Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Tower Hamlets’

City & London East LibDems Ready for GLA 2016

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 8th September, 2015

imageOf all the mega-constituencies in London’s city-wide elections City and London East has long been the Cindarella as far as the Liberal Democrats are concerned. Though once strong in the borough of Tower Hamlets the Party currently has no Councillors there or in Newham or in Barking & Dagenham. The “City” part is the Corporation of London, whose Common Councillors are usually devoid of party political affiliation. However, that situation may be about to change, as, in common with many other parts of Britain, the east of London has seen a large influx of new members, many of them young and keen. For many of them, 2016 offers the first chance of direct political engagement as LibDems, in the London Assembly and Mayoral elections next way and, probably, the EU in/out referendum in the Autumn. This evening, in Bow Church, a hustings was held to choose the candidate for the GLA constituency; both women who put themselves forward were Damian to many, as Elaine Bagshaw fought Poplar & Limehous in May’s general election while Teena Lashmore fought neighbouring Bethnal Green & Bow. Elaine was also the LibDem candidate in the rerun of the Tower Hamlets mayoral election earlier this summer. Both candidates highlighted the issue of housing it homes, and each had her own salient qualities. Elaine stressed her campaigning experience on the doorstep and online, while Teena argued that being a visible ethnic minority woman made her look like the face if the electorate in a East a London today. In the event, it was Elaine who just won through — by one vote! Warm congratulations to her and also to Teena for putting up a spirited fight. Teena is also standing for the LibDems’ GLA top-up list, for which online voting is currently underway.


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Tower Hamlets: End of an Era

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 12th June, 2015

John Biggs 1Lutfur RahmanAt 4.30 this morning, one of the most controversial periods in the chequered history of Tower Hamlets politics came to an end. The designated successor to ousted Mayor Lutfur Rahaman, Rabina Khan — standing as an Independent, as the Election Court that convicted Mr Rahman had also banned his party “Tower Hamlets First” — failed in her attempt to win the mayoralty, which instead went to the longstanding local Labour politician (and London East member of the Greater London Assembly) John Biggs. The Conservatives vote share stayed steady, both the Greens and UKIP were down and the Liberal Democrats slightly up, while a variety of other non-mainstream candidates also attracted some votes. Alongside the mayoral poll yesterday there was a by-election in Stepney Green ward, where a close associate of Mr Rahman’s had also been forced to stand down; in that by-election, Labour gained the seat. This gives them a single seat majority in the Council, which together with Mr Biggs’ win means the era of Tower Hamlets First has come to an end. I shan’t rehearse the arguments put forward by the election court to condemn what went on in the Borough since 2010, but would add the caveat that some of it was undoubtedly sensationalised by some of the Tory Press and certain things such as schools performance (doubtless aided by the LibDems’ pupil premium) improved during his tenure. Nonetheless, there is a huge sense of relief among many of us residents in Tower Hamlets that maybe now we will have a return to more normal politics that is perceived to be less skewed towards the priorities of a particular section of the population. It was interesting that Bengali voters did not turn out to vote in droves to enable Ms Khan’s succession and indeed the overall turnout was a rather measly 37% — well down on 2014. And given past history, with Councillors swapping sides unusually frequently, we cannot be certain that stability has been restored. We can but hope. And now it will be up to all the other parties — including Cllr Khan and her “independent” colleagues — to hold John Biggs and Labour to account.

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Two Feisty LibDem Women for Tower Hamlets!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 5th February, 2015

