Posts Tagged ‘Libya’

No matter what the Tories hope, Britain is not an island

30/05/2017, 07:38:31 PM

by Jonathan Todd

We’re wasting the finite time that Article 50 affords the UK to agree terms for our departure from the EU on an election supposedly about Brexit in which Brexit has hardly featured. This exit is not a trifling concern: no part of national life will be untouched by it.

“We’re being infantilised as a democracy,” Matthew Parris observes (£) of the lack of Brexit debate during the general election. But if there is a group of people with less appetite for Brexit discussion than our political class, it seems to be the general public.

“When it comes to Brexit, people have moved on,” wrote James Bethell after canvassing one Labour and two Conservative seats in East Anglia. The UKIP vote has moved on to the Conservatives. The Remain vote has failed to move on to the Liberal Democrats.

Roughly half of those Remain voters now accept that the UK must leave the EU – the other half want a government to ignore the referendum result or find means of overturning it. Whereas the defeated side remained energised after the Scottish referendum in 2014, the passion of the 48% has quickly dissipated.

Britain is over Brexit but Brexit isn’t over Britain. The grim prophecies of Remain have not really gone away. The UK’s trade balance, for example, has worsened by 1.8% of GDP since the final quarter of 2015. The fall in Sterling that Brexit triggered has sucked in imports, which are pushing up inflation, with no compensating rise in exports.

Our ability to pay our way is deteriorating – before tariffs are paid on goods moving from the UK to the continent (due to our exit from the customs union) and regulatory divergence further undermines the UK’s competitiveness (as a result of single market departure). To say nothing of the loss of labour and productivity induced by the end of free movement.

We’re on course to gut the NHS of the European workers upon which it depends but what happens in Libya, won’t stay in Libya. The things that we dislike about abroad (e.g. Islamic extremism) won’t avoid us just because we inadvertently curb the things we like from beyond our shores (e.g. NHS workers).

Did we intervene too much in Libya (in using aerial power to help topple Gaddafi who was butchering his own people) or too little (in failing to stabilise the country afterwards)?


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IS is on the shores of the Med. Putin is rampant. Does anyone in British politics even care?

25/02/2015, 01:18:03 PM

by Rob Marchant

As if it were not enough that the EU’s two principal member states – in the form of their leaders, François Hollande and Angela Merkel – spent much of the last few weeks happily handing to Vladimir Putin parts of another European country on a plate in return for “peace”, chickens have now come home to roost in another benighted country only a few hundred miles from the EU.

It was not, as some have tried to maintain against all logic, that the West intervened in Libya and provoked a reaction against it. It was self-evidently that it did not intervene enough. In timidly restricting itself to a no-fly zone, it did not remotely attempt to help set up a functioning democratic state in the aftermath or prevent a power vacuum being filled by jihadists. In fact, NATO left early, against the wishes of the new government.

It is by now painfully obvious that wherever there is unrest in the Muslim world, jihadists will not be slow in moving in. The trick is not to let them get established. Proactive, not reactive; a stitch in time.

There is very little about Iraq on which critics and supporters of intervention agree, but most would concede that the Allies carried out a fairly effective military action and then botched the peace. For all the current crop of world leaders criticised their predecessors over that episode, it didn’t stop them repeating the exact same error in Libya.

By the time it got to Syria, of course, the alliance which had helped free Libya of Gaddafi had lost its appetite even for that kind of limited, genocide-preventing intervention. Hear no evil, see no evil. And what was the result of that? Well, genocide, naturally: 220,000 dead and counting.


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A response to Labour’s military interventionists

23/07/2013, 06:51:04 PM

by Lee Butcher

Kirsty McNeill and Andrew Small’s contribution to Progress Online on “the interventionist dilemma” reopens an important but neglected debate within the party. The pre-eminence of the ‘interventionists’ (as they term it) within the Blair and Brown governments were key to how the last government acted out in the world, and the consequences that had for those on the receiving end and for the party’s popularity at home.

The silence on this matter of the party since returning to opposition has seen discussions about the future, or otherwise, of interventionism within the party largely neglected. This is partly due to the convention of opposition parties sticking close by the government on such matters, and partly to avoid reopening the barely healed wounds of Iraq. Such a debate ought to be had before returning government. On this I would agree with McNeill and Small, there however is where my agreement with their analysis ends.

