On Tuesday, the results of the long, $300 million investigation into the Bloody Sunday killings in Northern Ireland were published. The inquiry, led by Lord Saville of Newdigate, found that thirteen demonstrators–and a fourteenth, who later died of wounds–were unlawfully killed by British paratroopers on January 30, 1972. In short, Saville found that the shootings were neither provoked by the marchers nor, as had previously been alleged, provoked by shootings from armed nationalists. Saville also discounts the theory that the attacks were “premeditated.”
Today, there is hope—but only that—for closure at last. A 12-year official inquiry into the events of Bloody Sunday released Tuesday yielded a 5,000-page report. The questions that fed the bitterness are finally answered. In particular, the allegation that the troops were responding to attacks by paramilitary gunmen from the republican IRA is formally rejected. Prime Minister David Cameron told the House of Commons the conclusions were “shocking” and that he was “deeply sorry.” The Army’s actions were “unjustified and unjustifiable.” Still, the report is hardly ideal.
If the deserved apology satisfies the victims, the report brings its own risks. When Tony Blair agreed to establish the inquiry back in 1998, it was intended as a gesture to keep suspicious republicans in the peace process that culminated in the Good Friday peace accord of that spring, ending 30 years of bloodshed. Today’s politicians may consider it one concession too many, threatening to aggravate the tensions that the commission sought to dispel. Few seriously fear a return to open strife, but a sour mood may hinder political progress. Already there are grumblings of discontent from hardline loyalists: Says Jim Allister, leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice: “Today’s jamboree over the … report throws into very sharp relief the unacceptable and perverse hierarchy of victims which the preferential treatment of Bloody Sunday has created.”
What’s beyond dispute is significance of Bloody Sunday: for the IRA, the Army’s brutality helped to sanction its own use of violence and to boost recruitment. There’s no doubt, too, that the perfunctory inquiry held in the immediate aftermath of Bloody Sunday failed utterly to uncover the truth. Condemned as a whitewash at the time, it described the paratroopers’ actions as no more than “bordering on the reckless,” rather than the slaughter described by today’s report.
But the inquiry has also raised issues of its own that go beyond its $300 million bill or its unnecessary length. With almost 1,000 witnesses heard, this turned out to be the longest inquiry in British history. Is it safe, for example, to depend on witnesses’ recollections of events 38 years ago that might anyhow be colored by political attitudes?
This panicked murder of unarmed civilians was the Brits’ Gaza moment (along with their Cheney moment in instigating the torture of terror suspects in prison). And this long-delayed report helps show how war crimes take time for democracies to process and take responsibility for. The entire history of the last forty years suggests something else as well: that Irish terrorism was not defeated by force of arms, or brutality, or collective punishment. It took negotiations with the worst parties, a stoic acceptance of some terrorist violence because the attempt to stamp it all out only made it worse, economic growth, and insistence on the most logical partition.
David Cameron was right to say the Bloody Sunday shootings were unjustified and unjustifiable. That doesn’t mean, though, that the Saville Inquiry, with its ludicrous cost and length, was either justified or justifiable. The same conclusion could have been reached after several months; and Tony Blair would, presumably, have been happy to give the same full apology as Cameron did today.
Prosecutions are a different matter. To establish the criminal intent of a serving soldier, firing under orders to fire, alongside colleagues doing the same, and all with the passage of 38 years, would be very tricky indeed.
Here’s hoping that the completeness of Cameron’s apology and the directness of Saville’s conclusions will remove any possibility of further violence. I have been a regular visitor to Ulster for more than 20 years, and the change in the place is extraordinary. I first went to Belfast as a 17-year-old, and remember bicycling up the Falls Road behind an Army armoured car with two soldiers in the back, fingers poised on the trigger. You wouldn’t see that nowadays – in fact, last time I was in Belfast, I went up the Falls Road again, and the Shankill Road, this time in a tourist bus, on a tour of republican and loyalist murals.
With the greatest respect to Lord Saville, who is a distinguished lawyer, this report cannot dispense justice. Establishing the facts is impossible 30 years after the tragedy, and the punishment can only be collective. Yet the political dictates of peace mean that the British army must be blackened. The soldiers who beat both sets of paramilitaries to the negotiating table will be branded as criminals.
Whatever their impulse, British officers took a disastrous decision to disobey orders and open fire. Thereafter, the IRA heightened its already intensive terrorism and recruitment. That the IRA deliberately provoked violence against a peace march for its own gain is as plausible as the insistence that the British opened fire first.
There is no point in saying that the IRA or the UDA or any other terrorist organisation killed far more people and that atrocities such as happened at Omagh, Dublin, Droppin’ Well, La Mon, Enniskillen etc etc were as bad or worse and why was there not an inquiry into them.
Firstly every right thinking person accepts that those atrocities were vile and that anyone involved in causing those outrages should be brought to justice and jailed for a very, very long time. There is no need for inquiries into those events because everyone accepts that terrorists engage in terrorism.
Failure to bring those involved in mass terrorist killings to justice is a failure of the investigating agencies such as the RUC or Gardai. It wasn’t that no-one wanted the perpetrators jailed, they just failed to get the evidence to do it.
Bloody Sunday was completely different. Those who opened fire were legitimately in possession of weapons. They also had to follow rules. They were helping to impose law and order. And they were subject to the law.
The Army know who fired the fatal shots. If people were killed unlawfully then those who committed the crime should be amenable to the law. It is not a terribly complex equation or great moral dilemma.
I was thirteen at the time of Bloody Sunday, so I can remember it just about. It is hard to know what to think about today’s report. On the one hand, it is a kind of justice, however inadequate, for the relatives; on the other, it has taken nearly forty years. And the British government has spent £200 million to tell us what we all knew anyway: that British paratroopers murdered fourteen civilians in cold blood and that a subsequent “inquiry” (Widgery) was a whitewash. Still, it is one thing knowing the truth (as we already did) and it is another to have it publicly acknowledged. Will there be prosecutions? Doubtful.
Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, apparently attempted to sell access to her former husband Prince Andrew, second son of Queen Elizabeth II. The attempt was caught on tape in a sting operation by British publication News of the World. Ferguson allegedly asked for a $40,000 up-front fee, followed by a $724,000 deposit into her bank account, according to Fox News. Unsurprisingly, the British public’s not too happy. The footage has even sparked some reaction in the U.S. There are a few willing to defend the scandal-prone duchess in the media, but the condemnations have generally been swift and fierce.
Unknown to the Prince, Fergie PROMISED to introduce us to him, CLAIMED he’d help fix lucrative deals and DEMANDED a cut of all profits.
Along the way she also INSISTED on one per cent commission on any deals we might strike due to her royal connections, and DEMANDED we wire the main £½million backhander into her private HSBC bank account.And though the world of princes and duchesses is a bit foreign to Americans, the implications are pretty clear. Imagine if Whitney Houston did this to Bobby Brown, but Bobby Brown’s mom was Nancy Reagan.
A comment on the News of the World site puts it like this: “Royals: lazy people, get a work!!!”
There are destroyed public images, and then there are destroyed public images — and now there is Great Britain’s Sarah “Fergie” Ferguson. Her name will now forever be associated with getting caught on tape in a tabloid sting operation where she was allegedly trying to sell access to her ex-husband Prince Andrew for $700,000, apparently seeking to make big bucks from her remaining links to Buckingham Palace, and putting some $40,000 into her bag before leaving the scene of her forever-destroyed reputation’s graphic demise. And apparently being tipsy when it all occurred.
Adding to the humiliation: she says herself in the video that the Prince himself is squeaky clean, suggesting more than ever that she viewed her association with Buckingham Palace as a kind of fallback lifetime lottery — except in this discreet lottery no one except her and the clients to whom she was peddling Buckingham Palace access knew she was about to win big. Now, as this story rapidly exploded in England and throughout the world via TV, print and the Internet, she has issued a statement saying she is “devastated” and “regretful” by the video.
It makes me sad. The Duchess, I know, was always over the top, a loud lively lass with a twinkle in her eye and an appalling taste in everything from men to clothes. But she was, undoubtedly, fun. She brought Diana down to earth, clowning about for the paparazzi at Klosters. She giggled at Buckingham Palace and showed too much leg at Clarendon House. Around her, Andrew beamed, Charles looked priggish, and the Queen looked like she was, for once, having a good time.
And when she fell, she fell so spectacularly, you kind of warmed to her. She was caught sucking a man’s toes. They were not Prince Andrew’s, and all hell broke loose. Fergie was banished from Royal circles, and even though she and her ex-husband stayed in touch, she was a pariah. This allowed her to date a long list of increasingly unappetising (but always wealthy) characters, which of course kept the tabloids buzzing around “the Duchess”. Her exploits grew more and more like a hysterical hen party that never led to marriage. Or, in her, case re-marriage.
But nothing could keep her down. She made good money as an ambassadress for Weight Watchers, she wrote a children’s book, and she took America by storm, gracing every TV sofa from Oprah’s to Jay Leno, and every party from Manhattan to Miami.
On this side of the Atlantic, they were less welcoming: they bitched about her going out on the town with her teenage daughters, and about her making a documentary about common people. Still, everyone had to admit, this Duchess bounced back. She seemed to have regained Prince Andrew’s love, and even the hard-hearted had to smile at the sight of the two ex-spouses chortling together over their daughters.
Fergie, it seemed, was flawed, but human, and you couldn’t help wish her well. But now, the cat has used up all her lives. The accusation of selling access to her (unwitting and innocent) ex is ugly, greedy stuff, which won’t play well at the Palace, or in ordinary homes. Sarah Ferguson, the jolly Royal, is no more. The desperate Duchess has taken her place, and she’s not a pretty sight.
Looking at the video of the newspaper sting that got her, it’s like looking at a museum piece, or a very clever installation by an artist – “The 1980s Sloane,” you might call it. Everything’s still in place, as if we are still in Sloane Square in c.1982 – the lunchtime bottle of wine (a £95 bottle of burgundy), the fags (Marlboro Lights, I do hope, though it’s hard to tell from the video), the swearing like a trooper. Even her food at Mosimann’s in Belgravia (a stone’s throw from Sloane Square) is pretty 80s – the pea soup (£12.50) followed by the lamb and vegetables (£30).
And, of course, the traditional Sloane stupidity has survived intact. Surely, every celeb in the land should now be familiar with the operational tactics of Mazher Mahmood, the News of the World’s resident fake sheikh and chief investigations editor.
I once interviewed her for the Telegraph in New York, where she was launching her own eponymous sandwich – the Duchess of York (grilled chicken breast on rye, lettuce, tomato, melted cheese and a horseradish-flavoured light mayo), manufactured by a company called French’s, who were paying her to promote the mayo.
