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Back in the old routine

Simon Campion-Brown gets back in the groove

I’m not sure whether it’s just because we’re within eight months of a General Election – or indeed whether David Cameron and/or his Coalition generally is the main culprit – but it appears to me that, more than ever, our politicians are currently obsessed with ‘gesture politics’.

Firstly of all, there’s been the ‘We must be seen to be doing something’ House of Commons decision for Britain to get involved in the bombing campaign to attack ISIS (ISIL? The Islamic State?).

I’m not up to date on the exact details, but I believe we have a squadron of seven ancient Tornado fighter-bombers stationed in Cyprus which have been flying sorties since the weekend.

It was with great excitement that minister of defence Michael Fallon forced himself onto Sky News mid-afternoon yesterday in order to announce that – after four days of not being able to find anything to bomb – they’d actually hit two targets in north-west Iraq near the Syrian border in support of Kurdish ground troops dealing with ISIS militants.

Not over the Syrian border, of course, because so far the Government has not even asked for Parliament’s approval to bomb in Syria, still less received it.

At the risk of re-stating the obvious, my summary therefore is that Britain has begun two-planes-at-a-time raids into Iraq and has just dropped its first bomb and fired its first missile.

So much for the jingoistic ‘COMMONS VOTES FOR WAR!’ media headlines last week. As a raft of retired generals and military pundits have been pointing out even since the action was approved, bombing insurgents isn’t going to solve the ISIS problem – you need troops on the ground. Furthermore, the whole concept of a ‘limited war’ (as if somehow one can agree the rules of military action in some form of arbitration process before the two sides begin knocking six bells out of each other) is ridiculous.

When you go to war, the main thing that gives you a chance of winning a victory is the determination to go immediately and resolutely for the opposition’s jugular and thereby absolute domination. After you’ve won, you can spend as much time as you like ‘negotiating the peace’, and/or being conciliatory or magnanimous, if you wish … but the bottom line is that no lasting resolution of a geo-political problem is ever reached unless your side wins the war first.

Britain is only in the current ‘war coalition’ and now flying missions, because it wishes to be seen to be doing something about ISIS, not because it has thought through what the ultimate solution might be and/or how best to achieve it. Our contribution is laughably small and completely irrelevant in the scheme of things. All that it is highlighting at this moment is just how far the Government has emasculated our armed forces in the drive to get a grip of the Ministry of Defence’s ‘black hole’ approach to budgeting and/seek to reduce the extent Britain’s out-of-control public expenditure crisis.

Meanwhile, yesterday at the Tory Party annual conference, home secretary Teresa May was doing her Mrs Thatcher Mini-Me impersonation for her adoring punters in announcing the curbs that the Tories intend to introduce upon those preaching extremism if they win the 2015 General Election.

Much of it boiled down to her concept of ‘Britishness’ – this being the minimum standard of communal behaviour and attitude that Mrs May now expects all those who come to and/or live in Britain to adopt.

This may or may not be similar to the ‘Britishness’ that prime minister David Cameron described in a speech about nine months ago when talking about issues relating to immigration (from both the EU and elsewhere). We don’t actually know, because of course Mr Cameron had immediately run into difficulty when challenged to define what he was talking about.

He began blathering on about tolerance, fair play and the rule of law … before gradually tailing off and running out of steam as he strayed into John Major (“warm beer and village cricket”) territory.

We had all rather forgotten – as no doubt Mr Cameron had hoped – about his embarrassment on this subject until Mrs May inadvertently revived it yesterday.

For me, the initiatives Mrs May announced were another prime example of a political kneejerk (policy-wonk, focus group-originated) reaction to events, or perhaps that should be ‘the needs of an imminent General Election campaign’. They just haven’t been thought through.

Let’s leave out of it the furore now being worked up now by libertarian groups in response to Mrs May’s proposals to ban certain extremists from speaking in public or being given media coverage etc. which – on the face of it – appear to fly right in the face of the principle tenets of the very ‘Britishness’ (not least ‘free speech) that she has been talking about.

Hey ho …


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About Simon Campion-Brown

A former lecturer in politics at Keele University, Simon now lives in Oxfordshire. Married with two children, in 2007 he decided to monitor the Westminster village via newspaper and television and has never looked back. More Posts