Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Poplar and Limehouse’

LibDem Campaigning, Brick Lane-style

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 3rd May, 2010

Simon Hughes came over to Tower Hamlets this evening, to speak at a packed rally in support of the Liberal Democrat candidate for Bethnal Green & Bow, Ajmal Masroor, the borough’s council candidates and myself (Poplar & Limehouse). He has taken a keen interest in the local party as it has developed since the 2005 election — now very much back on the way up. We are fielding a full slate of council candidates in Tower Hamlets (a high percentage of them Bengali) and are bullish about making some gains, not to mention the parliamentary prospects. After the short rally we all walked en masse along Brick Lane, being greeted by restaurateurs and shopkeepers along the way; Sinmon is never happier than when pressing the flesh and chatting with ordinary voters. We were then all welcomed into the Brick Lane Mosque for some light refreshment. And Simon pledged that if Ajmal wins on Thursday, he’ll be back at the weekend, with Nick Clegg in tow!

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Campaigning in Chinese London

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 18th April, 2010

I spent the first part of today on an open-top bus, hired by the BC Project to encourage British Chinese to register to vote before the deadline on Tuesday and to vote in the general and local elections on 6 May. This is particularly important because Britain’s Chinese community traditionally stayed aloof from politics, though that is beginning to change, not least thanks to the efforts of the bus’s compere, Joseph Wu of Spectrum Radio. The bus’s tour began in my own constituency of Poplar and Limehouse, as Limehouse was the location of the first Chinese settlement in Britain, founded by Chinese sailors who left ships that came into the old London docks. The docks have long since gone and so too many of the Chinese, though there are still some fine Chinese restaurants in the area. Our bus (which contained three TV crews and several radio and print journalists, as well as many eager young Chinese activists) then moved westwards to Hammersmith, where we called by the Chinese church at Brook Green, where we were joined by the Chinese LibDem parliamentary candidate for Hammersmith, Merlene Emerson and the LibDem peer, Navnit Dholakia, who has been very active in inter-faith and mutlicultural issues. Next to Holborn and St Pancras in Camden, where we were briefly joined by the Chinese Conservative parliamentary candidate, George Lee. Lunchtime was in Chinatown in Soho, with Mark Field (seeking re-election as the Conservative MP for the Cities of London and Westminster) and his Labour opponent, Dave Rowntree. We ended the tour in Hampstead, at the offices of local LibDem Councillor Linda Chung — winner of the sensational Hampstead Town by-election in 2008 — whose efforts to get two fellow LibDems elected this time got a simultaneuous boost from a fleeting visit from Mirian Clegg.

Link: www.bcproject.org.uk

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The TELCO Hustings at St Paul’s Shadwell

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 16th April, 2010

Last night, more than 300 people gathered at the 350-year-old St Paul’s Church in Shadwell, in my constituency of Poplar & Limehouse, for an election hustings with a difference. Faith and community groups which are members of TELCO — the East London Community Organisation that was really the progenitor of London Citizens — raised their particular concerns regarding such issues as the Living Wage, CitySafe Havens and Community Land Trusts and then got the leaders of the different political groups on Tower Hamlets Council to endorse them. Afterwards came two sets of parliamentary hustings for the candidates of the three main parties plus Respect, for both the constituencies of Bethnal Green & Bow and Poplar & Limehouse. We parliamentary candidates were given just one minute each to expound our beliefs and policies, so I concentrated on our common goal of building a community in which all people can live with dignity and give each other respect. I also referred to the Strangers into Citizens campaign, for regularising longterm paperless migrants, at whose rally I spoke in Trafalgar Square last summer. At the St Paul’s hustings, George Galloway, alas, broke the spirit of consensus and sharing by launching a one-minute attack on the outgoing Labour MP for Poplar & Canning Town (the constituency boundaries have been changed), Jim Fitzpatrick, accusing him of being an Islamophobe (which I am sure Jim isn’t, despite recent gaffes) and saying (incorrectly) that all of the rest of us support the ‘colonial’ war in Afghanistan. This all brought predictable cheers from the Respect claque present, but almost everybody else visibly winced. Afterwards, I was interviewed by the Bengali TV station Channel S and stressed the need to work together for community cohesion in our borough and not to let divisive elements worsen tensions.

