Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Theresa May’

The Putney and Wandsworth Euro-Hustings

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 15th May, 2019

Wandsworth hustingsThough this month’s European elections were organised in great haste in the UK (and through gritted teeth by the Conservative government), an admirable number of public hustings has been taking place round London, including one last night at St. Anne’s Church in Wandsworth, in which I took part. It was set up by the Putney and Wandsworth Societies and attracted about 100 members of the public, which was encouraging given the short notice. In fact there is far more interest in this set of European elections than ever before (and I can say that having stood in all but one of them!), to an extent becoming a sort of new referendum on whether Brits want to stay in the EU of not. Recent opinion polls confirm what I have been finding on the doorstep, namely that the electorate is polarising towards either Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party or to the anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats (and to a lesser extent the Greens).

There was no Brexit candidate at last night’s hustings, bizarrely, though they were invited; maybe they knew they would get a frosty reception in such a pro-Remain part of the capital. However, UKIP was represented by Freddy Vachha, one of the more politely eccentric members of his party; he caused the biggest laugh of the evening by describing the Conservatives as neo-Marxist! The Conservatives had Scott Pattenden from Bromley, who had to counter some quite pointed questioning about Theresa May, David Cameron and the Brexit mess. The Greens were represented by Gulnar Hasnain, who adopted the line that the Greens are the largest pro-EU UK party in the outgoing European Parliament (true for 2014-2019, though that is unlikely to be the case after 23 May). ChangeUK’s candidate was Hasseeb Ur-Rehman, who essentially read a quite detailed policy paper in his allotted four minutes. Labour, naughtily sent not a Euro-candidate but the PPC for Putney, Fleur Anderson, which earned a rebuke from a Labour Party member in the audience. Fleur maintained that Labour is a Remain Party because the two leading MEP candidates are, but the audience wasn’t going to let that pass without adverse comment about Jeremy Corbyn and Lexit. I had a fairly easy ride as a LibDem, though inevitably came under fire from the small number of UKIP or Brexit Party supporters in the church, demanding to know why I was neither Liberal nor a Democrat by calling for a People’s Vote when there had already been a referendum in 2016. It was clear from the majority voices in the room, however, that a People’s Vote was a popular option for this audience, with a heavy preponderance of Remain.

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The UK Local Elections Verdict

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 4th May, 2019

F5FF8AE5-5C6A-4797-B8A2-8AE9528248B4Now that the dust has settled on this week’s local elections In England — the biggest set of such elections since 2015, though not including London and various other cities and counties — the spin doctors of both the Conservative and Labour parties are in overdrive, bizarrely both pitching the same message that the massive gains by the anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats and substantial wins for the equally anti-Brexit Greens are somehow a sign that the public just wants the government to “get on” with Brexit — an aim shared by the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, despite the fact that Labour has registered a net loss of nearly 100 seats at a time when the worst government in living memory is staggering from one crisis and embarrassment to the next. Some noble Conservative and Labour MPs have bravely defied their masters and declared that this is tosh — some in far more rigorous terms than that. Others have parroted the official line.

30B377CD-DEBD-4E9C-856D-7A48E234FC92Nonetheless, as I tweeted earlier, this is an Orwellian misrepresentation of facts more reminiscent of the former Soviet Union than of a mature parliamentary democracy.  Such is the sorry state of political discourse in Britain since the 2016 EU Referendum. In that Referendum, tainted by some very dodgy campaigning and funding, Leave beat Remain by about 52:48. But the latest opinion poll out suggests that were such a referendum to be held today, Remain would get 61%. In the meantime the country is bitterly divided and Nigel Farage and his new Brexit Party will ensure that the political temperature is kept at boiling point. However, European elections loom on 23 May, and although Mr Farage will probably mop up previous UKIP voters and numerous right-wing Tories, both the Conservatives and Labour are likely to lose seats to pro-Remain parties. Will Mrs May and Mr Corbyn listen then? We must make them listen!

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Facepalm Sunday

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 14th April, 2019

E310484E-4010-467E-A40B-E1A3E3527BFBI’ve never been into the whole Easter thing, but having lived in Belgium for eight years and subsequently spent a lot of time in Brazil — both countries deeply steeped in Catholicism, despite a significant Protestant and alternative presence — I could hardly ignore the pomp, ceremony and religious fervour of Holy Week, beginning today with Palm Sunday. Of course, to get the real, majestic experience one needs to be in Spain or Italy, but anyway, you get my gist.

