Jonathan Fryer

Posts Tagged ‘EU Referendum’

Liberal Democrats INtogether

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 10th February, 2016

Tim Farron at INtogetherThough the Liberal Democrats had a well-attended in-house launch for the LibDem European Referendum campaign at the party conference in Bournemouth last September, this afternoon a more public-facing event starring party leader Tim Farron, London mayoral candidate Caroline Pidgeon and Catherine Bearder MEP took place in central London at Bounce — a venue whose name the party can only hope has some kinetic effect. Against a backdrop of keen young people brandishing IN diamonds of various hues, Tim declared that the Liberal Democrats have always believed in EU reform, not the status quo. But that does not mean “IN, but”, he clarified. The party will be enthusiastically campaigning for reform with Britain firmly engaged in the EU, unlike half-hearted Labour and the divided Conservatives. Caroline Pidgeon stressed that whereas most of the issues likely to be raised on the doorstep between now and May 5 are likely to be more local issues, such as housing and transport, she is a convinced European who understands the value of London as Europe’s premier city. Catherine Bearder at one moment draped herself in a chiffon Union Flag scarf to make the point that a true patriot realises that it is in Britain’s best interests to be at the heart of Europe. The party’s INtogether campaign will now roll out across the country — and, one hopes, across social media. You can follow it, and indeed join in, via @LDINtogether.

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Reporting Europe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 8th February, 2016

Boulton and EnglishOne of the most depressing things about Britain for native Europhiles such as myself is the way most of the mainstream media — especially newspapers — fuels antagonism to the European Union. But will that affect the outcome of the forthcoming IN/OUT Referendum? I suspect it will, though not necessarily to the extent of giving victory to the “LEAVE” camp. But it was useful to get a range of different perspectives today from academia as well as from Press and broadcasting colleagues at an excellent seminar at the British Academy: “Reporting Europe: The UK Media and the EU”. Sponsored by the Economic and Social Research Council’s The UK in a Changing Europe Initiative, the day-long event brought in such figures as Mark Mardell of the BBC (keynote speaker), Adam Boulton from SKY, Anton La Guardia from the Economist and former Labour government Minister Charles Clarke with plenty of lively discussion with attendees. I hope the University of East Anglia/ESRC will publish the proceedings as one can hardly do justice to such a wealth of contributions. One valid point made was that when the first UK journalists (including me, for Reuters) covered the European institutions from 1973 onwards, they were almost all enthusiastic; John Palmer of the Guardian springs instantly to mind. But when Boris Johnson had his inventive (in every sense of the word) stint as Brussels correspondent of the Daily Telegraph the pendulum swung the other way. The British press corps in Brussels has shrunk and is now mainly made up of people happy to provide knocking copy based on often dodgy “facts”. Of course, people tend to read newspapers that concord with their already held political opinions, so the Europhobia of the Daily Express or the Daily Mail may not actually convert anyone to the LEAVE side of the Referendum debate, though it is likely to reinforce their opinions and make them more likely to go out and vote. But the plain truth is that despite 43 years of EC/EU membership,most Britons are largely ignorant of what the EU is and what it does. No government in Westminster has had the courage to tell them. So people do rely on the media, particularly television, which is maybe less pernicious than some of the newspapers. This makes it all the more important that people who are in the REMAIN camp speak up and in particular get the message across through social media.

[In the photo: SKY’s Adam Boulton and Mark English from the European Commission’s London Representation]

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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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Burns Night, Lewisham Style

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 24th January, 2016

JF at Burns Night supperFor several years now, I have been celebrating Burns Night with Lewisham Liberal Democrats at the home of two hospitable members in Honor Oak Park. To the best of my knowledge I do not have any Scottish links, nor is any of the participants at these jolly occasions usually a Scot, but that does not stop us entering into the spirit of the evening with gusto. We follow the set pattern of speeches, which usually includes me addressing the haggis, in a mangling of Scots that might make Rabbie Burns spin in his grave. But I hope it would amuse him too. It is surely good that even Sassenachs — and a few other ethnicities here in multicultural London — gather to commemorate Scotland’s bard. I believe that as Liberal Democrats, as indeed for the British public in general, we should celebrate diversity, and that means the cultural diversity within Britain as well as abroad. Moreover, theme nights are a great way of bringing party members together, new and old, for socialising that helps bonding inside political teams. Campaigning is the core activity of political parties, but a team is more likely to be happy and gel if the campaigning work is leavened by social occasions. Moreover, in the run-up to the EU Referendum, which may or may not take place later this year, there will be countless opportunities for country-themed evenings, which can also be useful fundraisers as well. There are 27 other EU member states to choose from, not to mention some of their constituent parts. Anyone up for Hungarian goulash or a Paella Party?

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London LibDems’ EU Referendum Rally

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 17th January, 2016

Europe HouseThough we don’t yet have an official date yet for Britain’s IN/OUT EU Referendum, the hot money is on 23 June — or at least that is what the attendees at yesterday’s London Liberal Democrats’ EU Referendum Rally were told. That assumes that David Cameron will get what he considers a satisfactory response to his four key demands for EU reform from his 27 EU counterparts, either at the European Council on 18 February or possibly at a special Council meeting later that month. Otherwise the timetable might slip and we would be looking at a referendum in the autumn instead. Personally I hope it is in June, with the London, Scottish, Welsh and local elections out of the way but the weather in principle benign, therefore encouraging people to go out to vote.

