Jonathan Fryer

Posts Tagged ‘Tim Farron’

Making the Case for Palestine

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 26th November, 2015

LDFPEarlier this week I was honoured to be elected the new Chair of the Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine, which aims to increase awareness and understanding among Liberal Democrats about issues relating to Palestine and to champion the recognition of Palestinian statehood. I follow in the distinguished footsteps of my former Oxford Oriental Institute fellow student John McHugo, who was recently appointed one of Party leader Tim Farron’s two advisors on the Middle East. Like John, I have spent a great deal of time in the region, in my case mainly as a writer and broadcaster, including commentating on Middle Eastern issues on TV channels from the area.

Israel PalestineBritish public attitudes towards Palestine and Israel have shifted quite dramatically over the past few decades. When I was a schoolboy, Israel was seen as a heroic little infant state battling for its own survival, experimenting with new forms of collective society and spearheading new technology in an otherwise under-developed part of the world. But almost half of century of illegal Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem since the Six Day War of 1967, coupled with the ongoing Israeli blockade of Gaza and disproportionate military action against the Gaza Strip have soured the perception of Israel. I deplore Gazan rocket attacks on Israel and the recent spate of knife and otherĀ attacks on Israeli citizens but these should not obscure the fact that Israel is in breach of international law in its occupation, the related settlement activity (which continues unabated) and the daily instances of human rights abuses and humiliations committed against Palestinians. There has also been an unpleasant recent rise in attacks on Palestinians by extremist Israeli settlers in the occupied territories which the Israeli authorities have failed to address adequately.

Palestine flagOn the international stage, Palestine has been gaining increased recognition, with the notable exception of Israel’s great ally the United States and most of the EU member states, including Britain. It is high time that Britain also extended recognition to Palestine and brought greater pressure on the state of Israel to abide by international law. Israeli settlement activity is in danger of making any two-state solution, to which in principle the West is committed, impossible. Israel in principle has so much to offer the Middle East, as does a viable Palestinian state. But there is going to have to be a fundamental shift in attitudes and policies on the ground to make any sort of bright future happen. Otherwise the violence and the hatred will continue and everyone will be the loser.

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Tim Farron and the HIGNFY Challenge

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 21st November, 2015

Tim FarronThe much missed late, great leader of the Liberal Democrats, Charles Kennedy, was routinely mocked by political opponents as “Chatshow Charlie”, because of his readiness to go on popular TV programmes, including and especially the BBC’s Have I Got News for You (HIGNFY). But as with schoolboys, this mocking often masked jealousy on the others’ part, as Charles was such a warm and witty person who remained so utterly himself on camera that he endeared audiences, even those who normally have no time for politicians. And although Charles’s principled stance over the Iraq War (for which he was viciously heckled by MPs on both sides of the House of Commons) was certainly the major reason the LibDems did so well in 2005, winning 62 seats, another explanation was Charles Kennedy’s humanity. The excuse for bringing this up now is that next Friday, 27 November, the current LibDem leader, Tim Farron, will be occupying one of those HIGNFY hot-seats. Sir Humphrey Appleby would doubtless have dubbed this a “bold” move and it is indeed quite brave. Some politicians have ended up looking right plonkers on HIGNFY, particularly if they try to be “clever”. My advice to Tim is this: be prepared for some rigorous ribbing (de rigueur for any politician on the show), including and especially for your religious beliefs and the smallness of the LibDems’ cohort in the House of Commons. Do your homework on what are the sort of subjects likely to come up in the questions. But above all, be yourself usual relaxed, even cheeky self. Don’t try to be anything else but but Tim Farron, the lad from Preston who made good, and maybe, one day, when viewers see you on TV they’ll say, “Oh, there’s that Tim from Have I Got News for You”, in the way that they hailed Charles and learned to love him.

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The Syria Dilemma

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 18th November, 2015

ISIS 5In the wake of last weekend’s appalling terrorist attacks in Paris the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, last night stated his determination to get tougher with ISIS, including the possibility of getting parliamentary support for air strikes against ISIS positions in Syria. The UK already takes part in anti-ISIS military action in Iraq, at the request of the government in Baghdad, but so far has not joined the Americans, French and most recently the Russians in taking the fight to Syria. Indeed, when the prospect of air strikes in Syria was raised in August 2013, the House of Commons voted against. Would the result be any different this time, given the heightened outrage over the Paris attacks? Quite possibly. However, I believe that Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat leader, was right last night to express reservations following Mr Cameron’s statement to the House on ISIS. Bombs are rarely the answer to conflict situations, usually just making matter worse.

