Opinion: The nasty party

Last week’s unveiling of a nine foot bronze statue of Nelson Mandela in Parliament Square was a nice way to round off the British summer (such as it was) – a happy occasion to unite black and white, left and right, in honour of the man who emerged with the utmost humility after 27 years imprisonment, to lead South Africa out of the shocking injustice that was the Apartheid era.

Fulsome tributes were paid by Lord Attenborough, Wendy Woods, and the Mayor of London. “The most inspiring and greatest leader of our generation,” said the Prime Minister, “and one of the most courageous and best-loved men of all time.” And everyone cheered and clapped their hands raw. Well, everyone except for Donal Blaney.

In a tired and predictable throwback to Conservative attitudes of the 1980s, Blaney decided that this was a fitting moment to remind us all of a darker side to Mandela. “One must not forget,” he intoned, “that he raised funds for the ANC’s armed wing, arranged paramilitary training, and led an armed struggle against Apartheid. He was no Gandhi.”

This sudden conversion to pacifism will undoubtedly come as a shock to many who are more familiar with Blaney as the last man in Britain who still thinks that the Iraq invasion was a good idea. In a reference to the practice of “necklacing”, a gruesome method of retribution which tragically spread through the townships during the late ’80s, Blaney proposed that, “instead of laying a garland at the feet of Mr Mandela’s statue or about his neck, maybe someone should be placing a rubber tire there instead.” A bit politically incorrect is young Donal – not to mention cynical, ungracious, and crass.

Of course it’s hard to see what Mandela could have done to put a stop to necklacing, seeing as he was being detained against his wishes at Pollsmoor Maximum Security Prison – though doubtless Blaney would have been praying earnestly for his release, devout Christian that he is.

But it’s not difficult to understand why Blaney’s hackles might have been raised. There were times during last week’s event when even I felt that it was starting to turn into a Labour love-in, as extravagant praise was heaped upon Gordon Brown and Mayor Livingstone, both for making the day possible and for being long and steadfast supporters of the anti-Apartheid movement. But the truth is that if Conservatives were feeling a bit left out and were having to cheer Mandela through gritted teeth, then really they only have themselves to blame.

Mandela’s personal long walk to freedom finally ended when he strolled out into the African sunshine on 11th February, 1990. The Prime Minister at the time was Blaney’s hero Margaret Thatcher, who three years earlier had declared: “The ANC is a typical terrorist organisation. Anyone who thinks it is going to run the government in South Africa is living in cloud-cuckoo land.”

But suppose that instead of playing to the right-wing gallery, Thatcher had been in the forefront of the campaign to free Mandela and end Apartheid. Who knows, we might then have been able to witness the extraordinary spectacle of an elderly Lady Thatcher warmly embracing an even more elderly Mandela in Parliament Square, to the enthusiastic applause of her old enemy Ken Livingstone. But alas it wasn’t to be; she was nowhere to be seen.

Last week on internet TV politics channel 18 Doughty Street, Iain Dale made the following quip about me (@ 44:25): “Bear in mind that Laurence is a Liberal Democrat – well he says he is, but everything he always says is Conservative.” It’s not an unfair remark. I do indeed lean to the right politically, and I don’t need to tell you how thoroughly fed up you are with the barrage of criticism I keep up against our own leadership and direction as a party.

But from time to time, it’s useful to be reminded of why I will almost certainly never be a Conservative. It is because if the unreconstructed Thatcherites ruled the world, the Apartheid regime would in all likelihood still be intact.

* Laurence Boyce is a Liberal Democrat member.

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  • An article truly worthy of the kindergarten debating club.

  • Thanks Donal.

  • Mandela deserves to stand alongside figures like Cromwell for transcending questions of politics and of right and wrong in order to see through a necessary change.

    Although the anti-apartheid movement was supported by the class-consciousness of the trades unions, which is why he is appropriated as an icon of the left, most admirably it is his irrepressible humanity that shines through, which remains his lasting appeal.

  • #20 No sweeping generalisations from you!
    Obviously every person has different shades to their character, but just like there are times and places to show them there are also times and places to recognise those different aspects – so show some decorum, please, otherwise one might ask you to expand your opinion of other modern icons (say Diana, PoW, for example)…

  • Letterwriter: “was considered a terrorist for his actions for many many many years by just about everyone in this country

    Really? Just about everyone? Got some polling data to back that up? Because while I’ve met a small number of people (mostly either Tory ideologues or white supremacists) who did think that, most of the people I’ve met didn’t.

    Methinks you’re guilty of more than a few logical fallacies in that assertion, statistics of small numbers being one of them.

  • Hywel Morgan 7th Sep '07 - 8:38pm

    Why have Laurence on 18DS Iain?*

    He has virtually no standing within the Liberal Democrats other than writing the occasional posting here. As far as I can tell I should be angling for an invite too 🙂

    *Although to be fair the answer “My channel so I invite who I like. If you don’t like it go set your own one up” is probably a fair enough response 🙂

  • Look at Donal’s blog today. He thinks foot and mouth disease is “fatal”. Clearly veterinary medicine is not his specialist area. If only he had stayed in the British Virgin Islands.

