Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Liberal International’

The Liberal International’s 70th Anniversary Congress

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 19th May, 2017

IMG_2400The Liberal International was founded in Oxford 70 years ago, as Europe and the wider world emerged from the physical and psychological trauma of the Second World War. The idea was to bring together political parties, originally predominantly in Europe, who had enough of a shared ideology to collaborate in the interests of promoting liberal values of individual freedom, human rights and a (regulated) free market economy. I went to Wadham College, Oxford, a few weeks ago to celebrate the 70th anniversary and to help put the finishing touches to a new Liberal Manifesto which aims to update what was put together in 1947, without losing the central principles. Tomorrow, in Andorra, at the Liberal International Congress, we will adopt the new document and I will have the honour of signing it on behalf of the UK Liberal Democrats.

IMG_2411I am sure the founding fathers (and, yes, in keeping with the times they were almost all men) would have been thrilled to see how LI has grown and how these days European parties are outnumbered by counterparts from Africa, Asia and Latin America. Indeed, Liberals are now in government in so many countries in the world, from Taiwan to Côte d’Ivoire, Canada to the Netherlands. Will the new French President, Emmanuel Macron, be the next new recruit? The reason the current congress is in Andorra is because the LI President at the moment is Juli Minoves, former Foreign Minister of Andorra, who has done us proud reminding us just how ancient the principality’s parliamentary system is. But on Sunday I shall return to London and throw myself back into the general election campaign, in Dagenham & Rainham and beyond.

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Liberal International at 70

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 11th April, 2017

Yesterday, at Wadham College, Oxford, the Bureau of Liberal International (LI) gathered, along with several other members of the LI Executive, including myself, to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the organisation. We stood for a group photo on the very steps where our predecessors posed for a photograph in 1947. At its inception, LI was largely a European affair, but over the intervening decades, it has grown to take in parties first from Latin America and Asia and more recently from the Middle East and North Africa as well as Africa. There are over 40 member parties in Africa now, as part of the African Liberal Network, based in Cape Town. After the photo opportunity we retired to Harris Manchester College for a working session on the draft Liberal Manifesto, which is due to be adopted at the LI Congress in Andorra next month. This document, put together by Karl-Heinz Paqué, in consultation with member parties,is seen as a spring board for us to campaign on liberal values such as anti-discrimination and human rights in an increasingly illiberal, post-truth environment. In the discussions it was stressed how important it is that we reach out to millennials, who are largely dissatisfied with recent developments (Brexit, Trump, etc), but that means also changing the nature of some of our messaging. Bite-sized chunks of the manifesto will have to be fashioned, some to fit within twitter’s famous 140 character limit. We will also need to set up Facebook groups and other opportunities for discussion where young people are, as the Internet age and social media have radically changed the way political discourse develops.

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Verhofstadt’s Warnings to Europe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 5th February, 2017

guy-verhofstadt-isaiah-berlin-lectureEurope currently faces three serious threats: Islamic terrorism, Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. At least that was the view of Belgian MEP (and the European Parliament’s Brexit negotiator), Guy Verhofstadt, when he gave the Isaiah Berlin lecture for Liberal International at Chatham House in London earlier this week. He warned that the European Union now has fewer friends in the United States than ever, with Mr Trump himself openly trying to break it up, just as Mr Putin is trying to undermine it. But Guy acknowledged that Europe itself is in a crisis — a “polycrisis”, as he called it — “a crisis of migration, of internal security, of geopolitical weakness in our neighbourhood.” This is unsustainable in the modern world, he argued, urging that the EU must reform. However, his words were not all doom and gloom, as he declared that Brexit “is a golden opportunity … to get our act together inside the European Union. What is really needed is not new ideas; the ideas already exist… we have the building blocks… we need the capacities… to do what is necessary.”

Guy is a former Prime Minister of Belgium who leads the ALDE group within the European Parliament. His latest book is entitled Europe’s Last Chance, which I shall review when a copy is available. For many of us in Britain, of course, the great tragedy is that the UK has willfully stepped aside from confronting the challenges facing the EU, at a time when we should be leading, not leaving. Prime Minister Theresa May blithely says that Britain will be great on the global stage, but even if she can hold the country together (which is far from certain), Britain on its own is far weaker than being part of the EU — and Donald Trump for one is well aware of that.