There is an assumption that runs throughout their article that British intervention overseas is not just desirable, but is of critical value to ourselves and to the rest of the world. They make a rather curious assertion that because of American withdrawal from foreign commitments a future Labour government will need to immediately budget for doing so ourselves. Though they do not explicitly say so, one would ask if this would be done on a unilateral basis. This view would seem to be contradicted by an example they cite, Libya, which was done with close co-operation with France. The evidence would strongly suggest that if it is not the Americans we accompany into such pursuits it is our European partners. To believe that the United Kingdom can aspire to going it alone does not take into account the size and strength of our armed forces and what they are capable of achieving. This has been made plainly clear by the Strategic Defence and Security Review.

If McNeill and Small get their way and Prime Minister Miliband instructs Chancellor Balls to budget for increased military spending while critical spending at home is being squeezed, they will quickly find they lack the support of their Labour colleagues in Parliament and vast swathes of the electorate. For all the recent support for the military, spending on wars abroad remains unpopular when schools and hospitals are falling to pieces.


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Saturday News Review

10/09/2011, 06:16:03 AM

The world prepares to remember

Two thousand seven hundred and fifty three Flags of Honor – each baring the names of 9/11 victims in patriotic stripes of red and blue – are standing at the tip of Manhattan today as New York City prepares to mark the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks. The NYC Memorial Field, part of a five-day installation, was erected to give New Yorkers a public place to gather in remembrance of those who were killed in the horrific acts of September 11, 2001. It is among dozens of memorials, vigils and events organised throughout New York City this weekend, as citizens stand united, honouring their pledge to ‘never forget’ that tragic day. Yesterday in midtown Manhattan, 2,753 empty chairs, representing the lives lost on 9/11, were set to face south toward the World Trade on Bryant Park’s lawn for part of a project called Ten Years Later, A Tribute 9/11. The world will undoubtedly cast its eyes on the World Trade Centre memorial site on Sunday morning, when New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg will join President Barack Obama and former President George W Bush for the reading of the names of the nearly 2,753 victims killed in New York, Washington, DC and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The National September 11 Memorial and Museum memorial service will see family gather from 6:30am to 4pm.A moment of silence will be held at 8:46 a.m., when the first plane crashed into the North Tower, and then the names of the victims will be read.  Moments of silence will be held to mark the other attacks in New York, Washington, DC, and Pennsylvania at 9:03am, 9:36am, 9:59am, 10:03am and 10:28am. The annual ‘Tribute in Light’ will begin from the WTC site at sundown, visible for more than 60 miles. Two blue beams, made up of 7,000 watt bulbs, were switched on for the first time this year on Tuesday night. – Daily Mail

A terror threat against the United States planned to coincide with this weekend’s tenth anniversary of 9/11 may be traceable to al-Qa’ida and possibly to Ayman al-Zawahiri who assumed the network’s leadership after the killing of Osama bin Laden, US terror officials indicated last night. Security precautions were being ramped up in New York and Washington DC yesterday as preparations were under way for tomorrow’s remembrance ceremony at Ground Zero in lower Manhattan to be led by both President Barack Obama and his predecessor George W. Bush. President Obama, who tomorrow will also travel to the Pentagon and to Shanksville, Pennsylvania, the other two sites where hijacked plans came down, ordered a redoubling of security in the wake of the new terror warning. There will be six moments of silence at the Ground Zero ceremony tomorrow marking when the two airliners struck the Twin Towers and when they fell down but also the exact moments when the other two planes involved in that day’s tragedy crashed at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania. Tomorrow will also be the first time that families of the victims will see the new memorial at the World Trade Center site. The day of remembrance will finish with a memorial concert in the Kennedy Centre in Washington where Mr Obama will also speak. The White House said none of his travel plans had so far been affected by the terror threat. – the Independent

Blair’s Arab Spring

Mr Blair said he had no regrets about setting aside decades of hostility between Britain and Libya and holding out an olive branch in 2004. In return, Col Gaddafi agreed to give up his programme of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). “No,” he said in an interview with the Reuters news agency to mark the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. “I always say to people it is absolutely simple – the external policy of Libya changed.” New details of the close relationship forged between the Blair government and Libya after MI6 negotiated the scrapping of the WMD programme in 2003 have emerged in Tripoli since the fall of the Gaddafi regime. But Mr Blair said it was a “great thing for the world” that Col Gaddafi had agreed to give up the weapons programme and, in addition, co-operate against terrorism. He added that in February as the uprising began he attempted to persuade Col Gaddafi to step down. “The trouble was in the end they weren’t prepared to reform internally,” he said. “They were less of a threat to the outside world, but inside they were a threat to their people and then when the uprising happened, again, there was a big choice. I remember actually speaking to Colonel Gaddafi at the time it happened and saying this is the moment to realise you are going to have to go and be the person that gives it up.” – the Telegraph

