Britain is to lead the way stripping its citizens naked in the interests of the war on terror, according to the prime minister. With the backing of the prime minister, it is probable that this technology is entirely useless, except for the welcome promotion of a healthy naturist lifestyle.
Even though I am by nature a Republican (in England – even if a monarchiste in France) it needs to be admitted that Her Majesty has pulled a blinder, whether or not you want to call it a coup. It was the first time in 57 years she had granted an audience to the man who signs her money; it was of course a coincidence that Bank of England Governor Mervyn King (presumptuous surname) had spent the morning telling MPs that he had declined the prime minister’s credit card.
All this as the demented/self-deluded sub-prime minister was being humiliated in Strasbourg, before flying to South America to be humiliated again, while psychotically imagining that he is saving the world and his own discredited regime with it.
Her Majesty’s deftness was astounding – a move combining media cunning, split-second news cycle timing, and unmistakable symbology (look at that handshake – no gloves) all culminating in the magic of a puff of smoke, as The Queen once again disappeared, answering no questions, telling no lies.
The woman is truly amazing: she may not be a genius but is even better, like a very wise old horse. She has been around the course many times, and knows every single hedge, ditch and rabbit hole. Like the rest of us, she has no confidence in Gordon Brown. (You can imagine what her husband must think.) Unlike us, she was able to do something, and did. It was a clean kill.
So Brown lingers still in office, yet no longer in power. His ability to do much more terrible damage seems to have been limited. A pity that the Conservatives are second-rate politicians with sub-prime policies and ethics of their own. British claims to being a democracy are anyway much more ridiculous than a shrewd old woman derailing a prime minister with a photograph.
Nobody will be surprised that Brown, a coward and a bully, responded by meaninglessly threatening Her Majesty with constitutional “reform.” The man is beyond embarrassing. The BBC has tried to pretend that none of this has happened. (It’s what they leave out that’s the real scandal – not the drivel they actually broadcast.)
Molière, Blair: not to be confused
I tune in France Inter to hear the unwelcome voice of Tony Blair, ignoring Wodehouse*, speaking French. One is very pleased by the poverty of his accent. Nevertheless, Blair is now firmly out of the closet as an aspiring francophone and his vanity and the thirst of French television producers for the absurd suggest that this is a distressing foretaste of future Blairite discourses in the tongue of Molière.
Update, 18 December: Alastair Campbell was plugging his book on Ce soir ou jamais (FR3) last night and I am furious to admit that his French was excellent, fluent if sometimes approximative, and much more cromulent than that of his erstwhile boss. Campbell is as slippery in French as he is in English.
Conspiracy theorists will feast on Irwin Stelzer’s splash in The Sunday Times which was a glorious salvo at Gordon Brown. Presumably the days of intimate tête-à-tête between Gordon and Irwin are now over. I take this piece as affirmation that the affair between Rupert Murdoch and Gordon Brown is certainly over. It is unusual if not unprecedented for Irwin’s name to go on a splash. The link above does not do justice to the dramatic treatment on the printed page:
Normally this is the sort of material Irwin might confide to Rupert over dinner so to share it with the rest of us is bound to have some significance, to those of a high enough pay grade to appreciate it.
There is return fire from the Treasury in The Telegraph.
The sting of Irwin’s piece is that Gordon and Darling are paralysed by the bank/banking crisis and the Bank’s advice for an exit from the crisis is ignored. The Telegraph/Treasury says that Mervyn King lost the plot and has landed everyone in a fine mess. Either way, nobody is forecasting that it will be five more years for the governor. I think they should put Irwin in charge, provided he stops taking orders from Murdoch.
* Into the face of the young man who sat on the terrace of the Hotel Magnifique at Cannes there had crept a look of furtive shame, the shifty, hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to talk French.
-The Luck of the Bodkins, 1935
BBC images of our valiant PM in action in Basra and Camp Bastion.Having oneself photographed in front of soldiers is a George Bush trick and the news channels fall for it every time. Those who are themselves cowards are often keen to be photographed with soldiers.
The surreal course of the Gordon Brown war ministry continues in Basra where the prime minister announces (and the media solemnly recites) that Britain is about to hand “control” of Basra to the “Iraqi government”. This is the government whose writ does not run outside the walls of the Emerald City. And is now going to “control” Basra! Put out more flags.
How absurd a statement is this? One need only start with the obvious point that Britain does not and never has controlled Basra, that it is in fact controlled by rival political-religious-criminal-&-surrogate militias and the British cower at the airport, and even the supply of photo opportunities has dried up. But if Gordon needs to pretend, to get the army out of there, then so be it.
Then to Kabul where Gordon the war premier inspected Karzai’s honour guard and one presumes was not introduced to some of the narco-terrorists who make up the nice Mr Karzai’s government.
