Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘John Major’

Europe: The Tories Have Lost the Plot

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 1st October, 2018

Jeremy Hunt 1Yesterday, at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt compared the European Union to the “prison” of the Soviet Union and accused the EU of trying to prevent member states from leaving. That is the sort of intemperate language we came to expect from his predecessor, Boris Johnson, so it appears Hunt has taken over Johnson’s agenda as well as his role — an agenda that may well include a pitch for the Tory leadership when Conservative MPs feel it is time to ditch Theresa May. Mild-mannered Sir John Major is the only former Conservative Prime Minister left alive (apart from David Cameron, who initiated this Brexit mess) and he has made quite clear that he thinks Brexit is a terrible mistake. What a pity that Edward Heath and Margaret Thatcher are not still around as well, as from their different perspectives they too would have put their boot into this pathetic government that has swallowed UKIP’s rhetoric hook, line and sinker.

May Juncker 1 Instead of negotiating with our 27 EU partners Mrs May and her colleagues have been increasingly insulting and threatening them. How not to win friends and influence people. If Britain crashes out of the EU on 29 March 2019 without a deal it will be entirely this government’s fault and we shouldn’t be surprised if the remaining EU members sigh “good riddance”! Britain under the Tories is becoming a nasty, xenophobic nation with a domestic “hostile environment” and an arrogant foreign policy akin to that of Donald Trump. But the UK is no USA, however much Tories wallow in the nostalgia of an Empire long since gone. It is no longer a top rank player on the world stage. Britain is now a middle-ranking country gradually slipping down the world economic league, and instead of using our membership of the EU to protect and grow our prosperity, the government is kicking our European partners in the privates, including and particularly the Republic of Ireland. One result could well be the break-up of the United Kingdom as the Scots, Northern Irish (and one day, maybe the Welsh) decide they do not want to be hitched up to the English nationalists. Listening to some of the people attending the Conservative Party conference, especially the youth wing of the Jacob Rees-Mogg fan club, it is obvious they do not really care about the social fabric of this country and are happy to make prep-school jokes about Johnny Foreigner. This used to be a party that prided itself on being competent, but on Europe — as on so much else — it has totally lost the plot. Interestingly, in London, Tory party membership has fallen below that of the resurgent Liberal Democrats’. But as the Tories sink beneath the waves somewhere in the mid-Atlantic they risk pulling the country down with them.


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Miliband to the Rescue?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 13th August, 2017

David MilibandIn an article in today’s Observer, former Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, describes Brexit as an “unparalleled act of economic self-harm”, and thus becomes the latest in a long line of senior politicians from both the Labour and Conservative parties to urge a rethink, in sharp contrast to the policy of their leaderships. The dissidents (whom I am tempted to call the Voices of Reason) include former Prime Ministers John Major and Tony Blair and several heavyweight figures in the House of Lords, as well, of course, as most of the smaller parties in Parliament. But could David Miliband be the last straw that breaks the camel’s back of Brexit? Unlike Tony Blair, he is not permanently tainted by the responsibility of promoting the Iraq War, and for many older Labour Party members, he has the status of the Dauphin over the water. He really ought to have become Labour’s leader, had not the trade unions backed his weaker brother Ed instead. How different UK politics might have been if that had been the case! But he can now play a crucial role in mobilising the anti-Brexit Labour voters (a majority of whom were Remainers in last year’s EU Referendum) and be part of a growing cross-party coalition calling for a second vote for the British people, to ask, on the basis of hard evidence of the negative effects of Brexit, whether that is really what they want. There has been a lot of talk lately about starting a new, centrist anti-Brexit party, but to my mind that is a waste of time and effort. There isn’t much time left before the window of opportunity to reverse Brexit closes, and all effort should be concentrated on making that happen.

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David Cameron’s European Car-crash

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 20th May, 2013

David CameronDavid Cameron was elected Leader of the Conservative Party with a manifesto to modernise, though it would appear from the grassroots rebellion in the shires that a worryingly high percentage of Tory Party members have changed their minds. On issues like equal marriage this clearly has something to do with the high average age profile of the party’s membership, as well as the fact that Conservatives are by nature traditionalists. However, the really extraordinary feature of the past few months has been the slow-motion car-crash over Europe. The way that John Major’s authority was undermined over Maastricht in the 1990s should have served as a warning to Cameron that the EU was a potentially explosive issue yet however well he may have handled some other aspects of government — not least getting a Coalition with the Liberal Democrats swiftly in place after the 2010 general election — the way he has dealt with Europe has been a disaster. He has not only dismayed many of Britain’s EU partners by his posturing, instead of winning allies for necessary reforms; he has also failed to make clear what his government’s position on Britain’s role in the EU should be. One minute he is saying that he thinks EU membership is a good thing on balance, providing some reforms do take place, while the next he is pandering to the Europhobes and threatening to pull out. By throwing the red meat of an in-out referendum promise to his more rabid backbenchers he has only made them hungry for more. And he has given succour to UKIP, encouraging some of his more disaffected party members to defect there, while at the same time lambasting Nigel Farage and Co as clowns. As Leader he should have given clear guidance and then insist that the Party sticks to it — especially Cabinet Ministers, who have collective responsibility for government policy or else must resign their post. Instead, the Tory Eurocar is being steered by a driver who doesn’t after all appear to have passed his driving test.

