Valuing the human…

When I heard that UKIP had forged an alliance with a Polish MEP who was, amongst other things, a Holocaust denier, a man who joked about beating wives and beating children, who thought disabled people shouldn’t be on TV, and that had described Hitler as a ‘rascal’, my first reaction was to sigh. Not because these things aren’t terrible – but because they are, and they’re sadly typical of something I see in so many places. It’s about a failure to place value on the human, but instead only on certain people.

The whole nature of the Holocaust was about that – and so is Holocaust denial. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think UKIP is a party of Holocaust deniers – though I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there were a few in UKIP’s ranks – but that they don’t think Holocaust denial is such a big deal. Certainly not a ‘deal breaker’, as they’ve demonstrated by making their deal. Why would you not think it was a big deal? The most obvious reason is that the millions of deaths, the brutal and systematic nature of those deaths – not just of Jews but of Roma, of Slavs, of disabled people and others – simply don’t matter that much to you. For some people such an attitude is almost inconceivable – but for others, it seems long ago, those ‘people’ don’t really register as important enough to make a difference. They’re not valued.

Holocaust denial is one of the most obvious, but the failure to place value in the human is in all those other things. You can only joke about ‘wife beating’ if you don’t really value women – they don’t quite class as human, somewhere in your mind. The same for beating children. Saying that disabled people shouldn’t appear on TV can only really be because disabled people don’t count as quite, well, people. Human. And it’s part of a bigger pattern. Racism, ultimately, means thinking that people of one race are less valuable than others. Xenophobia, of the kind demonstrated by UKIP towards Romanians and Bulgarians, for example, says the same. ‘You know the difference’, as Nigel Farage said to James O’Brien, comparing Romanians to his German wife, is about valuing one kind of human above another.

It’s not just UKIP. Lord Freud’s comments about some disabled people being ‘worth’ less than the minimum wage has the same origin – and in some ways a more pernicious one. It takes the idea of value to a more calculated level, treating people not as humans but as ‘assets’ whose only ‘worth’ is their ability to contribute as productive economic units – and as a result finds them wanting. It’s not just treating disabled people as less than human – it’s treating all of us as less than human. It’s not valuing humanity at all. Labour’s Rachel Reeves gets in on the act too. In her recent speech on social security began by talking about ‘decent, hardworking people’ – which implies that there are some people who are not as valuable. Not decent. Not working hard enough – and hence not as valuable, not as worthy. That would include people who can’t work as hard – disabled people for example, older people, kids – and people whose lives are not filled with what is commonly described as ‘work': carers are perhaps the most obvious example, the majority of whom are women. These people, the indecent, non-‘hardworking’ people are seen as less ‘valuable’ than the decent, hardworking people, who ‘deserve’ support. The value’s in the ‘decency’ and the ‘hardworking’, not the ‘people’. Not the human.

That’s also why the Tories can see an attack on ‘human rights’ as something that’s not just politically acceptable but politically valuable. Many people seem to think that there isn’t any value in the human, just in certain kinds of human.  That’s why the recent survey that suggests many more Britons think that they should have the right to work anywhere in Europe than think Europeans should have the right to work in the UK. It makes sense – if you understand that we Brits are inherently more valuable, more worthy, more trustworthy than all those dodgy foreigners. We brought civilisation to the world, you know, of course we’re better than those Europeans – particularly those dodgy Romanians and Bulgarians, who are mostly beggars and thieves anyway. Even if people don’t articulate it in those terms, that’s what underlies it. ‘We’ are better than ‘them’.

We seem to see just the differences, and use them to ascribe value. We forget the human, and undervalue it. That’s why UKIP can just shrug off the Holocaust denial and the wife beating jokes. That’s why the casual racism inherent in the UKIP Calypso doesn’t matter – and why even if Lord Freud does eventually lose his job, the attitudes towards disabled people are seen by far too many as just common sense and economic reality. That, to me, is deeply sad.