Elaine BagshawTeena LashmoreThis evening Tower Hamlets Liberal Democrat members gathered at Oxford House in Bethnal Green to choose our two candidates for the general election in May, for the constituencies of Poplar & Limehouse (which I fought in 2010) and Bethnal Green & Bow (where Ajmal Masroor lifted the LibDems to second place last time). I’m pleased to say that both constituencies have chosen feisty women for May 2015, who will be able to strike a different note above the noise of the macho slug-fest in the borough between Labour and Mayor Lutfur Rahman’s “Tower Hamlets First”: Elaine Bahsaw (Poplar & Limehouse) and Teena Lashmore (Bethnal Green & Bow). Elaine both lives and works in Poplar & Limehouse and is well known within the Liberal Democrat party as a former Chair of Liberal Youth. Teena Lashmore works in Tower Hamlets and lives in the neighbouring inner London borough of Hackney, where she has been very active in the anti-racist group Hackney United. That has been a role model for community interaction in Britain, not least for the cooperation between the Jewish and Muslim communities (Hackney’s Cazenove ward notably has two Jewish councillors and one Muslim, all LibDems) and so her experience will be very useful in multicultural Tower Hamlets. Choosing two women candidates, including one from an ethnic minority, also means that London Liberal Democrats are starting to look more like the city where the party operates, which was an ambition I tried to promote when I was Chair of the region from 2010-2012.

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GDIF 2014 at the Cutty Sark

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 20th June, 2014

GDIF 2014GDIF MuaréThe Greenwich and Docklands International Festival (GDIF) has relatively quickly established itself as one of Britain’s premier outdoor cultural events, all the remarkable because it is FREE. Artistic Director Bradley Hemmings has a keen eye for what’s hot in Continental Europe and beyond and the Festival makes brilliant use of the diverse historic and contemporary venues on offer in the Royal Borough of Greenwich, as well as over the river in Tower Hamlets and Newham. This evening, as I made my way to the GDIF opening reception at the Cutty Sark (impressively reborn after the terrible fire of 2007 and now exposed in all its copper-bottomed glory in a fine exhibition space) I watched a company of dancers from Antwerp performing on the surrounding piazza, in front of a mirrored mobile van in which 20 privileged spectators had a keyhole view of the action from the inside. At the reception, fitting tribute was played to sponsors, including the Royal Borough of Greenwich, Arts Council England and this time the Flanders representation in London. Whilst we invitees swapped notes over canapés and wine, a select few were wired into another dynamic experience, their perception controlled by computer, which gave them the impression of walking through the streets of Brussels, including at one stage carefully stepping along a narrow balustrade in front of Belgium’s Palais de Justice. Later, the guests moved to the Greenwich Maritime Museum to watch Muaré, a psychadelic extravagance involving aerial theatre by artists from Spain and Argentina descending from giant revolving optical art mobiles. The Festival runs on until 28 June and I am particularly looking forward to events in Mile End Park, just along the road from my home, and at the Olympic Park in Newham.


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Why Tower Hamlets Needs Active Involvement in the EU

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 6th September, 2013

Brief YouTube clip of JF:
Canary Wharf

Brick Lane

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Why Europe Matters!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 11th June, 2013

Tower Hamlets logoEU free movementThe fightback starts here. Yesterday I blogged about the benefits of the ECHR and the insane campaign by certain right-wing Tories to get Britain to remove itself from the Convention (thereby putting itself in the sole company of Belarus). But this evening I was speaking about why Europe — i.e. the EU — matters, at a pizza and politics organised by my own local Liberal Democrat party, Tower Hamlets. I reminded members that the EU (in its various incarnations), together with NATO, had preserved peace on our continent for nearly 70 years — unprecedented in modern times. The way that formerly Communist countries have been integrated into the Union — rejoining the European family — has been particularly striking. On 1 July, Croatia will be the next. I also maintained that we should champion the free movement of people within the European Single Market, which has helped Brits working on the Continent just as it has helped other EU nationals who have come here. The three areas we shall focus on over the next 11 months will be jobs, the environment and crime, and on all of these the Liberal Democrats have powerful messages to convey, stressing both the local and European dimension (there will be all-out London borough elections on 22 May 2014, alongside the European elections). Moreover, these are areas in which the LibDems have distinct policies from our current national Coalition partners, the Conservatives. The Tories characterise membership of the EU as an impediment, rather than an opportunity; the right wing’s idea that the UK could somehow go it alone and try to arrange bilateral trade deals with major economic powers like the US, China and India is pure cloud cuckoo land. At long last, Prime Minister David Cameron has said as much, but sotto voce, and almost drowned out by the shrieks of UKIP and his own Europhobic headbangers, cheered on by the tabloid Press. Every day the British Press (with noble exceptions such as the Guardian, Independent and Financial Times) spews out lies and distortions about the EU (too often politely dismissed by Euro-realists as “myths”).  I was interested that the Bengali members of Tower Hamlets Liberal Democrats (who made up about half of tonight’s gathering) expressed worries about immigration from Eastern Europe and the notion that these newcomers are taking local people’s jobs. That is of course the narrative of UKIP, which has gained some traction, and we need to stress how (a) immigrants contribute more to the UK economy than they receive in benefits, and (b) young Brits (of whatever ethnic origin) really need to be getting appropriate qualifications to fill the jobs that are available and not turn their noses up at tasks which they feel are somehow beneath them. 


