Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Donald Trump’

Truth in Politics

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 14th January, 2018

post-Truth politicsMany people are put off politics because they don’t trust what politicians say. Alas, that situation has got worse over the past year or so, with the election of Donald Trump to the White House and the chaotic Brexit discourse in the UK. Of course, with Trump one can never be sure whether he is deliberately lying or simply does not know the facts. What is certain, though, is that in this new era of post-Truth, if you don’t like the facts just make up your own, and trumpet them as if they are valid. In Britain, Nigel Farage and the arch-Brexiteers are masters of that black art, proclaiming “alternative facts” such as Turkey being about to join the EU and there being 29 million Romanians and Bulgarians just waiting to flood into the country. The Daily Express newspaper is a daily catalogue of lies and distortion, but the Daily Mail, the Sun and even the Daily Telegraph are often as bad. Even the Government twists the truth. This week Mrs May was boasting that the government had got rid of unfair credit card charges, whereas in fact this was as a result of EU action. The Conservatives regularly claim credit for things that have proved popular (such as the raised tax threshold and same-sex marriage) even though these were Liberal Democrat initiatives. Now the Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has got in on the act. This morning, on Peston on Sunday, he repeated the false claim that in order to be in the European Single Market one has to be a member of the EU, even though he has been told Norway and Switzerland, for example, are evidence to the contrary. I used to have a lot of respect for Corbyn, having worked with him on human rights issues relating to the Palestinians and the Kurds. But he has squandered that respect by becoming a cheerleader for Mrs May’s Hard Brexit, despite the pro-EU  leabings of a majority of Labour Party members. Moreover, he has joined in the delivery of lies and half-truths to try to destroy Britain’s European vocation.

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Iran Protests

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 2nd January, 2018

8F9C6AB2-8F5A-439B-86AD-97F53DC39D7BOver the New Year holiday many of my thoughts have been with the people of Iran, where protest demonstrations have been taking place in many towns and cities, in some extreme cases descending into riots. I am all in favour of people taking to the streets to voice their grievances if they feel their views are not being heard through other channels, and indeed President Hassan Rouhani has endorsed that right of expression, even if some of the country’s religious leadership have been more condemnatory. It is sadly not surprising that some in the religious hierarchy have alleged that the protests have been orchestrated by Iran’s “enemies”, notably Saudi Arabia and the United States, though witnesses on the ground suggest rather that these have been spontaneous uprisings by predominantly young people (mainly but not exclusively young men), protesting about unemployment, high prices and the difficulties experienced by ordinary Iranians despite the country’s huge oil and gas wealth. Most of those youngsters would still have been schoolchildren when the (much larger) “Green” protests took place in 2009 following a widely contested election result. Unfortunately, it only nourishes the conspiracy theorists when Donald Trump and numerous Israelis (sic) tweet messages of support for the demonstrators. The actions of some militants, such as setting fire to police kiosks and even a bank) do nothing to help their cause, but similarly heavy-handed tactics by the security forces can only widen the breach between the representatives of authority and Iran’s young population. I love Iran and have travelled widely in the country, both before and since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The people are some of the most hospitable on earth, as well as among the most well-educated, rightly proud of their country’s long history and rich, diverse culture. So I sincerely hope that many of the young people protesting now get much of what they want, peacefully, and that the regime in Tehran opts for negotiation and not violent confrontation in the way it responds to what is going on.

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Trump or Obama: Who’d You Want at Your Wedding?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 27th December, 2017

0A8FA2F3-CA65-4CC7-83E7-0FE2E2E61D8EAccording to some reports (which in these post-Truth days one never knows whether one should believe), unnamed sources in the UK government have told Prince Harry, grandson of Queen Elizabeth, that it would be unwise to invite Barack Obama to his wedding, but rather he should welcome Donald Trump instead, in the interests of a post-Brexit trans-Atlantic relationship. What utter bollocks, if this is true. Surely it is entirely up to the Royal Family and Harry’s bride-to-be, Meghan Markle, who they wish to have at the nuptials. Traditionally there are various obligations to European Royal families, but not to foreign heads of state (short of a family massacre of Nepalese proportions, there is no way Harry will ever be King). Trump is virtually teetotal, which wouldn’t go down particularly well with the Merry Windsors, yet his conversation is sometimes so blue that even the Duke of Edinburgh might blush. Obama (and his wife Michelle), on the other hand, is a people person, as well as being erudite and intelligent. Besides, he knows Prince Harry (not just from the BBC Radio4 interview today). So there we have it. My recommendation is: Obama Yes, Trump No. Moreover, the Obamas would be welcomed by the British public with cheers, the Trumps with jeers.