 

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Liberal International’s African Reach

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 16th November, 2016

hakima-el-haite-and-juli-minovesWhen Liberal International was founded in Oxford nearly 70 years ago it was very much a European affair. With the noble exception of Canada, Liberal parties and values were largely confined to northern Europe, but since then the picture has changed dramatically. As we in Britain lick our wounds from the double whammy of the Brexit vote and the triumph of Donald Trump in the United States let us take comfort from the fact that the Liberal family is growing worldwide. This was dramatically illustrated by the Liberal International (LI) Executive in Marrakesh, at which five new African parties – from Burkina Faso, Ghana, Madagascar, Senegal and Somalia – were welcomed into membership last weekend, which means that LI now has almost 50 member parties from Africa alone.

The Marrakesh gathering was timed to coincide with COP22, the latest in a series of global conferences following up on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. So it was hardly surprising that environmental issues figured prominently in LI’s discussions this time. Indeed, one of the keynote speakers was Morocco’s Minister for the Environment, Hakima el Haite, who belongs to the Moroccan party that was one of our hosts, le Mouvement Populaire. Human rights were also very much on the agenda; to a large degree they are LI’s USP, as none of the other political internationals address them sufficiently seriously. Helen Zille, Premier of the Western Cape in South Africa (which LI member party, the Democratic Alliance, controls) gave a particularly inspiring address relating to gender equality.

For much of 2016 a working group has been writing a Liberal Manifesto which aims to be a campaigning tool for Liberal parties worldwide. This was also discussed at Marrakesh and a final version should be ready in time for the organisation’s 70th anniversary next year. 2017 will see crucial elections in both France and Germany, in particular, and as the forces of illiberalism rally to fight those it is vital that the Liberal International’s member parties, including the Liberal Democrats, are in fine fettle to take them on.

[photo: Hakima el Haite and Juli Minoves at COP22]

This article was first published on the Liberal Democrat Voice website

 

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Liberal International Executive in Georgia

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 22nd May, 2016

imageLiberal international held its first-ever Executive Committee in the South Caucasus republic of Georgia this week, fortuitously coinciding with the 38th anniversary celebrations for our host party, the Republican Party of Georgia. Security issues were at the fore outside of the purely administrative session, including a trip to the “separation line” — where Geirgian troops face encroaching Russians, who have taken over South Ossetia and occasionally push forward their barbed wire barrier, separating Georgian farmers from their land and cutting them off from friends and family on the other side. On Friday night a fading party came over and killed one young Geirgian man. The Georgian Defence Minister, Tinatin Khidasheli, was a keynote speaker. Slovenia’s former Defence Minister, Roman Jakic — recently one of LI’s Treasurers — made the point that NATO cannot say it has an open door policy and then turn people away, which offers a potentially challenging situation with regard to both Georgia and Ukraine.

imageLooking further afield, there was a debate on whether the world can unite successfully in its fight against ISIS/Daesh. But I was especially interested in a session on the implications of the nuclear deal with Iran. Former Belgian junior Foreign Minister, Annemie Neyts, echoed my feelings by arguing that we need to engage with the Iranians and to recognise their historical importance, while not keeping our eyes off the security ball, whereas Dan Kucawka from Argentina took a much more hawkish position, basically asking how we can trust a country whose forces are helping Bashar al-Assad in Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon. All in all, the world seems a more troubled place than it did a decade ago, though one of the positive developments has been the expansion of Liberal International to take in new member parties, not least from Africa.

