Candidate 8: Jonathan Fryer, Lib Dem
Jonathan Fryer lives in Tower Hamlets but he said that Hackney appears to be a happier place. The reason is because different communities in the borough interact with each other. But he doesn’t believe this happiness has much to do with Labour Party policies, which he thinks encourage ghettoisation.
Candidate 8 described his home borough as “an odd place” where the poor and the rich, the large communities of white British and Bangladeshi exist side-by-side, but their paths rarely cross.
He said: “Hackney seems to be a happier place. There’s much more interaction in Hackney. In Tower Hamlets there’s a bit of a problem with the community not having much interaction, they don’t have the level of contact they do here.”
He was critical of the Labour approach to race relations: “The way that the Labour Party sees people in class terms and in groups and doesn’t understand that while there are group identities and community identities, if you deal with people entirely as groups and de-personalise them it can be quite negative."
Fryer said that the focus on groups resulted in "ghettoisation" but he said he believed that Britain was a leader in Europe when it came to community cohesion. He said that while Labour figures like former Bethnal Green and Bow MP, Oona King, had been working on this issue, the Labour approach was flawed.
I asked him how bad he thinks the financial crisis will it get?
“I have a lot to do with Vince Cable. He believes that, in the short-term, it is going to get very bad. He saw this crisis years ago and got barracked in the house of commons as a doom and gloom merchant.
Fryer said that there was not a great deal of faith in the government talking about “green shoots” of recovery.
But he said: “Part of it is rebuilding confidence. When people are worried about the possibility of unemployment or generally not confident they’re not spending the markets are getting less and then they start closing down. We don’t have to run far from where we are now to see shops closing down and it’s not always because people haven’t got money, they just aren’t spending it.
I asked how people in Hackney could not be spending if this is one of the poorest boroughs in the country – and they can’t afford not to spend it. So any change in spending won’t be as great as it is in richer areas?
He said: “To a certain extent people in Hackney are poor but they will have been stashing some money away. If they’re west Indian, then it’ll be for a trip back to Jamaica, or for their kids and they’re not spending it, they’re saving it. It would be interesting to know to what extent this is happening. It’s depressing when you see accounts of burglaries and people saying they had £3000 or so in cash stolen from them.”
He said one of the key issues for Hackney was transport: “Clearly there are big transport problems and I think that some of the things we were promised won’t happen and as long as Hackney isn’t plugged into the underground system it is going to miss out.”
I asked him what sort of relationship he would have with MPs?
“Here in Hackney it is Labour. MPs have to have a good working relationship with their MEP to know where EU funding would be possible.” He said that ten years ago MEPs couldn’t go into the House of Commons except by the same route as normal members of the public which he said was “grotesque” but while this had improved, there needs to be far more contact between MPs and MEPS.
Do you eventually want to be a normal MP?
I don’t want to be an MP. An MEP is the height of my ambition.
One of his main hobby horses is that Britain is not educating its children to be European: “The government scrapped learning a second language from the age of 14 a few years ago. And British kids are competing against kids in Germany where they speak 2-3 languages.
I asked if this meant that boroughs like Hackney, which have hundreds of languages, might be seen as a resource?
“One relevant thing is that with Turkish, it is a marginal language in the EU (Cyprus is a member but not north Cyprus). Turkey is very likely to become a member in 10-15 years. I think it would be useful to say to Turkish families here to make sure they keep their language skills because it is going to be very useful and British born ethnic Turks will have a really strong position in the Europe of the future.”