What on earth is the Mail up to?

Defence Minister: Clegg axed me because I won’t support attack on Iran – was the headline of a Mail story yesterday, which began:

A Liberal Democrat Defence Minister has claimed he was sacked to avoid a damaging Coalition split over a pre-emptive strike on Iran.

Former Armed Forces Minister Sir Nick Harvey told friends that he was fired in the reshuffle to allow Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg to sign Britain up to an Israeli-US preventive strike to take out Iran’s nuclear installations.

However, readers with long attention spans (about 15 seconds) will have read down a few paragraphs and found this:

…when approached by The Mail on Sunday, Sir Nick confirmed he had considered his sacking was linked to mounting speculation of a pre-emptive strike on Iran and the expectation that UK forces would be drawn in afterwards. However, the MP went on to say he had since discounted that theory.

‘I have cast my mind over the issues that might have led the party leader to this decision,’ he added.

‘But having toyed with that one, I have decided it could not have played any part in it.’

So…where does that leave us? Is the Mail intent on wasting as much paper and electricity that it possibly can by carrying stories which negate themselves, and headlines which are flatly contradicted by the same source in the story underneath them?

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist and member of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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26 Comments

  • Why have you headed this story “What is the Daily Mail up to”, when you could instead have used the headline “What is Nick Harvey up to?” or if that is not populist enough “What is Nick up to?” If someone is quoted as having thought about a reason for being sacked, it is quite likely that they know some of the backstory which could have led to a decision on those grounds. Nick Clegg’s lack of firmness on say, the issue of Israel / Palestine is well known, and is way out of kilter with the party mainstream. It would be interesting to see, also, how many of the current Tory Defence, or entirely Tory Foreign Office team, voted in favour of Iraq invasion in 2003 (of those who were then elected MPs of course). In any case, looking at it, it is not a totally off the wall theory why the Lib Dems, always a party with international interest, and not a little expertise, is suddenly removed from those two internationally-orientated departments.

    Bearing in mind your last big outing on editorialising, Paul (ie that on Nick Clegg’s leadership), I would have thought that would have been your line!

  • Ridiculous even by the Mail’s standards, but admittedly Nick Harvey’s ill-judged musings resulting from personal pique did hand them a headline…

  • Catherine – “ill judged”? Has it not occurred to you that Nick (Harvey) actually wanted to draw this to people’s attention – just before Conference – without actually confirming it to be the case?

  • I should say “may have wanted to draw it to people’s attention”. I have no idea whether that was actually the case.

  • @ jedi – they do that every year. Granted it’s a bigger fleet this year but I still wouldn’t read too much into it, except posturing.

    @ Tim – actually, no it hadn’t occurred to me! You’re suggesting that he’s being Machiavellian and deliberately floating the idea before withdrawing his remarks. It’s an interesting theory and maybe you’re right but his comments sounds much more like pique than carefully laid planning. I have a lot of time for Nick Harvey and think he did a good job pushing for alternatives to be included in the Trident review, but this sounds to me like he was upset at losing his ministerial post and wanted to rationalise it by imagining himself to be a martyr to his principles.

  • Keith Browning 17th Sep '12 - 11:29am

    Today’s ‘holiday greetings’ on the Nick Clegg website clearly show which side he would be supporting in any Middle East conflict.

  • @ Keith
    You mean this one? Which to the untrained eye looks strikingly similar to this one? No doubt you can enlighten us as to the difference…

  • Richard Dean 17th Sep '12 - 2:20pm

    No, the Defence Minister is “playing politicis”. The fact that he later retracts does not mean he did not want it published!

  • The Coalition programme for government commits us to supporting concerted international efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

    The fact that we no longer have ministers in the FCO or MoD and the Iranian nuclear issue does not appear to be scheduled for debate at conference, does seem to leave us, as a party, somewhat out of the picture as events gather pace in the Middle East.

  • Keith Browning 17th Sep '12 - 5:24pm

    @ Catherine
    Thankyou – I had missed that one.
    Balance and lack of bias something sadly missing in most discussions about the Middle East.

  • Nigel Quinton 18th Sep '12 - 12:02pm

    Who was it that joked on the day of the reshuffle something along the lines: “no Libdems in FCO or Defence? Who are the Tories planning to invade?”

  • Geoffrey Payne 18th Sep '12 - 1:05pm

    The story about the Daily Mail is a diversion. It looks like an Israeli strike is very likely.
    Nick Clegg has a choice to make.
    Either side with the Tories who will support whatever the US and Israel decides to do. Or oppose them.
    The former will split the party, the latter will end the Coalition.

    This is the real debate that is not taking place at the moment.

  • Charles Beaumont 18th Sep '12 - 1:29pm

    @Geoffrey – surely the ‘real’ debate is the very difficult choice between using every possible diplomatic channel to prevent the Iranians from getting a weaponised nuclear capability (which has worked up to this point) and the possibility that, at some stage, the Iranians manage to get a weapon. And then we have to ask ourselves is the world a better place for a nuclear-armed Iran? And, before you ask me whether the world is a better place for a nuclear-armed Israel, how many times have you heard any Israeli leader deny Iran’s right to exist?