Not Ed Miliband’s speech on immigration

Now a lot of people have asked me how Labour should respond to UKIP.

I have thought about it a lot, and I tell you this: I will not cede the issue of immigration to those offering fear or falsehood.

I promise, we will listen to what people tell us on the doorstep. Not just if those people are called Gareth. We do listen. And we do understand. We hear many things that people say about immigration – and about many other things. About poverty. About jobs. About the cost of social security. About the NHS. About housing. And we understand when people seem to make links between immigration and those other things – but we have to be clear about whether those links are true or not. Where they are true, we have to be bold, and strong – but when they are not true, we have to be bold and strong too.

So when people say that they are worried about the NHS, and the strain being put on the NHS by immigration, we will say that we are worried about the NHS too, and that we will do everything we can to make sure the NHS is properly funded. That we have doctors and nurses that are looked after and supported. That we will not allow the NHS to be driven down into despair so that it can be sold off – but we will also be clear that immigrants and immigration is not putting a strain on the NHS: quite the opposite. Immigrants do not come over here to use our health service – they come over hear to work in our health service. The contribution made by immigrants as doctors, as nurses, as support staff of all kinds, is critical to the health service. And immigrants use health services less than most people. They’re not a drain on the health service. They support it. Immigration is good for the NHS. What is bad for the NHS is the creeping privatisation – and we’re sorry that we in the Labour Party made the wrong moves in initiating Public Finance Initiatives. We will prevent any future privatisation – and ensure proper funding for the NHS.

And when people say they are worried that about housing, and that immigration is putting a strain on housing, we will say that we are worried about housing too, and will be ensuring that more affordable – and by that we mean genuinely affordable – houses are build. We will look at ways to make the currently dysfunctional housing market work better for everyone – but it needs to be entirely clear that it is the housing market that is the problem, not immigration. It’s not the immigrants but the unscrupulous landlords who cause the problems in the housing market – and we will make sure that tenants have proper protection, and that rents are kept at affordable levels.

And when people tell us that they are worried about the amounts we have to pay for social security, we will say that we understand – and we do – but we will also make it entirely clear that the idea of ‘benefits tourism’ is also a myth. Immigrants do not place a burden on the benefits system any more than they do on the health service. Indeed, they pay more in tax than they receive in benefits. Immigration does not cost money – it contributes, and those who suggest otherwise whilst knowing the real figures are doing so to mislead, to confuse, and to try to make people blame those who are not to blame.

Now, let’s talk a little bit about jobs, and about unemployment. It’s a common suggestion – one made by UKIP at the European elections – that people from Europe are coming here to take your jobs. That to is a damaging and disturbing myth, one often deliberately intended to spread fear and division. Overall, immigration – and immigration from Europe in particular – creates more jobs than it takes. Now unemployment is a problem – and low wages are a problem – but they’re not caused by immigration, and to suggest so is disingenuous at best. We need to be quite clear about that. It is true, however, that particularly at the lower end of the wage scale immigration can put pressure on, and in some particular local areas it can put pressure on – in the short term. We will address this directly – by raising the minimum wage, by enforcing that minimum wage, by clamping down on those manipulative and unscrupulous employers who take advantage of both British and immigrant workers – and by providing a social security system that supports those in need rather than stigmatising them and demonising them.

Now it’s important to understand that there are those who would use immigration as a scapegoat for the problems we face. I could have mentioned education – some suggest, falsely, that immigration puts pressure on our education system – or crime, which is also falsely blamed on immigration. It’s easy to blame immigrants – but it’s wrong, and it’s damaging. It means that the people who are really responsible for these problems – the dodgy landlords, the unscrupulous employers, those who actually caused the financial problems we face – are let off the hook. What’s more, it means we don’t do what is really needed to sort out our problems. We don’t address the dysfunctional housing market. We don’t provide proper funding for our health and education systems. We don’t sort out our social security system in a way that really works – all we do is find people to punish.

