Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Toynbee Hall’

Standing up for Phil Maxwell

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 24th September, 2009

There was an interesting political line-up at Toynbee Hall in East London this evening, when I (representing the Liberal Democrats) spoke alongside Peter Tatchell (Green Party candidate for Oxford East), Cllr Peter Golds (Leader of the Conservative Group on Tower Hamlets Council) and a member of staff from local Respect MP George Galloway’s office, at a meeting chaired by UNISON’s John McLoughlin. A Labour councillor was expected to attend, but apparently got sat on by his party before the event, which is maybe not surprising as the subject was the shabby treatment meted out by the Labour-run Council to Phil Maxwell, the officer who has for the past decade been running its award-winning waste education project in schools. The Council is now set to privatise the operation — in which Phil Maxwell will be the only person transferred out — and has awarded the contract to the multinational corporation Veolia, reportedly without putting the contract out to competitive tender, as it is obliged to do under European law.

That in itself would be fishy enough, but Phil Maxwell (who is also an acclaimed photographer and film-maker, as well as a former Labour councillor) is convinced that the Council wants to get rid of him, not only because of his union activism but also because he is gay. The Council does of course have a full equalities commitment, but the question there is whether the fine declarations of intent hide a less savoury reality. Phil Maxwell says his request for a detailed internal inquiry into the matter was brushed aside. It is a tribute to his work and character that so many colleagues, friends and well-wishers from across the political spectrum rallied around him this evening, almost filling the main Toynbee Hall. All this adds more spice to what look like being extremely interesting local elections next May, in a London borough that recently ousted (at great cost) its Chief Executive and has seen a whole raft of inter-party defections and candidate deselections.


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Joan Smith and Maureen Freely at Toynbee Hall

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 3rd October, 2008

Last night I went to Toynbee Hall in Tower Hamlets for the first time for 20 years — since I attended Quaker Meeting there, in fact. The late John Profumo was still working there at the time. A lot of things have changed since then and perhaps the most positive novelty is Arts Admin, which now puts on a lively range of cutting-edge artistic and literary events. I was there last night to attend a ‘conversation’ between the writers Joan Smith and Maureen Freely, both of whom I have collaborated with on the Writers in Prison Committee of English PEN. Both have worked as journalists and in Maureen’s case, as a translator too.

Most of their conversation (ably moderated by Lucy Popescu) was about their novels, What Will Survive and Enlightenment , set respectively in southern Lebanon and Turkey. A common theme is the predicament of a female protagonist finding hereself in a complex political situation she does not fully understand. Inevitably the discussion turned to the menacingly surreal atmosphere surrounding Turkish trials of writers and publishers accused of defaming the state, Turkishness or the military — some of which I have sat in on myself. Joan and Maureen were both at the trial of Orhan Pamuk — who went on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature — and they felt the full brunt of the ultra-nationalist (perhaps one should say neo-fascist) heavies who gather at these events.

Interestingly, another, much larger, meeting was going on in the main hall, attended almost exclusively by Muslims. I noted in the programme that one of Arts Admin’s vents later this month is a show by DV8 ‘To Be Straight with You’, which is billed as an exploration of tolerance, intolerance, religion and sexuality, which is burningly topical in a borough where there have been a spate of recent homophobic attacks by young Bengalis, as well as some instances of islamophobia.


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