 

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60th Liberal International Congress

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 4th November, 2015

imageMexico City was an inspired choice as the venue for Liberal International’s 60th Congress, not just because it culminated in the national festivities of the Day of the Dead — one of Latin America’s great folkloric celebrations — but also because this was the first such Congress in the region. Our host party, Nueva Alianza, did us proud, as did a partner organisation Caminos de la Libertad. The latter invited everyone to their annual awards ceremony, at which the former US presidential candidate Ron Paul was the main laureate. His speech helped me to understand why he is a libertarian and I am a Liberal.

imageMuch more palatable was the keynote speech by another former US presidential hopeful, Governor Howard Dean, who is one of those rare politicians to whom one could happily listen for hours. He stressed the central importance of values in political messaging, something the Liberal Democrats could have usefully borne in mind during this year’s general election campaign. Key issues at the LI Congress were migration and populism, prompting very lively debates, which cannot possibly be summarised in a short blog item (though it will be worth keeping an eye on LI’s website for reports). There was an active fringe programme, including some unusual but stimulating topics such the impact of German reunification on Germany, Europe and the world. The former Foreign a Minister of Andorra, Juli Minoves, pictured here with Howard Dean, was re-elected President of LI and a very well deserved decoration of President of Honour was bestowed in absentia on the former LI President Lord (John) Alderdice.

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The Day of the Dead

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 3rd November, 2015

imageBeing in Mexico for the Day of the Dead has long been something on my bucket list, but it was by fortuitous coincidence that the 60th Liberal International Congress, which finished in Mexico City on Saturday night, meant that I have been able to enjoy this extraordinary celebration this year. Last night I was in the Coyoacan area of the city, where tens of thousands of people, mainly in family groups, were thronging the streets and the squares. I sat in on part of a Catholic Mass in the Parish Church of St. John the Baptist and was fascinated to see a Day of the Dead installation on the church premises. The Catholics have always been better at assimilating pre-Christian traditional and rituals into their life than the dourer Protestants.

imageThe installations, which are to be found all round the city, include skulls, skeletons, dolls, flowers and food; the Dead need feeding as well, according to tradition. A high percentage of the public had made themselves up with gruesome costumes and face painting — far more inventive than what one sees in North America at Halloween. Children wave little buckets around, begging for sweets, and there were a number of street theatre groups active around Coyoacan. The actual Day of the Dead was today, 2 November, which is a public holiday; the roads that are usually clogged were easy to drive along and there was a general sense of well-being and camaraderie of the sort one finds more often at Christmas in Europe. I have always believed that death should be a reason for celebration of life and a thanksgiving for the departed rather than a cause of prolonged mourning. The Mexicans, even the poor ones, certainly know how to enjoy themselves so it has been uplifting to be among them at this special time.

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Liberalism versus Islamism

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 15th March, 2015

imageimageWhen the International Office of the Liberal Democrats first mooted the idea of a fringe meeting at this weekend’s Spring conference in Liverpool on issues surrounding radical Islam some voices urged caution, fearful this could inflame tensions. But what is a Liberal party for, if not to stand up for the freedom of expression in a tolerant, diverse society? The recent bloody excesses of ISIS in Syria and Iraq — one of whose victims was the noble aid volunteer from my home town of Eccles, Alan Henning — have highlighted the need to tackle the scourge of Islamism head-on. This is absolutely not the same as criticising the religion Islam, whatever some critics might say. Islamism, the radical ideology that seeks to impose its own extreme interpretation if Islam on society is as far from the core values of Islam as the Spanish Inquisition was from the core values of Christianity. Indeed, as (Baroness) Kishwer Falkner — a secular Muslim LibDem peer of Pakistani origin — declared at the controversial fringe meeting last night, ISIS are essentially fascists, far more extreme than just extreme. Maajid Nawaz, the LibDem candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn at the forthcoming general election also spoke passionately of the need to defend the right of people to have any religion or none, or even to change religion if they wish — though apostasy is a capital offence in some conservative Islamic states. Such issues were reprised in a plenary debate at the conference this morning, when a very detailed motion on protecting freedom of expression was overwhelmingly passed. I spoke in that debate, highlighting the fact that journalism has become a much more dangerous occupation than when I first started as a teenage cub reporter for the Manchester Evening News in Vietnam. These days, journalists are often deliberately targetted, not just in the Middle East but in countries such as Brazil, Mexico and Russia. It is essential that we champion the principles of free expression enshrined in both the European Convention on Human Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including in relation to the media. As the late US statesman Adlai Stevenson once said, a free press is the mother of our liberties — something we should bear in mind this Mothering Sunday.