  • Having had a pop at Donal Blaney, on to the serious matter of Nelson Mandela.

    First, the comparison of Mandela with Gandhi. No, Mandela is certainly not Mohandas K Gandhi. He doesn’t defend reactionary Hindu values, such as caste and arranged marriages, and he doesn’t promote a cult of poverty (indeed, he has even condemned circumcision).

    Secondly, Mandela and violence. What is remarkable about the ANC and its resistance to the apartheid regime is the limited use of violence. The few military actions were directed against political targets (such as Verwoerd and the Sasol plant), not against white people per se.

    I like to compare South Africa with Algeria.

    When the FLN took control of the latter in 1963, the first thing they did was ethnically cleanse the entire French population. They then proceeded to run the country on semi-communist lines, and persecuted the Berber minority. Algeria continues to languish in poverty and is plagued with Islamist violence. Many Algerians must be wondering why they ever bothered to evict the French.

    When Mandela and the ANC took office, by contrast, they made every effort to maintain stability and promote reconciliation. Did they ethnically cleanse the white population? NO. Did they turn on Zulus who had supported Buthulezi? NO. Did they nationalise the economy? NO. Is South Africa an impoverished basket case like Algeria? NO.

    Given the facts, it isn’t hard to see why Nelson Mandela has such iconic status.

  • I meant to say “political and economic targets”.

  • Donal Blaney behaves recklessly for an enrolled solicitor.

    I guess he’ll get himself struck off one of these days.

    Still, very silly of Donal to get caught out over foot and mouth. Does rather damage his credibility.

  • Grammar police 12th Sep '07 - 11:24am

    “[Dizzy] I’m a legal positivist so I don’t really believe in moral imperatives”

    Surely being a legal positivist just means that you don’t think “moral imperatives” should have any legal force without specific legal enactment, or that there’s any necessary link between something’s status as law/not law and it’s moral value.

    I presume you’re actually implying you don’t believe in moral authoritarianism – ie “what I believe is right is right and everyone else should be made to act the way I think is right”

    “[Dizzy] Do I think Aparthied was wrong – Yes. Not as a moral judgement [sic] but because it contradicted something I hold to be a philosophical truth about the equality of free men.”

    I don’t really understand why you feel the need to differentiate between moral judgments and “philosophical truths” here – it’s your moral judgment that Apartheid was wrong, based on your belief about philosophical truths.

  • Grammar police 12th Sep '07 - 12:34pm

    Sorry, “moral imperatives” seems an odd phrase to me. An imperative requires action – surely a key factor in thinking that something is “morally right” is that it requires/prohibits action in most circumstances (even if you only believe your morality requires your own action. It would seem nonsense to say “I believe this is morally wrong, but that’s just a statement about how I feel and knowing it doesn’t motivate be in *any way* to act in accordance with it”).
    What you seem to object to is moral authoritarianism – using law to force certain value judgments on people. I’m not sure that necessarily arises out of you being a legal positivist, as being a positivist just means that you don’t think (a) a law has to be morally right to be a law and (b) that laws necessarily have moral force.

    Similarly, your distinction between empirical truths and moral ones. It’s true enough that something can be empirically true without implying any moral value – “this knife is sharp”. However, there are some empirical truths that certainly should lead to moral judgments – or would in most people. You have views as to the factually provable differences between races, and because of these believe that Apartheid is factually wrong. To say that you make no moral judgment after reaching this factual conclusion is odd to say the least.
    However, one doesn’t have to follow your thinking: It makes perfect sense for me to think that “the cause Mandela fought for [was] right, whilst equally saying that the manner in which he and other[s] went about it at times was legally wrong”. It was legally wrong under South African law – I just think it was morally wrong for the South African Government to operate Apartheid and take the actions that they did (you see, I too am a positivist!!)

  • Donal Blaney reminds me of that very old proverb:-

    Ez izan ez uste
    Sasipeko masuste

    “Not to be but to think one is the blackberry under the bramble bush”

  • Sorry, I made a mistake copying out my proverb.

    Here it is again:-

    Ez izan eta bai uste
    Sasipeko masuste

    “Not to be but to think one is the blackberry under the bramble bush”

    Nouveau riche family, minor public school, redbrick university, high street solicitor. Not exactly David Cameron, is he? No wonder he has such an inferiority complex.

  • Cheltenham Robin 12th Sep '07 - 10:13pm

    Doesn’t the old adage say that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter?

    ANC, IRA, Al-Qaeda, PLO

  • Odd that an “anti-racist” organisation should be in favour of banning a symbol sacred to the Hindu religion.

    Earlier this year, the EU justice ministers decided not to tell Member States to ban the swastika. If they had done, the Spanish government would doubtless have been the first to act. They would have had the excuse to ban the lauburu, the ancient symbol of the Basques. One can imagine the Guardia Civil gleefully sandpapering laubururik off gravestones.

    Banning symbols is just about as crazy as worshipping them.

    And yes, I am more than happy for the Church of England to fly St George’s cross from their church towers, even though certain “anti-racists” claim it is “racist” so to do.

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