Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘The Guardian’

Remembering the Baltic Way

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 26th August, 2009

The Baltic WayLast night I attended a reception and the opening of a video installation at the 12 Star gallery at the London offices of the European Commission, to mark the 20th anniversary of the Baltic Way. That was the human chain made up of well over a million people on 23 August, 1989, stretching from the bottom of Toompea in the Estonian capital Tallinn to the base of the Gediminus Tower in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, via the Latvian capital Riga: 600 kilometres of an unbroken line of people of every age and walk of life. Those demonstrators were marking the 50th anniversary of the notorious Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, between Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union, but they were also demanding the right to run their own affairs, free from the shackles of Moscow. This would indeed soon lead of the regaining of independence by the three Baltic states, with Lithuania making the bold move first.

Jonathan Steele of the Guardian, who had been the newspaper’s Moscow correspondent at the time of the Baltic Way, spoke at last night’s event and reminded people that the demonstration was preceeded by moves within the local Communist parties to gain greater autonomy. Moreover, some members of the substantial Russian minorities in Estonia and Latvia took part in the human chain. Even some of the state security police drove round in their cars waving the national flags of the three states. By then, Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow must have known that Soviet control of the region was in its twilight days.


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Polly Toynbee Urges LibDem Vote in Thursday’s Euros

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 1st June, 2009

Polly ToynbeeGuardian star columnist and earstwhile backer of Labour Foreign Secretary David Miliband, Polly Toynbee, has called on readers to vote LibDem in the European elections on Thursday. Following a similar recommendation in The Observer yesterday, is this indicative of a radical shift in the Liberal Democrats’ fortunes?


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Questions for Cash

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 29th May, 2009

Bill Cash‘Cash for Questions’  tarnished the reputation of the last Conservative government in Britain, but this morning, it is Questions for Cash that must be putting party leader David Cameron off his cornflakes, in the latest epsiode of the seemingly endless Daily Telegraph saga of expenses abuse in the House of Commons. According to the newspaper’s newest revelations, the Stafforshire MP and arch Euro-sceptic, Bill Cash, paid his daughter £15,000 in rent for a flat, as a supposed ‘second home’, despite owning one himself nearer Parliament. Mr Cash is a wealthy man in his own right, but this didn’t stop him apparently milking the system. He says he broke no rules, and I believe him; it is abundantly clear by now that the rules, put in place during Mrs Thatcher’s reign, are a licence to top up one’s salary and — as we have seen from the whole sorry soap opera, from Derek Conway onwards — to help one’s family out at the same time.

When such things happen in Africa — admittedly often on a much larger scale — we call this corruption and nepotism. I am not suggesting that this is what Mr Cash and his colleagues — on both sides of the House — have been knowingly involved in, but increasingly that is the impression that the British public is getting. It is indeed an urgent necessity, as Nick Clegg argued in the Guardian yesterday, for MPs to get their house in order, renouncing their long summer recess, if needs be, until things are sorted out through the introduction of sweeping reforms. It is not just the reputation of individual MPs that is at stake, but the very credibility of British democracy. Like a rotting carcass, the Westminster system has exploded, scattering its putrid entrails far and wide.

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David Miliband’s Road to Damascus

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 16th January, 2009

david-miliband     The British Foreign Secretary (Minister), David Miliband, has at last admitted what the majority of the British public has known for several years: that the so-called ‘War on Terror’ was wrong. As he wrote in an article in the ‘Guardian’ yesterday, ‘Since 9/11, the notion of a “war on terror” has defined the terrain. The phrase had some merit: it captured the gravity of the threats, the need for solidarity, and the need to respond urgently — where necessary with force. But ultimately the notion is misleading and mistaken.’

What a shame it has taken over seven years for the penny to drop. I remember saying that the term ‘War on Terror’ was misguided and mistaken in a speech I made to the Liberal Democrat Conference only days after the attacks on New York and Washington. Other speakers, including the party leadership, echoed that sentiment. But both Labour and Tory MPs howled down LibDems when they said such things in the chamber of the House of Commons, and subequently spoke out against the looming war in Iraq.

Well, better late than never, I suppose. But how pathetic that David Miliband should wait until just one week before George W Bush leaves the White House to declare that the US President’s ‘War on Terror’ rhetoric and actions were misguided.  It would have done so much good for Britain’s standing in the world if he had come clean months or even years ago. But, no, even when Tony Blair stood down, New Labour had to keep on sucking up to the Bush administration, including its seemingly evil Vice President, Dick Cheney, and its practitioners of torture.