For that reason, I won’t be announcing punitive new measures on benefits for immigrants. I won’t be announcing figures to limit immigration.  Instead, I’ll be dealing with the real problems, not basing policy on lies.

Because they are lies – and we will fight those lies, because the lies hurt. They hurt immigrants. They hurt you. They create division and damage, foster hatred and ignorance. They hurt the country. They hurt us all.

————————————

…but of course he won’t say any of that, because it’s too late. They’ve let the lies go unchallenged for so long that it’s too hard to fight. So instead, on goes the damage, on goes the hatred, and the problems remain unsolved…. and instead they fester, like a sore.

UKIP’s idea of freedom…..

Reading about Nigel Farage’s idea to ban HIV+ immigrants from the UK made me shake my head…. and as @auntysarah reminded me on Twitter, this is pure dog-whistle politics. As she put it:

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I’m pretty sure she’s right – and it’s not the first time. Farage’s line to James O’Brien (see here), about his line that ‘you know what the difference is’ about Romanians moving in next door is just the same kind of thing. It’s about making people afraid of ‘the other’. All those people you ‘know’ you should be afraid of….

That in turn reminded me of a classic Tom Robinson Band song: Power in the Darkness, which parodies the kind of politics that UKIP represents, and that many of us hoped we’d seen off back in the 80s. The video is below, but here are the key lyrics.

And it’s about time we said ‘Enough is enough’
And saw a return to the traditional British values of discipline
Obedience, morality and freedom
What we want is

Freedom from the reds and the blacks and the criminals
Prostitutes, pansies and punks
Football hooligans, juvenile delinquents
Lesbians and left wing scum

Freedom from the niggers and the Pakis and the unions
Freedom from the gypsies and the Jews
Freedom from left wing layabouts and liberals
Freedom from the likes of you

I hoped we’d seen that kind of thing off in the 80s. We haven’t. It’s still there, and being dog-whistled at all the time. It really IS time we said enough is enough – but to this…

The rant is a little more than 3 minutes into this video. If you don’t know the song, you really should!

We have met the enemy and he is us…

pogoI suppose I shouldn’t have been upset by the results of the two by-elections last night – but I was. I suppose I still had a slight hope in my mind that things weren’t really as bad as the opinion polls, and my gut feelings, suggested they were. I was wrong. I often am. As it was, UKIP triumphed in Clacton, and came very close to triumphing even more dramatically in Heywood and Middleton.

The post-mortems are already happening in so many places. All kinds of people are looking for all kinds of reasons, and all kinds of people to blame – and it’s easy to find possible scapegoats. I do it myself, regularly railing against the BBC – I even run my own parody account based on the BBC’s political editor Nick Robinson, portraying him as the founder of the Nigel Farage Fan Club. We can – and often do – try to blame the Daily Mail and its tabloid companions, for their seemingly incessant campaigns against immigrants, trying to blame them for everything from unemployment and housing problems to the challenges facing the NHS. We can try to blame the Labour Party for failing to stand up for what is right – failing to appeal to its core voters, failing to understand ordinary people. We can blame them for accepting the anti-immigrant agenda of the Mail etc without question – or we can blame them for not accepting it, and hence not understanding the genuine concerns of the ordinary people.

We can try to blame Nigel Farage and his band of chancers for pulling the wool over the voters’ eyes – and they do, portraying themselves as different from the ‘ordinary’ politicians when in almost every way they are indistinguishable. We can blame them for using dog-whistle politics, appealing to the lowest common denominator, using racism – sometimes direct, sometimes just with a nod and a wink- and they do, no question about it. We can blame the Tories for pandering to their extreme right – or we can blame them for not pandering to their extreme right, so leaving a space for the likes of Farage.