Tony Blair, the international statesman most closely tied to the response to the Sept. 11 attacks, believes the decade-long struggle to contain the threat from Islamic extremism is far from over, despite the killing of al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden. The former British prime minister, who famously vowed to stand “shoulder to shoulder” with the United States and took a leading role in the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq in the face of domestic unease, told The Associated Press that potent threats still persist — including in nations swept by the revolutions of the Arab Spring. “It’s completely wrong,” to think the struggle to defeat extremist ideology is won, Blair said in an interview. “We shouldn’t be under any doubt about this at all. Unfortunately, as I say, this ideology is far broader than the methods of al-Qaida.” Blair also expressed concern over the uprisings which have shaken the Middle East and North Africa, insisting that the West must act as “players and not spectators” to help democracy flourish from the Arab Spring. – Washington Post

History in Northern Ireland

The first Presbyterian minister to address a Sinn Fein party conference last night praised Martin McGuinness as one of the “great leaders of modern times”. On his arrival at the Waterfront Hall for the conference, the Rev David Latimer said: “I haven’t come here for soundbites.” But he was undoubtedly the star turn of the first night of the first Sinn Fein ard fheis to be held in Northern Ireland. Delegates asked to have their pictures taken with Mr Latimer on mobile phones and many shook hands with him. “I am among friends,” he said, stressing that people could work together whatever view they took of the border. Despite his protestation he did manage a few soundbites in the course of his speech. He was greeted with tumultuous applause when he borrowed the words of the Queen in Dublin to address delegates as “a chairde” (my friends). Mr Latimer was greeted at the door of the conference by Mr McGuinness with whom he has formed a friendship. He told how the Deputy First Minster supported the opening of his Church on Londonderry’s walls, overlooking the Bogside, and helped him secure a £1.6m grant for the historic building’s refurbishment. – Belfast Telegraph

Rev Dr David Latimer described Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness as “one of the true great leaders of modern times” when he addressed the Sinn Féin ardfheis in Belfast last night. History was made on the double in the Waterfront Hall in that this was the first time an ardfheis has been held north of the Border, and the first time a northern Protestant religious minister addressed the conference. Dr Latimer, who three years ago served for a period as a British army chaplain in Afghanistan, was enthusiastically received at the conference, earning a standing ovation at the end when he finished with what he called a “Celtic blessing” on all the delegates. He delivered a relatively short address without what journalists would call any major news content. But it was his simple presence on the stage with the likes of Mr McGuinness and Gerry Adams sitting behind him that made his speech, delivered with some evangelical verve, notable and newsworthy. Learning his lesson from Queen Elizabeth, his description of delegates as “A chairde” and his final Irish good luck wish of “Adh Mór Ort” demonstrated that here was a minister who knew how to work an audience. His description of Mr McGuinness as a great modern leader will infuriate some unionists. Dr Latimer nonetheless insisted it was a strong and genuine friendship he has developed with the Deputy First Minister. – Irish Times

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Friday News Review

02/09/2011, 06:17:33 AM

In it for the long hall

David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy have emphasised the on going commitment of Nato to the conflict in Libya. Speaking at a press conference at the end of the Paris summit, the Prime Minister expressed his pride in what British and allied forces had accomplished as part of Nato’s mission to stop Gaddafi’s attacks. However, he also emphasised that “it is the Libyan People who are responsible for the liberation.” “We pay tribute to your bravery and to the many who have lost their lives or been injured,” he said. Cameron also outlined three key commitments to the National Transitional Council, including the implementation of the UN resolutions by Nato and its allies, a commitment to international law, and a pledge to support the NTC in their aims to implement a democratic transition. “Freedom in Tripoli has brought to light unspeakable crimes,” he said. “These crimes must be investigated and the guilty brought to justice.” Both Cameron and President Sarkozy expressed gratitude to the Arab states that took part in the Nato coalition. – Huffington Post