Then to camp Bastion – Little Britain meets Carry on Up the Kyber – where British soldiers are supplying new photo opportunities for politicians. The focus breathlessly repeated by all correspondents is Musa Qala. The fatuity of this operation is exquisitely revealed by Jason Burke in today’s Guardian.
As for poor Musa Qala: a victory full of sound and fury signifying nothing except that we will declare ourselves to have won every one of these battles until we lose the war It was evident that the Taliban decided not to fight to hold the town, although many civilians left before the fighting, and are now exposed to what are said to be terrible weather conditions, not to speak of prowling air strikes.
Meanwhile, the ANA soldiers are having a good loot of the place and as soon as some corridors are opened, we will soon have photo opportunities with shirt-sleeved reconstruction people from Dfid. The BBC and Sky are ready to come in with crews for that.
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Last year the British stormed in to the same place, killed lots of young men, then “victoriously” departed because there were not enough Nato soldiers to sustain the occupation. The cover for this was a “deal” with the local elders who promised to keep out the Taliban (who?). This victory hailed by the BBC was obviously absurd. The “Taliban” promptly returned as soon as the British had left. Even more fundamental definitional problem: who are the Taliban? The best explanation is that the Taliban are more or less anyone killed in these operations. Even if the young men slaughtered in such quantity by the British army are possibly not Taliban at all, but merely defending themselves against northern mercenaries and British and American infidels.
Meanwhile, Gordon has announced that British troops will be in Afghanistan for 10 more years. This needs to be read against previous forecasts of 30 years and 20 years. But what is the end state? We are there to establish – what exactly? If Gordon has a vision for Afghanistan, it would be interesting to hear him express it.
But ground reality has nothing to do with it. This is entirely political. So with this new 10-year plan for Afghanistan, Gordon has advanced once again the victory horizon. At the current rate of progress, in six more months, we will have won this war, five years ago.
Never mind the army, send Defra to Helmand province.
Gordon Brown, the prime minister whom we are repeatedly told is brilliant, has let it be known (see all newspapers) that he has a new solution to the Afghan problem. It is to institute a system of agricultural subsidies to encourage farmers to diversify from the production of poppy. This will bequeath to Afghanistan a proven system for managing agriculture that has been such a success in Europe.
As a client of Defra, I thoroughly applaud this idea. The senior management of this government department should be sent to Afghanistan at once. Starting with the chief vet. The executive of the National Farmers Union could accompany them, to offer their colleague farmers advice on milking. (Milking the system, that is – not cows!) And harvesting. (Harvesting the subsidies, that is – not crops!)
This is not, by the way, remotely like my own plan to save Afghanistan. Which is that we should simply buy all the poppy and turn it in to bio-diesel.
The glorious British retreat from the Basra Palace – “probably the worst palace in the world”
In the New Yorker last week, Sy Hersh, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, reported that Britain is ready to join the United States in an attack on Iran. Or at least the Americans think so. Quoth he:
The bombing plan has had its most positive reception from the newly elected government of Britain’s Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.
Hersh is a distinguished and sometimes reliable journalist. He is to be commended for a robust approach even if his expertise evidently does not extend to the method by which Gordon Brown recently became prime minister. Unless I missed something, this did not include any kind of election.
Nevertheless, perhaps the British media might be expected to take an interest in this claim/revelation. And indeed, the story eventually made its way to page 35 of The Sunday Telegraph. Tim Shipman now quotes officials in Washington to support (up to a point) Hersh’s story:
Gordon Brown has agreed to support US air strikes against Iran if the Islamic republic orchestrates large-scale attacks by militants against British or American forces in Iraq, according to senior Pentagon officials.
But this is a somewhat different story to that of Hersh, as premier Brown’s support now seems contingent.
Whether Hersh had it right, or Shipman does, or neither, this was about the limit of British press interest in the story.
After all, there are new pictures of Princess Diana! Maddie is still missing! Plus free DVDs for every reader!
Happily, Jon Snow of Channel 4 News, a serious fellow, finally asked the prime minister about this at his news conference on Monday. Here is the exchange:
Prime Minister, you have said that you want to listen to the British people. One of the things that the British people seem to be demonstrating is no appetite for any new war related to Iraq. Yet the war drums are banging in Washington for an attack on Iran. Are you prepared to follow previous Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, in saying that such an attack is inconceivable. And indeed are you prepared to go further and say that you would neither support nor assist any American attack on Iran?
I will follow what I have said myself only recently that we take very seriously what the Iranians are trying to do in building up their nuclear capability for nuclear weapons. This cannot go unchallenged given that it is a breach of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. If they do not co-operate with the international authorities that are examining their nuclear installations, or potential nuclear installations, that is a very big breach of international rules as well. And we believe however that this matter can be resolved by diplomatic means, by the Resolutions that have been passed by the United Nations, by sanctions if necessary, but I am not prepared to go further than that. What I am prepared to say is we take very seriously what Iran is proposing and we are prepared to use the methods that we have used in diplomatic sanctions to deal with this problem and I do not rule out anything.
