“I have no respect of admiration for the Establishment,” novelist and occasional MI6 collaborator Frederick Forsyth declared yesterday at a gathering of the London Grill Club, an informal lunch club for journalists and other professionals who give a prominent public figure a grilling once a month. Forsyth campaigned for Brexit long before this summer’s EU Referendum campaign, but he was as scathing about British politicians as he was about Brussels bureaucrats. David Cameron’s resignation from Parliament obviously figured large in the conversation, but the novelist felt the now departed Prime Minister only had himself to blame: he should have been neutral in the referendum debate, as Harold Wilson was in 1975, rather than being the “chief prosecutor” for Remain. Tony Blair also came in for criticism; although Freddie supported the Iraq War, he was appalled by what he saw as Blair’s lying to Parliament, and he backed Reg Keys, father of one of the Iraq casualties, when Mr Keys stood against Blair in Sedgfield at the 2005 general election. Forsyth at 78 is a more mellow personality than even five years ago, but he still has some robust opinions. “Political correctness has replaced Christianity as a religion in Britain,” he pronounced at one point. He does not intend to write any more books; his autobiography The Outsider “is my swan song”. But that does not mean that he will abandon campaigning when there is an issue he feels strongly about, his current hobby-horse being to expose what he sees as “a stitch-up” involving a Royal Marine convicted of shooting a wounded Taliban fighter in Helmand province in Afghanistan in 2011.
Posts Tagged ‘Tony Blair’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 14th September, 2016
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 11th September, 2016
On 11 September 2001 I was at the Savile Club having lunch when the head waiter called me into the kitchen to look at the TV. I thought I was seeing a disaster movie but soon the penny dropped that this was live news footage from New York. The way the twin towers crumbled and some people threw themselves to their death to escape the flames was almost unbelievable. Indeed, for a while my brain could not register the fact that it was really happening. It was an almost inconceivable event outside of wartime, and soon President Bush and Tony Blair and others would declare that we were in a state of war — a War against Terror. The following morning I was due to fly to Beirut and when I heard of the security measures being rushed into place around the globe I wondered if Heathrow would even be open. In fact, it was, though hardly any passengers had turned up and there were policemen carrying guns patrolling the corridors. Only about half-a-dozen people had boarded my Middle East Airways flight to Lebanon, so we were outnumbered by cabin crew when we finally took off. At Beirut, some airport staff came onto the tarmac to welcome us, to thank us for coming despite the tension. The Lebanese were frightened they might be attacked in reprisal for the 9/11 assaults, but it turned out that most of the hijackers were Saudis, not Lebanese or Palestinians or any of the “usual suspects” in the American mindset. Of course, there was no way that the United States was going to attack Saudi Arabia, its bosom buddy, in reprisal. Instead, it would be Afghanistan and then later Iraq that took the brunt. Millions were killed or displaced over the next decade and a half. The consequences of 9/11 must surely have been unimaginable to those who perpetrated it. Looking back 15 years on I am struck by a parallel with the 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand that was the spark that lit the tinder that set in motion the First World War, the consequences being so enormous that they overshadowed the initial act. I think the same will be true when the verdict of history is passed on 9/11, but we are still close enough to the events of 2001 to wish to mourn those who were killed and to offer deep sympathy to their families and friends. Perhaps the greatest tribute we can pay to them is then to dedicate ourselves to try to contain and ultimately extinguish the firestorm of war and terror that took hold of the Middle East and beyond.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 27th September, 2015
Spending a gloriously warm, sunny late summer afternoon indoors in a lecture theatre is maybe not everyone’s idea of fun, but those people who signed up for the New Europeans’ debate on A New Deal for a New Europe but didn’t come this afternoon really missed a treat. Three major political groups from the European Parliament — the Socialists (PES), the Liberals (ALDE) and the European People’s Party (EPP, from which David Cameron, alas, withdrew the Conservatives) — were represented by the current President of the EPP group in the parliament, former Prime Minister of Bulgaria, Sergei Stanishev, the President of the ALDE Party (and former group leader) Sir Graham Watson, and Dirk Hazelll, Chairman of the UK Chapter of the EPP. There was a remarkable degree of agreement between the three, perhaps partly because all believe fervently that Britain ought to stay in the EU, both for the sake of Britain and for the sake of the EU. Graham Watson feared that in the current mood in the UK the referendum vote (on some still unspecified date in 2016 or 2017) could go the wrong way. That is why the “remain” campaign needs to fight hard. Sergei Stanishev (who was en route to the Labour Party conference in Brighton) spoke of the need for a truly European response to the great challenges the Union currently faces, including the refugee and migrant “crisis”.