We can blame the banks and so forth for trying to distract us from the real reasons for the financial crash – and hence convincing us to accept the neo-liberal agenda of austerity. Oh, there are a whole lot of ways in which we can find people to blame. The blame game is an easy one to play – which is part of the reason for the success of UKIP. They play it better than almost anyone, convincing us sometimes that the EU is to blame for everything, sometimes that immigrants are to blame for everything, sometimes both. Sometimes they blame ‘LibLabCon’. It’s easy to do. And yet it misses the point.

In the end, the problem isn’t with ‘someone else’. It’s us. The Pogo comic above has been used for a number of purposes – initially highlighting the dangers of McCarthyism, where people who were ‘un-American’ were effectively hounded, scapegoated and persecuted, and later for ‘Earth-day’, highlighting how self-destructive we are in the way we treat our environment.

That’s the scariest thing about yesterday’s election. Not that it’s somehow unrepresentative of how we are, but that it might be. The things that UKIP uses as dog whistles, the racism, the homophobia, the xenophobia, the desire to blame people weaker than ourselves, only function as dog whistles because there’s a lot of racism, homophobia and xenophobia about. It taps into something about us. Of course it’s only part of UKIP’s appeal, because the other call to arms, the one against the self-serving Westminster Elite, hits another critical nerve. The Westminster elite are self-serving, disconnected and deserving primarily of contempt. Farage is quite right about that – though he conveniently fails to mention that he’s one of them in almost every way. The trouble is, it is us that have let them get that way. And we continue to do so – even by voting UKIP.

I don’t have any answers. I don’t think there really are any answers. When we’re fighting against ourselves, it’s hard to find them. We really are our own worst enemies.

What to do when you make a mistake – an object lesson!

A little earlier in the week I posted a piece on how difficult it is for politicians to admit they’ve made a mistake. Well, if they were paying attention during the Lib Dem conference today, they’d have learnt an object lesson, from the BBC’s Louise Stewart. Here’s what she tweeted, before Nick Clegg’s speech:

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Stunningly brilliant – hilarious, and entirely unintentional. A mixture of a typo and the joys of predictive text. It caused immediate hilarity… so what did Louise Stewart do? Delete the tweet, and pretend it didn’t happen – one of the many dodgy techniques used by the Conservative Party Press Office in their altercation with David Allen Green earlier in the week? Suggest that someone hacked her account, as is the standard excuse when MPs tweet something racist, sexist or stupid?

No. Louise Stewart just admitted it straight out.

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And she didn’t delete the tweet. She admitted it, apologised and saw the funny side – as did others. In the last conference of a conference season full of lies, reinvention of history, dissembling and misinformation, it may well be the first piece of honesty on the political scene.

Louise Stewart, I salute you!

 

 

What makes journalists special?

The news that the Sun were supporting an application to the European Court of Human Rights over the Met’s gathering of the communications data of the Sun’s political editor, was greeted with more than a few raised eyebrows. The levels of irony and hypocrisy here are almost magnificent in their chutzpah. The Sun, central to a Murdoch empire that has been mired in scandals over phone-tapping, furious at one of their own having his phone calls (and more, to be fair) looked at – the communications data surrounding them at least. The Sun, whose close links to the Met were a part of the whole scandal that brought about the Leveson Inquiry, calling the Met out for unethical procedure. The Sun, who just days before had been railing against the whole European Human Rights regime, and the court itself, trying to use those very rights to defend themselves.

Despite this, and despite my dislike of the Sun, I, and many others, would support the Sun in their action. Journalists do need protection from surveillance. They do need privacy. They do need to be able to protect their sources. As the Sun said:

“A free press is fundamental to all of our other freedoms. And to have a free press reporters need to be able to protect the identity of their sources.”