Link: www.telcocitizens.org.uk

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Getting Britain’s Chinese to Vote

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 21st February, 2010

London’s Chinatown spilled well over onto the north side of Shaftesbury Avenue in Soho today, as a Chinese New Year Festival drew crowds of many thousands of revellers. There was also a serious side to at least part of the proceedings, as the team I have been invoved with that has been encouraging the Chinese community in Britain to register and vote not only had a stall at the event, but also hosted a spot on the main entertainment stage. This was compered by Joseph Wu, Chinese Programme Manager of Spectrum Radio, and various Chinese political spokesmen appeared, including the (Conservative) Mayor of Redbridge, Thomas Chan, and the LibDem parliamentary candidate for Hammersmith, Merlene Emerson. I also spoke briefly (as a member of Chinese Liberal Democrats, former student of Chinese and parliamentary candidate for Poplar & Limehouse, where the first Chinese community in London was established). The Electoral Commission has itself just launched a campaign to get UK Chinese to register to vote. Further details at:

http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/

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Gaza, Giza and the Gorgeous Geezer

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 8th January, 2010

George Galloway, ‘Respect’ MP for Bethnal Greeen and Bow, has got himself into the news again by being thrown out of Egypt. Things are never dull where the former Big Brother spectacle is concerned. Predictably, news of his expulsion (for trying to return to Gaza, to which he had earlier been with an Palestinian solidarity aid convoy) has provoked a welter of reactions, from the adulatory to the damning. Just take a look at the comments after the relevant news article in today’s Guardian online (www.guardian.co.uk) to get a flavour. I am sure that when he next visits Tower Hamlets he will give a stirring speech full of righteous outrage.

The sad thing is that, not for the first time, the personality and performance of Mr Galloway is actually detracting from the cause which he genuinely supports. The aid convoys to Gaza have been a very worthy endeavour, bringing practical relief to a population which has suffered a prolonged blockade and military assault (including another air attack today). There are some very fine people involved in the current convoy, including some of my friends from Waltham Forest Palestine Solidarity Committee.

The Egyptians have behaved badly by making the convoy go through geographical contortions to get to Gaza at all. But what is needed is strong diplomatic pressure from Britain on Cairo to be more sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians. Annoying them so much that they expel you from the country is not helpful, alas, George. But of course it is all good publibity for the man who now hopes to bring his political show to my home constituency of Poplar and Limehouse.

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What Is Respect up to in Tower Hamlets?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 8th December, 2009

Since the heyday of Respect, when it got George Galloway elected as MP for Bethnal Green and Bow in 2005 and became the official opposition on Tower Hamlets council one year later, the party has been in the doldrums. Mr Galloway’s reputation took a nosedive as he donned a red leotard and pretended to be a cat in the Big Brother house, and a whole raft of Respect councillors later defected to Labour and the Conservatives (sic). Indeed, rather like the rival Palestinian factions in the classic movie, ‘The Life of Brian’, the party then split into two pieces, each claiming to be the keeper of the true flame, which has left all but those at the centre of things at a loss to know what Respect really is these days and what it stands for. But now the party has a new rallying point, which it hopes will help it rise like a phoenix from the ashes: a referendum for a directly elected mayor in Tower Hamlets. There already is one in neighbouring Newham, Labour’s Sir Robin Wales, but presumably Respect is hoping that it could win a mayoral contest in our scandal-torn borough. And who would be their candidate? Everyone is assuming it would be George Galloway. ‘Gorgeous’ George is standing down from Bethnal Green and Bow at the forthcoming general election and moving over to my home seat of Poplar and Canning Town. But assuming he doesn’t win here, a mayoral contest a few months later would suit the party nicely, to have him bear its standard. So the party has been collecting signatures on a petition to move to a mayoral system. As 7,000 of the 17,000 signatures collected were reportedly inelligible, because the people did not fill in their full names or else did not live in the borough, one hopes that Respect will be a little more careful when it comes to filling in George’s nomination papers. It’s all a bit of a fiasco, but at least he adds to the gaiety of the nation.