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Keep the Flag Flying

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 16th June, 2012

The second half of the 20th century defied expectations that it would not live up to the excitement of the first. True, there was no Third World War, but momentous political and social upheavals kept both journalists and diplomats busy, trying to make sense of the process of decolonisation, the radical and sometimes despotic regimes that came to power in parts of the Middle East, Africa and Asia, and the long freeze of the Cold War followed by the sudden thaw of 1989. Among the British diplomats lucky and astute enough to be around at the right time in some of the most interesting places and to make the most of them, from the time he joined the Foreign Office in 1958 to his retirement in 1995 after serving as Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, was Alan Munro, whose memoirs have now been published: Keep the Flag Flying (Gilgamesh, £17.95). Sir Alan was one of the Camel Corps, bright young minds that were trained in Arabic at MECAS in Shemlan in the hills behind Beirut and who went on to a career spent largely in Arab lands, in all their diversity, from Algeria and Libya to Lebanon, Kuwait and KSA. There were, of course, times posted back home in London, where his responsibilities grew as he rose higher up the Service. The one extraordinary posting, in a sense, was his time in Brazil, at the height of the military dictatorship. There as elsewhere he found plenty to fertilise his anecdotage. There are lots of good stories, many of them worthy of a Lawrence Durrell comic novel. The truly unsavoury nature of various governments and individuals is hinted at rather than spelt out. And when he gets to Saudi Arabia, his writing becomes a labour of love. He clearly retains huge affection for that strange land and some of its extensive royal family, and to an extent he endorses their paradoxical motto of “Progress without Change”. Some of the British politicians and other visitors whom he had to host get shorter shrift, David Mellor and Mark Thatcher, in particular, being slapped down with a minimum of words. There’s a wonderful story of Sir Alan and John Major (while the latter was PM) having to squeeze together in a lavatory cubicle in order to have a private conversation while visiting the Saudi King. But this is only one of various ludicrous and bizarre situations of the kind that make a diplomat’s life bearable, providing they have the right sense of humour, which the author obviously does. History buffs may be disappointed that there is not more “serious” content — though the account of life in Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War definitely counts as that — but this book is essentially an entertainment, perhaps conceived partly for family and friends, but deserving of a much wider readership.


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Charles Kennedy at the Zoo

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 14th October, 2009

Charles Kennedy 4Westminster Liberal Democrats may find it difficult to get anyone elected to public office — though they always put up a good fight, as in last week’s West End ward by-election — but they do know how to put on great social events. Tonight, thanks to Mark Blackburn, PPC for Westminster North, they organised a splendid dinner in the Blackburn tropical aviary at London Zoo in Regent’s Park, at which former party leader Charles Kennedy was the guest speaker. Charles was loudly heckled by toucans, coots and other variegated winged species, who seemed to think it was great fun to have all these people sitting around candle-lit tables in their full view. Charles believes that despite the rather mixed outcomes of the Bournemouth party conference last month (mansion tax and ‘savage cuts’ spring to mind), the party will go into next year’s general election with a challenge as exciting as that presented when the Alliance so nearly made the big breakthrough in 1983. Labour is seemingly on the mat, while the Tories don’t yet enthuse. The atmosphere is quite different from that at the end of the John Major government, when so many people invested hope in Tony Blair (how wrong we were!). In the question and answer session after Charles’s speech, I suggested that the LibDems basically have to get a very simple message over to the electorate over the next six months or so: ‘Yes, there IS an alternative!’, and woo those people who might otherwise vote Conservative, not out of conviction but out of despair.

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Three Men on the Box?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 30th July, 2009

Nick Clegg 4Gordon Brown 2David Cameron 3The likelihood of a US-style televised debate at the next British general election has moved a step closer, with the Conservative leader David Cameron declaring that he would be happy for it to be a threesome, with Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg. Previously, the prevailing notion was to exclude the leader of the Liberal Democrats, but that would now be seen as grossly unjust, as the LibDems have not only consolidated their position as a strong third force in British politics but they actually pushed Labour into third place in the county council elections last month. However, the $64,000 question is: will the Prime Minister agree to take part? Up until now, the indications have been negative, but (Lord) Peter Mandelson — Britain’s unelected Head of Government while Mr Brown is on holiday — has this week indicated otherwise. Perhaps the Scottish Sourpuss will be tempted to make a last-ditch stand to try to seize victory from the jaws of defeat, like John Major and his soapbox did — only didn’t. It’s a shame that a TV debate might further encourage British politics towards the presidential. And seen from multicultural London, it’s a pity that all three party leaders are middle class white men in the 40-60 age bracket, but if it encourages more electors to think about the issues at the election, and to vote, then, hey — let’s go for it!

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