Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘The Observer’

Tom Spencer’s In-Out Referendum

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 17th December, 2012

Tom SpencerTom Spencer is one of those rare birds: a green, federalist, pro-European Conservative. This meant that things were not always comfortable for him when he was leader of the Tory MEPs in the European Parliament, but in a sense it was as well that he stood down from his seat; he would have been hung, drawn and quartered (metaphorically speaking, of course) by the Party now. Tory MPs at Westminster — including government Ministers, who ought to know better — have been trumpeting the case for Britain’s leaving the EU. At least it was good to see The Economist, as well as the more predictable Observer, recently demonstrating why neither the Norway nor the Switzerland option is feasible for the UK. As guest speaker at the annual Christmas Dinner of the European Movement in London in an Italian restaurant in Bloomsbury this evening, Tom pointed out that Norwegians pay more per capita into the EU budget than Brits do, but have absolutely no say in the formulation of rules and regulations relating to the European single market, by which they must abide. He also declared with the sort of emphatic certainty that is his trademark that there EMiL logowill be an In-Out referendum on Britain’s EU membership in 2016 or 2017. And despite the efforts of political personalities such as London’s Mayor Boris Johnson — who Tom described as “highly intelligent, but not very nice” — he believes UK voters will vote to stay in once the case for the benefits of membership — and the perils of pulling out — is firmly put. That is certainly what happened in the 1975 referendum on confirming Britain’s then very young membership of the European Economic Community. At the start of the campaign, opinion polls suggested the voters were 2:1 against staying in, but the actual vote was 2:1 in favour. That was thanks to the efforts of political activists including a then much younger Tom, and heavyweight politicians from all three main national parties. Will the line-up next time be as impressive and as broad church? And will the European Movement — now definitely weaker — be a motor for the referendum campaign, or does a new body, like the one-time “Britain in Europe” need to be created? It’s not too early to be thinking of answers to those questions.


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Toasting Mark Frankland

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 28th May, 2012

The loggia at the Chelsea Arts Club was heated by the beating sun and the chatter of predominantly Observer hacks, past and present, at a celebratory lunch today to remember the life. work and personality of Mark Frankland, the man who played the role of Honorary Elder Brother in my life. Sue Arnold — for long one of my favourite columnists — had arranged the venue and Robert Chesshyre compered the speeches, but it was Mark’s humanity, even beyond death, that galvanised such a good turout. Former Observer Editor Donald Trelford, who flew over from his home in Mallorca specially for the event, gave a witty but chivalrous account of Mark’s time with the paper (as well as with MI6), notably remembered for his spells in Vietnam and the Soviet Union. Neal Ascherson gave insights into Marks central and eastern European links and David Hindmarsh recounted intriguingly how a very young Mark had helped smuggle a young Pole out of his Communist homeland at the height of the Cold War. Bob Chesshyre then suggested that following the example of Quaker gatherings, other people present might feel moved to stand up and say a few words. Several did, including Martin Woollacott, formerly of the Guardian, an organ that was held in bad odour by many on the Observer for a while after the two’s merger. I said nothing, as I felt I had expressed what I wanted about my own relationship with Mark in the Guardian several weeks ago. Though he hated fuss and large gatherings, I think secretly he would have been rather pleased to know that he had been remembered, not a some vainglorious memorial service at St Brides or elsewhere, but a rather boozy, rather nice lunch of former colleagues at the Chelsea Arts Club.


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Tiger Head, Snake Tails

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 23rd April, 2012

Later this year, in the cavernous Great Hall of the People in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, the new top leadership of China will be unveiled. The so-called fourth generation will be stepping down — thanks to a two five-year term rule and retirement at the age of 69 — and we will know who are the fresh creme de le creme of the Communist Party hierarchy by the order in which the nine members of the Politburo’s Standing Committee walk out on stage. Most China-watchers believe that the new President will be Xi Jinping and the new Prime Minister Li Kechang, though one can never rule out a last-minute surprise. One absentee will be the Chongqing party chief, Bo Xilai — a high-flyer who has gone down in flames over an extraordinary scandal that allegedly involves the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood by Bo’s wife, Mme Gu, who is a figure straight out of pulp fiction. I am sure someone is busy writing the synopsis of a novel based on the affair right now. But in the meantime, anyone who wants to know what is going on in China, how it got where it is and where it is going could do no better than buy and read the latest book by Jonathan Fenby, former editor of the Observer and the South China Morning Post, whose Tiger Head, Snake Tails is a brilliant study of a country that might not yet rule the world (as Martin Jacques predicted in a book a few years ago) but is probably heading to be the world’s largest economy within a generation, providing it doesn’t trip up along the way. The fall of Bo Xilai happened after Fenby’s tome went to press, but otherwise it is admirably up-to-date. More importantly, it draws on many years of intelligent study and reporting in China and Hong Kong. It is full of statistics and telling anecdotes, but written in a style that successfully walks the tightrope between popular journalism and academe. It is thus accessible to the uninitiated and illuminating to old China hands. Highly recommended.

