Tag Archives: clare short

Opinion: The Wisdom of Clare Short

Clare Short, in her book, An Honourable Deception?, talks about religious fanaticism. She makes the point that the Iraqi body count website calculates that between the 9/11 bombings and February 2004, there were roughly 3,500 deaths resulting from Islamic extremist attacks on Western targets. In comparison she points out that over 13,000 non-combatant civilians died as a result of the Iraq war, as well as another 3,000 in Afghanistan, and 3,000 Palestinian civilians.

Looking at these figures – and acknowledging that many more Muslims have died in violence in the Balkans, Pakistan, Chechnya – it is easy to see why young Muslims living in these countries have a view of the world that includes a sense that the world values their lives much less than those of, say, me, a typical western male…

Obviously any member of a western government would shout me down were I to make such a claim to their face. Any Western liberal democracy places the utmost value on human life, regardless of race, religion or gender. At least, so any Bill of Rights you care to read would tell you.

But that’s just the point. It’s easy to legislate for a concept, but to live up to that all the time is not easy.

We shouldn’t shy away from the fact that any democratically elected government that values its prospects for re-election jealously protects the lives and interests of its citizens. Couple this very understandable bias with the fact that none of the most powerful and influential governments in the world are Islamic nations and you get the situation that, in any multinational forum – be it the G8 or the UN – it is the interests of the richer, western liberal democracies that are put to the fore not those of the Islamic world.

Look at the Darfur genocide. Were that happening in the UK there would be an overwhelming response, not only to protect those being oppressed, but to bring the oppressors to justice. It is not outside our power to take such actions when these events occur -even in the Sudan, but our governments choose to take less action because there is no reason to take any action other than a moral obligation.

It is this narrow self-interest that is the major driving force behind every country’s foreign policy. However, it is arguably at the root of most of the problems in the world. The fact is that the ‘war on terror’ has killed far more Muslims than it has anyone else. I say that we should forgive the Muslims of the world for thinking that the world doesn’t care about them. Fair point, really. This view is borne out of a dispassionate examination of the facts over the last couple of hundred years.

It is this feeling of impotence in the face of an unjust world that is at least partly driving young Muslims into the arms of extremist recruiters. If we are to overcome these problems, we could do worse than learn lessons from the UK’s attempts over the years to resolve the sectarian problems in Northern Ireland.

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The LDV 2×2 Daily View (15/5/09)

Our daily review and preview of the day’s big stories…

2 Big Stories

MPs’ expenses dominate the headlines … again

Another day, another bleak day for Parliamentary politics. Former Agriculture minister Elliot Morley was suspended from the Labour party for claiming £16,000 in expenses on a mortgage he had paid off. Meanwhile, Andrew MacKay, a senior aide to Tory leader David Cameron, resigned after claiming tens of thousands of pounds in second-home expenses on a London property that his wife, Tory MP Julie Kirkbride, designated as her main home. And as if that wasn’t enough, the House of Lords took the exceptional step …

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What can politicians achieve? A Review of the Foothills

Generally speaking political diaries are not best read cover to cover, and certainly not if they weigh in at 590 pages. They are for dipping into, browsing the index, and allowing your eyes to wonder to names, places and events that leap from the text. But (owing to a very long journey) I did consume Chris Mullin’s A View from the Foothills – touted as Labour’s answer to Alan Clark – in pretty much one sitting.

Like all political diaries, it both benefits and loses from its fixation with the moment; if you’re scribbling as and when you get the opportunity, there is scant opportunity for reflection or analysis. What you get instead is an unvarnished of-the-moment description (if the diarist is candid), and colourful and entertaining episodes (if the diarist is talented).

Thankfully, Chris is both candid and talented, enabling me to set to one side his overwheening self-deprecation and occasionally jarring piety (here’s his account of Christmas 2002, chez Mullin: “I did my best to look cheerful, but I find it a deeply depressing experience watching children who have everything piling up new possessions. Such a relief when it was over.” (page 340)).

There are illuminating insights a-plenty – just a handful which caught my eye were:

– an early assessment of David Cameron: “a young bright libertarian who can be relied upon to follow his own instincts rather than the party line” (p. 240). Back then, of course, Mr Cameron was happy to keep an open mind on the legalisation of drugs; nowadays he’s a captive of his right-wing party’s traditional Conservative knee-jerkism.

– a painful glimpse of Clare Short’s humiliating downfall in March 2003, when she was won over by Tony Blair and voted for the Iraq war: “I came across Clare Short in the Library Corridor, looking miserable and much the worse for wear, propped up by Dennis Turner.” (p. 388) It’s an image which poignantly captures her realisation that she had thrown away a credible, radical reputation built over a lifetime in return for a flimsy, meaningless pledge from the master of telling people what they wanted to hear.

– the exposure of Tony Blair’s utter management incompetence: quoting Ken Purchase, Robin Cook’s former parliamentary private secretary: “‘He’s hopeless. A fucking hopeless manager. He hasn’t a clue about managing people. If he was in the private sector, they wouldn’t spit on him’.” (p. 213)

– Lib Dems are pretty much absent, but Colchester MP Bob Russell will have done little to assuage the public’s fears that their parliamentarians are selfless servants with his request that the Home Affairs Committee go on the razzle: “Bob Russell said we ought to have a bit more fun. How about a foreign trip or two?” (p. 215)

– Though Labour-turned-Lib Dem MP Brian Sedgemore earns my admiration for his frank assessment of the virues of immigration: “‘Unless we are worried about the gene pool, what’s the problem? Most asylum seekers are dynamic, hard-working, educated people of the sort we badly need to refresh our ageing, lethargic population.’” (p. 292)

Yet the overwhelming impression from the book – and perhaps the reason this political memoir seems to have captured the zeitgeist – is the clear sense of futility Chris feels about his involvement in government.

Much of his ministerial life seems to be devoted to touring top-class hotels delivering mind-numbingly dull speeches to bored public sector employees at pointless conferences: “To a posh hotel in Mayfair to address 300 sceptical councillors and officials on the wonders of ‘Best Value’, the latest New Labour local government wheeze. The speech, one of Hilary Armstrong’s hand-me-downs, was abysmal … I was simply expected to stand and chant it like a Maoist slogan” (p. 69)

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