It's no wonder we're sceptical about politicians
Under the radar, like a stealth bomber, Armed Forces minister Bill Rammell dropped some friendly fire "designed to stimulate debate" in a recent speech, telling his audience that the public had lost its stomach for war and was much too cynical and this was not a good thing. One reason, Rammell claims, is that “Britain's own security would be at greater risk if we again allow Afghanistan to become a safe haven for terrorists.”
Of our cynicism he gave three reasons. “The decline of deference and the growth in mistrust of those in authority”' second, the 24/7 media and third, a “freedom of information culture”. Whilst not in the top three, “the invasion of Iraq in 2003 has, in my view, had an impact on trust in government and authority and our decision making processes in general”.
Rammell told his Institute of Public Policy Research audience that, naturally, despite being a “liberal minded progressive” he remained convinced that “British participation” in the war in Iraq was right [as do Jack Straw, Alastair Campbell, Geoff Hoon, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown – despite the absence of cause and legality that even the Chilcott inquiry has brought out].
While he was happy with the media now over Afghanistan, saying that since last September they “had fallen into line”, his real beef was with us, saying: “The British public have a deep respect for our Armed Forces, but respect is not the same as understanding.”
He pointed out that “the enemy is responsible for shooting at our troops” and that “we (the government) are not responsible for planting them” (roadside bombs). Blimey, I hold my hands up, I didn't know. Or that with helicopters, “in counter-insurgency warfare, as we are undertaking in Afghanistan, you have to get out of the Chinooks and the Mastiffs, sometimes patrolling on foot and among the people.” Revelatory, I had no idea.
A lot of my knowledge comes from the internet, but thankfully Rammell is on-hand to point to the dangers of this source. He quotes journalist Nik Gowing’s claim that the new information age is a 'tyranny of real time and the tyranny of the time-line”. Whatever that means.
What I do know was that last September, half of the 25 injured Afghan veterans at Selly Oak refused to speak to prime minister Brown when he paid them a visit. To quote one soldier, “The straight fact is this: we don’t like the man, he has done nothing for us and continues to kick us in the teeth over equipment and compensation.” On the question of kit, Hoon told the Iraq Inquiry on January 19 that Brown had starved the forces of cash before the Iraq invasion.
Rammell's big fear is that “if healthy scepticism becomes replaced by blanket cynicism – if every apple is considered bad and the darkest motivations always attributed – then we risk damaging the bond of trust which underpins our democracy between the public, their political representatives and public servants.”
Risk damaging? Damaged. In Afghanistan, history tells us that for the last 200 years you can't win there. Politicians like Rammell tell us British troops have to be in Afghanistan to protect us from terrorism. But compared to alcohol-related deaths or heart disease, deaths from terrorism are way off the scale, almost non-existent in the UK. Instead of spending billions of taxpayers’ money on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, why are we not spending it on more urgent things?
More generally, with the global financial crisis, banks bail out, forthcoming cuts in public services, Iraq and the MPs expenses scandal is it any wonder the British people are so cynical of their political representatives and public servants?
22 January 2010