THE SAFETY VALVE HAS LIFTED AGAIN…….
Like every other reasonably intelligent person I watch the news coming in each day and try to assess what’s actually happening. I say this because long ago I realised that whilst a lot of news is just that, topical information presented honestly to inform, much of what assaults us is partial, in some cases misleading and the truth often lies in the gaps.
A prime example of the latter syndrome is the recent Iraq related news. The gap is the silence of the usual suspects. The tip of the iceberg that I think should be alerting us is the cohort of US generals who have launched an attack on Donald Rumsfeld, the statements by local political leaders that a state of civil war exists, the report from the UN that ethnic cleansing is evident and the trickle of news clips demonstrating the worsening conditions in major centres of population in Iraq. Add to this the less well-reported but equally dangerous situation in Afghanistan and a cynical news-watcher can start to make some sort of an assessment.
Human shield Jack Straw is trundled out once a week to state that there is no civil war. President Bush makes the same statement as his West Wing staff melt away into the hinterland of US politics and Tony Blair uses every diversionary tactic in the book; he is fortunate in that there are so many pressing problems at home for him to address and he can always throw in the odd foreign trip to get some respite.
I am convinced that what we are looking at is the inevitable consequence of a badly conceived, worse managed and ill-prepared for incursion into Iraq. ‘Shock and Awe’ (where do they get these names from?) has degenerated into shocking shambles. Far from improving, the death toll increases both in civilians and military personnel. ‘Insurgency’ or as it should more correctly described, ethnic strife, has reached the stage where arguing that it is not full-blown civil war is twisted semantics. As the Iraqi premier himself said the other day, if ethnic factions are fighting each other for control of their country and government it can reasonably be described as civil war. As Donald himself once said, ‘If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, chances are it’s a duck.
The really worrying thing is that instead of addressing this directly, entering into a debate and coming up with a strategy to manage the end-game our leaders seem to have gone into denial and sanctioned a campaign of partial information leakage designed to give them the best chance of surviving the coming political storm. As a friend of mine once said ‘we have plaited sawdust for too long and the pigeons are coming home to roost’. I think we all know what he meant and the day is coming when some very large pigeons will return to the hut.
At home I watch with shock and awe as the Department for the Eradication of Farming and the Rural Areas proceeds with a monumental cock-up which is costing the taxpayer millions, bankrupting farmers and causing untold misery in a hard pressed agricultural industry. Briefly, in an effort to get some improvements in the EU Common Agricultural Policy (subsidies to farmers and growers) which had reached the point where it is a continental scandal, a completely new scheme of Single Payments was agreed and guaranteed to be paid by the end of March this year. By a combination of bad management, fatally flawed IT systems and denial that there was a problem DEFRA have been forced to arrive at the position yesterday where they have admitted that it is a disaster, payments will not be made until July and this will trigger massive fines from the EU.
In the NHS everyone agrees that there is a problem in that a massive deficit looms of somewhere between £300million and £600million. We get the news this morning that the solution is to impose a levy on successful hospitals trusts with no deficit in order to fund the ones who are in debt. I don’t think we need a degree in economics or business management to see the flaw here. But hold on lads, it will all be OK. Patricia Hewitt assures us that this will not mean any reduction in patient care. So that’s all right then.
Then we have the situation where Des Smith, one of the Blair governments chief fundraisers, operating in the vexed field of City Academies, the new privately controlled schools dreamed up by Blair, is arrested for promising honours for donations. Labour suddenly find they have £14million in ‘loans’ that the party treasurer can’t account for. The Tories admit to £16million in similar loans and the Liberals come out looking reasonably clean. Are we surprised? As Deep Throat said, ‘follow the money’, the police are doing just that and one gets the impression that the Blair Legacy is going to take another hit.
Is it any wonder then that the Rowntree Trust announced this week that their research shows that one voter in five is seriously considering voting for the ultra-right wing British National Party? This isn’t a swing to the right, it’s the least well informed sector of the voting public looking for an alternative. The BNP leaflet for the May local election oozed through my letter box this week. It is a mish mash of thinly disguised racism and fatuous populist policies but to anyone who simply sees the froth it will be effective. We’re not talking about a resurgence of Fascism but a dreadful symptom of the erosion of trust in politicians caused by ill-conceived and unpopular centrist policies emanating from London.
So I think you can see that the safety valve had to lift. It won’t do a lot of good, I am as powerless now as I was when I advocated spending the war chest on aid to the Middle East instead of bombing them back into the Stone Age. All I can do is stand on my little soap box and shout my concerns to the world. I’m daft enough to think that if we all did the same there might be a collective effect. Over to you……
SCG/20 April 2006