Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Oxford’

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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Hacking Away at the Truth

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 2nd March, 2012

As Alan Rusbridger, Editor of the Guardian, declared in Oxford this evening, 2011 was an extraordinary year for his newspaper. It published huge extracts from the Wikileaks files, exposing elements of US Foreign Policy that astonished even longstanding hard-bitten hacks like myself. And later the true extent of illicit practices carried out by journalists from the News of the World and other parts of the Murdoch media empire became clear. That story is still rumbling on, as Lord Leveson chairs an Inquiry that has been hearing great quantities of testimony from witnesses about the level of corruption in the relationship between some of the media and the Police, as well as the widespread nature of phone-hacking. Delivering the 2012 Philip Geddes lecture — named after a young graduate from my alma mater St Edmund Hall, who became a journalist and was blown up by an IRA bomb in Harrods — Alan Rusbridger said that maybe as many as 5,800 people had had their phones hacked. Some of the more famous ones have, of course, extracted large sums in damages from News International. But it was probably the revelation that someone had even hacked the mobile phone of teenage murder victim Milly Dowler that really brought the opprobrium of the general public down on the heads of some of Murdoch’s senior employees. It was brave of the Guardian to persist in its inquiries, at a time when no other media were touching the story and Rusbridger himself was visited by both Met Commissioner John Stephenson and Yates of the Yard, who told him there was no substance to allegations and advised him to back off. As Rusbridger self-deprecatingly admitted, he does not look like a heroic figure, in the Ben Bradlee mould; one friend accurately, if unflatteringly, described him as resembling Harry Potter’s lonely uncle. But now the fruits of the Guardian’s hard work — and in particular of several indefatigable investigative journalists — have paid off. There are bound to be yet more scandalous revelations, and the Prime Minister David Cameron must be kicking himself for having chosen some unfortunate friends. But one positive thing that may come out of all this, Rusbridger argued, would be the creation of a press regulatory body with teeth. The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) has proved to be totally ineffectual. A new body could be called something like the Press and Media Standards Commission, Rusbridger suggested. And one of the first things it should review is what that fickle phrase ‘in the public interest’ means.


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Europe in 2061

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 9th July, 2011

I’m spending the weekend at Robinson College, Cambridge, at my first ever Federal Studies Conference, courtesy of the James Madison Trust. The theme is Europe in 2061: How will the European Union develop in the next 50 years? Proceedings began challengingly with the local LibDem MEP, my old chum Andrew Duff, giving an uncharacteristically downbeat appraisal of the mess he thinks the EU is now in, his own federalist dreams going up in a puff of smoke. I put his melancholy down to the fact that he has just returned from Cyprus, which remains an intractable problem both internally and with regard to Turkey’s aspirations to join the Union. But today’s sessions were much more optimistic, with contributions from former Tory MEP and climate change specialist Tom Spencer and Professor David Coombes. The dinner this evening will be preceded with Pimms in the College garden (glad to see that Cambridge shares this habit with my alma mater, Oxford) and an after dinner speech by the Hon Christopher Layton, lifelong Liberal and European.

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Torturing Christopher Hitchens

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 8th July, 2008

When I was at Oxford, Christopher Hitchens (then at Balliol, and an International Socialist) was viewed with a degree of awe and envy. He often disappeared off to London, where he was reputed to have sex — an activity in remarkably short supply in the City of Spires in those days. Anyway, he subsequently drifted Westwards and rightwards, becoming a star, somewhat right-wing commentator on the other side of the Atlantic. It is therefore significant that Vanity Fair magazine persuaded him to undergo the interrogation practice known as ‘water-boarding’, to see whether it constitutes torture or not (the Bush administration says it doesn’t). In controlled conditions (as broadcast on BBC2’s ‘Newsnight’ tonight), he was subjected to the technique said to simulate drowning. Twice. The first time, he lasted 12 seconds, the second time 19, before obtaining his release by the signal of dropping metal objects held in his hands. People undergoing the real thing have no such escape mechanism, and have to endure the imhuman practice for longer than he did.

Christopher Hitchens is in no doubt. I am in no doubt. Water-boarding is torture. The United States is routinely torturing people in George Bush’s War against Terror. At least they should have the honesty to admit it. But they don’t. And the British government does not have the courage to criticise them openly for it.

I remember seeing Condoleezza Rice angrily rejecting the accusation that the United States uses torture. If I met her, I would tell her to her face: ‘Secretary of State, you are lying.’

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