Syria destructionMoreover, Britain has not been invited into Syria by the (ghastly) government in Damascus; indeed, Mr Cameron has made quite clear that he wants the Assad regime removed from power. But there are at least two other important considerations to be thought through carefully before rushing into military action. The first is that Britain is meant to be a champion of the rule of law as well as being a pillar of the United Nations system. So the first uncomfortable question is: where is the UN authority for all this? There have been talks in Vienna involving a wide range of countries that in principle are aiming at a political settlement to the Syria crisis and although they have not as yet progressed very these talks should, I believe, be the top priority. The second consideration is more controversial, namely that if Britain joins the bombing campaign against ISIS in Syria then it will almost certainly become a higher priority target for ISIS-inspired terrorist attacks. Doubtless Mr Cameron would say that that is a risk one takes in a war situation, but that it should not deflect us from the goal of wiping out the ISIS threat. That of course assumes that ISIS can be bombed out of existence, which I find difficult to believe, not least because each attack on the self-styled Islamic State acts a rallying call to radicalised young Islamist extremists.

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London Liberal Democrats’ Autumn Conference

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 14th November, 2015

Caroline PidgeonGiven the drubbing that the party received at the General Election in May — losing all but one MP, Tom Brake, in London — London Liberal Democrats were in amazingly high spirits at their AGM at the University of West London today. But then LibDems are the perennial Minions of British politics; knock one over and (s)he immediately bounces back up. One reason for the good spirit was undoubtedly the large number of new members that have joined the party over the past six months, of whom there were a goodly number present at the one-day conference. But the main reason was the relished challenge of the London Mayoral and Greater London Assembly elections in six months’ time. Current Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon, who is number 1 on the LibDem top-up list for the Assembly is the party’s mayoral candidate and has had good media coverage for her work on the Assembly, not least in the field of transport. She gave a short but rousing rallying speech, and the Number 2 on the list, Emily Davey, spoke on housing, which is her speciality and is rightly being promoted as the top issue for concern in the capital. Number 3 is Merlene Emerson and it would be wonderful if she were elected too; the LibDems have had as many as 5 Assembly members in the past, and as an ethnic Chinese, Merlene would add some much needed diversity to the ranks of LibDem elected politicians.

JF at London LibDem conferenceI spoke about the EU Referendum, which David Cameron has said will happen some time before the end of 2017, but which the Westminster village believes could come as early as June or July next year. I had stayed up until the early hours of this morning following the news of the horrific terrorist attack in Paris. In my speech I mentioned how pleased I was that Donald Tusk, President of the European Council (and former Polish Prime Minister) had in his message to French President Francois Hollande not only expressed solidarity with the French people but also declared that the attack was an assault on Europe and European values. How often does David Cameron talk of European values, I asked rhetorically. While obviously working closely with the Stronger in Europe campaign, the LibDems must be leaders in campaigning for Britain to remain in the EU — as Tim Farron showed he was willing to be, in a skype link from the Welsh Liberal Democrat conference in Swansea. We need to be talking about Europe on the doorstep and putting it in our literature during the GLA campaign. More than anywhere in this country, London benefits from our EU membership, whatever the oafish Boris Johnson may say to the country, and it is essential that we do not allow a Brexit by default.

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Tim Farron Hits the Spot

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 23rd September, 2015

Tim Farron 2When Tim Farron was elected Leader of the Liberal Democrats earlier this year there were many, both inside and outside the party, who wondered whether he would be able to cut the mustard. From his period as President we knew he was a brilliant speaker, and that he was the perfect warm-up man for rallies, including federal conference. But would he have the gravitas of his predecessors, given that he had never held any higher public office than being the (extremely effective) MP for Westmoreland and Lonsdale? That question was swirling around in the hall at the LibDem conference in Bournemouth this week, not least because the former leader, Nick Clegg, gave such a masterful, polished performance in a speech that rightly brought the delegates to their feet. One newbie member (of whom there were a lot in Bournemouth) sitting next to me at the time whispered in my ear, “Now, that’s a leader!” But Tim’s speech to conference this lunchtime, closing what was the best-attended ever LibDem conference, will certainly have laid any fears to rest. It was passionate and it was Liberal and there cannot have been anyone in the hall who doubted that it was totally, utterly sincere. Tim chastised David Cameron for his shoddy response to the current refugee crisis, as well as for his dangerous flirtation with Brexit. The Liberal Democrats are European and internationalist and Tim is firmly in that tradition, with a gritty northern directness that commands attention. He also mentioned core domestic issues, such as the environment and the need for social housing, showing that he can indeed be the voice of the reasonable but principled opposition to the Conservatives. As David Cameron has been dragged to the right by his Eurosceptics and elitist chums and Jeremy Corbyn takes Labour on a magical mystery cruise to we-know-not-where, so Tim Farron has staked out the Liberal Democrats’ political ground, in the radical, compassionate centre, underlined by his heartfelt plea for a more humane approach to refugees. In a nutshell, he has hit the spot.