I must say that Fergie was tremendously friendly – “Oh, call me Sarah” – and good jolly Sloane company. “That’s humungous,” she said – excellent Sloane word – as she was handed a two-inch thick Duchess of York to sample. She was also very unguarded – a quality that’s a great relief to a reporter in search of good quotes, but a disaster for a member of the Royal Family, particularly when combined with hunger for cash.
The woman is skint. And, like any desperate person, she will do almost anything to get her hands on some cash. Fergie has made it abundantly clear that if this means “using” Andrew she will not think twice.
It isn’t attractive – it’s not so different from selling your mother. But the question has to be asked: how has the Queen allowed the situation to deteriorate to this level? The duchess was always a loose cannon and needed looking after.
The amount of money apparently granted to Fergie on her divorce was abysmal; £15,000 a year is hardly a fortune for any divorcee with children to bring up. But when those children are granddaughters of the sovereign, such a piffling amount is asking for trouble. And now the Windsors have got it.
Fergie, by fair means or foul, needs money. She’s beyond caring what the royal family think of her. In the case of Prince Philip she’s always known. Years ago the duke described her as “having no point”. Her relationship with the Queen is more civilised: there will always be contact.
8.06pm: David Cameron is in the car on his way to the Palace now. But he seems to have to got stuck in traffic. He’ll have to take it up with Boris.
8.11pm: David Cameron just arrived at Buckingham Palace with his wife Samantha. They’ve gone in to the building.
8.17pm: When Tony Blair became prime minister, he gave a speech announcing his victory as dawn broke over London. Cameron seems to have had equal luck with the elements. Apparently there is a rainbow over Buckingham Palace.
8.29pm: David Cameron is prime minister, Sky tells us. In the old days these things used to appear in the London Gazette. Nowdays it’s a newsflash on Sky.
Simon Lewis, Brown’s press spokesman, is leaving Downing Street, Sky reports. He will be replaced by a career civil servant from the Treasury.
8.47pm: Cameron says he believes Britain’s best days lie ahead and that he believes in public service. He will take difficult decisions, so that together “we can reach better times ahead”.
He wants to restore trust in politics, and ensure that politicians are always the servants of the people, not their masters. But real change will only take place when people accept responsibility. He wants to try to build a more responsible society.
8.45pm: He says he and Nick Clegg are forming a joint government. They are both leaders who want to put aside party interest and work in the national interest.
8.44pm: Cameron is arriving in Downing Street, with his wife Samantha.
He says the Queen has asked him to form a government and he has accepted.
1.00am: That’s it. Britain has got its first coalition government for more than 60 years. And Nick Clegg will be sitting in cabinet alongside Liam Fox and William Hague. Will it work? Who knows. But it is a bold project, and it will be certainly be interesting. We’ll get our first good look at it tomorrow (rather, later today) when the Cameron cabinet is expected to meet for the first time. And we’ve also got a new (interim) Labour leader. And the Labour leadership contest will soon begin in earnest.
I was surprised and impressed that Brown did not have to be stretchered out of Number 10 under heavy sedation–that he was willing to sacrifice what was left of his career, his reputation beyond redemption, to keep Labour in power. I had thought him less principled than that.
An interesting question is whether a Lib-Lab pact might have been put together if only Brown had declared his intention to resign immediately last Friday. Once the Tories did so well in the popular vote, and the Lib Dems so poorly (relative to expectations) it was always going to be difficult for Clegg to get behind Brown as PM. The electorate would have been disgusted. But this “coalition of losers” issue would have been very much attenuated if Brown had put himself out of the picture at once. And, as I say, a Lib-Lab policy program is easy to draw up. Perhaps, privately, he told Clegg he would go. But if he was negotiating over the weekend to keep himself in office, that would have subtracted a lot from the deal, and made Clegg more receptive to Tory overtures.
Then again, a Lib-Lab alliance would still have been short of votes. And another awkward issue would have come swiftly to the fore: the gross over-representation at Westminster of an implacably Labour-supporting Scotland. In case you’d forgotten, Scotland has its own parliament, as well as having a big say in who rules down south. One of the wonderful ironies of British politics is that the Tories, who have the biggest interest in paring Scotland’s power in Westminster, are the ones most dedicated to the union. Expect this issue to assume large importance in the coming era of unstable coalition government.
Meanwhile, might have beens don’t count. A Lib-Con “coalition” it is–details to come. Just what the country needs as it contemplates a public-debt crisis and embarks on a draconian program of fiscal restraint.
Whatever sort of Prime Minister David Cameron makes, we already know one thing for sure: he must already be the world’s worst poker player. Never in British political history has a negotiator playing for such stakes so comprehensively thrown away his hand before the game even began. Purely because Cameron was desperate to get himself into Number 10, and thus shield himself, with the Downing Street patronage machine, from the entirely justified anger of his party for failing to win a majority against Gordon Brown last Thursday, he has given into more Lib Dem demands than even Labour were willing to stomach. From whipping Tory MPs through in support of a referendum on AV, the number and nature of cabinet places he’s going to give to the Liberals, to surrendering the bedrock of the Westminster system – by giving way on fixed parliaments – Cameron gains office but not power.
As is evident from even a cursory examination of the three parties’ positions, the Lib Dems and Labour are closer to one another in virtually every regard than either is to the Tory Party. Yet now we are to have a coalition government between us and the Liberals. And it’s a coalition the Lib Dems are delighted to be in, and why shouldn’t they be? From European policy to electoral reform Cameron has, even before the government begins, given away so much that the least Tory party on the constitution and the most pro-EU party is content to make him Prime Minister.
Given that Labour, in refusing to meet Lib Dem demands, explicitly cited excessive Liberal spending plans, it’s enormously depressing from a Tory point of view to consider what’s going to give way. Either, no serious effort is going to be made to address the deficit, or, in order to finance Lib Dem policy goals, Tory ambitions, most noticeably as regards defence, will have to bear the brunt of even beginning to try and make the sums add up. Now is not the time I fear to have shares in Aircraft Carriers.
Emerging from the cinema a few years back, having watched Kevin Costner’s Dances with Wolves, my friend remarked that he thought it the greatest film ever made. I looked sceptical. “Well,” he said. “Something has to be.”
So in the same spirit, let me write something I have always fancied writing without appearing ridiculous. And now I can. This is a defining moment in British political history. Something has to be.
Like Robert Peel’s decision to repeal the Corn Laws, and split the Conservative Party for a generation, or Stanley Baldwin’s gentle manoeuvring to install the first Labour Government in 1924 and thus dish the Liberals, David Cameron’s generous offer to the Liberal Democrats has changed British politics for ever. Whether it succeeds or not.
If the Conservatives had won a small majority, it isn’t hard to imagine them being swept out in five years’ time by an alliance — either explicit or implied — of Labour and Liberal Democrats. Something like that happened in 1997 and produced the Blair landslide. Now a combination of the new maths of the Commons and Cameron’s boldness has disrupted this.
And in doing so, changed politics for years. The Liberal Democrats have been picked up and put down in a different place, partly by Nick Clegg of course, but largely by a Cameron offer of partnership that they weren’t expecting. The anti-Conservative majority is, in an extraordinary political coup, no longer an anti-Conservative majority. Things are much more complicated now.
The second part of the opportunity relates to Cameron’s own party. Five years of work — admittedly not as consistent as it should have been — to rebrand the party did not change perceptions as much as the Cameron team hoped. But now this. Cameron has the potential to lift himself and the party above normal partisan politics. He can become a national leader, his party seen as broader, more generous, more capable of listening and of compromise.
The very fact of working with a coalition partner might force Conservatives to sound more moderate and less strident. And Cameron will be Prime Minister, leader of the Conservatives, of course, but more than that. And the Tories will be able to share the political price of the difficult decisions ahead with another political force. Cuts won’t be “Tory cuts”, the Chancellor might be working with Vince Cable, rather than being attacked by Vince Cable.
So Cameron’s extraordinary response to the election has brought him much as well as the keys to No 10. But he has made a huge gamble. Could this move split his party, not now but in the years to come? Might the Liberal Democrats prove not merely prickly partners, but impossible ones? Could the unfamiliar disputes and debates of coalition partners be perceived as weakness and chaos?
Unknown, unknowable. But this can be said with certainty. Politics has changed for ever.
“I can’t believe how much they’ve offered us. The Tories have basically rubbed out their manifesto and inserted ours. We’ll have to cope for four or five years with our flesh creeping, but still,” – a left-leaning Lib-Dem member of parliament to Michael Crick.
We’ll find out soon enough. I should say I am not opposed to the referendum on AV or instant run-off voting. My concern is that Britain continues to have a one-member-one-constituency system, to ensure direct representation and avoid too much power going to party elites. Under AV, the Liberals would do much better – but Britain would also have a chance to retain strong, clear, one-party governments.
In some ways, too, this outcome allows Cameron to ditch the Tory right. I suspect there will be grumbling among the ranks, and that William Hague, the chief negotiator for Cameron, will once again be delegated to bring them on board.
The big news from Britain, according to Fox News, is that Queen Elizabeth herself has agreed to become prime minister:
Queen Elizabeth accepted the invitation of Conservative Party leader David Cameron to become Britain’s new prime minister Tuesday night after Gordon Brown resigned following his failure to form a coalition government with another liberal party.That was awful nice of Cameron to extend the invitation.
Here’s the full transcript, revealing the fakeness of Brown and his contempt for the voters:
Duffy: We had it drummed in when I was a child with mine … it was education, health service and looking after the people who are vulnerable. But there’s too many people now who are vulnerable but they can claim and people who are vulnerable can’t get claim, can’t get it.
Brown: But they shouldn’t be doing that, there is no life on the dole for people any more. If you are unemployed you’ve got to go back to work. It’s six months.
Duffy: You can’t say anything about the immigrants because you’re saying that you’re … but all these eastern European what are coming in, where are they flocking from?
Later, as he was leaving
Brown: Very good to meet you, and you’re wearing the right colour today. Ha, ha, ha: How many grandchildren do you have?
Duffy: Two. They’ve just got back from Australia where they got stuck for 10 days. They couldn’t get back with this ash crisis.
Brown: We’ve been trying to get people back quickly. Are they going to university. Is that the plan?
Duffy: I hope so. They’re only 12 and 10.
Brown: Are they’re doing well at school? [pats Duffy on the back] A good family, good to see you. It’s very nice to see you.
In the car
Brown: That was a disaster. Well I just … should never have put me in that woman. Whose idea was that?
