Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘London’

Britain’s Post-War Demolition Madness

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 31st July, 2019

The Rovers ReturnGrowing up in Eccles, on the western outreaches of Salford, a few years after the Second World War, I was very conscious how drab and grey much of Greater Manchester was. Whereas the 19th century had seen an extraordinary industrial boom, propelling the city from a certain obscurity to global importance, the 20th century had witnessed gradual decline. Many of the magnificent city centre buildings had become soot-black, and stately warehouses and commercial premises were empty or abandoned. Even as a schoolkid, busing across both Salford and Manchester every weekday to get to Manchester Grammar School, I was aware that a lot of demolition was going on. Coronation Street — which really existed — and many other back-to-back housing districts were being “cleared” in the 1960s, just when the Granada TV series (launched in 1960) that had expropriated the name was becoming a national ITV favourite. The fictional street had a pub called the Rovers Return, and that name was also a steal: the real Rovers Return had been the self-proclaimed oldest “beerhouse” in Britain, in Shudehill, supposedly established in the early 14th century, but demolished in 1958. It may seem incredible to us now that such a piece of heritage could be casually disposed of, as the city’s socialist administration aimed to “modernise” and “regenerate” the urban environment. But that was the leitmotif of the era. Even as a callow youth I decried the demolition of some of the fabulous mansions on “Millionaires Row” near Hope that my bus passed daily.

Poplar 1950When I came to London in 1982 (after eight years in Brussels) I discovered similar things had been going on here, as housing estates and high-rise blocks of flats replaced more traditional forms of low-rise housing. When I moved to Bow, in 1986, I assumed that the blocks of flats on the other side of the road had replaced bomb-sites, but not a bit of it. There had been rows of late Victorian terraced houses, just like mine, that had been bulldozed after the War in the name of progress. These days, our side of the road is a conservation area, thankfully, but the neighbourhood opposite cannot be conserved because it has gone. Of course, German bombing did destroy a lot of Britain’s urban landscape, but was it really necessary to just continue obliterating the physical memories of the past? I believe not. At least trees are being planted everywhere in Tower Hamlets these days. But even their beautiful greenness cannot hide the architectural ghosts of the past.

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Mes Amigo

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 8th September, 2018

E6CE0DA0-89A7-4418-8025-11B68AB3B23BLast night I was at Drummonds, the royal bank in Charing Cross, for the launch of this year’s Mes Amigo or Amigo Month – London. Over the next five weeks there will be a cornucopia of cultural, religious and diplomatic events relating to the countries of Latin America, Spain, Portugal and lusophone Africa. Together, Spanish and Portuguese speakers make up what is probably the largest Diaspora community in the United Kingdom and several London districts have a particular Latin flavour, such as Vauxhall’s Litttle Portugal and the Colombian community of the Elephant and Castle. Matthew Ryder, Deputy Mayor of London for Social Cohesion, Social Mobility and Community Engagement, was one of the speakers at last night’s event, which also featured salsa dancers from Cali, contemporary dance and a Mexican group. Over the past decade, thanks to the tireless efforts of Peruvian journalist Isaac Bigio and a small team of associates, the Mes Amigo has grown into a significant operation. Most of the relevant countries have their national days during the five weeks of the “month” — it was Brazil;s yesterday — and numerous churches and social groups will be celebrating too. The organisers also keep an eye on more political issues, such as a campaign to protect a group of Latin American small businesses in North London threatened by redevelopment and the regularisation of the situation of undocumented immigrants. At election time there are always hustings for the community in which I have sometimes taken part.

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Two Summers of Billy Morton ****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 28th July, 2018

Two Summers of Billy Morton1968 really was a year to remember, what with the Prague Spring, the Paris May events, the assassination of Robert Kennedy and the Tet offensive in Vietnam, to mention but a few highlights. Fifty years on there have been many commemorations of individual events, but novelist Barry Stewart Hunter takes the year’s complete timeline as the backdrop to his picaresque tale of young Billy Morton, student photographer and opportunistic rent-boy, coming of age in swinging London at a time when sexuality was fluid and abortion recently legal (Two Summers of Billy Morton, Martin Firrell Company, £11.99). Billy’s “good” summer sees some strong and educative relationships on both sides of the fence, as well as the (not always disinterested) patronage of older people, including a one-armed lady picture editor based in Notting Hill (when the area was shabby, not chic) who suggests he go to Paris to see what the students were up to there. Having experienced the adrenaline rush of police horses charging an anti-War demonstration outside the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square, Billy is up to the challenge, as well as being agile and comely enough to depend on the kindness of strangers when he gets to the French capital.