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Europe at Sea *****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 23rd December, 2017

Federica Mogherini 1The year 2017 is the 60th anniversary of the launching of the European project, but never since its foundation has the European Union (formerly the EEC) been under such pressure from its immediate neighbourhood. Russia has been interfering in the Baltic states in particular — and maybe in Britain’s EU Referendum, too — but most serious has been the flood of refugees and migrants fleeing conflict in Syria or poverty in Africa. Italy alone took in more than half a million Mediterranean boat people between 2014 and 2017. More than 17,000 such boat people have perished at sea since 2011. Both Italy and Greece were put under huge strain by the sheer scale of the humanitarian demand and shamefully not all of the other 26 EU member states rallied round to help, notably several in central and eastern Europe. Meanwhile, much of the responsibility for dealing with the influx and with security matters (such as the threat of terrorism) has fallen on the shouders of the EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini. She is the prime focus of Annalisa Piras’s new hour-long documentary, Europe at Sea, now available on Amazon VOD. Though she had served briefly as Italy’s Foreign Minister, Ms Mogherini was considered a light-weight when she was first appointed, and therefore not a danger to the vested interests of some of the EU’s more powerful member states, but she has more than proved her mettle, both in dealing with the migration crisis and in building on the complementarity between the EU and NATO. She comes over in the film as compassionate (“You can be both strong and human”) but also hard-headed. She put together a Global Strategy for the EU”s response to the mulltifareous external challenges facing the Union, launched the day after Britain’s Brexit vote.

Merkel Macron Since the election of French President Emmanuel Macron, there is new impetus in the Franco-German relationship that will help steer the EU through its choppy waters at a time when Donald Trump is largely withdrawing the United States from the European scene. The great tragedy is that Britain should be in pole position too, but instead is tied up in its own Brexit navel-gazing prior to exiting the EU in 2019. The core message of this film is that the EU member states need to pull together if they are not to sink under the weight of the external challenges; the implication naturally is that Britain is once again missing the boat. Unlike Pisar’s earlier film, The Great European Disaster MovieEurope at Sea does not use any gimmicks of fantasy; rather, it is a straight-down-the-line, powerful,  factual documentary, with an eclectic range of top-rank interviewees and some occasionally harrowing footage. It is a tribute to Federica Mogherini’s work and determination, as well as to the potential for good that rests in European collective action. Brexiteers will hate it, but they should watch it, as they will learn something, as will everyone else. The film is a fine exposition of a noble cause.

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Trump’s Threats over Jerusalem Backfire

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 21st December, 2017

73DED4EB-9FA8-41BE-A18A-5810B588398D.jpegToday, the United Nations General Assembly voted to condemn Donald Trump’s declared intention to move the US Embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, by 128 votes to 9 (and 35 abstentions). I am pleased to say that the United Kingdom, the former mandatory power over the whole of historic Palestine, voted in favour of the motion, as did almost all the other EU member states; none opposed. The nine nay-sayers were the United States and Israel, naturally, plus Guatemala, Honduras, Togo and four micro-states in the Pacific — all poor, developing countries heavily dependent on foreign aid. That latter point is important, because the US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, made clear in no uncertain terms that the Trump administration would note who opposed the motion and deal with them accordingly — an outrageous threat in the sovereign body of the UN, confirming that the acid-tongued Ms Haley is indeed the Donald’s loyal handmaiden. However, not all countries were cowed by the menace of financial or trading retribution. On past performance, Canada could have been expected to back the US line on Israel’s capital, but Ottawa was reportedly so incensed by Trump’s threats that Canada abstained instead. So all in all, this was a good day for all those who believe that the final status of Jerusalem must be negotiated between sovereign Israeli and Palestinian states. But Mr Trump, like a cornered bear, is alas likely to bite back.