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Egypt: Where Next?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 3rd June, 2014

Egypt elections 1Egypt elections 2Last night at the National Liberal Club, Liberal International British Group hosted a panel discussion on the political situation in Egypt, with former Nile TV presenter Shahira Amin, democracy activist Ahmed Naguib (via skype), the Treasurer of Liberal International, Robert Woodthorpe Browne (who has been involved in a lot of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s recent work in Egypt) and myself. As the discussion was (rightly) held under the Chatham House Rule, I cannot divulge what any of the others said, but I can share some of the things I talked about. As the two Egyptian participants gave such a comprehenesive and coheremnt picture of today’s political realities and challenges, I complemented their presentations by reminding people about the highs and lows of the mood on Cairo’s Tahrir Square in January/February 2011, including the prominent role played by brave women and the way that Muslims and Christian Copts protected each other when they were at prayer. But those who dubbed the phenomenon that started in Tunisia the previous December “The Arab Spring” were always way out on their time-frame. I believed that then and believe it even more strongly now: it will be 30 or 40 years before it becomes clear how the whole New Arab Awakening works out, but what is sure is that Egypt is the test case of its success or failure. It has always had a pole position in the Arab mentality, not just because it is by far the most populous nation in the the Arab world but also because of Cairo’s (Sunni) religious and intellectual pre-eminence. Field Marshal Sisi’s victory in the recent presidential election was a foregone conclusion, though it was notable that in each electoral district there were tens of thousands of spoiled ballot papers. But for the majority of Egyptians (rather than the wealthier, educated elite) the prime concern at the moment is economic survival: bread not ballots. Western commentators like myself rightly focus on matters such as human rights abuses, including the systematic use of torture in detention centres. But the key thing that any Egyptian government, now and for the foreseable future, has to tackle is how to overcome the huge inequalities in Egypt and to provide enough, reasonably-paid work for the predominantly young population. Otherwise, there is likely to be a growing, disenchanted body of youth who could be tempted by something far more radical than the Muslim Brotherhood that was ousted from power. And that bodes ill.

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Israel: Get Back to the Table!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 26th April, 2014

JF speaking at LI CongressKerry NetanyahuThis afternoon, at the Liberal International Congress in Rotterdam, I successfully moved an amendment on behalf of the UK Liberal Democrats to the Middle East section of the traditional World Today resolution, reviewing topical issues of global concern. Since the text had first been drafted, news came through that Israel was pulling out of talks with the Palestinians because of the new deal between Fatah (the Palestinian Authority) and Gaza’s Hamas, which have agreed to form a joint platform. The British amendment praised John Kerry for working tirelessly to get the peace negotations back on track, but criticised Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for pulling the plug on talks. Moreover, negotiating with a united front of Palestinians is more likely to mean that Hamas will clmp down on Islamic Jihad and other extremist groups, I believe. I argued from the position of a Brit who lived through IRA bombings in Manchester and London and therefore understands that one makes peace not with friends but with enemies. I got quite emotional when recalling the state dinner given earlier this month by Queen Elizabeth to the Irish President, at which former Sinn Fein bogey-man Martin McGuinness was welcomed by the monarch, despite the fact that the IRA blew up her cousin, Lord Louis Mountbatten, in 1979. I said that I looked forward to the day when Shimon Peres, or whoever succeeeds him as Israeli President, welcomes Palestinian leaders, including current Hamas figures to his residence, because that will mean that peace and security have become a reality. It saddened — but didn”t suprise — me that the Israelis present protested that we cannot expect them to talk to “terrorists”, and a few prominent pro-Israelis — including outgoing Liberal Internatinal President Hans Van Baalen also oppossed the amendment and the idea that talks should resume. Fortunately, the amendment was carried — albeit by not a very large margin. and with many abstentions — which I thought was a very positive result. One thing that particularly saddens me, however, is that so many Israelis — even many Liberals — don”t realise that their narrative of the conflict doesn’t hold water and that not just Europe but increasingly many Americans (including American  Jews) are no longer prepared to stand up for Israel, right or wrong.

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