Barry Stewart Hunter The Paris middle section of this novel in three distinct parts produces some of the most memorable characters, including a transvestite benefactor, Mme Georges, and a handsome young Arab, Lafcadio, with whom ever-so-English and still quite naive Billy becomes involved. But unlike in the 1960s children’s classic by Shel Silverstein, this Lafcadio is not the lion who shoots back but rather the harbinger of Billy’s “bad” summer that sees a chain of mysterious dangers with death in their wake. For a literary novel — and Two Summers of Billy Morton is highly literary — this book is packed with action, though at times it can appear hallucinatory, daring the reader to cease suspending their disbelief. Though the principal narrative voice is Billy’s, other people chip in from time to time, almost as if giving evidence to a police investigation. Some of Barry Stewart Hunter’s characters are more credible than others; I found parts of the Bloomsbury salon chatter and a supposed interview with novelist Graham Greene a little arch. But the central figure of Billy, in all his contradictions, is engagingly real and memorable. Indeed, as I myself ventured alone to London aged 18 in the summer of 1968, Billy could have been me.

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Have We Reached Peak London?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 10th May, 2018

City of LOndonLondon likes to present itself — with some justification — as the world’s premier global city. But it may be falling off its pedestal. Whereas until 2016 people flocked to London to find jobs in everything from banking to being a barista, these days the movement is more towards the exit door, as applications for NHS jobs from EU27 nationals plummet and European academics here search for pastures new. There is no doubt that Brexit (and the associated, barely concealed xenophobia manifest among certain sections of the British population). is the main reason for London losing some of its shine. Yes, Far Eastern investors are still buying property in London, but that’s mainly because the sharp fall in the value of the pound sterling has made even high-end property a good deal for them. Of course, cities go up and down. London was a comparative dump in the 1970s, with a shrinking population, whereas Paris was where it was at. But Paris subsequently lost it.

Steve Norris small At a fascinating seminar on Making London Succeed for Everyone post-Brexit, hosted by the international law firm Eversheds Sutherland in the City this evening, Steve Norris — former Conservative MP and onetime London mayoral hopeful — declared that he thought we are maybe are at Peak London; actually, I think that we are already on the way down from that peak — and given the shambolic way that Theresa May’s government is mismanaging Brexit, that descent could accelerate. Paris, Frankfurt and Dublin are salivating at the exodus of financial services and other economic actors from London, while meanwhile cities like Berlin and Lisbon are asserting themselves as cutting edge cultural and high-tech centres, as Cool Britannia’s image fades. Steve Norris was probably right when he said that Cool Britannia was actually Cool London, but how much longer will that be the case? Research suggests that the high Leave vote in many of the English provinces reflected a Sod London feeling (as well as Sod David Cameron), but being an overwhelmingly Remain city may not save London’s skin. Obviously, from my perspective I hope Brexit doesn’t happen and that the plug is pulled before further damage is done. But I cannot be wildly optimistic. Britain risks becoming a not-particularly-important offshore island and London will struggle not to be pulled down with it.

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Brexodus Has Begun

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 21st November, 2017

BrexodusWhen a slim majority of the UK electorate voted in June last year in favour of leaving the European Union it became inevitable that Britain would lose the two European agencies that it has been hosting, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the European Banking Agency (EBA). Sure enough, yesterday it was announced that the EMA will move to Amsterdam and the EBA to Paris. The number of staff involved are 900 for the EMA and 150 for the EBA, but the knock-on effect of the departure of well-paid employees on service industries in London will be significant. This is only the start of Brexodus — the departure of institutions and staff who are in Britain (notably London) because it is currently an EU member state, a situation that is scheduled to end in March 2019. Already banks in particular have been making preparations to shift operations to Frankfurt, Paris, Dublin, Luxembourg and so on. That change is likely to accelerate now that Michel Barnier has confirmed that if Britain leaves the single market (as both the Tory and Labour leadership are determined will happen) then banks and financial institutions will lose their passporting rights to operate throughout the EU. This is a catastrophic blow to the City of London; over a comparatively short period London is now likely to lose its status as the unmatched financial capital of Europe. And it is not only the fnancial sector that is going to suffer. Universities currently employ a lot of other EU nationals, but many of them have started to make plans to leave. Similarly, the NHS depends quite heavily on EU migrant labour, but applications from other EU countries to work in the NHS have fallen by 96%. Farmers are sounding alarm bells about rotting food because of the likely shortfall in EU migrant workers to harvest the crops. Theresa May argues that this is what the British public voted for, but as Brexodus speeds up during 2018 and the negative effects of a looming Brexit are exacerbated, surely then the British electorate should be asked “Is this really what you want?” Shamefully, the Prime Minister and her Brexiteer Cabinet Ministers currently will not even countenance the proposition, and equally shamefully the Labour “Opposition” under Jeremy Corbyn is just going along with the madness, which can only lead to a shrinking economy and diminished political importance for Britain. So much for “taking back control”.