David Miliband continues, ‘We must respond to terrorism by championing the rule of law, not subordinating it, for it is the cornerstone of the democratic society. We must uphold our commitments to human rights and civil liberties at home and abroad.’ Quite right, Foreign Secretary. This is what the Liberal Democrats have been saying consistently all this time. Glad you got there in the end. But isn’t it a bit late now to try and claim the moral high ground?

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Gaza and International Law

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 14th January, 2009

The United Kingdom has a duty under international law to exert its influence to stop violations of international humanitarian law in the current conflict between Israel and Hamas, according to a distinguished group of international lawyers headed alphabetically by Louise Arimatsu of LSE (who is a prominent LibDem activist), in a letter in today’s ‘Guardian’. Written in the measured cadences one would expect from such a group, the missive has some strong messages both for Hamas and for the Israeli army and government. It reminds both sides that attacks deliberately aimed at civilian populations are prohibited under international law, as are actions that do not discriminate between civilians and combattants. The use of civilians as ‘human shields’ is similarly forbidden.

The Guardian has followed up on the letter in a front page article which suggests that Israel may soon find its actions in Gaza being referred to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Moreover, in an indication of just how far the excessive degree of force the IDF has used over the past fortnight has alientated normally sympathetic people in the West, a British Foreign Office official is quoted in the article confirming that the Labour Government would consider backing calls for a reference to the ICJ. ‘It’s definitely on the table,’ the source said. ‘We have already called for an investigation and are looking at all evidence and allegations.’

Meanwhile, attitudes against the Israeli offensive are hardening within the UN. ‘There is a well-grounded view that both the initial attacks on Gaza and the tactics used by Israel are serious violations of the UN charter, the Geneva conventions, international law and international humnaitarian law,’ according to the UN’s special rapporteur on the Palestinian territories, Richard Falk. These points have been taken on board by the Liberal Democrat leadership in Britain, as was clear from a meeting I and a couple of colleagues had with Nick Clegg and his advisors yesterday.

Strong international action to rein in both Israel and Hamas (or whichever extremist groups are firing the rockets into Israel) is an urgent priority. But the awfulness of the situation in Gaza should not blind us to the fact that a simiarly unacceptable violation of international law has been going on in the occupied West Bank for over 40 years now. Nearly half a million Jewish settlers have moved in, large swaths of Palestinian land have been effectively annexed by the monstruous security wall, and there has been an unremitting assault by the IDF and some Israeli settlers on the livelihoods, homes and dignity of the Palestinian civilian population. These realities need to be loudly and repeatedly condemned.


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The West’s Overreaction to 9/11

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 18th October, 2008

It is always gratifying when one has taken an unpopular line and subsequently has it endorsed by ‘someone in the know’. Without in any way wanting to crow ‘I told you so!’, that is exactly how I felt this morning when I read Decca Aitkenhead’s interview with former MI5 chief Stella Rimington in the Guardian. After the appalling attacks on New York and Washington on 11 September 2001, I urged: ‘Don’t overreact!’ But that is exactly what George W Bush — and less forgivably, Tony Blair — did in the aftermath. Yes, it was a shock to the American psyche, as the US in recent times had not known attacks on its mainland, unlike Britain (think World War II and the IRA). Sure, the number of fataliities in the Twin Towers as the result of two aeroplanes flying into them was high (by no means all of them US citizens, incidentally). But did the predominantly Saudi Arabian terrorists responsible realise that the two skyscrapers would collapse like a pack of cards when hit near the top? I doubt it.

George W Bush immediately launched his War on Terror, targeting Afghanistan (justified, as Osama bin Laden was then based there) and later Iraq (an irrelevance, which led to a war based on several lies). The result has been many times more civilian casualites than resulted from 9/11 and ongoing human rights abuses in detention centres around the world, including Guantanamo Bay. The Liberal Democrats were the only mainstream party to oppose the Iraq War, as we should never fail to remind the electorate. But we should also coopt into our discourse the message that comes straight from the horse’s mouth (if Stella Rimington will forgive me referring to her in that way). The West overreacted to 9/11, leading to an assault on our domestic civil liberties, the radicalisation of Muslim youth and increased terrorism and tension, not less.

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