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Yes to Europe, Great for Britain!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 21st September, 2015

imageimageTim Farron positioned the Liberal Demcrats firmly at the fore of the campaign for Britain to remain a member of the European Union in a rousing speech to a packed fringe meeting at the Party’s Bournemouth conference today. He described himself as a patriot who loves his neighbours and said that the forthcoming EU referendum was the most important challenge that Liberals in this country face. About a third of the population is resolutely anti-EU and a third is keenly aware of the benefits of EU membership. That means that victory or defeat depends on persuading the other third, who are not sure either way — and getting them out to vote. Nick Hopkinson, Chair of the Liberal Democrat European Group (LDEG), opened the meeting by recalling his own childhood in Canada, at a time when Quebec separatists were effectively forcing anglophones like his family out of the province. Laura Sandys, a former Conservative MP and Chair of the cross-party European Movement, produced a resounding rallying call of “Yes to Europe, Great for Britain!”, while Catherine Bearder wrapped herself in a Union flag shawl to emphasize that staying in the EU is the most patriotic thing Brits can do. While UKIP seeks to take Brutain back to an England of the 1950s, the LibDems are now committed to moving the country forward with Europe, but no-one should under-estimate the challenges of the political battle ahead, with a Tory Prime Minister who seems to be sleep-walking towards the Brexit door and a new leader of the Opposition who is Luke-warm on his support for the EU at best.

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The LibDem Conference Rally

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 20th September, 2015

imageThe Liberal Democrat conference in Bournemouth is reportedly the best-attended ever, and certainly the traditional opening rally last night was packed, including many new faces. One of the thousands of new party members, a 19-year student from Bristol called Amy, followed party president Sal Brinton as a speaker, describing her own journey into membership. In contrast, the candidate for Mayor of London, Caroline Pidgeon, has been in the party for 25 years and has been making waves as a member of the London Assembly, holding Mayor Boris Johnson to account. In her speech, she emphasized how the elections next May in London, Wales and Scotland can be the springboard for the LibDemFightBack, which is the slogan of this conference. One of her GLA running mates, Zack Polanski, provided the rally’s main entertainment, along with the multiracial London gospel choir that he sings in. Tim Pickstone from the Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors (ALDC) reminded us that many council seats up and down the country will also be up for grabs next May. He then introduced someone he had signed up as a young student, Tim Farron — now transformed into Leader, rather than the comedy warm-up act that he has been in previous conferences. He particularly mentioned the forthcoming EU referendum and claimed for the Liberal Democrats the role as the radical but sensible opposition to the Conservative government, which in just four months has overthrown many if the good things brought in over the past five years when the LibDems were part of the Coslition government.

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Responding to the Refugee and Migrant Crisis

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 13th September, 2015

imageYesterday, along with tens of thousands of others, including a sizable Liberal Democrat contingent with leader Tim Farron, I took part in the London march in support of refugees. But in the evening I facilitated a discussion with the Lewisham local party on what can and should be done about the current refugee and migrant crisis. Britain has an historic responsibility regarding Iraq and Syria, not only because Tony Blair joined George W. Bush in ousting Saddam Hussein in 2003 and dismantling Iraq’s predominantly Sunni security fores but also because of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, the secret Anglo-French deal of 1916 that carved up the Arab lands of the Ottoman Empire to serve the colonial interests of London and Paris. That is also why Britain should be at the forefront of pressing for a settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict, as Palestine was part of the British Mandate in the Middle East.

