Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Respect’

Respect Funks It

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 15th September, 2010

The Rise and Fall of the Respect Party will make an interesting book one day and one key chapter will doubtless focus on the party’s failure to stand a candidate in the Tower Hamlets Mayoral election, for which polling is on 21 October. It was Respect which organised sufficient signatures from the borough’s electors to ensure that there was a referendum on whether to move to a directly-elected mayoral system in Tower Hamlets. Sure enough, in May — on the same day as the general and local elections — Tower Hamlets voted by a comfortable margin to do so. But Respect fared disastrously in the elections, losing the Bethnal Green & Bow seat to Labour and coming third, while in Poplar & Limehouse (which I fought for the LibDems) George Galloway did so badly he didn’t even turn up for the count. Respect also also lost all but one of its councillors. There had been speculation that George would stand as Respect’s candidate in the Mayoral election, but it has now been announced they won’t fight it at all. Instead, Respect will endorse Labour’s controversial candidate, former Council leader Lutfur Rahman — which says almost as much about him as it does about Respect’s terminal state.

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Respect’s Burst Balloon

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 8th May, 2010

One of the stories of the general election that has got somewhat lost under the radar in all the speculation about post-election deals is the collapse of the Respect party. My earstwhile opponent in Poplar & Limehouse, George Galloway, was confidently predicting that Respect would come out of the elections with three MPs. But the actual result was zero. Zilch. Even the rather impressive Salma Yaqoob failed to make a breakthough in Birmingham. George himself came third and bottled out of coming to the election declaration. So much for all the pizazz and bombast of the Respect bus that blasted the street of our bprough for days on end. His counterpart in Bethnal Green & Bow (George’s old seat) also came third, behind the Liberal Democrats. Most striking of all, Respect managed to elect just one councillor in Tower Hamlets (the Council George said they were going to seize from Labour). Not one got elected in Newham (which is now a truly One Party State; every single councillor is Labour). Respect was behind the petition to get a directly-elected Mayor in Tower Hamlets, which will reportedly trigger an election in October this year. Will they put up George, or is he soiled goods? Will they put up a candidate at all, now their balloon has been burst?

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BBC Question Time Losing Its Grip?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 5th February, 2010

Twitter was buzzing — and rightly so — last evening when there was no LibDem on the panel on Question Time on an occasion where the Iraq War — inevitably — was a major topic of discussion. Instead, the producers invited rent-a-gob George Galloway, who was in no way an appropriate substitute. Has the BBC forgotten that it was Charles Kennedy and the LibDem members of parliament (without exception ) who opposed the Iraq War, and who received much abuse in the House of Commons and some of the media because of this principled stand? George Galloway´s paradoxically-named ‘Respect’ Party did not even have a single MP at the time and ´Gorgeous´himself was spinning madly that those old videos of him with Saddam Hussein really didn’t mean in any way that he had been endorsing the hideous dictator. Oh dear. BBC Question Time used really to be a flagship political programme, but increasingly it is opting for celebrities and loud-mouths. I guess the powers that be think this will boost ratings. But what it will certainly do is drive people who really care about British politics away.

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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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To Be Or Not To Be? A Directly Elected Mayor.

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 25th December, 2009

The East London Advertiser is runing an online poll, asking Tower Hamlets residents whether they favour moving to a system of local government in which there is a powerful, directly-elected Mayor (as is the case in neighbouring Hackney and Newham). Next spring, local voters will be able to take part in a real referendum about whether they support that option or prefer a model in which there is a stronger leader at the head of the Council cabinet. Neither system is ideal, in my opinion; it was far more democratic when individual councillors had more power. And in the case of Tower Hamlets, even more so when there were devolved neighbourhood committees, under the old Liberal administration. Respect (which favours the Mayor option) has prompted the referendum through a petition. Among local Liberal Democrats, opinions are divided, which is why they have organised a public debate on the issue, to be chaired by national party President, Baroness (Ros) Scott, provisionally scheduled for 26 January. Watch this space. One thing is true, namely that the Mayor system can throw up some surprises (which is maybe what Respect is hoping). And the LibDems have notched up notable succeses in mayoral contests in Watford and Bedford.

Links: http://tower-hamlets-libdems.org.uk and www.eastlondonadvertiser.co.uk

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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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Tower Hamlets’ Eid Aspirations

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 19th October, 2008

Just as Christmas has become an elastic feast, stretching well beyond the traditional twelve days, so the Muslim festival of Eid tends to extend further than the three-day holiday at the end of Ramadan. Accordingly, many young Bengalis in Tower Hamlets are still out and about in their new Eid clothes and restaurants in and around Brick Lane are full — particularly this evening, when the annual Curry Awatds took place.

In the Clifton Restaurant in Osborn Street, however, a different type of celebration was underway, as the rejuvenated borough Liberal Democrats, along with party President Simon Hughes MP, gathered members and supporters to highlight their aspirations in local, national and European politics. For the next few weeks, the focus of the activity will be the by-election taking place in Mile End East ward (where I happen to live). It is due on 20 November and a respected former LibDem Councillor, Jainal Choudhury, is the candidate. LibDem Councillors on Tower Hamlets are down from a high point of 30 in 1990 to just four now, but with the implosion of Respect, the unpopularity of Labour and a solution to some of the local party’s difficulties, the by-election can be interesting spur to growth through the European elections next June to the full Council elections and (probably) General Election in 2010. In 2010, the LibDems will be aiming to become the official opposition on the Council again and with the well-known Bengali broadcaster and imam Ajmal Masroor as PPC, making a strong challenge for the parliamentary seat of Bethnal Green and Bow being vacated by Respect’s idiosyncratic George Galloway. 

Link: http://tower-hamlets-libdems.org.uk

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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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