Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Jack Straw’

MPs for Hire

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 24th February, 2015

Rifkind StrawChannel 4’s sting operation that entrapped Jack Straw and Sir Malcolm Rifkind has yet again highlighted the dangers posed to Britain’s parliamentary democracy by the temptations of cash for questions or of lucrative consultancies. Both men involved his time had been Foreign Secretaries, one Labour, one Tory, and already have opportunities to make a good living from paid speeches and other side activities to their work as an MP, and in Sir Malcolm’s case, the chairmanship of an important committee. But human greed is sometimes difficult to resist, rather like sexual desire. This sad affair is yet another nail in the coffin of the public’s respect for politicians, five years after the raft of scandals relating to MPs’ claiming of expenses. So what can be done about it, to improve the integrity of the system? Labour’s leader, Ed Miliband, has suggested that MPs should be barred from having outside jobs or consultancies, which is a drastic but plausible solution, yet a difficult one to impose unless MPs salaries rise (as the independent body dealing with such matters has recommended). I suspect that few people will have much sympathy with Sir Malcolm’s lament that it is impossible to live on £60,000 a year, but it is true that MPs’ remuneration does not compare favourably with business salaries and bonuses, which acts as a disincentive for entering politics for those with the capacity to be high-flyers. I believe that being an MP should be a full time job — and indeed most of them do work extremely hard — and there needs to be some curb on those who frankly abuse the system, even if they are not breaking any rules. According to one report, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, for example, earned a million pounds last year; he certainly was not seen much in the House of Commons, so his electors might a reason to feel aggrieved. It is maybe not feasible to ban all outside paid work — including media fees — for MPs, but the temptation to be moonlighting or taking up consultancies that might create a conflict of interest with the duties of an objective legislator representing his or her constituents is so great that maybe it will only be solved if MPs are paid a market rate and the rules about outside income are tightened.

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Abdullah Gul in London

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 25th November, 2014

Abdullah GulI was pleased last night to return from the ALDE Congress in Lisbon in time to attend the launch of Gerald MacLean’s new book, Abdullah Gul and the Making of the New Turkey*, at the Turkish Embassy. A particular draw was the subject himself, who was in London on what he said was his first foreign trip since ending his term as Turkey’s President. Gerald said in his own remarks that the volume is not hagiography, though there was a degree of cooperation with Mr Gul, his wife, friends and family. I shall reserve judgement until I am able to read it. Also present last night was Jack Straw, who said that he and his wife had forged a close friendship with the Guls while he was Foreign Secretary. Mr Straw lamented the fact that Turkey had effectively been kept out of EU membership by the strong opposition from states such as Austria, though many of us who follow Turkish affairs closely feel that in fact Ankara has recently been drifting further away from rather than nearer that objective. Mr Gul himself was in nostalgic mood, recalling his own university studies in Britain (at Exeter University). As he has been Foreign Minister, Prime Minister and President of Turkey I guess the next stage would be some international role. He could of course write his memoirs, but he might feel Gerald MacLean has stolen his thunder on that.

* OneWorld, £35

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Liberalism in an Era of International Terrorism

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 21st January, 2014

Julian HuppertWhen people don’t have existential worries, it is easy to be a Liberal, Cambridge MP Julian Huppert declared at a Kensington & Chelsea LibDem “Food for Thought” this evening, but it is much more challenging to remain so in an era of international terrorism. But as Julian’s many fans in the the Party and its constituent organisations are aware, he is one parliamentarian who has continued to champion civil liberties through thick and thin, and to keep Home Secretary Theresa May on her toes. That is in complete contrast to Labour’s supine submission to the demands of the security establishment post 9/11; Jack Straw’s role during that period was particularly nauseating. And although the Coalition government replaced the hated Control Orders with a watered-down version (TPIMs), it was thanks to Liberal Democrat pressure that these new measures were softened to take into account genuine civil liberties concerns. Forced internal exile within the UK– which was often a part of Control Orders — may not have been as harsh as Soviet-style banishment to Siberia, but it still uprooted people from their communities. However, as some of today’s newspapers pointed out, because the TPIMs were introduced in January 2012 and last for a maximum of two years, a few hardened individuals will be let back into society this week. Julian opined that even if there is a certain element of risk in that — though those people will be under close surveillance — the alternative of a Labour-style suspension of important human rights would be far worse. Julian also said that the Guardian’s publication of just a tiny percentage of Edward Snowden’s revelations about the level of surveillance by the UK and US security services was for many people a wake-up call to the scale of the problem. None the less, he paid tribute to the people who work at GCHQ in Cheltenham monitoring suspect communication traffic, declaring that the majority of the staff there remain scrupulously within the Law and some of their work does indeed make Britain a safer place.