imageHowever, in my presentation last night I emphasized how we need to work with our EU partners to respond to the current massive increase in refugees, including guaranteeing safe routes into Europe. David Cameron ought to have joined Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande in launching an EU strategy instead of sitting on the sidelines and only coming up with a still rather vague timetable for Britain’s taking Syrian refugees from camps in the Middle East. I deplored the Conservative government’s ongoing closeness to the Saudi regime, which not only has an appalling human rights record but also is partly responsible for Islamist extremism and the growth of groups such as ISIS as Saudi has exported its own fundamentalist interpretation of Islam as expounded by Muhammed bin And Al Wahhab in the late 18th century. The Saudi intervention in Yemen, as well as devastating that already impoverished country is further destabiising the region. Nonetheless, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Russia, the US and the EU all need to be involved in some sort of peace conference, preferably sponsored by the United Nations, that could negotiate an end to the Syrian civil war. But given such developments as the rise of ISIS and the Kurds growing demand for an independent homeland I do believe we are witnessing the unravelling of the borders as set down by Sykes-Picot and that that is not necessarily a bad thing given their arbitrary nature.

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The London March for Refugees

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 12th September, 2015

imageimageMany tens of thousands of people, of all ages and ethnicities, marched from Marble Arch to 10 Downing Street in London this afternoon in solidarity with refugees, especially those from Syria. The main chant and slogan on banners was “Refugees Welcome Here!”, echoing the actions of citizens in Germany and calling Prime Minister David Cameron to account for not being more generous — or indeed, precise — about how many refugees Britain will take and when. There were a good number of Socialist Worker Party members present, celebrating the triumph of Jeremy Corbyn in Labour’s leadership election and also a few genuine Trots, who made up for their small number by employing a mobile sound system that enabled them to drown out some of the pro-refugee messages with their diatribes against capitalism and all the “corrupt” mainstream political parties (including the Greens!). There was an excellent turnout of LibDems, not just from London, and Tim Farron was one of the keynote speakers. We were blessed with the most perfect Indian summer’s day, which added to the festive atmosphere. A sizable proportion of British people are ready to respond to the current refugee and migrant crisis, however hard media such as the Daily Express tries to poison minds against them. But clearly this is an issue which Britain cannot solve on its own, which is why the British government should be cooperating more closely with France, Germany and other EU member states that have taken a lead, as well as boosting global action by the United Nations. Some Syrian refugees are being driven by hunger to return to Syria from refugee camps in neighbouring countries, because the World Food Programme has had to halve rations as it has run out of cash. Saudi Arabia, for one, could fund what is needed there without blinking an eye.

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The New Old in Politics

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 6th September, 2015

Jeremy CorbynBernie SandersOn both sides of the Atlantic something very interesting is happening: politicians who already qualify for their old age pensions have been enthusing mass audiences, many of them young. Of course, it might just be coincidence that “Corbynmania” — which should see Jeremy Corbyn elected as the new leader of the UK Labour Party next week — is happening at the same time as veteran senator Bernie Sanders is pulling in the crowds in the United States, but I doubt it. I believe what we are seeing is the rejection of the slick vacuousness of a younger breed of politician for whom image is all and who avoid saying anything that might offend anyone. In politics, as in so many things, Britain was influenced by what was happening in the United States, so all three main parties learned not only American campaigning techniques but also to carry out opinion polling and run focus groups to discover what the voters really thought about a range of issues so that they could tailor their policies accordingly. But what the Corbyn and Sanders phenomenon has shown is that in reality the voters do not want bland, look-alike politicians who spout what they think the public wants to hear. Instead, in their tens of thousands, people are rallying to the cause of two men who have very strong views, based on principle not pragmatism. One may not agree with everything they say, but their sincerity is transparent, and that is new and exciting, in contrast to the political discourse of the past decade or so. Though Jeremy Corbyn would be horrified with the comparison, he is really the first leading UK politician since Margaret Thatcher to strand up and say what they believe. Other politicians need to learn from that, if they are to offer an appealing alternative. Tim Farron, the new Liberal Democrat leader, must assert himself as a man with principles and beliefs and not be afraid of doing so. I doubt whether Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron has that within him; he is the ultimate PR politician, no doubt a basically decent chap but as insipid as a used tea-bag. In the meantime, politicians on both sides of the Atlantic need to recognise that something has changed in the political landscape. Whereas before older politicians had to keep their eyes on ambitious younger rivals snapping at their heels these days the real challenge may be from older, sometimes wiser, more experienced colleagues who are paradoxically more in tune with the zeitgeist..

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