Aide: I don’t know, I didn’t see.
Brown: It was Sue [Nye] I think. It was just ridiculous.
Aide: I’m not sure if they [the media] will go with that.
Brown: They will go with that.
Aide: What did she say?
Brown: Oh everything, she was just a sort of bigoted woman. She said she used be Labour. I mean it’s just ridiculous.
Brown’s problem is that this episode shows him acting not out of character, but entirely in it. It will be rightly taken as evidence of the less attractive dimensions of his personality. Note that it happens because he stresses over the trivial and becomes infuriated by anything or anybody that disturbs his idea of himself as a man in iron control. Mrs Duffy was far from the most tricky customer ever to confront a politician. In fact, he dealt with the initial encounter reasonably well. She even said she was going to vote Labour. Calling it “a disaster” was an over-reaction to a fairly humdrum moment on the campaign trail.
We see also a glimpse of Brown’s tendency to instantly assign fault for a setback to someone else. “You should never have put me with that woman,” he complains to his aides. “Whose idea was that?” This too fits a pattern common to many of the temper episodes that I revealed in The End of the Party. When he was accused of plagiarising Al Gore and Bill Clinton, he turned on his advisers. “How could you do this to me?” he raged. When Revenue & Customs lost the notorious data disks, the prime minister instantly saw himself as the victim. He grabbed his startled deputy chief of staff by the lapels and snarled: “They’re out to get me!”
One of the most unattractive aspects of Brown’s premiership has been a blame culture at the heart of government. One target was Alistair Darling, who was on the receiving end of the “forces from hell” when he was more candid about the economy than his next-door neighbour could stand.
We have just witnessed the biggest moment of the 2010 election campaign. It wasn’t that Brown let off steam: it was that he instinctively described as “bigoted” a woman who represents what should be Labour’s core vote. Sure, she mentioned immigration – but just said “where are they coming from”? Her main concern was the national debt, and what her grandchildren will have to pay. Neither Cameron or Clegg would have thought these points bigoted – and neither would Tony Blair. The thought would not have crossed his mind. Nor that of Kinnock, Foot or Callaghan. Labour’s campaign is led by a man who dislikes campaigning, having to get down and dirty with ordinary voters. He doesn’t like standing for election. “Whose idea was that?” He asked when inside the car. Whose idea was what? Democracy? Meeting angry voters is what elections are about. If Brown doesn’t like it, he’s in the wrong business.
The episode brings to light President Barack Obama’s infamous “bitter” remarks regarding small-town voters before the Pennsylvania democratic presidential primary in 2008. But Obama was merely guilty of poor word choice, not outright hostility — and the substantive point he made was largely accurate. Brown, on the other hand, has been caught disparaging a voter immediately after hearing her policy concerns.
British journalists are claiming this will cripple Brown, as voters with similar concerns will now wonder whether the prime minister thinks they’re bigots as well. But to be fair, if Duffy’s comment wasn’t bigoted, it was certainly quite close to crossing that line.
Brown has now personally apologized to Duffy (it is said it went quite well), and reporters are camped on her front stoop, waiting for her response. More to come.
UPDATE: It’s pointed out on Andrew Sparrow’s live blog for the Guardian that Brown’s exact quote was “sort of a bigoted woman,” which is somewhat less harsh.
Gordon Brown has sent the following email to Labour supporters:
As you may know, I have apologised to Mrs Duffy for remarks I made in the back of the car after meeting her on the campaign trail in Rochdale today. I would also like to apologise to you.
I know how hard you all work to fight for me and the Labour Party, and to ensure we get our case over to the public. So when the mistake I made today has so dominated the news, doubtless with some impact on your own campaigning activities, I want you to know I doubly appreciate the efforts you make.
Many of you know me personally. You know I have strengths as well as weaknesses. We all do. You also know that sometimes we say and do things we regret. I profoundly regret what I said this morning.
I am under no illusions as to how much scorn some in the media will want to heap upon me in the days ahead.
But you, like I, know what is at stake in the days ahead and so we must redouble our campaigning efforts to stop Britain returning to a Tory Party that would do so much damage to our economy, our society and our schools and NHS, not least in places like Rochdale.
The worst thing about today is the hurt I caused to Mrs Duffy, the kind of person I came into politics to serve. It is those people I will have in my mind as I look ahead to the rest of the campaign.
You will have seen me in one context on the TV today. I hope tomorrow you see once more someone not just proud to be your leader, but also someone who understands the economic challenges we face, how to meet them, and how that improves the lives of ordinary families all around Britain.
Two other things: Brown comes out of this looking petty, spiteful and small, blaming his advisors for not “vetting” an ordinary voter and, worse coming across as a candidate too weak or too afraid to engage voters on the issues that most concern them.
In this instance this seems to have been immigration and, specifically, immigration from within the EU. Apparently Mrs Duffy doesn’t like all those eastern europeans coming over here to work. Doubtless many voters – hell, many blog commenters – share her views. (Never mind that many of these workers have since gone home.) But rather than debate her or defend the government’s policy Brown offers platitudes in public before castigating Duffy in private. This is not the way Big Men behave. Nor do they presume, on little evidence, that those who disagree with them are “bigots”.
From what we know of her opinions – and the tabloids will ensure we hear what Mrs Duffy thinks about everything – I’d say that “bigot” is much too strong a term. Nevertheless, Brown ducked the argument and this in turn reinforces his image as a “bottler”.
This despite the fact that, as readers know, I think opening the British labour market to the new EU-member countries was one of the best, even noble, things this government has done. If you believe that Britons should be able to work across the EU it’s logical to believe that Poles and Lats should be able to as well. And if you believe in the free movement of goods and capital then there’s a certain logic to believing in the free movement of labour too. And you can also believe that the accession of the eastern european states has been one of the greatest advances in liberty (at least in some sense of the term) since 1989.
You don’t have to agree with this argument and it’s not disreputable not to but Gordon could still have made this argument, he could have made a case for himself and his party’s record. But he chose not to. This too is feeble. And, alas, all too typical.
So, really, whatever way you look at it this is a terrible moment for Gordon, made worse by his determination to prolong the agony by returning to Rochdale to apologise to Mrs Duffy in person. As though this will make any difference or persuade anyone of anything.
Poor Gordon. I mean, at some point you almost have to feel sorry for a guy so badly suited to politics. Nick Clegg must practically be cackling. You can watch the whole debacle on the right. The insults come at around the 4:30 mark.
I should add that as entertaining as this sort of thing is, I do feel sorry for politicians and other famous people, who always, always, always have to assume that they’re “on.” Can you imagine having to live as if there were constantly a microphone around, recording your words? I actually defended Jesse Jackson on this point when a hot mike caught him saying some discreditable things about Barack Obama. What he said was awful, and I wasn’t sorry to see him suffer for it. But it’s still queasy-making, I think, the way we all hover around, waiting for somebody famous to say something stupid, and then blow it up. Which, come to think of it, is what I’m doing with this blog entry.
9.42pm (WH) Onto health, but still the pace is bothering me. The American Presidential debates are an opportunity for US politicians to look, well, presidential. But do any of ours look electable? It’s scatter-gun with notes.
9.39pm (RC) A dose of relative calm when talk turns to the military: mood more sober and serious. Brown comes off well, as can talk with gravitas about the tough decisions he’s had to make as PM.
9.37pmNeil Midgley tweets: “Another ITV fail – blocking line of sight from leaders to audience with cameras.” Meanwhile, Iain Dale says: “Brown’s lipstick is running. Or becoming more and more orange.”
9.34pm Damian Thompson writes:
We’ve got to remove this dark cloud on this economy by acting now, says Cameron. He makes it sound like a minor operation: an appendectomy rather than a quadruple bypass. Brown goes on to imply that if you act now the patient will die. Clegg: tax the banks, “but let’s not get obsessed about mythical savings on waste” or pretend that it’s all down to timing. Probably sounds grown-up to younger people in the audience; to anyone with experience of election tactics, it’s textbook Liberal Democrat opportunism. The idea that control-freak Lib Dems would be prepared to tackle even the silliest quangos is absurd. This is a party that can’t see a dog turd on the pavement without wanting to set up a committee to discuss “options” for cleaning it up.
9.33pm Janet Daley asks:
Why is DC allowing GB to say that Tories would be “taking £6 billion out of the economy”? Raising taxes takes money out of the economy, cutting them puts money back into the real economy.
9.31pm (WH) Alastair Campbell tweets: “The longer it goes on the more shallow Cameron looks and the more substantial Gordon looks. Clegg doing well as I knew he would.” A reluctant admission?
9.29pm (RC) “The only way we’ve kept our economy moving is because the Government stepped in to ensure there were sufficient levels of growth,” says Gordon. Um… didn’t it contract quite significantly?
9.28pm Ed West notes: Cameron used the phrase “jobs tax” about half a dozen times in 120 seconds.
9.27pm James Delingpole asks:
Clegg now TOTALLY overdoing the engagement with the questioner thing. “Where are you Robert?” he asks. Robert, sitting at the back, looks deeply embarrassed. It’s like when Jeffrey Archer overdoes the repeating-your-name-to-show-you-he-remembers-it-and-cares trick. You’d really rather he didn’t. It’s so not English.
9.26pm (RC) Cameron talks about ‘removing’ the deficit, glossing over the fact that this will involve a profound restructuring of our economy and public sector. Brown repeats standard line about big choices and securing the recovery – referring to the Tories’ NI policy as “taking money out of the economy”, which is a bizarre interpretation by any standards. Clegg doing well – mastered his brief, and can refer to Lib Dems’ shiny policies without the others having time to knock them down.
9.24pmKrishnan Guru-Murthy tweets: “Suspect Cameron will regret having the centre position – it isn’t helping him. Clegg acting as though he was in middle anyway.”
9.22pm Bryony Gordon sends us her thoughts:
Please stop banging on about all the real people you have met. Clegg, stop waving your hands about – you look like you want to throttle Stewart. Oh, and was the set stolen from a kilroy silk show from the early 90s?
9.21pm Damian Thompson notes:
This might seem like a trivial point, but it isn’t. Dave’s makeup has been severely botched. I’ve seen less slap on the faces of a Gilbert and Sullivan troupe in Reading. Not only that, but someone has attempted to darken his eyebrows; someone in a hurry, by the looks of it. The Leader of the Opposition is (I think) putting in a confident performance, but he is orange. And some idiot on his staff has said: that looks fine.