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European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 7th November, 2012

2012 is the European Year for Active Ageing and Soldarity between Generations, though unless you read something like the Society pages of the Guardian I’d be surprised if you were aware of the fact, as ‘Europe’ is such a toxic word for so much of the British media at least. But the concept behind this year is a good one: raising awareness of the contribution that older people make to society. It seeks to  encourage policymakers and relevant stakeholders to help create better oportunities for active ageing and interaction and understanding between the generations. Active Ageing basically means growing old while remaining healthy and well-occupied; the era in which people automatically retired at 60 or 65 is over — thanks partly to European laws. If people want to work longer, they can. And as the population gets ever more elderly, it is important that there are active 60 and 70-year-olds. The second half of the European Year’s focus is strengthening solidarity between generations; too often young people in a community don’t interact with older folk and vice versa, unlike in previous epochs. But that generation gap does not have to persist. Indeed, organisations such as Magic Me, in my home borough of Tower Hamlets, have for years been running projects that bring together schoolchildren and local residents of 60+, to get them to express themselves artistically. Last night Europe House, the European Commission and Parliament’s representation in London, hosted the opening night of an exhibition of some of the recent work done by Magic Me, which I previewed on the Commission’s culture website: . Magic Me’s Director, Susan Langford, and the MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, Rushanara Ali, spoke about the impact this has in Tower Hamlets and it was heartening to see how well the schoolchildren and elderly who were present related to each other.

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Why I Want to Be an MEP

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 2nd November, 2012

Today ballot papers started arriving at the homes of Liberal Democrat members in London so they can choose the order of the list of candidates for the European elections in 2014. There are nine candidates for eight places (a tenth, Elaine Bagshawe, has withdrawn). The Liberal Democrats are a democratic party, so everyone who has been a member for longer than a year gets the chance to take part by single transferable vote (STV). In 2004 and 2009 I was Number 2 on the list, and as such just missed actually getting elected to the European Parliament by a whisker, so no-one can be surprised that I’m going for Number 1 this time. Being an MEP is something I have always wanted, more than any other form of political office, though I did serve as a borough councillor for a while. I used to cover the European Parliament and other European institutions when I was based in Brussels, originally with Reuters but later freelance. In the early days it was something of a talking shop, whose members were appointed by their national parliaments and had almost no power. But in 1979 there were direct elections for the first time, giving the institution more democratic legitimacy. In Britain these were on a first-past-the post system in large constituencies, in London’s case usually comprising three boroughs (I fought London South East, which was made up of Bexley, Bromley and Greenwich). But in 1999, the Labour government rightly bowed to pressure from our continental partners to adopt a fairer, more proportional system.