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Young Lives Lost

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 30th July, 2017

gun crime smallLast night, shortly after dinner, we heard gunshots not far away from the house, followed by police sirens, and this morning the story was all over town. An 18-year-old youth had shot dead another and wounded a couple of girls. The attacker was in turn shot by police and wounded, but not critically. He will doubtless now end up in prison — which in Brazil all too often means a struggle for survival in an overcrowded and brutal environment controlled by its own, often vicious codes. It’s because of night-time insecurity that we hardly ever go out after dark in Fortaleza, but instead sit snug and safe behind locks and grills, reading. In the daytime, it is a different world, a sunny resort where families peddle up and down the promenade behind the house on various fantastic bicycles. But then comes the night. Gun crime is a serious problem in many of Brazil’s cities, but before Europeans feel superior about our own native countries’ relative security, it’s worth pointing out that there are areas of my original hometown, Manchester (notably Moss Side) where guns can be obtained relatively easily. In London, we tend to hear more of knife crime and there has been a depressing surge in attacks with knives in the city. Almost always, the victims are teenagers themselves, so just as with last night’s shooting here in Fortaleza, young lives are lost. before they have really begun. And in a sense the same is true for the perpetrators. Such a tragic and unnecessary waste.

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Russell Square: Keep Calm and Carry On

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 4th August, 2016

Russell SquareI heard about last night’s bloody knife attack in Russell Square, Bloomsbury, as soon as I logged on to the computer early this morning. The location had a sickeningly tragic ring, as it was just off Russell Square that a bus was blown up on 7 July 2005 and Russell Square tube station was one of the ones affected by coordinated Underground bombs that day, with significant casualties. This time, fortunately, the death toll was much smaller,  but still one poor sexagenarian American lady tourist lost her life and several other people were wounded, all of them apparently selected at random. A 19-year-old man who has been arrested under suspicion of murder is reportedly a Norwegian of Somali origin, who has been in this country sine 2002, though police believe there was not necessarily a terrorist motive to the attack, citing possible mental heath issues. It may be some time before the full facts are known. When I arrived at Russell Square shortly before 10am, to give classes at a summer school at SOAS, there were numerous television crews from around the world, not least the United States, and indeed at noon I had to give a stand-up interview myself for a Lebanese Arabic language channel, Al Mayadeen. I stressed that although the security forces had stepped up their activities just yesterday, deploying armed officers in several parts of London, partly to reassure the public, there can never be total security in a city like ours, especially if one is dealing with a lone attacker whose only weapon is a knife. However, it was impressive to see how both locals and visitors in Russell Square today were determined not to let the outrage vanquish their morale. As I sat having lunch on the terrace of the Caffe Russell in the gardens, life was going on as normal, a gentle but strong example of the British spirit of Keep Calm and Carry On.

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The London Mayoral TV Debate

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 6th April, 2016

London Mayoral debateITV and LBC are to be congratulated for staging an hour-long live debate this evening (Tuesday) between the five principle candidates in next month’s London Mayoral election: Sian Berry (Green), Zac Goldsmith (Conservative), Sadiq Khan (Labour), Caroline Pidgeon (Liberal Democrat) and Peter Whittle (UKIP). The show’s two hosts were robust enough in their questioning to hold people’s attention and there was some opportunity for audience members to participate. Peter Whittle soon proved to be a one-trick pony, ‘curbing immigration’ being his answer to virtually everything. But the other four were better prepared and better matched. The main topics for discussion were security/counter-terrorism, housing and public transport. Sadiq Khan stood up firmly against claims of having some dodgy Islamist associates but was unable to persuade people that freezing London Underground fares was economically feasible. Zac Goldsmith was very suave and had the advantage of being able to boast of having the ear of the Conservative government between now and 2020, though earlier in the day he had been embarrassed by showing a rather sketchy knowledge of the London Underground system. However, Zac’s Achilles heel is that he is favour of Brexit, which is a rather loopy position for a prospective London Mayor to adopt (yes, I know, Boris Johnson QED). Sian Berry was cool and collected, and were it not for the fact that the Greens’ policies would put London’s vibrant economy into reverse gear, in many ways persuasive. Caroline Pidgeon, physically well-placed at the centre of the quintet on stage, had obviously rehearsed the points she wanted to get across, including a one hour bus ticket, half-price tube fares before 7.30am and a continuation of the Olumpics precept, but hypothecated for council house building — all good, clear campaigning issues. She rightly avoided endorsing any other candidate for LibDem voters’ second preference. Her task, as London Liberal Democrats have always been clear, is to get as high a LibDem city-wide vote as possible to ensure that she is not the only LibDem London Assembly member elected in May.