9.19pm Harry Mount writes:
The debate is only really coming alive in the press room here in Manchester when one of them gets angry. A groan goes up the moment they try to squeeze in a much-rehearsed soundbite (”You can’t airbrush your policies, David, the way you airbrush your posters”) or furiously use the questioner’s first name (”Yes, Jacqueline,” says Nick; “Yes, Helen,” says Dave).
9.17pm (RC) Further to last post, think problem is lack of applause. People in press room are referring to particular answers getting nods from the crowd – especially Cameron and Clegg talking about personal experiences with education – but there’s no audible cue that tells you how well things went down.
9.15pm (RC) After a long debate about how to clean up politics – which Nick Clegg managed to focus on a pledge of his own party’s – the abiding impression is that the format is leading each leader to cancel the others out somewhat. The result – which seems to be confirmed by commentary so far – is that people aren’t having their minds changed, but their existing instincts confirmed. Interventions by moderator also make the leaders seem like naughty schoolboys, which doesn’t help them appear statesmanlike.
4.08 pm Just an anthropological point: Cameron just tried to sum up what they all agree on. It was a classic Alpha Male move. I give him a Beta-plus. Brown so far is combative and smiling his grisly smile constantly. Clegg comes across as a bit of a whiner – which is always the trap for the third party. But he’s very effective and telegenic. No question that Clegg and Cameron seem of a different and younger generation. But you can see why nervous voters might find the older bloke a little more reassuring in a pinch.
But if Cameron is trying to prove he is of prime ministerial caliber, he’s succeeding. The policy differences are, so far, numbingly small.
4.06 pm Brown’s raising the question of hereditary peers in the House of Lords is classic class-baiting Cameron.
4.02 pm. Cameron wants to streamline government – and cut the number of MPs – to reduce the fiddling of parliamentary expense accounts? Shurely shome mishtake. Meanwhile, Brown keeps sucking up to the Lib Dems. A hint of the possibility of a Lib-Lab pact? Cameron fights back with a quite effective parry on the tardiness of Labour’s interest in constitutional reform. If they wanted to get rid of hereditary peers, they could have done so in the last 13 years.
4.00 pm. Brown says he was “shocked and sickened” by the expenses scandal among members of parliament. He wants recalls of dodgy MPs. He wants an elected House of Lords.
3.58 pm. Brown is getting very aggressive. He keeps interrupting Cameron. Now there’s a jibe about air-brushing. It doesn’t seem that fitting for a prime minister. It seems a little insidery. But without imbibing the current atmosphere in Britain lately, it’s hard for me to judge how this strategy will go down with the viewers.
3.55 pm. Brown tries to get a rehearsed joke about Tory posters. But he’s the first to start bickering and talking about the meta-issues. Another Brown rehearsed line: “This is not Question Time, David. This is Answer Time.” Good line. Badly delivered. But Cameron ducks the question on funding of the police.
3.54 pm. Brown offers legal injunctions against the police if a case lags. He’s implying that Tory budget cuts could reduce the number of cops on the street. Clegg just keeps repeating that nothing seems to change as the two parties alternate in power.
3.50 pm On crime, more police on the streets seems a common refrain. Cameron wants to get drug addicts off the streets and into rehab. Rehab as an anti-crime measure is unimaginable in an American context. And from the right?
3.48 pm. Cameron touts welfare reform as a cure for immigration excesses. Now he’s talking about tougher sentences for burglars and murderers. Not exactly hugging hoodies, is it?
3.44 pm They’re all vying to get immigration “under control”. Brown rather awkwardly says it already is under control. But he suffers the plight of incumbency. If they’ve been in office for the past 13 years, it’s a little late to get tough. Clegg keeps banging on about regional caps for immigrants – not a national one.
3.39 pm Cameron’s hair is much more presidential. And his first immigration answer – a clear vow to reduce immigration levels – seems clearer than Brown’s obviously scripted description of his meeting with chefs. Yes, chefs.
The format: FAST! If anything, I think U.S. networks could learn from ITV’s presentation of the debate, which kept statements short, questions direct and substantive, and a moderator who was willing to cut off the candidates when they started to ramble or repeat themselves.
That being said, all three candidates seemed to be rushing to get as much information as possible, and I suspect that many voters probably had a hard time following the discussion at times. At times, they seemed to be struggling to present their entire platform when a few bullet points would have sufficed.
Gordon Brown: Not surprisingly, the dour prime minister seemed the most ill-at-ease with the debate concept, often getting bogged down in unnecessary detail and becoming tetchy in response to criticism. It’s hard to say after watching the debate what Brown’s pitch is, other than it’s way too dangerous to elect David Cameron. In particular, challenging the premise of a question by a soldier complaining about inadequate equipment for troops in Afghanistan seemed like a mistake. Brown was strongest on the economic questions where he seemed to effectively paint Cameron’s proposals as vague.
David Cameron: Not surprisingly, the younger more dynamic Cameron seemed much more comfortable with the format and his “hope over fear” closing statement was strong (though the constant invocations of “hope” and “change” bordered on hopejacking). Cameron dominated the early questions on immigration and law-and-order issues, though he seemed to get seriously outwonked by both Brown and Clegg on pocketbook issues. He didn’t do a whole lot to dispel his image as a smooth-talking policy lightweight.
Nick Clegg: Meh. The third-party candidate scored a few hits, but had a hard time distinguishing his political positions from Brown’s or his anti-establishment bona fides from Cameron. The anti-nuclear rhetoric he broke out on the defense question seemed both unrealistic and a bit of a non sequitur. It is telling how many times both Cameron and Brown began their answers with “I agree with Nick,” though.
Overall winner: Cameron, though given how much the format favored the conservative, it wasn’t exactly a knockout punch.
No great surprises then. Gordon Brown was the most negative of the three, using much of his allotted time to attack David Cameron. He was also boorish, interrupting Cameron and even talking over the chairman. He made a gratuitously nasty reference to Cameron having “airbrushed” his own poster, and a quite irrelevant jibe about Lord Ashcroft. He claimed repeatedly that problems such as immigration and crime were already under control, but then said that his party was planning to deal with them. He was, as usual, repetitive and obsessive in his insistence on “spending” as his trump card.
David Cameron did very well without adding anything especially startling or novel to the debate. What came across was clarity, authenticity and an appropriately authoritative manner for a potential prime minister. I thought he missed a precious opportunity to slap down Brown’s absurd assertion that the Tories would be “taking six billion pounds out of the economy” by not implementing most of the Labour National Insurance rise when, in fact, it is raising tax that takes money out of the real economy. But Cameron did make the most of the disastrous effect that the NIC rise would have on the NHS and education budgets.
Nick Clegg was assiduously courted by the Prime Minister: I lost count of how many times Brown said, “I agree with Nick”. Clegg began with platitudes but livened up later as he got into his predictable condemnations of the “two old parties”. (Could somebody please tell him that the Liberals are a much older party than Labour?) It will take a pretty sophisticated viewer to appreciate that the LibDems have an absurdly unfair advantage in being able to offer an utterly unrealistic programme. Clegg could attack both the real alternatives without worrying about the credibility of his own policies. So it is scarcely surprising that he “won” most of the instant polls. My guess is that this will make scarcely any difference to the outcome of the election except to confirm that Brown is a dead man walking.
Was this the night when the Conservative Party saw the chance of an overall majority slip away, ensuring that Britain is heading for a hung parliament? My impressions of the first ever leaders’ debate seems to be the same as that of the great British public. Nick Clegg won.
Snap polls after the debate showed the Lib Dem leader as the clear victor. More significantly, the first poll of post-debate voting intentions that I’ve seen – just broadcast on Sky News – showed a big jump in those saying that they intend to vote for the Lib Dems. They went up from 19% in the polls to 26%, just behind Labour. Of course, there are still three weeks and two debates to go. But, if that trend holds, we’re definitely going to end up with a hung parliament – with the Lib Dems holding the balance of power.
So what went right for Clegg? As I wrote on my blog a few days ago, I’ve long been slightly puzzled about why the charm and quickness that I’ve seen from Clegg in private has never really translated into his public image as leader. Tonight that changed. I think the format favoured Clegg. Or rather Question Time in parliament which, up until now, has been the only opportunity he has had to go head-to-head with the other leaders, does the Lib Dem leader no favours. He is just no good at the shouted put-downs that are the essence of Question Time and is also shoved off to one side of the chamber, away from the two main leaders, which marginalises him. Tonight he debated Cameron and Brown on equal terms – and in a format that favoured warmth and under-stated humour, rather than raw aggression and one-liners. It worked much better for him.
Clegg’s main tactic was obvious but effective. He portrayed the two other leaders as representatives of an exhausted system, and went some way to capturing the crucial banner as the “change” candidate. He was also effective in giving the impression that he alone was being honest about the fiscal dilemmas that Britain is going to face. His attack on David Cameron for suggesting that fiscal problems can be solved by cutting “waste” was skilful. Of course, there were also contradictions in Clegg’s presentation. On the one hand, he argued that “cutting waste” is largely an irrelevance – and then he reeled off a list of wasteful projects that needed to be cut. But apparently it didn’t matter.
None of them dropped any clangers – nor did anyone have killer one-liners. I’m struggling to recall a single line from the debate. Cameron scored when he thanked the soldier and the nurse for their service: he relied on anecdotes, whereas Brown emptied his statistics on the poor viewer. I can’t deny that Clegg’s answers were stronger than I expected, and those who had never heard of him may well have been impressed. From the offset, it was said that Clegg had most to gain from these debates. So it was to prove.
Clegg gorged on the plague-on-both-your-houses lines, pitching desperately for the anti-politics vote. “All I would appeal for is a bit of honesty in this debate” and “The more they argue, the more they sound like each other.” Etc.
Only a few exchanges jumped out at me. The first was the military. Brown starts, as he always does when talking about the military, with a garbled sentence “Let me say, first of all, my pride and my admiration for the Armed Forces.” Brown can never speak in grammatically correct sentences when talking about the military (sending “best wishes” to the deceased, etc) because he does not understand the military. “Every Urgent Operational Requirement that our Armed Forces have asked us for has been met,” drones Brown. Then says how terrorist plots start “in that region” (that’s his way of saying “Pakistan”). Cameron’s response, when it came, was far more subdued. He should have said it was a scandal that soldiers died in Belfast-era Range Rovers etc – there are enough examples to go through. Instead, he mentioned a policy area. Cameron was evidently told not to go after Brown in this way, not to be too Flashman (to use Alan Johnson’s analogy). A shame, in my view. I could have seen far more raw anger from Cameron, because he does feel it.