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The AEJ and “Dark Power”

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 18th November, 2017

2A98F1CF-39A9-47FE-9C77-5A3CA5DEE397Soft power has become an important concept in international relations since the end of the Second World War — namely, the way states use cultural diplomacy and other forms of non-military action to spread their influence. But recently a new phenomenon has been identified: “dark power” — the way some countries, especially Russia, use broadcasting and social media, in particular, to influence or interfere in the affairs of other states. This is something that particularly concerns the three Baltic States and other former parts of the Soviet Union, such as Ukraine and Georgia. The latter two have of course also experienced military interventions by Russia, but all have seen their communications and democracy come under various forms of dark power assault, from cyber-War against Estonia to Russian bots engaging in election and referendum campaigns, including the 2016 EU Referendum in Britain and the US presidential election. No wonder both NATO and the EU are concerned and have been looking at ways of countering this hostile intervention, including running facilities in the Baltic States.

Lithuania, located between Belarus and the Russian Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad, is particularly concerned and the theme naturally dominated much of the Congress of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ), which has been taking place in Vilnius over the past couple of days. For many Western journalists present it was quite shocking to learn about some of the methods being used to distort the narratives of a Post-Truth world, as well of examples of harassment of journalists and broadcasters through twitter and other platforms.

54C3857F-D37D-4E0D-AD4B-3A61F398D92CBut it is not only Russians who are involved. President Trump has shown himself to be a master of the dark arts of disinformation and the dissemination of fake news. One of the strongest presentations at the AEJ Congress was from Mikko Salo of Faktabaari, Finland, who outlined the escalation of Post-Truth in the region and how this can be countered by rigorous fact-checking and counter-assertions. This is an issue of which all media professionals need to be aware, as well as students and others who are operating in a world in which language is being twisted, alternative “facts” published and negative ideologies propagated by forces hostile to the nature of open and tolerant European democratic societies.

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The Future of UK-China Trade

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 22nd October, 2017

JF addressing Chinese LibDems AGMLiam Fox and other Brexiteers in the UK’s current Conservative government are fond of saying that when we are “free” from the European Union, we will be able to enter into a great new dawn of trading partnerships with other big players around the world, not least China. Actually, it was David Cameron and the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, who really championed the idea of a bright future hand-in-hand with the People’s Republic, though they never imagined that would be something totally separate from EU-China trading relations. Theresa May, interestingly, has been a little more cautious in her embrace of President Xi Jinping, who has been expertly consolidating his authority at the Chinese People’s Congress this week. But despite the bluff reassurances of Liam Fox, David Davis and Boris Johnson, forging an advantageous new trading relationship with China is unlikely to be straightforward, for a number of reasons. First, until Britain formally leaves the EU — in principle on 29 March 2019 — it cannot make any bilateral arrangement with Beijing. Moreover, there are not sufficiently qualified negotiators in Whitehall to handle such a sensitive matter (as the EU has dealt with our trade negotiations for the past four decades) and little Britain, with 60 million inhabitants, is going to be at a distinct disadvantage in taking tough with the colossus of China, unlike the 500-million strong EU, which is still the largest trading bloc in the world. Bilateral trade is already skewed in China’s favour, and is likely to be more so in future, not less. Other factors make prospects mixed. China under Mr Xi is becoming more assertive in global affairs, having largely sat on the sidelines for many years, even within the UN Security Council. Many people in China believe the time has now come for China to reassert its pre-eminence in the world, as was the case prior to 1500 and the rise of European Empires. The four hundred years of European dominance, followed by a century of American hegemony, may in future be seen as a blip in comparison to China’s long supremacy. Then there is the issue of Donald Trump, who is repositioning the United States to be more isolationist (and certainly more self-centred), racheting up conflicts with countries such as Iran and North Korea in a way that risks souring US-China relations. Yet Theresa May aspires to be Mr Trump’s greatest ally, despite disagreeing with him over the Iran nuclear deal. This could prove awkward. In the meantime, the British government has downgraded human rights as a priority in its foreign policy, which is sweet music to Xi Jinping’s ears — though Britain must be careful to ensure that as a future relationship evolves it does not end up dancing to Beijing’s tune.