Despite being a former Chairman of London Conservatives, Dirk Hazell lambasted David Cameron for his failure of leadership and the folly of the ambivalent Tory attitude towards Europe. Graham interestingly stated he thought that Britain ought to be part of Schengen, which got some murmurs of support from the predominantly young audience, and he argued that maybe Britain should have joined the eurozone when it had the chance, under Tony Blair. The whole history of the subsequent 15 or so years might have been different. Of course, there is not much to be gained (except as an academic exercise) in considering might-have-beens, and in principle the meeting was about the way forward. The eurozone is emerging from its own crisis, though one could be forgiven for not knowing so from reading the British press, but there needs to radical reform of the EU as a whole to make it fit for purpose. The big question for the UK is whether David Cameron can frame positive rather than negative demands for reform, and bring other member states onside through negotiation, rather than scaring them away with impossible demands.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 1st July, 2015
Gunboat diplomacy was often the way that Britain asserted its presence on the global stage in the 19th Century, and even as late as 2003 in Iraq, thanks to Tony Blair. But the predominant school of thought in London these days is that “soft power” can be a more effective way of winning friends and influencing people. The term was the subject of a presentation this lunchtime for the Global Strategy Forum at the National Liberal Club by Sir Ciarán Devane, Chief Executive of the British Council (that organisation does not have a Director these days, which is an interesting reflection of a change of mentality). In fact, Ciarán Devane does not like the term “soft power”, preferring the much less assertive “cultural relations”, and in his speech he emphasized the aspect of mutuality: the work of the British Council (and by extension, the UK) should be as much about listening as it is about communicating.
Some people have criticised the fact that so much of the emphasis of the Council these days is on English-language teaching, but as Sir Ciarán said, teaching English is a way of enabling people to engage with the world, as English is currently the global language. As someone who has been covering the Middle East and North Africa for the past 25 years, since I was part of the BBC World Service’s 24-hour rolling news coverage of the first Gulf War, I was especially interested to learn of the Young Arab Voices programme that the Council is running, helping to engage younger people (who might be largely ignored by their elders in a society that is still age-hierarchical); they are the likely agents of change, as well as the leaders of tomorrow. In the discussion following Sir Ciarán’s speech, I pointed out that I was surprised to learn about this initiative for the first time today, and wondered whether it is deliberately “below the radar” or something that the Council should be “out and proud” about. The latter, he replied. So let’s shout about it! It sounds a fab idea!