Cameron was at his most convincing when speaking directly to the nurse. “Can I thank you for your incredible service to the NHS. What it did for my family and my son, I will never forget. The dedication, the love. Thank you for all that you have done.” This left statistics-spouting Brown in the shade. And on the economy, he beat Brown by dismissing his (ridiculous) claim that £6bn of cuts posed some mortal danger to the economy. All he’s doing is proposing is to cut 1 percent of government spending: what family has not had to cut their budget by at least as much? The answer, he said, is to cut the waste and cut the tax.
I was once given a George W. Bush doll which, if you pressed a button on his lapel, would recite one of his soundbites. At times, this is what this debate felt like. At every given topic, the leaders recited their given answers. People have heard Brown’s repertoire, they’ve heard Cameron’s. But not Clegg’s. He enjoyed the novelty factor. I hope he enjoys it: tonight may very well be the high point of his political career.
On immigration and crime all three men tried to out-populist one another. Who knew that foreign students were such a threat to this green and pleasant land? Who knew that foreign chefs could possibly be such a danger? When Nick Clegg recounted an anecdote about how a poor chap had been burgled while at his father’s funeral one half-expected him to add that, “And by the way, the father was murdered by a cleaver-wielding Vietnamese chef…”
True, David Cameron was right to stress the importance of rehabilitation and, later, of welfare reform. But these were small nuggets of decency and common-sense in a swamp of hysteria and lie-telling populism that was enough to make one think that my three-year old niece’s analysis was depressingly accurate.
Things did, mercifully, get a little better thereafter and there was more give and take and general spikiness than seemed likely given the absurdly stringent nature of the “rules”. It was both more interesting and even more exasperating than one expected.
Nick Clegg clearly won and not just on the basis of the Expectations Game either. He was personable, effective and pretty good at putting across his entirely reasonable “Plague on Both Your Houses” stance.
On the plus side for David Cameron his opening statement was the sharpest, clearest and best, noting and appreciating the public’s mood. His closing statement was fine too but for long periods of the contest Cameron seemed oddly passive and, at times, strangely shut out of the contest. My impression was that he was the most nervous of the participants but, of course, I may be mistaken.
More culpably, time and time again Cameron declined to call Brown out. Perhaps he didn’t want to seem angry or aggressive but it was absurd for him to fail to challenge Brown’s repeated assertions that raising taxes by £6bn fewer pounds somehow constitutes “taking money out of the economy”. If it’s not paid in tax then does this money simply evaporate? Cameron never made this argument. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher would have. Instead Dave became bogged down in tedious details about waste and 1% of government revenue. A real missed opportunity.
And that’s rather how I feel the whole night was for Cameron. He could have slain Brown tonight but he did not. The result of that failure was to let Brown escape.
Shall we stop being cynical for a moment and congratulate Brown, Cameron and Clegg for being the first political leaders in Britain to take part in a televised election debate? Indeed, we should particularly congratulate Gordon Brown for agreeing to this. He had by far the most to lose.
There is absolutely no doubt that Nick Clegg won this. He faltered from time to time, but was the only one confident enough to take thoughtful (if sometimes stagey) pauses.
I thought Gordon Brown also did surprisingly well. He kept his cool and showed that he is an accomplished debater. His jokes were over-prepared and characteristically dreadful, but he warmed up through the 90 minutes and challenged Cameron very effectively on several occasions, especially over police spending.
Cameron was disappointing, but people forget that he was not entirely convincing against David Davis in the Tory leadership debates.
Gordon Brown should be worried precisely because he did relatively well in the debate. For some reason this doesn’t appear to have made any impact on the way people thought about him.
We live in a time of crisis. In such times humans retreat to safety, and build bulwarks against the future. The financial emergency is having this effect on Britain’s governing class. Labour has withdrawn to the safety of the sheltering state, and the comforts of its first income tax rise since the mid-1970s. Meanwhile, the Conservatives appear to be proposing a repeat of Thatcherite austerity in the face of economic catastrophe. But this crisis is more than an ordinary recession. It represents a disintegration of the idea of the “market state” and makes obsolete the political consensus of the last 30 years. A fresh analysis of the ruling ideological orthodoxy is required. Certainly, this new thinking isn’t going to come from the left. New Labour is intellectually dead, while Gordon Brown promises an indebted return to a now-defunct status quo. But, in truth, Brown’s reconversion from post-socialist free marketeer to state interventionist is only plausible because the Conservatives have failed to develop an alternative political economy that explains the crisis, and charts a different future free of the now bankrupt orthodoxies. Until this is achieved, Brown’s claim that the Conservatives are the “do nothing” party has real traction, and makes the result of the next election far from assured.
On a deeper level, the present moment is a challenge to conservatism itself. The Conservatives are still viewed as the party of the free market, an idea that has collapsed into monopoly finance, big business and deregulated global capitalism. Tory social thinking has genuinely evolved, but the party’s economic thinking is still poised between repetition and renewal. As late as August 2008 David Cameron said: “I’m going to be as radical a social reformer as Margaret Thatcher was an economic reformer,” and that “radical social reform is what this country needs right now.” He is right about society, but against the backdrop of collapsing markets and without a macro-economic alternative, Thatcherite economics has been wrongfooted by events.
Thankfully, conservatism is a rich and varied tradition, and re-examinating its history can provide the answers Cameron needs. These ideas are grounded in a conservatism with deeper roots than 1979, and whose branches extend into the tradition of communitarian civic conservatism—or red Toryism. This is more radical than anything emerging from today’s left and should be the way forward for the right. The opportunity to restore a radical, and progressive, Toryism must not be lost to the economic downturn.
To date, neither political party has offered a plausible analysis of the origins of the meltdown. Brown denies all responsibility while George Osborne and Cameron hold him wholly and uniquely culpable. Given that no reasonable person can think either position is tenable, both parties have surrendered the intellectual high ground. But the financial crash does provide an opportunity to think through a renewed “one nation” conservatism. Cameron says that Disraeli is his favourite Tory. Disraeli attempted to ameliorate a society destroyed by the rampant industrialisation of 19th-century capitalism, whereas Cameron’s chief target (until now, at least) has been a 20th-century creation: a disempowering, dysfunctional state. Nineteenth-century Tories criticised liberal capitalism, while 20th-century conservatives condemned the illiberal consequences of statism. But 21st-century Tories, especially against the backdrop of the current crisis, must inveigh against both in favour of the very thing that suffers most at the hands of the unrestrained market and the unlimited state: society itself. And conservatism, so imagined, could reject the politics of class—of “our people”—and the interests of the already wealthy in favour of a national politics that serves the needs of all.
It was Edmund Burke who famously spoke of conservative radicalism being founded on the little platoons of family and civic association. “To love the little platoon we belong to in society is the first principle of public affections. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed towards a love to our country and to mankind.” This is the true spirit of Cameroonian conservatism and, taken seriously, it represents a break with the monopoly logic of the market state. But to recognise this innovation for what it is we have to contrast the potential of Cameron’s civic communitarian conservatism with what it aims to transcend: the corrupt and rotten postwar settlement of British politics.
“Red Tory” Philip Blond is giving a talk this evening at Georgetown University, hosted by the invaluable Tocqueville Forum. Well worth attending if you’re in the D.C. area. And tomorrow Tocqueville is hosting two panel discussions on Blond’s ideas, the first featuring Rod Dreher, Ross Douthat, and yours truly, the second with John Millbank, Andrew Abela, and Charles Mathewes. Details are here.
Contemporary party arrangements have tended to understand one or the other outcome of this settlement as the root of contemporary problems. For conservatives in the Thatcher/Reagan mold, the State threatens the liberty and independence of the individual (particularly the economic freedom of autonomous individual actors in free markets, itself premised upon the atomized and individualistic liberal anthropology of Hobbes, Locke and Adam Smith). Liberals have seen the market as the threat, and have argued on behalf of the need for a centralized State to trim its excesses. What Blond perceives – echoing the discerning analysis of Distributist thinkers such as Chesterton or Hillaire Belloc in his penetrating work The Servile State or Robert Nisbet in his classic work The Quest for Community, or even the more recent work of the agrarian writer Wendell Berry – is that the centralized modern State and the concentrations of wealth and power deriving from modern “free” markets are mutually reinforcing entities.
What both of these entities mutually seek to eviscerate are the “mediating” institutions of society, those allegiances to more “partial” associations that stand in the path of the simultaneous realization of the atomized individual and the centralized State. Partial associations – whether in the form of more local forms of governance, civic associations, strong bonds of community, religious devotions, and family – are simultaneous obstructions to both radical individualism and encompassing State power. They are the traditional bulwarks against both aspects of the liberal settlement, and as such, have been mutually the object of attack by both the State and the Market. “Conservatives” and “Liberals” alike have (with different emphases) contributed mutually to the destruction of the “Associational State.”
The recent economic crisis – fueled simultaneously by the depredations of radical free agents in the market (buying and selling abstractions of financial instruments that at some point had some actual relationship to homes, that most basic building block of human associational life) and the State system that ended up supporting this economic and social arrangement – lifted the veil on this deeper symbiosis. The crisis exposed the fact that what had been sold to the American and British public for some 50 years – that one had to choose between the State and the Market – was in fact a grand illusion, and that the Left hand was as intent in making the citizenry the subjects of the Servile State as surely as the Right hand was. While inchoate in its anger and inadequately schooled in the causes of the modern crisis, the tea party movement – in its anger toward both parties – reflects this growing understanding that the purported political alternatives of our time represent no real choice at all.
Blond arrives in the U.S. to lecture at Georgetown University on Thursday evening, March 18, and to participate in panel discussions with various journalists and academics on the afternoon of Friday, March 19 (among the participants are the “radical orthodox” theologian John Milbank). From D.C., Blond will travel to Philadelphia, where he will lecture on Monday, March 22 at Villanova University. For more information on all of these events, see this announcement.
Greetings from Georgetown, where we heard tonight the English public intellectual Philip Blond introduce Red Toryism to an American audience. Blond is an engaging speaker and and real optimist about the possibility of positive political change (at dinner tonight after the speech, it was encouraging for a pessimist like me to hear him speak so vigorously about how world-changing ideas can start small). He’s just received a huge launch in this country, courtesy of David Brooks’ Friday column.
But there is another way to respond to these problems that is more communitarian and less libertarian. This alternative has been explored most fully by the British writer Phillip Blond.
He grew up in working-class Liverpool. “I lived in the city when it was being eviscerated,” he told The New Statesman. “It was a beautiful city, one of the few in Britain to have a genuinely indigenous culture. And that whole way of life was destroyed.” Industry died. Political power was centralized in London.