  • Stuart Wheatcroft 18th Sep '12 - 5:12pm

    If the Israelis did strike, the priority would surely be to restore the (relative) stability of the region? Everything else (including UK domestic politics) can take a back seat.

    The Israelis cannot permit Iran to develop a nuclear capability – not given the inflammatory rhetoric which comes from Tehran regarding Israel’s right to exist. We wouldn’t, in their place.

    There might be a case for a Western strike if a) it was clear that an Israeli strike was otherwise inevitable and b) analysts were confident that a Western strike would be less likely to cause havok. Condition (a) may very well be satisfied; condition (b) is a difficult judgement call.

  • Paul McKeown 18th Sep '12 - 6:35pm

    If Israel carries out a military strike against Iran, without strong evidence of an immediate and overwhelming threat to its own security, then the UK should keep well out. We won a fifty year Cold War against the Soviet Union, by out-competing it in the economic sphere, by military vigilance, day and night, and by offering a humane, liberal vision of life. There is no reason that Israel cannot ultimately defeat a nuclear-armed Iran in the same way. Precipitate military actions should be strongly discouraged. A war with Iran would be particularly bloody and cause immense economic damage to all parties and to none. To win a war against Iran would require an extraordinary degree of commitment; there is no way that the British public would accept the sacrifices necessary, unless the need for them was overwhelmingly clear.

  • In the background there is the problem of aggressive Zionism and the injustice suffered by ordinary Palestinian Arabs who just want to live their three score years and ten with dignity. Sadly they do not get the support they deserve because the suicide bombings and rocket firing by their own militants divert sympathy to no less innocent Israelis who get caught up in the conflict. With the moral highground being more a chasm than a highground, the world is confused as to who to support and tends to fall in with the most influential communicator. The saying “money talks” is also relevant, Personally I cannot support an attack on Iran unless and until the State of Israel starts to respect U.N. resolutions. Even then, assuming that Iran did not see sense and moderate its stance, I would argue that pro-Israel forces should confine themselves to the cold-war game which was successful in avoiding East/West carnage in the second half of the last century
    Secondly, assuming a pre-emptive strike means bombing one or more selected targets, has not just about every conflict in the past hundred years taught us that bombing alone does not subdue nations. A full scale invasion if Iran would most likely follow : are we ready for that?
    So, Deputy Prime Minister,, if you ignore Conference and commit the UK to a pre=emptive strike my loyalty to the Party (and I expect, many others ) cannot be presumed.

  • Nick,

    many of us have been victims of poor journalism, misquoted or taken out of context. No one seems to have come up with a way of avoiding this ongoing problem. In this instance a standard ‘No comment’ would not have changed the inference of the article. At least your quote contradicted the headline, if people read that far.

  • Paul Reynolds 19th Sep '12 - 3:12pm

    The question of the UK response to an Israeli attack on Iran is as important as the question of the US response. If the UK doesn’t participate, or further if it condemns the attack, it will hand a justification to many other states who are asked to involve themselves, to refuse participation (‘if even the UK is not participating, why should we ?’).

    The timing of this sudden escalation in rhetoric is moot – the Israelis clearly would prefer Romney in the White House to Obama, and if Obama wins he will be strengthened and more likely to face down the hawks in the US and focus more on Asia-Pacific. Recall that the Israeli PM first claimed that Iran was ‘3 to 5 years’ away from having a nuclear weapon, in 1992.

    So what will be the UK response …. is the UK establishment going to follow the US hawks or follow the White House ? Remember, the US Defence Secretary, the US Director of National Intelligence, and the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs (Obama appointees) have all stated unambiguously that, via 13 intel agencies, the US conclusion is that Iran is not attempting to weaponsise, and has not made a decision to do so in the future, and that their enrichment is legal and allowed by the IAEA. So we have have to look for other underlying reasons for the attack on Iran.

    Judging by briefings to MPs, the UK is siding with the US hawks and ignoring the real facts and intel – these briefing are mostly propaganda not factual briefings, but many MPs have swallowed the whole narrative, especially Tory rightists (but not all Tories !). Nick H must be aware of these developments, and he was engaged in a well-managed review of UK nuclear defence. But that does not necessarily mean that he left the MoD because he disagreed with the unusual pro-US-hawk stance of the HMG.

  • I am not the least bit suprised by this story. Since we came to power the Lib Dem leadership have supported Israel on everything. An example would be refusing to vote in favour of Palastinian state when the Palastinians applied last Septemeber. Another example, would upping trade with Israel so it can maintain it’s brutal and racist occupation of the Palastinian arears. Clegg is 100 per cent pro israel – it’s time people woke up to the fact.

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