This year, however, it is not Palm Sunday that is impressing on my conscience but Facepalm Sunday, as British politics descends into previously unplumbed depths, at least in modern memory, leaving me aghast at the incompetence and divisiveness of it all.  MPs have gone off on their Easter hols, though the most conscientious of them will of course use the time away from Westminster to work hard in their constituencies. Much good may it do them, poor things, as their reputation has sunk below that of my fellow journalists. Please pray for us all.

1D4B2A3B-2C5E-4EE3-BADB-0625A4DB8CFFBut what is striking, and shocking, is that the Brexit process has turned into a total dog’s breakfast, leaving many people on whichever side of the Remain:Leave divide they may be, frustrated and angry. Total nincompoops have become TV stars, freely spouting their lies (not least on the BBC), while Brexiteer figures such as Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson have risen from the political dead. The European elections, now almost inevitably to be held on 23 May, will take place in an unprecedented climate of political chaos, with opinion polls suggesting that the Conservatives are rapidly disappearing down the plug hole. I shall not weep. Theresa May battles on, yet on the global stage she, and Britain, have become figures of ridicule and, worse, pity.

I have argued before that Britain should take the European elections seriously, to indicate that we have not lost our collective marbles and that in principle we would like a People’s Vote to settle once and for all our European destiny. May we use Palm Sunday to reflect on what lies before us — and to remind ourselves that Holy Week  doesn’t end well — until the promise of a new beginning.

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Donald Tusk’s Private Dream

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 12th April, 2019

247B33FF-BC8A-429B-8D9C-0C7AEBC81444One of the most intriguing aspects of recent weeks in the long-running Brexit saga has been how French President Emmanuel Macron has played “bad cop” to EU Council President Donald Tusk’s “nice cop” in the EU’s dealings with the UK. In a sense, the date of 31 October agreed as the new extension for Article50 was a compromise between the two of them. Macron was willing to make Theresa May stick to the 31 June deadline she asked for, whereas Tusk suggested a year or even slightly more, with the sensible proviso that it should be a “flextension” — in other words, the UK could leave earlier if Mrs May got her Withdrawal Agreement “deal” through Parliament on a fourth attempt, or indeed could decide to revoke Article50 (as Britain is entitled to do unilaterally) and cancel Brexit altogether.

815C2F7A-3BFD-46F2-A7A8-BFC237504913Following the latest rather sad, even slightly humiliating, extraordinary Council meeting in Brussels on Wednesday, when the UK Prime Minister had to plead for an extension, Donald Tusk told Polish journalists that all options should be available, and that his “private dream” was for Britain to stay in the EU. It is a noble stance, given how much time, energy and financial resources have so far been squandered on this absurd Brexit project. Indeed, Mr Tusk is an honourable man, who cut his political teeth as a young activist at the time when the Gdańsk workers were striking against Poland’s Communist government, setting in motion a movement that would bring down Communism in central and Eastern Europe by the end of the 1980s and even in the Soviet Union shortly afterwards. So Donald Tusk is no stranger to working hard to make dreams come true. May he be successful this time, too!

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Theresa of Maidenhead, English Martyr

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 11th April, 2019

1526DD0A-1DD1-4899-BF4F-4A29FF60EBBCTheresa May did not exactly have a brilliant record as Home Secretary, but when David Cameron fell on his sword after losing his foolish EU Referendum — retreating to a custom-made writing shed to concoct his memoirs — Mrs May brushed rivals aside with the ease of someone running through a field of wheat. She became the Mistress of 10 Downing Street, but then carelessly threw away her Parliamentary majority in an unnecessary general election. Undeterred, having been a lukewarm Remainer during the Referendum, in a sort of low-key, Anglican kind of way, she then became a True Believer in Brexit. The European Research Group (ERG) and the Northern Ireland DUP (who gratefully trousered a £1billion bung) we’re delighted. And when anyone impertinently asked, “But what is Brexit?” she majestically declared, “Brexit means Brexit!”