Blond argues that over the past generation we have witnessed two revolutions, both of which liberated the individual and decimated local associations. First, there was a revolution from the left: a cultural revolution that displaced traditional manners and mores; a legal revolution that emphasized individual rights instead of responsibilities; a welfare revolution in which social workers displaced mutual aid societies and self-organized associations.
Then there was the market revolution from the right. In the age of deregulation, giant chains like Wal-Mart decimated local shop owners. Global financial markets took over small banks, so that the local knowledge of a town banker was replaced by a manic herd of traders thousands of miles away. Unions withered.
The two revolutions talked the language of individual freedom, but they perversely ended up creating greater centralization. They created an atomized, segmented society and then the state had to come in and attempt to repair the damage.
The free-market revolution didn’t create the pluralistic decentralized economy. It created a centralized financial monoculture, which requires a gigantic government to audit its activities. The effort to liberate individuals from repressive social constraints didn’t produce a flowering of freedom; it weakened families, increased out-of-wedlock births and turned neighbors into strangers. In Britain, you get a country with rising crime, and, as a result, four million security cameras.
In a much-discussed essay in Prospect magazine in February 2009, Blond wrote, “Look at the society we have become: We are a bi-polar nation, a bureaucratic, centralised state that presides dysfunctionally over an increasingly fragmented, disempowered and isolated citizenry.” In a separate essay, he added, “The welfare state and the market state are now two defunct and mutually supporting failures.”
Blond’s premise is unanswerable – the twin revolutions of left (prescriptive rights) and right (free market liberalism) have, perversely, centralised power. Everything is highly contestable.
First, Blond has an advanced case of David Miliband Syndrome: he expresses himself exclusively with meaningless abstractions:
‘In order to reclaim a civilised society, market and state should not be regarded as the ultimate goal or expression of humanity…We can create a civic economy based on trust, sustainability and reciprocity.’
Markets are Blond’s schtick. From what I can gather he’s agin ‘em. He fixates on what he perceives as the ‘unprecedented reduction of market diversity and plurality’. The Luddites would object to the idea this is ‘unprecedented’, and the prosperity of all that followed them undermines the assertion that a ‘reduction of diversity’ entrenches poverty. But Blond is unperturbed. He argues that local shops should be protected from larger competitors through co-ops, mutualism and state intervention when necessary.
It’s deeply conflicted thinking. Consumers are at their most powerful in a genuinely competitive and well policed market. Blond’s ideas don’t address competition; they simply replace corporatism with mutualism. Rooted in an Enid Blyton historical fantasy of cottage industries, Blond would manipulate and skew markets. He’s attracted reams of criticism. Iain Martin’s and Alex Massie’s critiques are essential reading. Perhaps Blond’s sojourn in the States reflects his growing isolation in conservative circles.
I think Blond is bemoaning a certain homogenisation of urban life and, sure, there’s something to that. But the fact remains that, for instance, it can never have been cheaper (in terms of a percentage of average wages) to feed your family and you’ve never had as great a choice of provisions with which to do so. I bet Blond disapproves of supermarkets (fair enough) but poor people like supermarkets. And they’re not stupid to like Tesco or Aldi or whatever.
Similarly, the horrors of the modern economy have brought us to a situation in which the average person spends much less time at work each year than did their grand-parents or great-grandparents. I think it’s about 800 fewer hours per annum in Britain. This too does not seem a negligable gain.
For that matter, one financial crisis, no matter how serious, does not prove the “failure” of markets. Apart from anything else, they’ve not been tried* for decades in areas as trivial as secondary education (except for the rich) and health (ditto).
Sometimes, if I understand him correctly (not as simple a task as it ought to be), it seems as if Blond wants to take us back to the 1930s – at home and at work. I think he’d like everyone to live in small towns or, preferably, villages too. Now there was much that was good about the 1930s but time, and society, moves on and it’s futile to suppose that the clock can be wound back. Equally, for all that progress or, if your prefer, time, causes some valuable things to be lost, it also brings valuable improvements. In the end, Blond comes across, perhaps unwittingly, as a nostalgist. And, I’d hazard, it’s but one hop from nostalgia to full-blown reactionary status.
Because, of course, even when the state was smaller, that hardly meant an absence of coercion (especially, one might note, for women). Social mores can be just as stifling as the state even if they also have overwhelming local support and play a significant, even important, role in fostering social cohesion. Look at the Western Isles for instance, or pockets of Bradford today. Which is also why it’s important that there be a means of escape and that the individual, no matter how much Blond dislikes such folk, be, to use a think tank word, “empowered”.
That doesn’t mean that more mutalisation, an emphasis on local and voluntary associations and trying to expand and widen opportunity are bad things. They’re not. But whether Red Toryism is more than a few good (and less than earth-shattering) ideas buried benath a mass of bewildering and sometimes contradictory assumptions is something that, for now, remains a matter of some confusion. Certainly, it’s apparent belief that you can have everything and it’s apparent belief that trade-offs are extinct suggests that more work needs to be done. Time will, I guess, tell.
*Yes, yes, yes. Just like “true” Communism, “proper” or “authentic” libertarianism can never fail because it will never be tried…
I’m way too much of a Big Government nerd to go all the way with Red Toryism, or any kind of Toryism at all—I’m in the middle of two books, one about Teddy Roosevelt’s brilliant national-forests land grab, one about the Great Society, and between them, I’m geeking out so hard on the benevolent state that I might end up with pin-ups of Gifford Pinchot and Lyndon Johnson in my locker. And, anyway, until my theoretical Middle Earth Liberation Front arises, there’s no electoral outlet for the radical decentralism that Blond articulates.
On the other hand, I like a nice cup of tea or a pint of real ale, and can’t help but feel some sympathy for a tradition which, in a broader manifestation, produced “If Pooh Were President.” I think it would be awesome if the American right would drop the crazy act and go after Wal-Mart or something Red Tory-ish. Get down with your bad selves, boys. (Q: Have there been any Tory females since Thatcher? Reply confidentially.)
Despite my nasty libertarian streak, I found a lot to like in Blond’s talk, particularly in his enthusiasm for decentralization and local competition. My only quibble is that while Blond’s diagnoses are often compelling, his proposed solutions are sometimes less so. When talking about the importance of political subsidiarity, for example, Blond spoke of “giving democracy back to the streets,” which sounds more like a Students for a Democratic Society slogan than a concrete political program. “Driving capital to the periphery” and decentralizing our financial system sound great in theory, but I’m still left to wonder how economic subsidiarity works in practice. One important caveat: I’m new to Blond and was late to the lecture, so my first impressions may not do justice to the Red Tories’ program.
Blond’s philosophy also seems better suited to cultural renewal than, say, political or economic reform. His most compelling examples of Red Toryism in action – A Birmingham neighborhood taking back the streets from pimps and drug dealers; the persistence of Northern Italy’s artisan economy – struck me as the result of cultural factors that aren’t easily replicated or recreated through state action. When we do transmogrify a cultural agenda into a political one, the results are sometimes messier than anticipated, which may have been what Ross Douthat was getting at when he asked Blond about the parallels between his philosophy and Bush’s compassionate conservatism at the end of the presentation.
One last observation: Blond spoke movingly of the plight of poor and working class citizens stuck in low-wage service jobs with no prospects for social mobility. His economic vision stresses the importance of creating stakeholders – skilled artisans, small businesspeople, and so on – who feel more invested in their communities. This reminded me of the American experience after World War II, when millions of returning GIs received free college educations and federally-backed homeownership loans helped create the American middle class. But while these programs were largeky successful, they’re not exactly models of decentralized governance. Is Blond willing to compromise or moderate his small government sympathies to create new economic stakeholders? I ask because state efforts to create or impart social capital – from public schools to the Federal Housing Administration to Bush’s compassionate conservatism – are rarely characterized by decentralization or subsidiarity.
Exit question: Is liberal society, as Blond suggests, fundamentally dependent on older traditions, cultural practices, and civic institutions? Does radical individualism undermine these institutions? I know Blond isn’t the first to make this argument, but his prognosis was both unusually grim and surprisingly persuasive. I’d be curious to hear what the League’s commenters and contributors have to say on the subject.
Washington refused to endorse British claims to sovereignty over the Falkland Islands yesterday as the diplomatic row over oil drilling in the South Atlantic intensified in London, Buenos Aires and at the UN.
Despite Britain’s close alliance with the US, the Obama Administration is determined not to be drawn into the issue. It has also declined to back Britain’s claim that oil exploration near the islands is sanctioned by international law, saying that the dispute is strictly a bilateral issue.
Argentina appealed to the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki Moon, last night to intervene in the dispute, a move Britain adamantly opposes.
“The Secretary-General knows about the issue. He is not happy to learn that the situation is worsening,” Jorge Taiana, the Argentine Foreign Minister, said after meeting Mr Ban in New York.
“We have asked the Secretary-General, within the framework of his good offices, to stress to Britain the need to abstain from further unilateral acts.”
A top UN aide acknowledged, however, that Mr Ban would not be able to mediate because of Britain’s opposition.
Sir Mark Lyall Grant, Britain’s Ambassador to the UN, said: “As British ministers have made clear, the UK has no doubt about its sovereignty over the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the Sandwich Islands . . . We are also clear that the Falkland Islands Government is entitled to develop a hydrocarbons industry within its waters, and we support this legitimate business in Falklands’ territory.”
Well, I’ll say this for Obama: He’s consistent. Whether it’s the Poles, the Czechs, or the Brits, the message is clear. On his watch (too kind a word) longstanding American allies can be expected to be taken for granted, insulted and, if convenient, dumped. Now, every country (including, of course, the U.S.) must do what it needs do in the pursuit of its national interests, and those alone. In foreign policy nothing else should count. But a clear view of what those interests are is indispensable, and that must include a full understanding of what the consequence of particular actions might be. If Obama is again showing that, with him at the helm, the U.S. is not a reliable ally to its friends, then he must learn to expect less from those friends.
Even by the relentlessly poor standards of the Obama administration, whose doctrine unfailingly appears to be “kiss your enemies and kick your allies”, this is a new low. The White House’s neutrality in a major dispute between America’s closest friend and the likes of Venezuelan tyrant Hugo Chavez, Argentina’s biggest backer, represents the appalling appeasement of an alliance of anti-Western Latin American regimes, stretching from Caracas to Havana – combined with a callous indifference towards the Anglo-American alliance.
Over the course of the last year, we’ve seen a staggering array of foreign policy follies by this administration, from the throwing under the bus of the Poles and the Czechs over missile defence to siding with Marxists in Honduras. But this latest pronouncement surely takes the biscuit as the most brazen betrayal so far of a US ally.
