The Guardian 8 Sep 2015
Mr Cameron has highly developed skills in the political art of following where he should be leading. And so, after an excruciating few days having to endure being taught a lesson in compassion decency and political leadership by Angela Merkel – and sensing himself behind opinion again – he has produced “a plan to help the refugees”. But it is calibrated more by political expediency, than compassion.
And now he tells us that the answer to the problem is more bombing. But if the best part of two years of bombing with more than enough high explosive hasn’t solved this problem, how would Britain’s widow’s mite of a few extra bombs help?
First Cameron’s refugee “plan”.
Consider this. Mr Cameron choses to help those who are already housed and fed, not comfortably but safely, in refugee camps outside Europe, rather than those who suffer (and die too) for want of these inside Europe. Could it be that the toxic term here is not “suffering”, but “inside Europe”, because of the effect these words have on his back-bench Europhobes? If so then – irony of ironies – the desperate and the destitute tramping towards us on the dusty roads of the Balkans are hostages to Mr Cameron’s head-bangers – just as he is.
Consider also this. This is a Government policy costing, I suppose, several millions. How then do we measure its success? Not by assuaging the suffering of those currently fleeing from the Syrian battlefields, obviously – for it is in no way aimed at them. By its effect on reducing the number fleeing, then? But it won’t do that either.
Then consider this. Mr Cameron tells thus that NOT helping those in flimsy boats struggling to Europe will reduce the temptation for others to take this “lethal Journey”. This is exactly the same inhuman logic that Government Ministers gave us last Christmas when they insisted (albeit at Europe’s behest) that not saving drowning refugees in the Mediterranean was the best way to stop others following them. Hundreds had to drown before we finally saw that this immoral policy didn’t work. Do we really have to learn that lesson again? Mr Cameron seems to believe that being an asylum seeker is like going to the theatre – one only does it if one has a ticket for a seat. But fleeing for your family’s life, you will take any risk. You are not going to stay to die, because there may not be a comfortable bed in a place you can be safe.
But surely, the Government argues, shouldn’t we be discouraging the people smugglers? Of course we should. So attack the people smugglers directly, not their poor powerless clients.
Finally, consider this. We in Britain have a refugee problem as well – 3,000 of them throwing themselves at the gates of the Channel Tunnel. Whether that is a large number or a small one, measured against the 1.5 million in Turkey, or the 800,000 who will be accepted by Germany or the 68,500 who settled in France last year, depends on your point of view. But one thing is common to all these figures. The refugee problem is Europe-wide and can only be solved by a Europe-wide solution – our own British refugee “problem”, too. Yet Mr Cameron rejects any smell of a European solution (see above). And in doing so he undermines our national interest, makes solving our refugee “problem” harder, damages his own bargaining power with Europe and betrays the quality of compassion which is one of our true national characteristics, just as he does our age old, proud record as a nation of generosity to those in need.
Mr Cameron is a decent man. But he is also a deeply political one and in his “plan” announced yesterday, the politics has trumped the decency. This is not a strategy to give succour, it is a fig leaf to cover nakedness.
The public are ahead of the politicians in this – as they were on intervention in Bosnia. And so, in our myopia (or rather the Government’s) we fail to see what the cheering welcomers of Germany see so clearly. Those fleeing the Syrian battle-field are not “economic migrants” – they are, in large measure, the educated middle class (have you noted how many speak English?). They are the Ugandan Asians of our day. Remember how much they did for our country?
This is not to pretend that solving this refugee crisis is easy. It isn’t. It is excruciatingly difficult. The more so because it is not going away. The numbers we now see fleeing conflict ,will be dwarfed by the population movements we will see as global warming takes hold. But if this has to be so, then let it be done thoughtfully, within a Europe-wide context, and in a way consistent with our principles of free movement, decency and humanity. Not by spatchcock policies dreamt up on a Friday afternoon to cover political embarrassment.
And now to back a “refugee” plan that isn’t going to work. Mr Cameron wants us to get involved in a military plan which isn’t working either. Military strikes against ISIL are failing, not because we do not have enough high explosive, but because we do not have a diplomatic strategy which makes sense of the military action. The so-called “Coalition” waging the bombing campaign is too small, too Sunni and too Western. This is increasing the danger of a widening Sunni/Shia regional war in which the West is drawn into one side and Russia the other (as we have recently seen). The new rapprochement with Tehran offers us new possibilities to build a wider coalition which spans the Sunni/Shia divide in a way which strangles ISIL, and creates a better context in which military force makes sense. This is a framework into which Russia, with their own Sunni Jihadist problems, could be drawn too. ISIL will not be defeated by killing more Arab Muslims with more Western high explosive. What is needed here is more clever diplomacy not more pointless bombing – and that is where Britain should be putting its effort and taking the lead.