Iain GillWe already know the Referendum question: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?”, to which the alternative answers are “remain” and “leave”. The big challenge for Liberal Democrats, as the political party most enthusiastically in favour of Britain’s EU membership, is to enthuse the “remain” voters, which will mean appealing to their emotions, not just relying on statistics. That is what UKIP does so effectively on the other side of the argument. There was a galaxy of LibDem stars at the rally at Friends House in London yesterday, including Sir Graham Watson (former Leader of the ALDE Party), Catherine Bearder MEP, Baroness Sarah Ludford, London Mayoral candidate Caroline Pidgeon and the man charged with runing the LibDems’ EU Referendum campaign, Iain Gill. But for me, the most fascinating contribution was from Tom Smithard, the party’s Strategy Research guru, who showed detailed results of polling about the referendum and related issues among LibDem members and voters, as well as among Conservative and Labour voters for whom the LibDems would be a second choice. The headline issue was that essentially the electorate is made up of three roughly equal groups: those who are strongly in favour of the EU and therefore are likely to vote to stay in come what may; those who are strongly against who will do the opposite; and a third group of those who are undecided. The pro-business, cross party Stronger in Europe campaign will be targetting the last of those three groups, which means that the LibDems should focus on the first, ensuring that the “remain” voters actually do vote, including as full a polling day operation as possible, just as we do when an ordinary election is taking place, the difference this time being that literally every vote will count.

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I Still Have Two Great Ambitions

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 31st December, 2015

It’s that time of the year when people take stock of the previous 12 months and formulate resolutions that aim to make them personally or the next year better. I confess to  a lack of originality at this time, as the two great ambitions I have remain the same as in previous years, though at least one of them has got nearer to realisation. That is my ambition to visit every member state of the United Nations and, ideally, to do a piece of work there, be it an article, a radio broadcast or, in a few cases, a book. There are currently 193 UN member states and having recently been in Rwanda gathering material, I have been to 164 of them — so just 29 to go, which should be quite feasible.

The second ambition is to become a member of the European Parliament, something I have been aiming for since a long time, and nearly achieved twice. There won’t be another European election until 2019, but it is never too early to start campaigning, especially as 2016 will probably see an IN/OUT EU Referendum in Britain. I’ll be throwing myself into that whole-heartedly, as it is vital for so many reasons — not just personal — that the UK remains within the EU. Should the referendum go the wrong way, of course, there will be no more Euro-elections in Britain and so one of my ambitions would die. Which would mean I would just have to get some appropriate journalistic or lecturing commission and sail off to all those little Pacific island states I haven’t been to yet.

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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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London Liberal Democrats’ Autumn Conference

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 14th November, 2015

Caroline PidgeonGiven the drubbing that the party received at the General Election in May — losing all but one MP, Tom Brake, in London — London Liberal Democrats were in amazingly high spirits at their AGM at the University of West London today. But then LibDems are the perennial Minions of British politics; knock one over and (s)he immediately bounces back up. One reason for the good spirit was undoubtedly the large number of new members that have joined the party over the past six months, of whom there were a goodly number present at the one-day conference. But the main reason was the relished challenge of the London Mayoral and Greater London Assembly elections in six months’ time. Current Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon, who is number 1 on the LibDem top-up list for the Assembly is the party’s mayoral candidate and has had good media coverage for her work on the Assembly, not least in the field of transport. She gave a short but rousing rallying speech, and the Number 2 on the list, Emily Davey, spoke on housing, which is her speciality and is rightly being promoted as the top issue for concern in the capital. Number 3 is Merlene Emerson and it would be wonderful if she were elected too; the LibDems have had as many as 5 Assembly members in the past, and as an ethnic Chinese, Merlene would add some much needed diversity to the ranks of LibDem elected politicians.

JF at London LibDem conferenceI spoke about the EU Referendum, which David Cameron has said will happen some time before the end of 2017, but which the Westminster village believes could come as early as June or July next year. I had stayed up until the early hours of this morning following the news of the horrific terrorist attack in Paris. In my speech I mentioned how pleased I was that Donald Tusk, President of the European Council (and former Polish Prime Minister) had in his message to French President Francois Hollande not only expressed solidarity with the French people but also declared that the attack was an assault on Europe and European values. How often does David Cameron talk of European values, I asked rhetorically. While obviously working closely with the Stronger in Europe campaign, the LibDems must be leaders in campaigning for Britain to remain in the EU — as Tim Farron showed he was willing to be, in a skype link from the Welsh Liberal Democrat conference in Swansea. We need to be talking about Europe on the doorstep and putting it in our literature during the GLA campaign. More than anywhere in this country, London benefits from our EU membership, whatever the oafish Boris Johnson may say to the country, and it is essential that we do not allow a Brexit by default.

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