Nato will remain on a war footing in the skies over Libya until the last remnants of the Gaddafi regime have been defeated, European diplomats have said. World leaders are converging on Paris on Thursday for a Friends of Libya summit intended to acclaim the National Transitional Council (NTC) as the country’s new interim government, and mark a pivot point in the international community’s efforts in Libya from war to reconstruction. The leaders will discuss a new UN security council resolution which will endorse the new status quo, lifting the sanctions regime on Libya to allow the NTC to get access to over $100bn (£62bn) in state assets frozen abroad since the start of the conflict, while handing the United Nations the lead international role in rebuilding the country. However, the NTC’s western backers, led by France, Britain and the US, want to continue Nato’s legal mandate to conduct military operations in Libya laid down in UN resolution 1973. The resolution, agreed in March, allows the alliance to use “all necessary measures”, short of deploying ground troops, to protect civilians. – the Guardian

Soft on knife crime

Only one in every five yobs caught with a knife is given a prison sentence, figures revealed yesterday. Despite David Cameron’s vow to get tough on armed thugs, most are given community punishments or cautions. Between April and June, 5,190 criminals were caught carrying a knife or other offensive weapon in England and Wales. Court statistics show that 1,024 of them – 20 per cent – were given an immediate jail term, the lowest proportion since 2008. Sentencing guidelines suggest that judges should jail for 12 weeks anyone caught with a knife, but this can be reduced for those who plead guilty or claim mitigating factors. Before winning power, the Tories said everyone caught with a knife would be sent to prison. But Justice Secretary Ken Clarke scrapped the policy to help take pressure off the prisons budget. – Daily Mail

Nearly one in four people caught carrying knives in the three months to the end of June was let off with a caution. And a third of those prosecuted for the offence received only a community service sentence, according to latest statistics. The Tory-led Government has said anybody convicted of possessing a knife should expect to be sent to prison. Most of those who were jailed were sentenced to just three months or less, the Ministry of Justice figures showed. Just 1,024 of the 5,190 offenders sentenced – 20 per cent – were jailed, down from 21% in the same period last year. The proportion of knife carriers locked up is now at its lowest in three years. Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan said: “David Cameron promised that anyone caught carrying a knife could expect a jail term. He broke that promise.” – Daily Mirror

Stealing from the poor to save the rich

Hospitals will be forced to treat wealthy foreigners to raise cash rather than treat poor patients as they are hit by cuts to the NHS budget and the government’s radical pro-market reforms, the leader of Britain’s doctors has warned. In an interview with the Guardian, Hamish Meldrum, chairman of the British Medical Association, predicted the government’s health and social care bill would see the NHS being rebuilt on a “philosophy that relies on a market-based health system rather like the one we see in the United States. “There, those who pay or are insured get a better service than those who do not and rely on state-funded Medicare. Until now our system has been built on social solidarity where patients get appropriate treatment in the appropriate time.” He said the government was forcing all hospitals to become foundation trusts and these would be gearing up to lure private patients from home and abroad as budgets were squeezed. This decision, he argued, would only be possible because the government plans to abolish the cap limiting the proportion of total income hospitals can earn from the paying sick. – the Guardian

Thomas’s challenge

Labour needs to sharpen its appeal in the crucial commuter land around London which could decide the next general election, Ed Miliband has been warned by one of his own frontbenchers. Gareth Thomas called on Labour to target the “suburban Sarahs and Simons” and “commuting Christophers and Chloes” in the 107 constituencies in outer London and near the M25 motorway, which include a high concentration of key marginals. In a stark message to Labour, he says it will not regain power on the back of opposition to spending cuts or the Coalition’s mistakes. YouGov, which carried out polling and focus groups for the report, found that 53 per cent of voters in this “outer metropolitan area” think Labour “used to care about the concerns of people like me”, but only 30 per cent believe the party still cares about them. For the Conservatives, the figures are 33 and 30 per cent respectively, a much smaller drop. “Whilst there are many marginal seats around the country, it is in London’s commuter belt that Labour needs to win more marginal seats if it is to return to power and where the battle for the hearts and minds of electors will be particularly tough,” Mr Thomas said. – the Independent

