Jonathan Fryer’s Diary of a Euro-candidate


On the tube over to West London, I wonder how Ukraine and Slovakia have managed to have their national celebrations on the same day, and both at lunchtime. Fortunately the two embassies are close to each other, and predictably there is a lot of toing-and-froing between. I decide to do Ukraine first, having recently been in the country itself and I am not surprised to find the mood somewhat sombre. After the Russian intervention in Georgia, there are rumblings in the Crimea again and the government in Kiev is falling apart. I have earnest discussions with the diplomats there, but it’s a relief to go on to the Slovakian event, where a fantastic chamber orchestra is playing wild central European music and the food is terrific.


To Westminster Abbey for a book launch, in the wonderful Jerusalem Chamber – a nook that the tourists never get to see. The author of the tome, the Archbishop of Galilee, isn’t actually there, but I link up with Jafar Farah, Director of the Mossawa Advocacy Centre for Arab Citizens of Israel, whom I’d met briefly in Parliament yesterday. Palestinian Arabs make up about 20 per cent of Israel’s population, but they are often the forgotten people in the Middle East conflict. Many of these Arab Israelis are Christians – Jafar is a Maronite – and some of the Churches in Britain have been doing what they can to foster constructive dialogue between different faith groups in the Holy Land.


Lunch with the BBC World Service’s new political correspondent Nick Childs, so I can brief him about the upcoming Bournemouth conference. Europe will be a major item on our agenda at Bournemouth, but the LibDems and UKIP seem to be the only people actually talking about it in the run-up to next June’s elections. Labour are too busy trying to persuade the public they are united behind Gordon Brown, while individually stabbing him in the back, and their poll ratings are in free-fall. In the evening, I give my third talk of the week to non-party-political groups, this one being to the Sutton Writers’ Group. They invited me to speak about my work as a writer and journalist. I tell them that after I had spent four years studying Chinese and Japanese, Reuters promptly sent me to Brussels, which always gets a laugh.


The skies lift as the train approaches Bournemouth. By the time I’m installed in the hotel the weather is positively balmy. Seven of us from the ‘In It to Win It’ group of European candidates who would be most likely to form the new intake next year gather to exchange notes and plot how we can make the party take the European campaign seriously for once. Well, both Nick Clegg and Ed Davey have said that it will, so that’s a start. Later, I’m almost first in the door at the London regional reception, more by accident than design. At least this means I get some olives. The place soon fills up and I give a little pep talk. Looking round the room, I realise I know almost everyone there, but as I have been hurtling round London like some demented clockwork mouse for the past five years, I should do!


My European dedication is proved by managing to be in the conference hall at 9.45 on a Sunday morning to watch the presentation given by ALDE, the European Liberal group of MEPs, choreographed by Graham Watson. Part of it is a video shot in the Brussels parliament building last month showing our LibDem MEPs at work. I happened to be there the day the cameras were filming, so I appear on screen a couple of times, as if I had already been elected. If only! At lunchtime, Nick Clegg hosts a reception for MEPs and Euro-candidates and he once again pledges to fight the European campaign on European issues, particularly highlighting the environment. Nick, we’ll be watching you!


The BBC breakfast is always a bit of a bun-fight; I think the only reason I really go is nostalgia for all the years I worked in Bush House. The World Service has just shut down the Romanian Service, the last of its European language services, which makes me sad. But on the up-side, a Persian language TV channel is going to be launched this autumn. We’re shown some promotional clips and the new channel’s cultural correspondent looks far wilder and more interesting than anyone on British domestic TV.


At lunchtime I have do something I’ve always told myself I’d avoid: speaking at two fringe meetings which are scheduled simultaneously. So I open the first one (on Islam Today) with a carefully-timed seven minute presentation, and then have to run before the next panellist, Lee Jasper, gets to open his mouth. It’s more subdued at the Heritage Lottery Fund fringe on Britishness, where broadcaster Wesley Kerr is in the chair. I talk about my onion skins: being a Londoner (albeit an adopted one), who is British and also European, and quite comfortable with all three layers. Simon Hughes then turns up even later than me, and of course announces that he is English, Welsh and a little bit Irish too. I grab a couple of Heritage sandwiches and proceed to the conference hall, where I am called to speak in the Europe debate. The adrenalin is running and I end by shamelessly plagiarising Dylan Thomas, ‘Do not go gentle into this good fight. Rage, rage against the Euro-sceptic right!’

Jonathan Fryer is a writer, lecturer and broadcaster, and is second on the party’s list for the European Elections in London in 2009.  His blog has featured on Lib Dem Voice’s Golden Dozen lists over a dozen times.

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