[photo: Sir Ciarán Devane and Acting GSF Chair Lord Howell]
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 12th August, 2014
The tectonic plates of the Middle East are shifting. This is maybe not surprising, given the artificial boundaries imposed on the region by the British and French following the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War. In fact, it’s quite surprising that carve-up envisaged by the Sykes-Picot Agreement has lasted as long as it has. The Islamic State, as ISIS has rebranded itself, sees its putative caliphate rubbing out borders like chalk lines on a blackboard. Iraq as a whole is falling apart, to an extent as a result of George W Bush and Tony Blair’s immoral war, but also because of the sectarianism and incompetence of the outgoing Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki. The one bright spot on the horizon is the Kurdistan Regional Government, which has brought remarkable prosperity and stability to North-East Iraq, as well as providing a safe haven for refugees from other parts of the region. But in recent days, Kurdistan (KRG) has been under threat from ISIS and has called for weapons from the West, to help defend itself. Kurdistan deserves to be protected, and indeed to move swiftly to full independence, if that is what it wants. It had long been assumed that Turkey would oppose an independent Kurdistan, because of its own restless Kurdish minority, but that is no longer the case. So we may well see an independent Kurdistan take its seat at the United Nations in the not too distant future. And other changes to the map of the Middle East will surely follow.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 17th April, 2013
The tenth anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq has provided an occasion for reflection on the pluses and minuses of that operation and its aftermath. Having been in Iraqi Kurdistan (KRG) last month I know that many Kurds there think of the War as a Liberation, and I can understand why, given the dreadful persecution they suffered at the hands of Saddam Hussein and his henchmen; it did indeed constitute genocide. But I am also aware, from my last visit to Baghdad, in December 2012, just how shattered Iraq remains as a state. Sunni have been pitted against Shia (who are now dominant) and fatal bombings in the capital are commonplace. As I said in a speech to the Cordoba Foundation and Al Sharq Forum’s Conference at London’s Commonwealth Club, “Iraq 10 Years On”, the Americans made a terrible mistake in pushing de-Ba’athification so far that they sacked the army and police force, as well as many officials — a mistake they notably did not make in Germany in 1945 after the defeat of the Nazis. Saddam was a monster, of that I have no doubt; his torture centres bore all the hallmarks of a true sadist. But the Bush-Blair invasion did not usher in a period of faultless democracy and peace. I never believed it would. Moreover, as Wadah Khanfar — former head of Al Jazeera — pointed out at the same conference, the Iraq War, together with the new Arab Awakening, and all the baggage of Western interference in the Middle East and the unresolved Palestinian situation, has left a region in turmoil. It is not just Iraq that is dysfunctional but the entire MENA region, and I suspect it will take decades before things settle down. Whether that will be within the same b0undaries as the current countries is by no means sure. After all, most of the countries in the Middle East are artificial constructs, the result of the notorious Sykes-Picot Agreement, the Balfour declaration and the British betrayal of Arab nationalists led by the Hashemites. Moreover, given the Syrian civil war and renewed political activity regarding the Kurdish question in Turkey, it is not impossible that some time in the future there will be an independent Kurdish state. The KRG are currently sticking to their line that they will be happy with devo-max in Iraq, but if Iraq effectively ceases to be a coherent country then there will be a big temptation to go it alone, which could have far-reaching regional implications.
Photos by Richard Chambury (richfoto). 1: Daud Abdullah, Rosemary Hollis, JF, Matthew G Banks; 2: JF.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: al-Jazeera, Baghdad, Daud Abdullah, George W Bush, Iraq, KRG, Kurds, Matthew G Banks, Richard Chambury, Rosemary Hollis, Saddam Hussein, The Cordoba Foundation, The Sharq Forum, Tony Blair, Wadah Khanfar | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 17th November, 2012
When the Welfare Association* conceived the idea of a fundraising gala dinner in aid of disadvantaged children in Palestine, to be held at the Bloomsbury Big Top in central London, they can have had no idea that that event this evening would coincide with renewed fighting between Gaza’s Hamas and Israel, in which several Palestinian children have already been victims. The Middle East, which I have been following for well over 40 years, is an unending tragedy, complex and multi-dimensional. But any objective observer must come to the conclusion that in all of this chaos the Palestinians have been the big losers. And as so often in conflict situations the humanitarian burden falls most heavily on those least able to bear it. So this evening, around 600 people gathered under the big top to be entertained by