As the Obama government is amply aware, the tensions between London and Buenos Aires are escalating dramatically, with British military contingency planning already under way. In effect, Washington declared today that it would remain neutral in the event of another war in the South Atlantic, a stunning declaration to make.
Thousands of British soldiers are laying their lives on the line alongside their American allies on the battlefields of Afghanistan. Yet the president of the United States is either unwilling or too timid to offer a single word of support for the British people, who face a mounting confrontation with a corrupt, populist Argentine government that is threatening a blockade of British territory.
To put it bluntly, the Obama administration is killing the Special Relationship, and the prospects of a recovery look extremely bleak as long as Barack Obama remains in the White House.
For this alliance to survive, both countries must recognise their obligations and, from time to time, that involves one of us setting aside more localised concerns for the sake of the cause. Tony Blair would have preferred it if President Bush had been prepared to wait for a second UN resolution before launching the invasion of Iraq, but he decided that Britain should follow America into battle nevertheless. He recognised that the preservation of the Atlantic alliance had to be prioritised above all else, both for our sake and the sake of the world.
In return, we naturally expect America to side with us when it comes to our own territorial disputes — and this element of quid pro quo was recognised by Ronald Reagan when he backed Margaret Thatcher in the Falklands War. It wasn’t in America’s regional interests to side with us, but Reagan knew the terms of the deal: It was your country, right or wrong. You don’t abandon your closest ally in her hour of need.
So it is truly shocking that Barack Obama has decided to disregard our shared history and insist that we have to fight this battle on our own. Does Britain’s friendship really mean so little to him? Do the sacrifices Britain has made in defence of the Atlantic alliance count for nought? Who does he think will replace us as America’s steadfast ally when she finds herself embroiled in a territorial dispute of her own — possibly with the very same motley crew of Latin American rabble rousers? Spain? Italy? France? Good luck with that, Mr President.
You’d think that having made his bones in Chicago, Obama would know the Chicago Code of Honour: When someone picks a fight with a friend of yours, they pick a fight with you.
It is at times like this that I remember the words of Harry Hopkins, Roosevelt’s unofficial emissary to Britain during the Second World War. In our darkest hour, when we stood virtually alone against Hitler, Hopkins was dispatched to Britain to assess our situation. Did we have the will to remain in the fight? Was this a country that America should risk its national interest to defend?
Before Hopkins returned to deliver his verdict to Roosevelt, Lord Beaverbrook gave a small dinner party for him and it was there that he rose to give a toast. “I suppose you wish to know what I am going to say to President Roosevelt on my return,” he said. “Well I am going to quote to you one verse from the Book of Books: ‘Whither thou goest, I will go and where thou lodgest I will lodge, thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.’”
Do not let Obama get away with this latest outrage. Call the White House. Call your Senators. Call your Representative. Tell them the American people, if not their current president, back our most dependable and important ally. So should the federal government.
The Times overstates the extent of US support during the Falklands War. That is, while said support was eventually forthcoming and, indeed, extremely useful it was far from immediate. Indeed, initially the State Department sympathised with the Argentine position while Jean Kirkpatrick, then Ambassador to the United Nations, openly sided with the Galtieri regime. Better to support a nasty little junta as a bulwark against lefty influence in Latin America you see? And to hell with the interests of your friends. Interests trump alliances, or so the argument went.
And something of that spirit still exists in Washington. There’s no desire to take a public stand on this issue that would irritate other Latin American countries who have no need to be reminded of what they deem US interference in Latin America. Equally, there is a certain view in Washington that the Falklands are a mildly absurd remnant of a long-gone British imperial era and, since the death of that age was a US objective post-WW2 it’s not a great surprise that Foggy Bottom remains unimpressed by the last embers of that once glorious fire.
If push does eventually come to shove then the Americans will, I suspect hope, back Britain. But they’d rather not have to take a decision of any sort. If that means annoying the UK then so be it. And of course, the UK can be annoyed because Washington calculates, not unreasonably, that in the end, Britain won’t do much to frustrate US objectives elsewhere whereas the Latin Americans will in areas of policy in which Britain has next to no interest or stake.
Is the ownership of the Falkland Islands the business of the United States? I have no idea how it could be. This is a matter to be resolved by the British and Argentinian governments. Complaints about U.S. neutrality are misguided. It is probable that the only side that could benefit from U.S. involvement is the side rejecting British sovereignty and exploitation rights.
As a comparison, consider the dispute over Kashmir. A long-time U.S. ally, Pakistan, has pressed Washington for yeas to try to internationalize the Kashmir dispute. As the de facto government controlling Kashmir, India wants to keep the issue between the two neighbors. One of Obama’s early missteps was to suggest publicly that he was open to U.S. mediation of what the Simla accord had determined should be treated as a purely bilateral issue. Since then New Delhi has prevailed on the administration to abandon that idea, and the result is the confirmation of the status quo. As a general rule, leaving bilateral territorial disputes to the two parties involved is the correct thing to do. This is what the administration has done in the case of the Falklands, and unless we want our government to become even more interventionist in its foreign policy and even more meddlesome in other conflicts around the world we should applaud Washington’s refusal to weigh in on either side of the dispute.
This is a high-profile example of a national disease. Because we fear for our safety and cherish our privacy, politicians argue that we will lose both if we do not sacrifice our right to free speech, our “right to know”. We should, in other words, simply trust them.
This is the path that British politicians have been treading all too frequently. Nobody would have known that three Labour MPs committed expense fraud, or that scores of others spent money on the ethical equivalent of a duck pond, if we were only allowed to see the redacted version of the MPs expenses. The claim in that case was “privacy”.
The seven paragraphs should rate little more than a footnote in the full story, yet that is a tale that remains untold. The court tells us that a “vast body” of government reports about Mohamed’s abuse remain secret. I was in Washington last week reviewing a similarly “vast body” of evidence indicating British complicity in the abuse of another Guantánamo prisoner, Shaker Aamer. Not a word of that has been revealed, again on grounds of national security.
Since I am not as temperate as a judge, I would not characterise the arguments made by Miliband as “irrational”: after beginning with the term “foolish,” I fear I would descend to epithets unfit to publish here . Suppressing any evidence of government criminality on grounds of national security sets a very dangerous precedent. As the saying goes, those who would sacrifice their freedoms to ensure their safety deserve neither – and can expect to lose both.
Why don’t our judges just come clean and sign up with the Taliban? Every time they are asked to choose between the defence of the realm, or upholding the rights of some Islamic militant who claims his human rights have been violated, the judges invariably find in favour of the latter. Whether it is holding suspected terrorists so that thorough investigations of their activities can be carried out, or pandering to civil rights campaigners such as the odious Clive Stafford-Smith, the judical establishment never misses an opportunity to undermine the government’s efforts to protect us from harm.
Perhaps it’s because me lerned friends are too grand to travel by public transport, but the only reason I can think of to explain their egregious behaviour is that they somehow feel immune from the threat posed by Islamist terror groups. Even when the security services have raised the current terror threat level to “severe”, the judges are more interested in bending over backwards to accommodate deeply unsympathetic characters like Binyam Mohamed than paying proper attention to the nation’s security needs.
Poor Binyam claims he was tortured after he was caught “back-packing” in Afghanistan. Of course no one in the judiciary pays the slightest bit of notice when Binyam insists that he had travelled to Afghanistan simply to help out with some charity work, rather than, as our intelligence and security services suspect, to assist the Taliban and al-Qaeda with their plots to blow up the West. They are only interested that, once he had been safely removed from the battlefield, his human rights might somehow have been violated.
The document that has now been released by the Foreign Office relates that Binyam was subjected to sleep deprivation, rather than the more lurid claims his lawyers have made about him having his testicles slashed with razors. Poor diddums. When I travel to Afghanistan with the Army we live on three hours sleep a night, but no one complains about sleep deprivation. We just get on with it.
But there is a serious point to today’s disgraceful ruling by the High Court. Our national security depends heavily on our intelligence-sharing cooperation with the U.S., and it is thanks to the intel provided by the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies that we have managed to avoid a repeat of the July 7 bombings. But if the Americans, alarmed at the willingness of our judges to humiliate them in public, decide to scale down the level of cooperation, our national security will undoubtedly be placed in jeopardy.
Certainly, if another al-Qaeda bomb goes off in London, the judges will be as much to blame as Osama bin Laden.
Should the law change because our security agencies shift the scareometer from “black” to “black special”? I don’t think so. During the time of the IRA, which objectively posed a much greater threat to us (and often tragically delivered on that threat) we did not allow our way of life to be changed. When we did – from removing bins on Oxford Street to Diplock courts – the changes were far smaller and more robustly debated than presently, as we change things in the face of a smaller threat, perhaps because we lived in a society more intellectually committed to the values of liberty and freedom than today. When we did make those less significant changes in the face of the Republican terrorist threat, it was wrong. Consider that in comparison with the enormous changes wrongly wrought post-9/11, largely unchallenged by our legal system, and then look at the crass odium poured on the heads of our judges here by someone who presumably wants no fetters at all on what the security services can do. This isn’t a debate about a man’s right to benefits or protection from deportation or freedom from phone tapping, for pity’s sakes – it’s about not being complicit in torture.
That is what we’re concerned with here. The judgment concluded that Binyam Mohamed had been subjected to “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by the United States authorities” – that is to say, a British citizen was tortured, by our allies. Is that something we should not know?
Mohamed’s treatment was first discussed in a High Court judgment last year, which was redacted after an appeal by David Miliband. That judgment concluded: “We regret to have to conclude that the reports provided to the SyS [Security Service] made clear to anyone reading them that BM [Binyam Mohamed] was being subjected to the treatment that we have described and the effect upon him of that intentional treatment. The treatment reported, if had been administered on behalf of the United Kingdom, would clearly have been in breach of the undertakings given by the United Kingdom in 1972 [in the UN convention on torture].”
More broadly, we now can’t know how dangerous or guilty or terrible a person he really is. Torturing him – and Con, sleep deprivation is a little different from surviving on three hours sleep a night while on patrol with the army in Afghanistan – leaves the matter cloudy, not clear.
Fundamentally, these techniques are wrong not simply because they abuse the prisoner but because they degrade us. If you don’t think that’s the case – and it seems plenty of people don’t – then you should probably argue that they be used in a whole range of situations. If this sort of thing is fine for Binyam Mohamed then why isn’t it fine for the police to use these techniques on, say, someone arrested on suspicion of murder or kidnapping or child abuse or whatever?
But we don’t permit that because, generally speaking, most of us can appreciate that it’s wrong to treat people in such a fashion. It doesn’t mean that we – or the judges – are on the side of suspected murderers, kidnappers or paedophiles.