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Jim Fitzpatrick’s Wedding Gaffe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 21st August, 2009

Jim FitzpatrickMy local MP, Jim Fitzpatrick, is in the doghouse in the eyes of many of my Muslim neighbours, having walked out of a wedding reception at the London Muslim Centre in Whitechapel Road, because he was told that the event was segregated by gender, which meant that his wife would have to go to the women’s room. Doubtless he just left in a huff, without thinking through the consequences, but when questioned later he said he did not think that gender segregation was appropriate in the modern age and that it damages community cohesion in Britain. But the affair has blown up into a major scandal. The bridegroom, Bodrul Islam, who had invited the Fitzpatricks, has reportedly demanded that the MP apologise for ‘politically hijacking’ his wedding, and Hanif Osmani of the Council of Mosques in Tower Hamlets told the East London Advertiser, ‘Mr Fitzpatrick’s own actions have undoubtedly caused more harm to local and national community cohesion than any such wedding ever could.’ The Advertiser is having a field day, of course; right in the middle of the summer silly season, here is a really meaty local issue!

George Galloway, Respect MP for neighbouring Bethnal Green and Bow, who is planning to hop over into Poplar and Limehouse constituency to challenge Jim Fitzpatrick at the next general election, has gone typically overboard, calling on Gordon Brown to sack Fitzpatrick as Minister of Food and Farming. That would of course be quite absurd, as the MP’s gaffe has no bearing on his abilities as a government Minister. However, the affair does reflect badly on his ability to represent half of a borough in which there are an estimated 70,000 Muslims, many of whom are outraged at what they see as a slur on their cultural practices. Some of the readers’ letters in this week’s Advertiser are vitriolic about the MP and the Labour Party is taking flak as a consequence. ‘The local Labour ship is sinking and it is sinking fast,’ one correspondent writes. ‘His ignorance and rudeness are symptomatic of the desperate state of the Labour party, which is haemorrhaging past supporters to the extremes of politics,’ says another. A third notes pertinently that Orthodox Jews have gender-segregated religious events, too.

Meanwhile around the taxi rank and newstand at Mile End station, some of the old East End white working class is mutttering loudly about how ‘these Muslims are not like us’ and making similar disparaging remarks. Jim Fitzpatrick might be encouraged to know that he has some local supporters for his stance, but the whole affair has dealt a blow to multiculturalism in Tower Hamlets. Coming on the eve of Ramadan, it could hardly have been worse-timed.

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Respect Goes down the Plughole

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 15th May, 2009

Respect campaign busThat paradoxically named fringe party, Respect — born of a union between the Socialist Workers Party and anti-Iraq War Muslims — is entering its death-throes. Two Newham Respect Councillors, Asif Karim and Hanif Abdulmuhit, have quit the party, while in Tower Hamlets, Respect split into two separate factions some time ago. Most tellingly, Respect has now failed to field a team of candidates in the European elections on 4 June.

In 2004, the Respect Euro-list in London was headed by George Galloway, but they failed to get a single seat. Though he is currently MP for Bethnal Green and Bow — when he is not moonlighting as a media and reality TV ‘star’ — Mr Galloway will almost certainly be out of the House of Commons at the next general election, not least because he is moving over to the neighbouring constituency of  Poplar and Limehouse (where I live), and there is little appetite for him here. So, it looks as if after next year’s local and parliamentary elections, Respect will be where it belongs: as a quirky little footnote to history.

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Iftar in Brick Lane

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 28th September, 2008

 Last night I joined Simon Hughes and the new Liberal Democrat PPC for Bethnal Green and Bow, Ajmal Masroor, to break the Ramadan fast with an iftar meal with Tower Hamlets local party stalwarts and some leading members of the Banglatown community in one of the biggest restaurants in Brick Lane. The place was heaving, and as ever during Ramadan there was a joyful atmosphere of friendship and community, as well as the physical relief for devout Muslims present of eating and drinking after a day of abstinence.

Ajmal is unusual in several ways, in being both an imam — though you wouldn’t know by looking at him! — and a presenter on the popular Bengali language TV station, Channel S. He’s young, articulate and full of energy — just what Bethnal Green and Bow LibDems need to revitalise the party locally and put it back where it used to be as the only credible alternative to Labour.

The constituency will be closely watched by the national media when the general election comes round, as it is currently held by ‘Gorgeous’ George Galloway of Respect, but since 2005, Respect has split in two and George is leaving Bethnal Green and Bow and is going to try for the adjoining seat of Poplar and Limehouse, where I live. The only thing I welcome about Galloway bringing his inflated ego to my home patch is the opportunity it will give me and my neighbours to blow a giant raspberry at him through the ballot box.

Link: www.tower-hamlets-libdems.org.uk

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