It’s a bold statement and one worth further examination. The role of the ‘free press’ can sometimes be understated, particularly when we look at the excesses of the current crop of tabloids. Anyone who followed the Leveson Inquiry knows quite how badly the press can and do behave. Desperate, despicable stuff at times – cruel, selfish, manipulative, voyeuristic, racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, divisive, misleading (or worse), doing their best to bring out the worst in people. Just plain nasty in so many ways – but that should not blind us to the importance of at least something of a free press. Without the press, things like the MPs expenses scandal would never have come to light. Without the press, Edward Snowden would have found it far harder to get his information out – and would have been far less likely to be believed. There are many more stories like this – too many to count.

So a free press is important – and for that reason, the press get privileges. They do get – and might well deserve, though more of that later – better protection for privacy and confidentiality. They get more access to information – through briefings from politicians and others or from ‘press-only’ events, through networks of sources and supporters and so forth. They have an audience that ‘ordinary’ people find it very difficult to reach. They have even had specific legal protections – against defamation, for example, in what used to be known as the ‘Reynolds Defence’, though since the Defamation Act 2013 came along, that has broadened a little so as to be potentially accessible to non-journalists.

All this has historically been entirely right and proper – but there’s something of a deal going on here. Why should journalists get special protection, above and beyond that of ordinary people? What makes the ‘professional’ journalist special – and different from that increasingly common species, the ‘citizen journalist’? What makes a columnist in a newspaper different from a blogger? The unspoken deal was, just as with lawyers and doctors (and even priests) who also make claim to special rules on confidentiality, journalists were bound by different ethics, and had been properly and professionally trained so they could be more trusted – at least to do things like protect their sources. Journalists get protection, and in turn they protect us – and they need to behave ethically in response. Just as lawyers and doctors have ethical guides (which they may or may not follow) press journalists have their own ethical guides. In the past, as far as UK press journalists were concerned, this was the Code of Practice of the Press Complaints Commission – what it is now is still up in the air, and the new regulator IPSO tries to assert itself whilst the supporters of the Royal Charter try to bring about implementation of the Leveson Report. Either way, most journalists would claim that they have ethics.

The real question, then, is whether they follow these ethics – because if they don’t, there’s far less to differentiate them from the rest of us. I write a blog, have had a few pieces published in magazines and on newspapers’ websites – am I a journalist? Should I have the same rights as journalists do? My suspicion is that the lines between ‘real’ journalists and ‘citizen’ journalists, bloggers and so forth will if anything get more blurred. There are already many people on the borderlines, many who sometimes act as journalists, other times as bloggers and so forth. Where does that leave journalistic ethics, and where does that leave journalistic protections for privacy, freedom of expression and so forth?

There are two very different possible approaches. One is to strip away journalistic protections – the other is to broaden them to cover the rest of us too. Personally, I much prefer the latter. Now that technology has given us the capacity to exercise our freedom of expression, the law should help protect our ability to do so. I may not be a journalist, but I do want confidentiality, and I think I have the right to it.

In the meantime, though, we should rally behind journalists in their fight against intrusion. We should, however, also expect them to understand the deal that is going on – and to understand that the pressure is on them to behave more ethically. The less ethically they behave, the less responsibly they behave, the harder it is to justify a special deal. One particularly painful story this week has made this point to me: the death of Brenda Leyland, the women accused of being a ‘Twitter Troll’ towards the parents of Madeleine McCann. This is a story that has almost nothing good to be said about it. What actually constitutes a ‘troll’ is subject to a great deal of doubt, and even if some kind of definition is settled upon, whether Brenda Leyland fits it is another matter. These are complex questions. For better or worse, the law has been getting increasingly involved in activity on social media, whether for malicious communications, bullying, public order offences or defamation – and as the number of people participating in social media has grown, the incidents have similarly grown.