So Coughlin’s suggestion that “the judges just come clean and sign up with the Taliban” is among the more odious things I’ve read this year. If the courts constitute a fifth column, then what about the law? And once you’ve called, implicitly, for the judges to be arrested, then who’s next?
If I understand correctly Alex Deane’s high-minded rant about the rights of innocent people receiving a fair trial (which, just to put the record straight, I fully support), he is prepared to accept at face value former Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed’s claim that he was brutally tortured during his interrogation with the full complicity of British security officials. David Davies, the former shadow Home Secretary, made a similar argument on the Today programme this morning, preferring to believe the word of Mr Mohamed rather than our own intelligence establishment.
I am well aware that MI6 and MI5 are highly practised in the dark arts of looking after their own interests, but I would sincerely urge mssrs Deane and Davies to take a close look at Mr Mohamed’s activities prior to his arrest in Pakistan in 2002, when he was apprehended trying to board a flight on a false passport, before they adopt him as their cause celebre.
Do we really believe Mr Mohamed’s claim that he travelled to Afghanistan in 2001 – the world’s leading exporter of heroin – to kick his drug habit? And why did he boast to his FBI interrogators that he had attended a number of al-Qaeda training camps while in Afghanistan? Is Osama bin Laden now running drug rehabilitation programmes?
Nothing Mr Mohamed has said since the British government did him the enormous service of securing his release from Guantanamo adds up, which is why I am deeply concerned that Conservative voices are being raised in defence of his human rights. If this is the type of cause that modern Conservatives wish to defend, you really have to question whether the party is fit to govern this country.
Con Coughlin misunderstands two crucial points. Mohamed’s activities in Afghanistan, which bear no examination (and the guy should be prosecuted if a legitimately acquired case can be brought against him), are immaterial. The question is whether Anglo-American security services colluded in Mohamed’s torture. The second point that Coughlin still fails to grasp is that it was a US court which published the evidence that such collusion had taken place, evidence that the British court openly referred to in its judgement. The rest, as they say, is noise from two governments who have been caught performing and endorsing illegal and unacceptable practices.
Firstly, and without wanting to sound glib, I think it’s also important that guilty people receive a fair trial. But that process is hindered, not enhanced, when they are subjected to the sort of treatment Mohamed describes. Just as significantly, the American governmentdoes not disputeMohamed’s account of his treatment. Indeed, that’s rather why both governments wanted to keep the matter secret in the first place.
More generally, one need not find Mohamed’s explanation of why he was in Afghanistan persuasive or doubt that he might well be guilty of something to object to the manner in which he was treated. Again, the manner of his interrogation has made discovering the truth more, not less, difficult. if the rule of law – and the rights of man – are to mean anything then they have to be applied consistently. That means even unsavoury characters must be protected by them; otherwise what’s the point of the law in the first place?
Contra Con, I’d be appalled if the Conservatives weren’t appalled by this case and conclude that if this were the case then they would indeed be unfit for government.
Hundreds of British schoolgirls are facing the terrifying prospect of female genital mutilation (FGM) over the Christmas holidays as experts warn the practice continues to flourish across the country. Parents typically take their daughters back to their country of origin for FGM during school holidays, but The Independent on Sunday has been told that “cutters” are being flown to the UK to carry out the mutilation at “parties” involving up to 20 girls to save money.
The police face growing criticism for failing to prosecute a single person for carrying out FGM in 25 years; new legislation from 2003 which prohibits taking a girl overseas for FGM has also failed to secure a conviction.
Experts say the lack of convictions, combined with the Government’s failure to invest enough money in education and prevention strategies, mean the practice continues to thrive. Knowledge of the health risks and of the legislation remains patchy among practising communities, while beliefs about the supposed benefits for girls remain firm, according to research by the Foundation for Women’s Health, Research and Development (Forward).
As a result, specialist doctors and midwives are struggling to cope with increasing numbers of women suffering from long-term health problems, including complications during pregnancy and childbirth.
Campaigners are urging ministers to take co-ordinated steps to work with communities here and overseas to change deep-seated cultural attitudes and stamp out this extreme form of violence against women.
n estimated 70,000 women living in the UK have undergone FGM, and 20,000 girls remain at risk, according to Forward. The practice is common in 28 African countries, including Somalia, Sudan and Nigeria, as well as some Middle Eastern and Asian countries such as Malaysia and Yemen. It is generally considered to be an essential rite of passage to suppress sexual pleasure, preserve girls’ purity and cleanliness, and is necessary for marriage in many communities even now. It has no religious significance.
The most common age for the procedure is between eight and 11 but it can be carried out just after birth or just before marriage. It carries the risk of death from bleeding or tetanus, and long-term problems include urinary incontinence, recurrent infections and chronic pain. Reversal procedures are necessary in order to avoid major problems for a woman and baby during childbirth.
Really? She called herself a female genital mutilation coordinator? Not a female circumcision coordinator, say, or perhaps a female genital alteration coordinator? A casually self-described coordinator of mutilation? Really? You sure? Really?
Yes, weally, weally, weally!!!!!!!! No need to hit the italics key. If you clicked through to the story linked above, you wouldn’t sound like such a twit, because right at the end a British Home Official says:
We have appointed an FGM co-ordinator . . .
That’s the point. In the U.K., in Oz, in Europe, the “FGM co-ordinator” has become an accepted bureaucratic shorthand. It’s not a female circumcisionist but a desk-jockey who deals with the “issues” it raises, sets up counseling programs, publishes health information leaflets . . . but would never dream of doing anything so culturally insensitive as trying to stamp it out. Whatever the good they do, the “FGM co-ordinator” represents the institutionalization and in a sense acceptance of the practice in the heart of the civilized world. Sorry you have a hard time understanding that.
Unfortunately, this is still a fairly common practice in Africa and some Muslim countries. It creates a lifetime of pain and medical complications for women, and can kill the girls with infections. It’s purely subjugative, as FGM has no support in Islam or any other religion.
This calls into question the UK’s attempts to proscribe the practice thus far. They passed a law banning FGM almost seven years ago, and everyone acknowledges that the practice has continued. Yet no prosecutions have been made, and parents apparently feel comfortable enough to host FGM “parties” in the UK in order to get bulk discounts during the recession. That makes the UK’s rule of law seem rather impotent, especially considering the vulnerable nature of the victims and the deep and permanent damage FGM does to them. Would the UK look the other way for pedophilia parties?
Kudos to the Independent for bucking political correctness and exposing the problem. They deserve a round of thanks from everyone across the political spectrum. British citizens should take this opportunity to demand action on the law they demanded, and which appears to have been roundly ignored in the cause of faux diversity.
This is abuse of the worst sort. The purpose is to prevent healthy and normal female sexual response. Forcing girls to undergo “cutting’ is akin to slavery, and hence, as I have written here before, it is an issue of human exceptionalism of the most profound import.
Some excuse the practice–at least as far as the parents are concerned–as ignorant people just wanting what is best for their children. I say balderdash, and besides, it is irrelevant. If you live in the West, you accommodate yourselves to certain Western values that cannot be compromised. Therefore, all involved in the conspiracy to damage girls should face charges.
If UK law enforcement doesn’t act vigorously to stop this–and arrest and punish those involved for child abuse–it will have sacrificed its great heritage of liberty and equality on the altar of multiculturalism and political correctness.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has said he would have found a justification for invading Iraq even without the now-discredited evidence that Saddam Hussein was trying to produce weapons of mass destruction.
“I would still have thought it right to remove him. I mean, obviously you would have had to use and deploy different arguments about the nature of the threat,” Blair told the BBC in an interview to be broadcast this morning.
It was a startling admission from the onetime British leader, who was President Bush’s staunchest ally in the decision to invade Iraq in 2003.
Here in the United States the state-run democratic-media complex has successfully influenced enough Americans to believe that the US invaded Iraq only because of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction that he used against his own people. Of course, there were other factors that were cited by the US Congress as justification to invade Iraq:
The resolution cited many factors to justify the use of military force against Iraq:
* Iraq’s noncompliance with the conditions of the 1991 cease fire, including interference with weapons inspectors.
* Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction, and programs to develop such weapons, posed a “threat to the national security of the United States and international peace and security in the Persian Gulf region.”
* Iraq’s “brutal repression of its civilian population.”
* Iraq’s “capability and willingness to use weapons of mass destruction against other nations and its own people”.
* Iraq’s hostility towards the United States as demonstrated by the alleged 1993 assassination attempt of former President George H. W. Bush, and firing on coalition aircraft enforcing the no-fly zones following the 1991 Gulf War.
* Members of al-Qaeda, an organization bearing responsibility for attacks on the United States, its citizens, and interests, including the attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, are known to be in Iraq.
* Iraq’s “continu[ing] to aid and harbor other international terrorist organizations,” including anti-United States terrorist organizations.
* The efforts by the Congress and the President to fight terrorists, including the September 11th, 2001 terrorists and those who aided or harbored them.
* The authorization by the Constitution and the Congress for the President to fight anti-United States terrorism.
* Citing the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, the resolution reiterated that it should be the policy of the United States to remove the Saddam Hussein regime and promote a democratic replacement.
For some strange reason the democrats didn’t ever focus much on these other factors.
I suppose it’s past time to start a fund to create Tony Blair’s headstone, just to have this craven, blithe admission of pretext permanently affixed to his legacy. Yes, Prime Minister, “obviously” once the justification for a war that has killed tens if not hundreds of thousands of people turns out to be disproven, one must pivot to a new rationale for its existence. What one must never do is recognize that the war is in error and work to correct it.
Because for Blair it’s not an error, “obviously.” Whatever he told us is whatever he needed to tell us at that moment, as the war was a fixed idea. I wonder why people occasionally say that Blair was the only one who could have prevented the war from happening. He was an active architect of the invasion. His gaudy and theatrical public pronouncements of doubt are just part of the fucking ruse.
Part of me looks at this horror and can’t wait for this decade to end. But the truth is it will never end, no matter what the calendar says. Only Americans think that the clocks reset and the scales balance because of years that end in a zero. Or elections.
What I find really interesting from this story, though, is his further admission–that he supported the invasion because without removing Saddam, it would have been hard to change the region.
“This was obviously the thing that was uppermost in my mind. The threat to the region. Also the fact of how that region was going to change and how in the end it was going to evolve as a region and whilst he was there, I thought and actually still think, it would have been very difficult to have changed it in the right way.”
I really really really hope Fern Britton went on to ask him whether he thinks the catastrophic war against Iraq has, in the end, “changed [the region] in the right way.”