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Thursday News Review

28/07/2011, 06:22:29 AM

Hague’s Libyan gamble

Mr Hague, the foreign secretary, who on Wednesday expelled the remaining staff of the Libyan embassy as Britain granted political recognition to the country’s opposition, said that the democratic gains made during the six-month series of revolutions risk being for naught thanks to sectarian violence and struggling economies. “We mustn’t expect each country to be neatly done in six months. It’s not a computer game that comes to an end when you get bored,” he said in an interview with The Times. He said the future of Egypt would decide the extent to which democracy would flow across the region, calling it “the single most important piece of the jigsaw in the whole Arab Spring”. Mr Hague spoke amid increasingly frantic diplomatic moves five months into a bombing campaign against the Libyan dictatorship. The foreign secretary said Britain could free up frozen funds for the Libyan opposition. – Daily Telegraph

The foreign secretary’s decision is a significant boost for the rebels’ Benghazi-based national transitional council, which is viewed by Britain, as of today, as the “sole governmental authority” in Libya. By taking this action, Britain has come into line with the US, France, Italy and other Nato allies, which had already declared the NTC to be the de facto government of Libya. As a matter of longstanding policy, Britain recognises states, not governments. But in effect London has now “de-recognised” the Gaddafi regime and its representatives in the UK. In doing so, it has further delegitimised the remaining authority of Gaddafi and those around him and has invited the NTC to send a representative – in essence an ambassador – to London. He claimed the move had support from Arab League and African Union countries – many of which, however, continue to deal with Gaddafi’s government. – the Guardian

Huhne file is handed to the prosecutors

Police probing allegations Cabinet minister Chris Huhne made his wife take his speeding points have passed their findings to prosecutors. Lib Dem Energy Secretary Mr Huhne would be forced to quit if the Crown Prosecution Service decides to put him on trial. The Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer will take the final ­decision on the case, after it has been considered by lawyers. Essex police launched the inquiry in May after the allegations surfaced following a newspaper interview with his estranged wife Mrs Pryce. He and Mrs Pryce could both be jailed if they are convicted of perverting the course of justice. – Daily Mirror

Chris Huhne’s future as a Cabinet minister could be determined within weeks after police passed a file to prosecutors yesterday about an alleged speeding offence. Pressure is mounting on the Energy Secretary amid suggestions the Prime Minister may already be considering a possible successor. Mr Huhne faces political oblivion if he is formally accused of perverting the course of justice by allowing his wife to take speeding penalty points for him. Yesterday Downing Street was forced to deny David Cameron and Nick Clegg had already held talks on a mini-reshuffle that will take place if Mr Huhne is forced to resign. However, there is growing speculation the well-regarded LibDem business minister Ed Davey, who is close to Mr Clegg, would be parachuted into the Cabinet to replace the Energy Secretary. – Daily Mail

Ed nose day

Good news for Justine, wife of Ed Miliband. Quieter nights are in prospect in the Miliband family home after the Labour leader underwent a successful operation on his nose to correct a breathing problem. As symptoms of sleep apnoea – aggravated in his case by a deviated septum – include heavy snoring and restlessness, the person most likely to notice the difference is Mr Miliband’s new wife, Justine. The hour-long NHS procedure took place at the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital in central London. A Labour source denied suggestions that part of the intention of the operation was to make him sound less “bunged-up”. He said: “I’ve spoken to him since the operation and his voice sounds exactly the same.” – the Independent

An expectant cluster of doctors, of both the medical and spinning variety, gathered around a bedside in Grays Inn Road, London, to await an event that could determine the outcome of the next general election. It was Ed nose day at the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear hospital. The Labour leader’s spin doctors continued to blather on about how obstructive sleep apnoea is a respiratory condition, leading the throat to repeatedly narrow or close during sleep. But everyone knew that all this medical detail was spin doctor obfuscation. In reality, the hour-long operation was a giant gamble. No one knew whether when he awoke the sound of Miliband’s voice would be transformed. Would the new Bold Ed of recent weeks, willing to tear down the Murdoch empire, be given a voice to match – a lustrous blend of Laurence Olivier, Barry White and Kathleen Turner? Those who have spoken to Miliband (no audio is yet available) say he sounds the same. – the Guardian

The madness of the Steve Hilton

Mr Hilton also suggested to Mr Cameron that he simply ignore European labour regulations on temporary workers, to the alarm of the most senior civil servant in Downing Street. “Steve asked why the PM had to obey the law,” said one Whitehall insider. “Jeremy [Heywood, Mr Cameron’s permanent secretary] had to explain that if David Cameron breaks the law he could be put in prison.” Mr Hilton, who often walks around the Prime Minister’s office without shoes, is an increasingly influential figure who often suggests seemingly crazy ideas in an attempt to spark creative debate. According to a report in the Financial Times, Mr Hilton also recommended sacking hundreds of Government press offices and replacing them with a blog for each Whitehall department. The newspaper quoted a source close to Mr Hilton suggesting that he thought that maternity leave rights were “the biggest obstacle to woman finding work. Steve also wanted to suspend all consumer rights legislation for nine months to see what would happen,” the source added. “Some of his ideas are great but a lot of time is spent at an official level trying to deconstruct his maddest thoughts.” – Daily Telegraph