This is a summary of remarks I made as the guest speaker today in London’s Chinatown at the AGM of Chinese Liberal Democrats:  https://chineselibdems.org.uk/

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Big Ben’s Bongs Bunged

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 21st August, 2017

Big Ben repairsAt midday today, Big Ben, the giant bell inside the UK Parliament’s Queen Elizabeth Tower, tolled the hour for the last time for the next four years, while extensive maintenance work is undertaken. It has been suggested that it could be brought back into service for very special occasions; some Brexiteer Conservative MPs not surprisingly have argued that the day of Britain’s planned exit from the European Union, at the end of March 2019, might be one such moment. Some other traditionalists have gone into spasms of simulated outrage about how even the Luftwaffe in World War II failed to silence the Big Ben. Nonetheless, the BBC will doubtless keep broadcasting (from past recordings) the bell’s rich sound, which has been precursor to news programmes for as long as I can remember. There will of course be disappointed tourists unaware of Big Ben’s indisposition, who will stand on the corner of Parliament Square, pointing their cellphone cameras at the tower, mystified when no bongs intone. But a lot of the fuss in the media and on politicians’ lips has been much ado about nothing. It’s not as if the tower had been blown up. Besides, there are more important things that should concern us all, from Donald Trump’s nuclear tango with Kim Jong-Un to Brexit itself. In fact especially Brexit. For whereas the citizens of Seoul would bear the brunt of any North Korean attack, all of us in Britain are going to suffer from Brexit, alas.

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Twit for Twat

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 10th August, 2017

Trump KimThe war of words between Washington and Pyongyang has intensified alarmingly. Each side threatens the use of nuclear weapons and neither is led by someone one could consider 100% rational. Kim Jong-Un, like his father and grandfather before him, is surrounded by sycophants; just look at how the smiling generals around the Supreme Leader hold their open notebooks ready to write down every pearl of wisdom that emerges from his mouth (knowing full well that he could order their execution should they displease him in any way). The fact that he usually sports a haircut that helps make his image laughable in Western countries does not seem to worry the citizens of North Korea. Besides, in that he has a soulmate in Donald Trump, whose orange-hued countenance and blonde comb-over are beyond ridiculous. It is all too easy to make fun of these two men, but the harsh reality is that they could wipe out the lives of millions of people at the press of a button and seemingly not care one jot about the consequences. Mr Trump even has  “Christian” spiritual advisor who claims the Bible says it is OK to annihilate Kim Jong-Un. What makes the situation even more surreal is that so much of the rhetoric is taking place on social media. Yesterday, Donald Trump made the odd claim on twiter that he has modernised the US nuclear arsenal since coming to power (a truly miraculous achievement in 200 days!) and it would not surprise me one bit if he were to announce nuclear war with North Korea through a tweet. One just hopes that someone in the Pentagon has a safety catch on the nuclear button. The Cuban missile crisis was my first experience of awareness of great international events that could shape the world, but the current stand-off between the leaders of the United States and North Korea strikes me as potentially even more dangerous, given that China retains friendly relations with Pyongyang. All too easily things could escalate through a process of tit for tat — or should one say, in view of the personalities involved, twit for twat.

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No, We Don’t Need Patriotic Media!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 24th June, 2017

IMG_2519A UK government Minister, Andrea Leadsom, has urged British broadcasters to be more patriotic in their coverage of Brexit. US President Donald Trump would doubtless approve, but her intervention deserves to be greeted with a giant raspberry. The right wing of the Conservative Party loathes the BBC, in particular, and would like to force it to go commercial by threatening to abolish the licence fee that funds it. Actually, the BBC has leant over backwards to be as even-handed as possible over Brexit since last year’s EU Referendum, infuriating Remainers by giving particular prominence to Nigel Farage and the rump of UKIP. But what Ms Leadsom apparently wants is what the government already enjoys with the Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail, Daily Express, The Sun, etc, namely out-and-out champions of Theresa May’s “red, white and blue” Brexit, involving leaving the European single market and Customs Union and other bodies and instruments that have bound us to our EU partners for the past four decades. Hard Brexiteers, of whom Andrea Leadsom is by no means alone in the Cabinet, believe we need a Britain Stands Alone (from Europe) type of Brexit. The centenarian Vera Lynn will probably be brought out of retirement to sing again of the White Cliffs of Dover. But the plain fact is that opting for Hard Brexit is actually unpatriotic, as it will hit the UK economy, and therefore the living standards of ordinary Brits, hard. But don’t let’s get into an argument about true patriotism. I rather side with Dr Johnson, who declared that “patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” And, yes, that includes you, Ms Leadsom.

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