Tiger Head, Snake Tails, Simon & Schuster, £20

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What Some Tories Would Rather We Didn’t Know

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 18th October, 2009

Michal Kaminski ToriesToday’s ‘Observer’ has details of an attempted cover-up by someone who would prefer that the world doesn’t know the far-right past of Michal Kaminski, leader of the European Conservative and Reformist group (ECR) in the European Parliament, to which the British Conservatives belong. Mr Kaminski was formerly a member of the neo-fascist National Revival of Poland Party, before leaving to join the more mainstream but nonetheless ultra-conservative (and some say anti-Semitic and homophobic)  Law and Justice party (PiS). But this fact was recently removed from his Wikipedia entry by persons unknown, whom The Observer has traced to the House of Commons. What makes the affair even more remarkable is that someone else (this time operating out of Strasbourg, the main seat of the European Parliament) has doctored the Wikipedia entry of Edward McMillan-Scott, MEP,as well. Mr McMillan-Scott, regular readers of this blog will recall, was expelled from the Tory Party after he stood against Michal Kaminski to become a Vice-President of the Parliament, and won. Mr Kaminski was given the chairmanship of th ECR as a sort of consolation prize for this rebuff.

Edward McMillan-ScottSo what does Mr McMillan-Scott think of what is going on? He told The Observer, ”My record was … changed to paint me as a Euro-fanatic. More seriously, there is a systematic cover-up by the Conservative Party of Kaminski’s unpleasant political past.’ That ‘unpleasant political past’ didn’t stop the Conservatives inviting Mr Kaminski as a guest of honour at their recent party conference in Manchester. By their friends shall they be known. Nick Clegg’s take on all this is, ‘The Conservative Party should come clean. If this is the Tory party trying to airbrush the embarrassing past of their new friend in Europe from the record, they should have the courage to say so.’ That is the crux of the matter. Was this tampering with Wikipedia sanctioned by the party hierarchy, or was it some young researcher acting on his or her own initiative? We need to be told. Either way, this childish attempt to conceal the truth has spectacularly backfired.

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David Miliband Is Right to Berate William Hague

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 11th October, 2009

David Miliband 2British Foreign Secretary David Miliband has a right old go in The Observer today at the Tories — and especially his shadow opposite number, William Hague — for their alliance with Michal Kominski, of Poland’s innocuous-sounding Law and Justice Party (PiS) and Robert Zile of the Latvian For Fatherland and Freedom party, both of which have dodgy records on issues such as anti-semitism and homophobia, not to mention a general far-right past. Quite right too. Far from beng party political point scoring, this is a necessary move to show just what disgusting people the Conservatives have got into bed with in the European Parliament. They were even parading them at their party conference in Manchester the other day. It was depressing to see Stephen Pollard of the Jewish Chronicle coming out in Kaminski’s defence earlier this week. Zionists often accuse those who defend Palestinian rights as being ‘self-hating Jews’, but how self-hating can you get when you stand up and defend someone who refuses to apologise for the massacre of Jews at Jedwabne in Poland in 1941, as Kominski has refused to do?

Michal KominskiBut William Hague, far from admitting that the Conservatives have made a huge tactical error in their leaving the mainstream European People’s Party (EPP) to join up with these East European fruitcakes in the new  ‘European Conservatives and Reformists’ Group (ECR), has been stubbornly arguing that right is on the Tories’ side. Just look what happened to former Tory MEP Edward McMillan-Scott. He revolted at the prospect of supporting Michal Kominski as a Vice-President of the European Parliament, because of the Pole’s ‘anti-semitic, homophobic and racist past’ — and not only stood against him, but won. His punishment for this principled stand was to have the Tory whip wirthdrawn, then to be expelled from the Conservative Party, despite his long years of services to the cause, because — as William Hague explained it — he had made his allegations ‘against an individual who is a good friend of the Conservative Party and against a party (the PiS) allied to the Conservative Party in the European Parliament.’  By your friends you will be known, William. As a consolation prize, Kaminski was given the leadership of the ECR group in the Parliament. Pass the sick bag, Alice.