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This government’s back-of-the-envelope approach to national security must change

21/04/2011, 04:05:03 PM

by Matt Cavanagh

Con Coughlin’s article in today’s Telegraph will make uncomfortable reading for those Conservatives (and News International journalists) who like to pretend that Cameron’s national security council (NSC) is a genuinely radical reform based on a serious attempt to learn the lessons of the last decade. Coughlin writes:

“To judge by the NSC’s increasingly inchoate response to the challenge presented by Gaddafi’s regime, it seems to me that all it has achieved so far is the replacement of Blair’s much-derided “sofa government” with a new, back-of-the-envelope approach.”

argued in November that Cameron had persistently over-sold his reforms to our national security machinery, which really amounted to “a tinkering and re-badging exercise”. In the first couple of weeks of the Libyan crisis, the continuing lack of strategy, coherence, and grip was obvious.

The narrative changed when Cameron was able to take the credit for British diplomatic efforts to secure UNSCR 1973, and for being one of the first leaders to call for military intervention. The changed narrative didn’t change the facts – that Cameron’s call for intervention was more a response to immediate domestic pressure than part of a real strategy, and that UNSCR 1973 itself didn’t seem to be part of a real strategy – but it did push these inconvenient facts into the background. At that stage, what mattered was that Cameron seemed to be winning the international argument.

Now what matters is who is winning on the ground. The curiously timed joint letter by Sarkozy, Cameron and Obama, insisting that Gaddafi must go, hasn’t made that outcome any more likely compared to the various possible outcomes which leave him in place – the potential collapse of the revolution outlined by Anthony Loyd in this month’s Prospect, or a protracted stalemate, or a messy negotiated settlement. The letter has, however, increased the extent to which the West’s reputation, as well as Libyans’ future, is on the line.

It might therefore be time to look again, not just at the implications of the Libyan crisis for our defence and foreign policy – reopening or updating the strategic defence and security review (SDSR) – but also at the implications for our national security machinery. It needs real reform, rather than tinkering and re-badging, if we are to increase the chances of our foreign and security policy being driven by strategy rather than emerging out of the interaction between media coverage, domestic politics, and bureaucratic dysfunction.

Matt Cavanagh was a special adviser on defence in the ministry of defence, treasury, and Downing Street from 2005 to 2010.

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We should recall Parliament, but Douglas is sitting on his hands

20/04/2011, 11:30:32 AM

by Tom Watson

There are few issues more important for our Parliament than sending British troops to a hostile country to support an unknown opposition fighting a raggedy civil war against a brutal dictator.

Questioning him on Friday 18 March after the government statement on Libya, David Winnick asked the prime minister:

“despite all that the prime minister has said about reservations – no ground troops and so forth – does he recognise that in the country at large there is bound to be great anxiety that we could be dragged, through escalation, into a third war in nine years? Therefore, will the prime minister make sure that there are daily – or at least very regular reports to the House of Commons, so we avoid a third war”?

David Cameron replied:

“…there should be regular statements updating the House. The point the honourable gentleman makes about no ground troops and no occupying force is vital. That is in the UN security council resolution; it is the reassurance that we can give to people that that is not part of our aims – it is not what the UN wants, it is not what the Arab league wants, it is not what Britain wants. That is clearly a limitation on our ability to act, but it is absolutely right, and I think people will be reassured by it”.

I read in today’s papers that we are sending troops to Libya, or as the government describes them “military liaison advisory teams”.

Yesterday, a number of Conservative MPs called for Parliament to be recalled. The government has not responded. While driving my children to a well known West Midlands theme park, I’m sure I heard Douglas Alexander on the radio agreeing that there was no need bring MPs back to discuss the matter.

I’m getting prematurely long in the tooth but I feel Douglas has made a mistake. He should have pressured a government minister to come to the House. It would have allowed MPs who worry about our Libya campaign to seek assurances that this does not represent mission creep. Personally, I don’t need to ask those questions. I know it is.