I’m not in any way a defender of ‘trolling’ – but neither am I a supporter of ‘counter-trolling’. Trolling the trolls does go on – and on my Twitter timeline (I follow a lot of people) I’ve seen people make deeply passionate arguments both in favour of the McCanns and defending Brenda Leyland and others. I don’t want to get into that argument – other than to say that I don’t know what happened to Madeleine McCann, and I’m a believer in the presumption of innocence – but the actions of the press, and Sky News in particular, are another matter. We don’t necessarily expect ordinary people on Twitter to behave responsibly, let alone to a special, higher standard of ethics and responsibility. We should, however, have higher expectations of the press. That’s part of the deal. Was the doorstepping of Brenda Leyland appropriate, ethical or well considered? Was it necessary? I hope Sky News is considering these questions – because press ethics matter, just as protection of the press matters. We need a free press – but we need a responsible press too.

 

UPDATED TO MAKE CLEAR THAT IT WAS TOM NEWTON DUNN’S COMMS DATA GATHERED BY THE POLICE, NOT HIS CALLS LISTENED TO.

Unleash the doubts of war….

Parliament is to be recalled on Friday, to discuss UK involvement in air strikes against the so-called ‘Islamic State’ (neither really Islamic nor a state – in the same way that in the past the ‘Holy Roman Empire’ was not ‘holy’ nor ‘Roman’ nor an empire). Unlike the last time parliament voted on military action in Syria (that time against the regime of Assad – who would almost certainly be amongst the beneficiaries of the military action that is now being proposed), it seems pretty certain that both houses of parliament will approve this action. The ‘Islamic State’ (‘IS’) has performed so many atrocities – some of them on British citizens, some televised – that it is hard to see how military action can be resisted. And yet I do still have doubts. Big doubts.

I always doubt war. I’d like to think that we all do. The idea of using military force should be a last resort. People die – and that’s something that we need to take seriously. It’s not a game – though often it seems to be viewed in that way. People have played war games from the days of pushing toy solders about on a big map to playing Call of Duty on their X-Box – but real war isn’t like that. I haven’t experienced war myself, but I’ve spent a lot of time with people who have – from old relatives of mine who fought in the Spanish Civil War to working with kids who lived through the war in former Yugoslavia. War is a hideous, horrible, messy business. The sanitised language used these days – ‘surgical strikes’ is the one that gets me the most – can make it seem as though it’s easy, precise, and controllable. It isn’t. Precisely the opposite.

Learning from history

In this case, there seem to be very particular reasons to have doubts. Our recent experiences should make those doubts inevitable: the invasion of Iraq should be fresh in all our minds. Forgetting for a moment the farce of the WMDs, we went into Iraq to try to remove someone we believed was doing hideous things to his own people – and though we did remove him, we did it in a way that left hundreds of thousands dead, and resulted in a state in chaos. It is hard not to conclude (unless you’re Tony Blair) that it also played a very significant part in setting in place the conditions that brought about the emergence of IS. Our intervention cannot, except in the eyes of the blindest of optimists, be seen as having been a success. We created chaos, fostered resentment, and killed countless numbers of people. Can we be sure that what we are contemplating now won’t have similar results? IS emerged from the ashes of our earlier work: what will emerge from the ashes of this plan? It may be hard to imagine, but something still worse is possible.

Have we learned the lessons of last time? Or even from last year – when we were looking at action on the opposite side of the same conflict, so far as Syria is concerned? Listening to people like Tony Blair and his advisors, like Jack Straw – or, on the other side, the likes of Liam Fox – it seems as though we’ve learned almost nothing. It’s a bit like watching a bee buzzing against a window, again and again and again. This time it’ll be OK. No, this time. This time!!

Who wants this war?

We really should be asking this question. There are many answers – and they should at least make us pause for thought. One group who seem to be pretty keen on the war are IS themselves. They’ve been goading the West again and again. Challenging us to take action. Now it’s possible that they’re doing so expecting us to refuse, so they can portray us as cowards – but is that really likely given the past record? It seems far more likely that they want us to attack. They want us to demonstrate that we are as they suggest we are – we’re the Great Satan, out to destroy Islam. The more we attack, the more their case is proven – and the more they can recruit people to join them. Yes, their fighters will die, but they’ll die for the cause, and the cause itself will grow.