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Jon Cruddas is Labour’s Greek Chorus

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 6th September, 2009

Jon CruddasAccording to The Observer, Dagenham MP Jon Cruddas will give a blistering speech to the Labour pressure group Compass on Tuesday, castigating the Labour leadership for failing to capitalise on the Conservatives’ difficulties over the summer. Remember Daniel Hannan MEP’s rubbishing of the NHS? And the Tories’ leaving the biggest grouping in the European Parliament, the EPP, to start a new entity with the flotsam and jetsam of central and eastern European fringe politics? And just how many Tory MPs had their snouts in the troughs/moats/duck islands in the expenses scandal? This all gave the perfect opportunity for Gordon Brown to strike back, Cruddas argues. But did he? Oh no.

‘Presented with this golden opportunity to galvanise ourselves and unite behind a clear anti-Tory message we seem paralysed; afraid of using our Labour principles as the basis to lay bare the shallowness of Cameron’s project,’ he is reported to be going to say. ‘We seem to be meekly accepting defeat, unable to show what we believe in.’

Jon Cruddas did very well in the last Labout deputy leadership election; had I been a Labour Party member (a difficult hypothesis to sustain, I agree), I would have voted for him. He had fire and principles. But the Labour Party at the moment appears to be a lost cause. So it is now up to the Liberal Democrats to expose the shallowness of the Cameron project and the bankruptcy of New Labour.

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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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The Last Furlong

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 31st May, 2009

LibDem vote on 4 JuneThis lunchtime I addressed about a thousand Spanish-speaking Latin Americans at the Fusion leisure centre in Elephant and Castle in South London, alongside Jean Lambert (the current Green MEP) and a Filipino independent. Interesting how both the Tories and Labour seem to have given up on the European elections. This is the fourth hustings in a row at which the Tories have failed to field a candidate, and the third at which there has been a Labour no-show. What are they afraid of?

Meanwhile, it was good to see The Observer coming out clearly in an editorial today, advising people to vote LibDem on 4 June. That recommendation is both because the party has the only credible agenda for real engagement with our partners in the European Union, but also because Nick Clegg has set out a plausible schema for the sort of radical reform that the British political system needs. Politics in this country is indeed broken, as Nick has been arguing for ages, long before all the expenses sleaze stuff oozed out. Roy Jenkins must be chuckling in his grave now that the public realises that it really is time to break the mould.


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Prominent British Jews Oppose Gaza Offensive

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 11th January, 2009

julia_neuberger     There is an imporant letter in today’s ‘Observer’ from almost a dozen leading British Jews — including the LibDem peer, Rabbi Julia Neuberger — calling for an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza, with international monitoring of the ceasefire agreement. The signatories — who also include form Labour Party Chairman Sir Jeremy Beecham, the philanthropist Sir Sigmund Sternberg and the academic Professor David Cesarani — declare that ‘it is our desire to see a durable solution for ordinary people and our view that an immediate ceasefire is not only a humanitarian necessity but also a strategic priority for the future security of Israelis, Palestinians and people of the region.’

While naturally suporting Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket attacks, the authors ‘are concerned that rather than bringing security to Israel, a continued military offensive could strengthen extremists, destabilise the region and exacerbate tensions inside Israel with its one million Arab citizens.’ Hear, Hear!

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Winning the Argument for Europe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 15th June, 2008

There are two excellent editorial and op-ed pieces in today’s ‘Observer’, in response to the Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. It’s reassuring to see that at least one British Sunday newspaper publishes sense. The lead editorial — ‘The Irish vote must not thwart a better Europe’  — correctly notes that ‘British governments in particular have fostered scepticism by presenting their negotiations in Brussels as heroic defence of the national interest against the forces of pan-Europeanism. British Prime Ministers, including Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, have colluded in the fiction that EU power is something exercised over Britain by Brussels, to be constrained with “red lines”. In fact, EU power is wielded by Britain through Brussels’. This is a point that needs making again and again, to counter the vicious misrepresentations put out by UKIP and other more mainstream Euro-sceptic politicians. A lot of the responsiblity for doing that over the next 12 months will fall on the shoulders of the LibDems’ Nick Clegg and Ed Davey.

In his column — ‘Europe must not be derailed by lies and disinformation — Will Hutton warns what is likely to happen if the Conservatives under David Cameron and William Hague get into power, spouting their populist nonsense about Brussels bullies. ‘Pro-Europeans everywhere must engage,’ Will exhorts. ‘We need this Europe — to fight climate change, to ensure security of energy and food, to underwrite our prosperity and to fight for our common interests. The world needs it too. The EU is the citizens’ friend.’

Well worth reading and inwardly digesting in full!


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