1524FC32-110A-4343-A172-DC9B7F381AC8However, events since then have shown that things aren’t as simple as that. Parliament has rejected a No Deal exit, but has not given much of a steer on anything else. The end of March cliff-edge was avoided, and now the 12 April has been overridden too. Late last night, the EU27 leaders offered a new extension to 31 October. As that is Halloween, someone (probably Emmanuel Macron) has a macabre sense of humour. Waiting outside the conference room, in sackcloth and ashes, Theresa May was told she could like it or lump it, so of course she accepted it. She now returns to London knowing that the ERG have their knives out and both main parties are recoiling at the idea of fighting unexpected European elections on 23 May. On her knees in repentance Theresa may be, but that may not save her from being burnt at the political stake. Watch this space.

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Springtime for Brexit

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 8th April, 2019

1D80CB15-BC26-4FA2-851F-A5D6A15752D8During the eight years I was based in Brussels covering the European institutions and European external policy, I had a nice little sideline as a film critic for the weekly English-language glossy magazine, The Bulletin. That meant two films on a Monday morning and two films on a Tuesday morning in distributors’ screening rooms. To catch up with some useful film history, I was also a regular attender at the city’s Musee du Cinema. And it was there that I first saw Mel Brooks’s 1967 movie The Producers; it became one of my all time favourites. In the film, the hero (Zero Mostel) is offered a way out of his financial problems if he can stage a sure-fire flop. This he thinks he has found with Springtime for Hitler, a musical written by a clearly mad neo-Nazi composer with a passion for pigeons. Alas, the musical is so camply outrageous that it is a huge success.

915B53E3-44E5-4CD4-A517-69589C014E53I was put in mind of this at the weekend when I was watching Theresa May’s fireside chat video, explaining to the public and Parliament why Brexit had to happen, otherwise it won’t happen (an easy choice for a Remainer like me). Then there was the sight the other day of the bedraggled remains of Nigel Farage’s March for Brexit. And suddenly I had the idea of a Faragista musical, Springtime for Brexit. It would be staged at the London Palladium, but in contrast to what happened in The Producers, Springtime for Brexit would be a gigantic flop. The dejected cast would go for an after-party at the nearest Wetherspoons, only to find that it had shut down. Oh, what strange day-dreams one has!

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Led by Donkeys

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 7th April, 2019

4F932FA3-85C2-4BB6-8C1B-7887E9A6149DOne of the most pleasing aspects of the otherwise deeply depressing Brexit situation has been the billboard campaign by the pressure group Led by Donkeys. As with many genius ideas, the basic premise is simple: to put up giant posters of tweets by Brexiteers and members of the current Conservative Government which they would rather now forget. For example, there is Theresa May saying she believes that Britain would be better off staying in the EU. And Jacob Rees-Mogg arguing that any EU Referendum should be in two stages. These embarrassing quotes have appeared on giant billboards up and down the country, and when Nigel Farage ordered a Brexit march on London (very poorly attended, with Farage himself only putting in occasional appearances), the group behind the anti-Brexit campaign, Led by Donkeys, imaginatively trolled the marchers by having a giant electronic billboard featuring tweets which kept joining up with them.

C46A7617-A39D-4E59-8E5D-C1F9DBA7A298Even more striking was the SOS message with an EU flag in the background, projected onto the white cliffs of the English South Coast. The name, Led by Donkeys, is itself brilliant, doubling as a slogan. Moreover, it’s a slogan that resonates, as many British people, weary of the protracted Brexit chaos and would agree that we are led by donkeys — except for Prime Minister Theresa May, of course, because she is just stubborn as a mule.

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We Should Embrace European Elections

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 5th April, 2019

European elections 2019Next Wednesday, UK PM Theresa May will go to an emergency EU summit where she is expected to ask for an extension of Article50 beyond the current cut-off date, 12 April. Whereas her personal preference is for just a short delay to Brexit, during which in principle her negotiated deal could get through Parliament on a fourth attempt, in practice it is more likely that the EU will offer a longer extension — possibly flexible — even up to the end of 2020. That would of course mean that Britain would have to take part in European elections on May 23rd (UK elections are usually on a Thursday, whereas much of the Continent votes at the weekend). These direct elections to the European Parliament have happened every five years since 1979. Yet to listen to the Prime Minister — and even more, to Hard Brexiteers — having European elections now, three years after the EU Referendum led to a slim majority for Leave, is an outrage. But one has to ask: why in a democracy is a scheduled election an outrage, especially as it would give the public an opportunity to express their views at this politically charged time?