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The London March for Refugees

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 12th September, 2015

imageimageMany tens of thousands of people, of all ages and ethnicities, marched from Marble Arch to 10 Downing Street in London this afternoon in solidarity with refugees, especially those from Syria. The main chant and slogan on banners was “Refugees Welcome Here!”, echoing the actions of citizens in Germany and calling Prime Minister David Cameron to account for not being more generous — or indeed, precise — about how many refugees Britain will take and when. There were a good number of Socialist Worker Party members present, celebrating the triumph of Jeremy Corbyn in Labour’s leadership election and also a few genuine Trots, who made up for their small number by employing a mobile sound system that enabled them to drown out some of the pro-refugee messages with their diatribes against capitalism and all the “corrupt” mainstream political parties (including the Greens!). There was an excellent turnout of LibDems, not just from London, and Tim Farron was one of the keynote speakers. We were blessed with the most perfect Indian summer’s day, which added to the festive atmosphere. A sizable proportion of British people are ready to respond to the current refugee and migrant crisis, however hard media such as the Daily Express tries to poison minds against them. But clearly this is an issue which Britain cannot solve on its own, which is why the British government should be cooperating more closely with France, Germany and other EU member states that have taken a lead, as well as boosting global action by the United Nations. Some Syrian refugees are being driven by hunger to return to Syria from refugee camps in neighbouring countries, because the World Food Programme has had to halve rations as it has run out of cash. Saudi Arabia, for one, could fund what is needed there without blinking an eye.

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Future Directions of Liberalism

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 19th July, 2015

Hackney LD garden partyThere is a certain satisfaction, not necessarily smug, among Liberal Democrats that we have got our leadership election over while the Labour Party is still facing a summer of grueling conflict between their various contenders. Actually, there was very little ‘conflict’ or indeed major difference between Tim Farron and Norman Lamb, despite their varying experience and style, as they are both Liberals to their core, so although I put Norman first on my ballot paper I am very happy to campaign with Tim, who is a brilliant communicator. Anyway, now the Leader is in place, what do the LibDems actually stand for? This is an important question for the electorate, given that the identity of the Party got blurred within the Coalition. And as a result, as Lynne Featherstone, formerly MP for Hornsey & Wood Green and Minister at DFID (and the Home Office) said at a garden party discussion put on by Hackney LibDems this afternoon on the theme ‘Future Directions for the Liberal Demorats’, the LibDems got toxified by the Tories while the Tories got semi-detoxified by us. Hence, in part, our electoral disaster, which saw Lynne and so many superb colleagues swept away. But as she pointed out, we did get through key LibDem policies while she was in office, such as Equal Marriage and the campaign against FGM. For such things we can be truly proud. Evan Harris, who unexpectedly got narrowly booted out of Oxford West & Abingdon in 2010 and was also a guest speaker at today’s Hackney event, issues of civil liberties were at the fore. After all, he has been at the forefront of the Hacked Off campaign since he lost his seat. Interestingly, the members present (who included several newbies from the post-election influx) highlighted the issue of BaME under-representation in the Party, something I wrote about after the recent Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats (EMLD) leadership hustings a while back. There is no denying the fact that we now have just eight MPs, all of whom are straight white males, though in fairness the candidates standing in many held and target seats this May were far more diverse than that. In London, especially, this is a major issue we have to face, perhaps the biggest issue of all; if we do not look like the city we aspire to represent, how can we expect people to vote for us? Knowing the candidates in the running for the London elections next year (Mayor and GLA members) I am confident that we are going to be putting forward a wonderfully diverse list, whoever finally gets selected. But can we then persuade the voters of London to back them? That is the question we need to ask if we are going to chart the direction of the Party henceforth.

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