, I am a fan of the writing of the Egyptian novelist Alaa Al Aswany and a few years ago I was pleased to have the chance to talk to him a little when he came to an event put on by English PEN. So last night I was eagerly part of a large audience assembled on the fringes of the Gingko Conference currently taking place in London to hear him being interviewed by fellow author Tarek Osman about political developments in Egypt and the wider Arab world. For several years, Al Aswany wrote a newspaper column (now terminated) which always ended with the words “democracy is the answer”. So I was not the only person surprised by his spirited defence of the ousting of the democratically-elected President Mohamed Morsi last year, and his criticism of those who described the army takeover as a coup. It is true that millions of Egyptians had taken to the streets to protest against Morsi’s actions once in power and it was maybe not unpredictable that the Muslim Brotherhood would have a different attitude to democracy from Western liberals. But Al Aswany’s comments last night prompted the French-Algerian journalist Nabila Ramdani, who was in the audience, to launch a virulent attack on him. As a disgruntled English translator of Al Aswany’s work — whose exact grievance was not clear to the rest of us — had also shouted at the novelist before storming out of the auditorium, things were getting distinctly heated. Alaa Al Aswany, who physically resembles a big brown bear, stood his ground but was clearly not happy. And unfortunately therefore not all his answers to questions were as informative as they wold have been in quieter circumstances. The former Labour Foreign Minister, Denis MacShane, for example, asked whether a young Egyptian writer might now be writing a new Yacoubian Building, complete with corruption, sexual scandal and torture, as was the original (and therefore seen as a biting critique of the Mubarak regime), but he did not really get an adequate response. The Gingko Library has published the collected columns of Alaa Al Aswany in a volume Democracy Is the Answer.

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Why All the Fuss about Renting?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 15th August, 2010

The ‘golden age’ of home ownership is ending, trumpets the Observer on its front page, as if this is a tragedy of huge importance. ‘Young people face a lifetime of renting instead’, the article wails. But let’s look at the facts, as well as my own personal experience. When I came down from university, I rented a flat in Pimlico with a former university chum; I couldn’t afford a place on my own. Then Reuters sent me to Brussels, where I rented for seven years (as many people in Belgium and Germany, more significantly, do). I returned to London in 1982 and rented, in South Kensington, before buying my first home at the age of 33. The mortgage payments were more than I could really afford, however, so two years later I sold and rented again for a while, in Tower Hamlets, before buying a house here with a friend. All these latter moves were of course during the Thatcher era when home ownership became a shibboleth (set in stone by a woman who believed anyone still using public transport at age 30 was a failure). Alas, New Labour adopted the policy hook, line and sinker. As the Labour MP Denis MacShane points out in a separate article in today’s Observer, ‘Labour was in denial over the growing crisis in social housing… Since 1997, under a Labour government, 481,530 council homes have been sold off.’ Home ownership has become a national obsession and house prices, especially in London and the South East, are now grotesque. Of course many young people cannot afford to get on the property ladder (or indeed many older non-homeowners). But the answer to this is simple, surely? Remove the stigma from renting, build more social housing for rent, scrap the right-to-buy legislation and encourage more private rentals at affordable rates too. That would also make it easier for people to move, which is an important factor in a period of greater job-led mobility.

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