Today I wish to begin by thanking the many thousands of National Rust readers who have sent messages of goodwill and encouragement after my slight crisis of indisposition over the Scottish referendum on independence. I’m feeling very much better after my time off and my only lasting regret is that – through sheer volume – I shall not be able to reply personally to each and every one of you. Nevertheless, I would like to thank ‘Molly of Essex’ for her very kind offer and, in declining, would only add that, if indeed I ever find myself down Ingatestone way, I will certainly bear it in mind.
Yesterday I watched the BBC’s Politics Show, Question Time and This Week – each of which covered the ISIL/ISIS (or whatever everyone’s calling them at the moment) crisis, specifically against the background of the Government’s recall of Parliament today.
Frankly, it seems to me, our esteemed British politicians are making a right horlicks of it.
As ever, they cannot help get themselves in a muddle, partly because of their manic desire to maintain Britain’s place at the top table of global influence despite two very real problems.
Firstly, the bottom line truth is that Britain doesn’t actually matter very much anymore.
Secondly, the British public know this and are increasingly sceptical – in these times of austerity etc. – about Britain seeking to throw its weight round in geo-political world affairs, still less the prospect of spending huge amounts of money we don’t have on military adventures of dubious probity and uncertain outcome.
For the record, I found what I heard the other morning of David Cameron’s speech at the United Nations this week unusually impressive.
He seemed to be cutting to the quick and making some harsh but necessary points about the need to deal with the ISIL/ISIS problem. That said, at the moment he’s skewered between his desire to have Britain involved as one of West’s leading nations trying to do something, on the one hand, and – on the other – what he can deliver in practice in the House of Commons swiftly enough to avoid being seen to be lagging behind the United States and its ‘coalition of Middle Eastern states’ who are taking military action. He’s plainly decided that sending six jet airplanes to bomb ISIL/ISIS targets in Iraq (which has officially asked for help) … though not in Syria (because of the Assad regime etc.) … is the best that he can achieve.
Never mind the fact that British military chiefs past and present have been queuing up to point out that ISIL/ISIS will never be defeated without the involvement ‘boots on the ground’ (which both the USA and Britain are desperate to avoid) and that a policy of being prepared to bomb them in Iraq but not in Syria will be about as effective as trying to nail jelly to a wall.
Andrew Neil made this point forcibly during his discussion on This Week with George Galloway, Jacqui Smith and Michael Portillo by pointing out that Cameron’s proposed British contribution to the cause would so minimal and ineffectual in the scheme of things that it raised the question “Why are we even bothering?” … to which neither Smith nor Portillo, despite being in favour of it, had much of an answer.
Elsewhere, inevitably, Ed Miliband and the Labour Party are also flapping about.
They famously carried out a political ‘coupe de theatre’ a year or so ago by withdrawing their support and scuppering Mr Cameron’s plans to go to war in Syria, citing (with some justification) a lack of legality, and therefore legitimacy, in the plan.
This time around, however, they’d like to take a different stance, not least because a large section of the British public are both horrified by the ISIL/ISIS hostage beheadings and concerned about the potential implications when and if some of the home-grown terrorist thugs come home and bring their fanaticism and newly-learned bombing skills back to our shores with them.
To me, Britain’s current foreign policy and plans seem to have as many holes in them as a half-pound wedge of Edam cheese.
Here are two fairly strident views broadly similar to mine as appear in the British media today:
Patrick Cockburn in THE INDEPENDENT
Simon Jenkins in THE GUARDIAN