trapeze artists and acrobats, the Palestinian-Jordanian singer Zeina Barhoum and other musicians, but most important, to demonstrate solidarity with the children of Palestine — tens of thousands of them disabled or else traumatised by conflict — whose lives can be eased thanks to projects for which a healthy six-figure sum was raised. Clare Short, the former Labour MP who nobly resigned from the party in protest at Tony Blair’s illegal war in Iraq, made a short speech, but those of us who were there needed little reminding of the necessity and urgency of the cause. It was good that many young people who have high-earning jobs in the City were there, to bid at auction for works of art by Andrew Martin, Alexander Mcqueen and others. Barclays Bank was also a ‘platinum sponsor’. Coincidentally, the Arab League held an emergency meeting in Cairo today to discuss how to react to the current crisis. The Qatari Foreign Minister warned about the potential emptiness of yet another declaration. At least tonight those at the Welfare Association dinner made a real contribution that will get to those who most need assistance.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Alexander Mcqueen, Andrew Martin, Arab League, Bloomsbury Big Top, Cairo, Clare Short, Gaza, Hamas, Israel, Palestine, Qatar, Tony Blair, Welfare Association, Zeina Barhoum | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 20th September, 2012
The writer and broadcaster Gavin Esler — perhaps best known as one of BBC Newsnight’s presenters — has met a great many leaders but not many great leaders, as he told a literary lunch at the Oxford and Cambridge Club in Pall Mall today. His musing was linked to his latest book, Lessons from the Top (Profile Books, £12.99), which looks at how successful leaders tell stories to get ahead — and stay there. His thesis is that the best political leaders (as well as top entrepreneurs) are strong story-tellers, with the basic elements of ‘who am I, who are we, and where am I going to take us?’ Margaret Thatcher had a brilliantly pithy line which had a whole back-story to itself: ‘I am a grocer’s daughter from Grantham’, for example. But Gavin lamented the fact that over the past 25 to 30 years, basically since the end of the Cold War, the name of the game has changed, as we have become a confessional culture. The public has been taught to expect personal details about even the loftiest figures, and scandals are daily laid bare — what one might call the globalisation of gossip. Of course, journalists, and through them the public, don’t always get the right first impressions. When Gavin went to interview Angelina Jolie, for example, he expected to meet an airhead, whereas actually she proved to be a highly intelligent woman who has adapted well to her role as a UN goodwill ambassador. Some politicians, alas, tell false stories; Tony Blair didn’t earn the sobriquet ‘Bliar’ for nothing. But the message of today’s talk was clear: if you want to succeed in life, tell a good story, and keep it simple.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 12th September, 2012
Professor Avi Shlaim is one of the most learned and liberal Jewish commentators on the history and reality of the Arab-Israeli conflict so it was a pleasure to share a platform with him yesterday at a seminar put on by the Forum for International Relations Development (FIRD) in North Cheam to mark the anniversary of 9/11. Dr Shlaim’s central argument was that George W Bush’s response to the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, launching a “War on Terror”, was disastrously misguided. Terror is a tactic not an entity, and one cannot have a war against a tactic. Moreover, demonising Osama bin Laden — whom the Americans had funded when he was fighting against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan — fuelled the new global divide that Samuel P Huntington had simplisticly described as the Clash of Civilizations. Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with Al Qaeda, indeed the Iraqi Ba’ath Party was hostile to Al Qaeda’s ideology, yet that did not stop Bush invading Iraq. That war was clearly illegal, Prof Shlaim declared, and he endorsed Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s call for Tony Blair to be brought before the International Criminal Court for war crimes. But the major part of Dr Shlaim’s talk focused on the way that the failure to resolve the Palestinian question — a situation made even worse by ongoing Israeli settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem — prevents a normalisation of relations between the West and the Arab world, as well as contributing to the sort of extreme radicalism against which FIRD campaigns. Not surprisingly, the Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu came in for some withering criticism, as did Israel’s threats to bomb Iran. My own brief remarks at the seminar were in a sense a warm-up act for Dr Shlaim, but I recalled flying to Beirut the morning after 9/11 on a Middle East Airways plane, most of whose passengers had decided not to turn up for the flight. Those of us who did were welcomed warmly on arrival in Lebanon, but the Lebanese were nervous that they might be attacked because of 9/11. So often in the Middle East it is people who have nothing to do with violent acts who find themselves at the receiving end of retaliation.