Looking at this, it is rather masterfully ambiguous (even after the Downing Street editors have corrected the prime minister’s repeated confusion of Iraq and Iran as he delivered this answer). Brown firmly rules out an attack on Iran when he says “we believe that this matter can be resolved by diplomatic means… by sanctions if necessary, but I am not prepared to go further than that.” Then he technically rules the possibility back in again with: “I do not rule out anything.”
So this is a master class in saying two completely contradictory things at the same time. But here’s what I think. Hersh is wrong. And not just about the British electoral system. With citation to Sam Goldwyn, as far as any adventures in Iran are concerned, you can include Britain out.I reckon Brown, who was never an enthusiast for this war and endorsed it purely as a matter of preserving his own career, is sick of Iraq, has no stomach for a conflict with Iran, and that what we’re already watching is Gordon leading the Brits on a cut and run.
Another fascinating exchange came when the prime minister answered a question from Robin Oakley of CNN, who very reasonably asked the following:
Prime Minister you have presented yourself so far as a national leader who looks above petty party-political advantage. Why did you go to Basra to announce a withdrawal of British troops by Christmas, do it at the time of the Conservative Party Conference to take headlines off your opponents, and use somewhat phoney figures, since a quarter of those you said would be coming home had come home already. Isn’t that just the kind of Blairite spinning that you are supposed to stand against?
I think you are wrong in every respect if I may say with some respect to you. I think the facts do not merit these accusations. First of all I had to go to Iraq, to Baghdad and Basra, before I made my Statement in the House of Commons. I think the criticism of me today might have been that I had not had the chance to hear from the troops on the ground, to hear from our military commanders, to meet Prime Minister Al Maliki, to meet the Vice-President, to meet the Ministers for Finance, for Trade and for the Economy to discuss not just troop movements, but also to discuss economic reconstruction in Iraq. As far as what I said, I think you will see when I announce it in the House of Commons this afternoon that my Statement is far more comprehensive about all these things than anything that was said in Basra, and I think you will also find the statement about numbers that I made in Iraq is absolutely accurate.
This seems rather insulting to Robin Oakley! Who is correct here? Both, obviously, The prime minister is a master at counting things once, twice, or as many times as necessary. He subsequently went on to confuse matters still further with talk in the House of Commons of further troop withdrawals accompanied by “briefings” that all the boys would be home by 2008. Whereas Oakley is right that the stunt in Basra was an exercise in tortured accounting, even if Brown is too slippery ever to make the charge stick.
What 2,500 British soliders left in the “Cob” at the airport are supposed to do is left rather vague. Some have driven up to the Iran border with TV crews. Others are filmed training Iraqi soldiers. It is an army now tasked to photo opportunity.
Brown is playing a slippery game, but the troops are indeed coming out of Iraq. Even if they are going to Afghanistan, which is another disaster in the making.
A giant, transparent spin offensive is underway to pretend we have won after all in Basra, with friendly hacks like Con Coughlin of the newly pro-government Daily Telegraph filing magnificently clairvoyant copy from the airport describing the improvements since our army’s triumphant
retreat advance from what the soldiers called the worst palace in the world.
In the British-controlled southern Iraqi city of Basra there is a palpable sense that, after four years of incessant bloodshed, a corner is being turned in the struggle to bring the city back to something approaching normality.
But there is no evidence from his copy that he was even there!
Image from Telegraph web site, two days after Coughlin ponounces peace in our time
Coughlin, who just happened to be at the Cob when Brown later dropped by to annouce the withdrawal of troops who had already left, later went on to warn that premature withdrawals could threaten the success achieved by the British. Delusional.
Insofar as the story of a British triumph is concerned, Coughlin at least reveals what he was briefed by officers following MoD-approved scripts. The line is that we have given the Iraqi people the chance to have a nice stable, rich democracy – it’s up to them. By inference, whatever goes wrong in the future is their fault, not ours. That we were responsible for launching an invasion that has seen the place smashed to bits, with probably 100,000 killed and millions displaced, is not mentioned.
Here, though, is the question for the future. We know this about Brown. He is a bit of a coward. He puts his own survival first. He’s not stupid. A man for whom cowardice, caution and prudence are core, does not and cannot like war, which is always highly unpredictable and frightening.
With Iraq off the table, is Brown really prepared to unleash the dogs of war in Afghanistan? This is a campaign that is going to see lots of people killed and a lot of money being spent as even Jock Stirrup’s ropey Eurofighters are sent into the fray to drop bombs on mud huts.
Does Brown have the stomach for this? Me – I’m not sure. And with the Tories as gung-ho on the Pathun adventure as ever, perhaps the PM has something else in mind. To win his deferred election as the man who brought all of this nonsense to an end. Methinks (hopes anyway) that this is the turning point. Think prudence.