There are also people here in the West who clearly want this war – and for many of them the reasons should raise even more doubts. Tony Blair himself is one – whether to try to vindicate his original decision to join George W Bush in invading Iraq in the first place, or because he genuinely believes that this is the only way, he’s scarcely the person that we should be listening to in making a decision about military action. Liam Fox is another – a man with very close connections to the arms industry. Indeed, there are many amongst those calling for war who are likely to end up making money out of it, just as so much was made in both the war and the ‘reconstruction’ efforts in Iraq after the invasion back in 2003.

There are others who want the war for much more genuine reasons – from the Kurds themselves to others with close connection to the situation on the ground. They should be listened to – but so should those who doubt.

‘They threaten our way of life’

The portrayal of IS as the worst demons imaginable is a convincing one. Some of the stories coming out of Iraq and Syria are truly harrowing, and there’s little doubt that they commit atrocities on a nightmarish scale – but we should be careful about claims made about them even so. The idea that a group, or an ideology is ‘threatening our way of life’ is one that has been used before. Saddam Hussein was compared to Hitler. Al Qaeda portrayed as even worse. Assad, just a year ago, was described in similar ways. Going further back, the menace of Communism was seen the same way – and used as a justification for war all over the world. That’s not to say that any of these things are not true: in many ways they are. That, however, is not necessarily a justification for war – particularly if the war may not really have the effect of destroying them. The idea of a hydra, where if one head is chopped off two more grow in its place is one that should be familiar to all. Attacking IS may end up quite similar.

‘But what do you suggest?’

This is a question that I’ve been asked pretty much every time I’ve expressed doubts about military action against IS – and I don’t really have an answer except to say that right now, what is being suggested seems likely to me to do more harm than good. If that’s the case, then, painful as it may seem, right now the best thing to do might be nothing at all. To think. To try to find other ways. Arming the Kurds, for example, might be a far better way forward than air strikes or other direct military involvement. But, and I think this is crucial, not having an active alternative to suggest should not mean that we can’t express doubts about what is being proposed. Given the leaders that we have, we cannot – we must not – give them free rein to do whatever they want. We can’t trust them to run our own country – why could or should we trust them to wage war, to risk other people’s lives?

Being serious about peace and human rights

Even if this time war is appropriate – and I’m far from sure that it isn’t – what bothers me the most is that we don’t seem to be serious about peace, or all the things that are connected with peace. We have a government that is seriously considering withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights, and that seems to have little concern for or respect for the rule of law – Chris Grayling’s recent court defeat over legal aid ‘reform’ is just one example. We continue to supply arms, surveillance equipment and so forth to oppressive regimes all around the world – including regimes that behead people, oppress women and religious minorities and many of precisely those things that we see as being so evil in IS. Our governments overlook and even support the actions of the Israeli government in Gaza. While we do all these things, it’s very hard for us to be seen as anything but hypocritical in our actions – and it’s easy for people like IS to portray us as the enemies of the good. The starting point for creating peace and fostering human rights around the world is to support it at home. Yes, I know I’m being idealistic, unrealistic and living in Cloud-cuckoo-land to ask this, but sometimes it’s good to be idealistic.

There’s nothing wrong with doubt.

…and sometimes it’s good to have doubt. Sometimes it’s right to have doubt. I want to be quite clear about this – I may well be entirely wrong about this action. It may be that this is the time that military action is needed. I’m not a pacifist: my family fought against the Nazis, and in the Spanish Civil War. Sometimes military action, sometimes war, is needed. And, what’s more, delaying action can be critical. Leaving off action could have disastrous consequences. I know that. And what’s more, I know that my doubts will almost certainly not be listened to. That doesn’t stop me having them. I hope more people do have them – because what we should really worry about is people who are certain. That kind of certainty makes me shudder.