A recall would allow me, and others, to test the wisdom of David Cameron. David is very good at saying things. He’s a good wordsmith. He emotes. But he always leaves me with the sense that he’s basically just a bullshitter. It often feels like he is not fully formed in his views. You have to be up close to this set of ministers to get the full picture. Press statements are not enough.

It’s the psychology of our current crop of leaders that gives the game away. Unlike David Cameron, William Hague is a transparent politician. You always know what he is doing and thinking, even when his words suggest something different.

When William Hague said that sending “military liaison advisory teams” does not represent “boots on the ground”, I thought “oh my God, we’re sending in ground troops”.

Maybe Douglas knows a different William Hague and David Cameron. I would imagine he’ll be given special briefings on privy council terms. He probably accepts telephone calls, made by arrangement between their respective private offices for mutually beneficial times in their busy diaries.

Maybe that’s why he said on the radio that on this occasion he was satisfied by the government explanation of the need to send in special military liaison teams. Despite this, he shouldn’t be so quick to sit on his hands when backbenchers express legitimate concerns.

A recall of Parliament is a pain for all concerned. We should have one all the same. We’re sending in troops, for God’s sake. And look where that got us last time.

Tom Watson is Labour MP for West Bromwich East.


West Bromwich, 18.25

On re-reading this article, I find that, not for the first time, I’ve been too harsh on Douglas Alexander. He’s not making the calls, Hague is. He’s got the difficult task of reacting very quickly to a fast changing policy. So I regret the harsh tone of the piece. Sorry Douglas. To be fair, I should have said how he completely exposed coalition incompetence in the early days of the conflict over the evacuation. But I’m seriously worried about mission creep. And parliament hasn’t been consulted. Ministers should be held to account.

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Libya is in danger of turning into a Carry On film

17/04/2011, 10:46:28 AM

by Dan McCurry

David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy have adopted their very own belligerent Arab city, along with several belligerent Arab towns. In total, the entire population of eastern Libya. Whether they like it or not, if they walk away from the situation now, they will be responsible for every act of the regime’s retribution, every arrest made and every life taken.

For Britain and France, to walk away now would be the equivalent of a parent who refuses their baby food, or a doctor refusing their patient treatment. When a politician starts a war, they are responsible for those on the ground who will suffer the consequences of the military action.

If this were a movie, the tragic-comic premise would be the central characters stuck in a situation of their own making. Unable to negotiate a truce between Tripoli and Benghazi, and unwilling to lose face, their only option is to carry on bombing. Perhaps Sid James would play Sarkozy and Hattie Jakes would play Cameron as Matron.

They are publicly angered with the Nato partners who have not been pulling their weight. It is not the provision of jets that is at the forefront of their concerns, but the laying off of responsibilities, the sharing of the burden and the consequent reduction of their own embarrassment.

Cameron and Sarkozy are telling everyone that, “we’re all in this together”, while desperately trying to play down who led the way in this inadvisable adventure. They want Italy to share the blame of a war gone wrong. (more…)

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Saturday News Review

16/04/2011, 06:54:54 AM

Labour Lord accuses party of lying over immigration

Lord Glasman, who was made a peer by the Labour leader in the New Year honours list, also claimed that Gordon Brown’s ministers had acted in a “high-handed way” by failing to discuss the issue. He claimed that working class men were unable to talk about the matters important to them at Labour Party meetings without being labelled sexist or racist. Lord Glasman, an academic, is one of the architects of the Blue Labour movement, which argues that the party should reconnect with working class issues such as the family, patriotism and communities rather than focusing on the state. – the Telegraph

A close ally of Ed Miliband has attacked Labour for ‘lying’ about immigration. Lord Glasman – a leading academic and personal friend of the Labour leader – said that the previous Labour government had used mass immigration to control wages. In an article for Progress magazine, the Labour peer wrote: ‘Labour lied to people about the extent of immigration … and there’s been a massive rupture of trust.’  Labour let in 2.2million migrants during its 13 years in power – more than twice the population of Birmingham. Maurice Glasman was promoted to the House of Lords by Mr Miliband earlier this year. He has been dubbed the Labour leader’s ‘de facto chief of staff’ by party insiders and has written speeches for him. – Daily Mail

Soft on crime or honest reformer?

