Jonathan Fryer’s Diary of a Euro-candidate

The Liberal Democrat Friends of Poland is launched this afternoon at the Polish Centre in Hammersmith, chaired by Islington’s LibDem Mayor, Stefan Kasprzyk. A good turnout from the Polish-language media. In my speech about why Poles in London should vote Liberal Democrat, I joke (truthfully) about how during the Communist period, I’d been unable to find accommodation in a snow-bound Krakow, so spent the night in a Carmelite convent. Straight after the speeches, I have to do an interview in Spanish for a London-based Latin American channel. The capital’s ethnic diversity certainly keeps one on one’s toes. Later this evening, in the same venue, London region LibDems hold their spring conference, at which Vince Cable is the star turn. Sarah Ludford, myself and Dinti Batstone – London’s 1, 2 and 3 for the Euros – end the event with a rara rousing send-off routine. Volunteers man the exits with plastic buckets for cash.

Through the LibDem Friends of Turkey, I am invited to be one of the speakers at a big event at the LSE on prospects for Turkey’s EU accession. I focus on the related issue of human rights, a full respect for which is one of the Copenhagen criteria for any candidate country. The government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made a lot of progress in reforms, such as lifting some of the restrictions on Kurdish cultural rights. But a lot more still needs to be done. And Turkey has to get rid of Article 301 of the penal code, under which writers, publishers and journalists are perpetually being prosecuted for allegedly offending the country, Turkish identity or the military. I am a great supporter of Turkey’s eventual EU membership, but I don’t think it will happen for another ten to 15 years.

Up at the crack of dawn to go to Brussels for a two-day induction training for prospective MEPs. Though I used to cover the Parliament as a journalist and for years have been a member of the ruling Council of the European Liberal party (ELDR), which often meets there, there’s a certain thrill about being introduced to some of the behind-the-scenes workings, like ‘and this is where your pigeon hole will be!’ We are then given a series of presentations on what the Parliament has achieved over the past five years, and in particular, what the Liberal (ALDE) Group has been doing The hotel loses my luggage, but gives me a bottle of champagne to soothe my outrage.

As the Parliament is closed on the weekends, the seminar sessions today are held in the hotel (which has meanwhile found my luggage): anonymous function rooms that could as well be in Birmingham or Baltimore. But lunch in a local bistro reassures us all that Brussels still has its unique attractions. My fellow trainees are a mixed bunch, economic liberals and social liberals from every part of the spectrum, from Latvia to Hungary and the UK, but united in our Europeanism and out belief in the paramount importance of democracy, the rule of law, civil liberties and human rights. The Hungarian Prime Minister resigns while we are meeting and the Hungarian participant disappears. In the evening, for me it’s the Eurostar back to London.

My trusty Campaign PA, James, comes round to shoot our latest video, focussing on the environment. The cat, Vanunu, who stole the show in the last one, is miffed at being shooed off-camera. The outdoor shots we do in Tower Hamlets cemetery park behind my house. Spring has suddenly arrived and not for the first time I am grateful that Euro-elections always take place in June, which means campaigning in generally pleasant weather. However, when I get to Alperton in Brent, for a meeting of Tamils, I have to join hundreds of people packed into a hall to speak and answer questions from a community angered by the way the world has ignored the plight of people caught in the conflict in Sri Lanka. Having been present in Colombo when the anti-Tamil riots started in the summer of 1983, I am depressed that a quarter of a century later the situation has still not been resolved. It’s a relief to go on to Tottenham for a Kurdish Newroz (New Year) celebration, where I am slotted in to speak to a thousand people between a terrific female singer and a folkloric dance troupe, and am then enticed onto the dance floor to join the Kurdish equivalent of a very stylish conga.

Most of the day teaching at SOAS. Candidates still have to earn a living. But in the evening, the Arab League holds its annual reception, a great chance for networking. The Bolivian Ambassador assures me that arrangements are being put in place for me to go on a press trip to her country, but I’ll believe that when it happens.

The Guardian phones to commission me to write an obituary of the former SDP peer Lord Kilmarnock, who had a great passion for Spain. He was a sweet if somewhat other-worldly man – a salutary reminder that one doesn’t have to be nasty or ruthless to be in politics.

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; you can find a list of his articles for LDV here.

If you’ve had an interesting week, why not write a diary for Lib Dem Voice?  Details for contributors are here.

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