European elections 2019 1 A major reason the Conservatives are wary of the elections is that they realise they will probably do quite badly. And that is also true for Labour, which was on a high in 2014, winning four out of the eight seats in London, for example. An opinion poll by YouGov published today has the Conservatives on 32%, Labour 31%, Liberal Democrats 12%, UKIP 7%, Brexit Party 5%, Greens 4%. I suspect there will be further polarisation to the strongly pro-Remain and pro-Leave parties as the campaign proceeds, assuming it happens. But that should not put people off, especially those who wish to stay in the European Union. Indeed, we should embrace these European elections (in which EU citizens will also be entitled to vote, providing they have registered) and treat them far more seriously than any before. Turnout has been pretty dismal in previous European elections, but with a strong campaigning effort over an intense short campaign, that could certainly change.

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Whitehall Farce

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 4th April, 2019

Dry RotThe chamber of the House of Commons was evacuated today as water started pouring in from the ceiling. The Palace of Westminster is literally falling apart, which is a brutally apt metaphor for the current political chaos. Meanwhile, in the House of Lords, arch-Brexiteers repeatedly tried to filibuster the bill put forward in the Commons by Yvette Cooper, aimed at avoiding a No Deal crash-our from the European Union. One noteworthy contribution in the Lords debate came from Viscount Ridley — one of the remaining hereditary peers — who referred to MPs as a “despotic majority”. You couldn’t make it up. Or on the other hand, maybe someone could. I am inevitably put in mind of the Whitehall Farces staged by Brian Rix at the Whitehall Theatre in London’s West End in the 1950s and 1960s — five in all, including Dry Rot and One for the Pot. Well, now there is a sixth, called Brexit, and it is taking place not only on the parliamentary stage of Westminster but also on TV and right across the whole gamut of media, old and new. I hear the cries of those who plead, “Oh, please just make it stop!” But whatever the outcome of the next few days, or the antics of Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn, this is a show that is likely to run and run. If some sort of Brexit deal is passed, there will then be years of haggling with the EU about the future relationship. And if by some miracle Brexit is cancelled, perhaps by revoking Article50, the increasingly tetchy public discourse will probably only intensify. Perhaps the only way to bring the curtain down is to have another referendum, the so-called People”s Vote, with everyone agreeing to abide by the outcome. Then the doors can be shut and everyone told to go home.

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Britain’s Brexit Quagmire

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 2nd April, 2019

Ken Clarke in parliamentLast night MPs once again failed to find consensus around a serious of options regarding a way forward on Brexit, though Ken Clarke’s proposal for a customs union with the EU was defeated by only three votes. The highest indicative vote was actually in support of a confirmatory referendum on any Brexit deal, though a larger number of MPs voted against that. There were many abstentions throughout the voting process, not least from government Ministers; had all of them taken part, on a free vote, it would have highlighted just how divided the Cabinet is on Brexit, running the whole range from Hard Brexiteers who just want the UK to crash out of the EU on 12 April with No Deal to Remainers who are moving towards the idea of a People’s Vote, reportedly nudged on by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond. The Cabinet is meeting this morning to try to thrash out a common position, with the Prime Minister still wedded to the idea of bringing her Withdrawal Agreement to the House for a fourth time, though the indications are that it would be defeated yet again, even if the the Speaker allowed it to be voted on once more. Never in modern times has government been bogged down in such a quagmire.

MPs will have the chance to have another go at identifying a way forward tomorrow, but as the LibDem MP Norman Lamb said last night, they need to work with a greater spirit of compromise. However, indicative votes are not legally binding, so Theresa May could chose to ignore the outcome even if one proposition did manage to squeak through. Meanwhile the EU leadership is worried that a No Deal Hard Brexit is increasingly likely, which would be disastrous for both sides. But the only way the EU would agree to a further extension — perhaps to the end of 2020 — would be if the British government comes up with a coherent strategy of what it wants to achieve and how. That could include a general election or a further referendum, and if there is any sort of extension beyond 22 May, there would have to be participation in the European elections. No wonder so many MPs are running round like headless chickens, while others are seething with frustration. Nick Boles, the Conservative MP who was the architect of one of the options rejected by his colleagues last night, which would keep Britain in the Single Market and closely aligned to the customs union, was so infuriated by his fellow Conservatives that he resigned the whip in disgust. Meanwhile, the SNP, the LibDems and other smaller parties and groups still hold out hope that there can be a People’s Vote that might deliver us all from Brexit completely. But that outcome is far from certain as both the government and Parliament flounder about in the mud.

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