The rate of jail sentencing is “financially unsustainable”, the justice secretary, Kenneth Clarke, has said, delivering a defiant riposte to critics within his own party and the tabloid press who have suggested that his plans to overhaul the penal system are soft on crime. Clarke last year unveiled a green paper on sentencing as part of government plans to cut the £4bn prison and probation budget by 20% over four years, promising to end a Victorian-style “bang ’em up” culture and reduce high reoffending rates by tackling the root causes. But after facing sustained criticism, he used an interview with The Times to dismiss characterisation of him as a minister who is “soft on crime.” He is preparing to publish a bill next month which will include proposals to allow for large sentence discounts in return for early guilty pleas and diverting the mentally ill away from jail. The goal is a 3,000 cut in the record 85,000 jail population in England and Wales in four years. – the Guardian

Ken Clarke today warns that expanding prison places is unsustainable and a waste of taxpayers’ money. The Justice Secretary also denies being politically isolated over plans to reduce prisoner numbers, insisting his stance has the full support of David Cameron and Cabinet colleagues. ‘I have never said anything on crime and punishment which is not the collective policy of the entire Government from top to bottom,’ he said. Mr Clarke stated he will not be moved from his view that prison is a waste of money which fails to effectively tackle re offending. He said: ‘It is financially unsustainable. That is not my principal motivation but it is pointless and very bad value for taxpayers’ money.’   Mr Clarke said that ‘warehousing’ prisoners fails to turn them away from a life of crime and is not the best way of dealing with drug addicts who might go straight if their habits were dealt with. – Daily Mail

Clegg to rally Lib Dems ahead of local elections

Lib Dem councils in England are doing a better job of protecting services than Labour and Conservative ones, Nick Clegg will argue as he rallies party candidates ahead of local elections. The deputy prime minister will say no Lib Dem-controlled council is closing a children’s centre or a library. He will accuse Labour town halls of “slash and burn” tactics and Tory councils of “mistakes” locally. – BBC News

Nick Clegg will tell Liberal Democrat activists to “take the fight” to the Conservatives in the battle for next month’s council elections in England. Campaigning in Sheffield today, he will say that the Liberal Democrats should attack the record of Tory-run authorities when they have implemented spending cuts such as closing libraries and children’s centres. He will claim that no Liberal Democrat-controlled council had shut a library or Sure Start centre, even though Labour and Tory authorities had done so. The Deputy Prime Minister’s remarks will be seen as another attempt to put light between the two Coalition parties ahead of the 5 May elections, when they will go head-to-head in many parts of the south, where Labour is weak. – the Independent

Calls for a recall grow

David Cameron last night faced demands for a recall of the Commons amid claims the UK was now pursuing an overt policy of regime change in Libya. Senior Conservative and Labour MPs said the Government had gone beyond the mandate given in last month’s Commons vote to protect civilians. The calls followed the publication of a joint article, by Mr Cameron, Barack Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy yesterday, which said that it would be an “unconscionable betrayal” if dictator Muammar Gaddafi was allowed to remain in power. Three Tory backbenchers and two Labour members said that MPs – currently on their Easter break – should now return to Westminster to have their say on the latest developments. – Daily Herald

Conservative and Labour members said that the Prime Minister’s statement – made jointly with Barack Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy – showed that the Libyan mission had moved from its original humanitarian purpose and was now about regime change. The Commons began its Easter recess last week and is not due to return until April 26. MPs said Parliament should be recalled to debate the apparent shift in strategy. John Baron, a Conservative MP, said: “I feel that mission in Libya has changed quite significantly.” David Davis, a former shadow home secretary, said Mr Cameron needed MPs’ approval for the new Libyan mission. “Parliament did not authorise the next phase. To go to the next phase he has to get parliamentary authority,” he said. – the Telegraph

Boris gets one over on Brian

The veteran peace campaigner Brian Haw faces eviction from an area of grass in Parliament Square Gardens after losing an attempt to launch a legal challenge against a possession order granted to the mayor of London. Haw’s longstanding presence on the pavement on the east side of Parliament Square is not, however, threatened by the order, which relates to his encroachment on to a small adjoining part of the gardens where he has pitched a tent. Haw has come under pressure to quit his decade-old protest just metres from Westminster Abbey as the royal wedding approaches. After the appeal attempt was lost, co-campaigner Barbara Tucker said she did not believe the eviction had anything to do with clearing the area for the royal wedding – “it is about getting rid of our peace campaign”. Last month, the mayor, Boris Johnson, won a high court possession order to evict Haw and Tucker. – the Guardian

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