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Is There No Limit to Labour’s Hypocrisy?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 29th August, 2010

According to an exclusive article in the Independent on Sunday, former Foreign Secretary David Miliband says that his conscience is clear over alleged UK government complicity in extraordinary rendition and other instances of the Bush administration’s use of torture in the US ‘war on terror’. He seems to be trying to push some of the blame for tolerating or remaining silent about inhumane practices onto his predecessor Jack Straw, who held the ministerial post in 2001, after 9/11. But as the eminent QC and human rights campaigner Philippe Sands rightly tells the Independent, David Miliband seems to be ‘burying his head in the sand’ over this. I would go further: what he is trying to do is to wriggle out of both the collective responsibility for the Labour government’s acquiescence to disgusting behaviour by US forces and agencies — not to mention the illegal Iraq War! — and his personal responsibility, given what he must have known at the time he was at the FCO. It is just not good enough for him to try and wash his hands of it all now and pretend that somehow New Labour is or was squeaky clean over the matter. This is rank hypocrisy. But then hypocrisy has become the theme tune of Labour’s public campaigning and utterances since the party lost the general election, whether it is attacking the Coalition government for doing things that it intended to do had it been re-elected, or denouncing plans for AV electoral reform, even though that was in the Labour manifesto. Perhaps Labour hopes that if it shouts loud enough and tries to rewrite history to a positively Stalinist degree then somehow the British electorate will believe it is the sweetness-and-light party. But the record of 13 years of New Labour is there and it stinks — as does the hypcorisy of those of the party’s leadership contenders who want to portray themselves as unsullied by what has gone before.

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Moving towards an Elected House of Lords

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 27th August, 2009

Jack StrawThe Guardian hosted a seminar yesterday, co-sponsored by Unlock Democracy, on Moving towards an Elected House of Lords, at which the star performer was the Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, interviewed by Guardian journalist Jonathan Friedland. Although there was inevitably quite a bit of discussion about the Government’s 2008 white paper on the issue, the Secretary of State was remarkably candid in his comments and responses to questions. There was an audible gasp from the room when he confessed that he went into the ‘no’ lobby on the last vote over a largely or wholly elected Upper House having not really thought about the issue; instead, he just followed the suggestion of a colleague who was voting at the time. He says he has now had time to think about the matter and has changed his mind. Well, that’s a relief, then.

Polly Toynbee, who was one of three Grand Inquisitors who got the chance to make statements, rather than just put a short question, really tore into him, basically saying that the Labour government had been a huge disappointment on electoral reform (and much else). Jack Straw spluttered that actually they had done rather a lot (from Scottish devolution onwards and indeed the eviction of most herditary peers from the Lords), but Polly got a loud round of applause. She knows how to play to the gallery.

I asked the Minister the following question: ‘Given the scepticism among proponents of electoral reform about the degree of commitment of the current government to the matter and its awareness of the urgency, and given the fact that you have said you would favour an open or semi-open* regional list for elections by some form of proportional representation for the Lords, would it not be a quick an easy way for the government to demonstrate its good faith by bringing in legisation to change the elections for the European Parliament to an open or semi-open list system?’

I rather expected an evasive or even negative response, but on the contrary he said that as there have now been three direct elections to the European Parliament under the regional list system, perhaps it is time to review that system. This is something that I (and I hope others) will pursue.

(NB An open list system means that voters can put their cross by the name of their preferred candidate, rather than by the name of their preferred party, as is the case under the current ‘closed’ list system. A semi-open list system means that they can put their cross either by the party or by an individual candidate.)

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Yes Darling, We Are Pissed off with You

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 30th August, 2008

 I suspect that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, is already regretting the candour of his interview in today’s Weekend magazine of the Guardian. But as Vince Cable — who was able to get in a pertinent reaction in time for last night’s ‘Newsnight’, showing yet once again how on the ball he is — said, Darling is correct: Britain’s economy is in far worse a state than Gordon Brown and his many spinmeisters have been prepared to admit, and that is not surprising considering how important the financial sector is here.

The Chancellor is also spot on when he laments that the British public are pissed off with Labour — his words, not mine. Indeed, even if we may be nearly two years away from a general election, it seems hard to imagine a Labour recovery vigorous enough to save them from defeat then. They have only been in power for 11 years — as opposed to their Tory predecessors’ 18 — yet the government is looking tired to the point of exhaustion. In fact, both Brown and Darling both look like walking dead meat. Interestingly, they and Jack Straw are the only three people left from the original 1997 Cabinet. I wonder if Darling will still be there next week?

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