Thursday 7 April 2011
A Tale Told by an Idiot
David Cameron, our Prime Minister, wanders the world with a look of bewilderment on his face, understanding nothing, changing his message to suit his audience. A mendacious Tony Blair was bad but a stupid one is so much worse. Yes, that’s what we have in this fatuous ‘heir to Blair.’ There he is, ever so 'umble like Uriah Heep, apologising and wringing his hands over past ‘errors’; apologising for the British Empire.
It’s all part of the Blairite legacy, the politics of apology, the politics of hypocrisy. Blair took it to a fine degree; yes, he was sorry over distant things, things that happened long before he was born, like the Irish Potato Famine or slavery, while sanctimoniously and self-righteously justifying his role in the death of thousands in Iraq. Cameron is shaping up, attempting to walk in those shoes, offering an apology over the partition of Kashmir, an issue over which he has not the first clue, while bombarding Libya.
The trouble with Cameron, and please forgive the crudity of the expression – a reflection of my mood – is simply this: he does not know his arse from his elbow. He understands nothing of our history, more or less telling people, telling foreigners, what he thinks will please them most, even if it means talking this country down, even if it means forgetting the very real achievements of the past.
He read PPE – Philosophy, Politics and Economics – at Oxford, a course which, as Peter Oborne wrote recently, is notorious for skimming the surface of understanding and historical knowledge. But one would think he would be better advised. This is a man who believed that Britain was a ‘junior partner’ to America in 1940, or so he told Obama, when America wasn’t even in the war. This is a man who, as I wrote recently, considers Palmerston to be one of his influences (Cameron plays Palmerston, plays Blair) clearly with no understanding at all just exactly what Palmerston represented.
Last November he visited China wearing a red poppy. Now in Britain that is a mark of respect, a token of remembrance for the dead of two world wars and all conflicts since. But in China the poppy is a symbol of something quite different – it’s a symbol of humiliation, a symbol of the Opium Wars, when the country was obliged to accept importation of a drug that was ruining the lives of so many of its citizens. It’s not the poppy of Flanders the Chinese remember; it’s the poppy of Bengal, the poppy of Palmerston. Only the most ignorant individual, ignorant of history, could fail to appreciate that. Ignorant and appallingly ill-advised by the Foreign Office, Cameron had to be asked to take it off.
The past, as L P Hartley wrote in the opening of The Go-Between, is a foreign country; they do things differently there. But we should try to understand just exactly how they are done; we should try to have the message translated. Yes, bad things happened, yes, the legacy of Empire is not spotless, evidenced by the Opium Wars, but there was so much good also, so much that is being lost by Cameron’s muddled message.
In recent debate I argued in relation to the India that the British impact was generally positive. Amongst other things this huge country was united for the first time in its history; that it acquired a consciousness of nationhood for the first time. It was the British who ended abuses like suttee and thuggism; it was the British who created an integrated transport system. Above all it was the British who in English gave the people of India their first common language, something that has enabled the country to make an impact on the world economy in the present day. Cameron does no favours in holding out the anti-imperial crutch, the very thing that the likes of Robert Mugabe leant on most heavily as he ruined Zimbabwe.
We need a grown up leader for a grown up world, a leader who will stand up for Britain, a leader who understands our past, a leader who does not wander the world like an absurd penitent, sackcloth here, ashes there, gaffs everywhere. I tried to resist the impression for so long that Cameron was playing at politics, resist the impression that he is a weak, shallow and insincere man, a man not fit for high office. I can do so no longer. He is pathetic, a risible figure, an idiot telling a tale that signifies nothing, nothing beyond his own incapacity and lack of understanding.