I have often attended events at the parliament in Brussels and Strasbourg (yes, of course I am in favour of the abolition of the wasteful shuttle between the two!) and for many years I have been an elected member of the governing Council of the ELDR — the European Liberal Democrat and Reformist party, which groups like-minded parties from across Europe, including a number of states not currently members of the EU. In fact, this time next week I’ll be in Dublin at the 2012 Congress of ELDR. This moves round Europe, partly to give a boost to the host party; the last ELDR event I attended was in Yerevan, Armenia, in May. The Parliament itself now has much stronger powers than it did in the past, with many major decisions now being subject to ‘co-decision’ between the Parliament and the Council of Ministers (which is made up of Ministers from the governments of the 27 member states). MEPs usually sit on a couple of major committees; my choice ideally would be in EU external policy/foreign affairs and overseas development, but of course London concerns would figure large among my priorities, including the use of European structural funds to help create jobs and foster regenration in deprived areas of the capital, including my own home borough, Tower Hamlets. Because of my professional background, obviously culture, media and related issues are also of great interest. In fact, I write regularly for the culture website of the European Commission’s London representation. And I agree with EU founding father John Monnet that one thing maybe the European project should have stressed earlier and more strongly at the beginning is the crucial value of culture, identity and diversity.

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London’s 2nd City

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 3rd July, 2012

From my front room window I can see Canary Wharf, which is how most of us East Enders refer (incorrectly) to Canada Tower on the Isle of Dogs, constructed to be the symbol of London’s second City or financial centre, but with a nod to the Elizabeth Tower of the Houses of Parliament (equally incorrectly generally known as Big Ben). Canary Wharf is actually the central ensemble of the audacious development in the old Docklands. This is now the subject of a short but insightful volume by Bow writer and journalist Kevin d’Arcy, London’s 2nd City*. In brief, snappy chapters Kevin introduces many of the main characters in the drama of the Canary Wharf area’s conception and birth, from Michael Heseltine and the megarich Reichmann brothers to the Liberal duo Eric Flounders and Brian Williams, who gave local leadership and vision in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Even as someone who has been around the wholetime, I learnt a lot from this book, including the reason (or at least, a reason) why the shoppping arcades at Canary Wharf are underground: the developers cut their teeth in Toronto, Canada, where such tunneled emporia are a haven in bitter mid-winter. The whole enterprise had its ups and downs and all these are charted, but in a way that steers clear of libelling anybody. It’s an attractive little book, written very much in journalistic not academic style, though alas, as so often with self-published works, there are some glaring errors; the Coalition Government was elected in 2010, not 2009, and there could not possibly have been 3.5 million homes destroyed in London during the War, as none would have been left. Such gripes aside, a worthwhile read.

£9.99 from Rajah Books, 40 Bruce Road, London E3 3HL

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Stairway to Heaven

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 4th March, 2012

The Bethnal Green tube station disaster of 3 March 1943, in which 173 people were crushed to death as they rushed down the stairs into the air-raid shelter that was housed below, was largely hushed up at the time, so as not to give propaganda material to the Germans. And even when I moved to Tower Hamlets in 1985, no-one talked about it. It was as if there was a collective reluctance to face up to the fact that there had been such catastrophic loss of human life for no reason other than human error; someone tripped on the stairs and the rest piled up on top of them. Some people did escape; indeed, one gentleman, Alf Morris, who was a young lad at the time, shared testimony today at a remembrance service at St John’s on Bethnal Green, recounting how a woman air-raid warden pulled him out by his hair. This weekend saw the 69th anniversary of the tragedy, which might not seem a particularly important date that would bring out people in their hundreds, despite bitter cold and heavy rain. But this year is special, as the long-mooted memorial to the dead — Stairway to Heaven — has now been started, on a site right by the fateful tube station entrance, just opposite the church. Enough funds have been raised by the Stairway to Heaven Memorial Trust to finance Phase 1, which includes the base and the plynth, on which all 173 names of the dead will be inscribed, from 14-year-old Betty Aarons to 13-month old John Yewman. When more money comes in, the Trust will be able to give the green light to the inverted staircase that will form the upper part of the monument, as seen in the artist’s impression. It was good to see a number of Tower Hamlets Liberal Democrats at the service this afternoon, including Bethnal Green North Councillor Stephanie Eaton and City and London East GLA candidate Richard Macmillan (see photo). Representatives of other political parties were there too, of course, as well as the ceremonial mayor (Speaker) of Tower Hamlets, Councillor Mizanur Rahman Chaudhury. And although the service was predominantly Christocentric, Leon Silver, President of the East London Central Synagogue, gave one of the addresses.


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