On Theresa May and extremism

Theresa May’s McCarthyist credentials took quite a boost today, as she announced a drive against “entryist” infiltration of the public sector, charities, and businesses. The Home Office definition of “entryism” is, according to the Guardian, “extremist individuals, groups and organisations consciously seeking to gain positions of influence to better enable them to promote their own extremist agendas.” Those devious fuckers, hey?

What’s odd about this definition is, the repeated use of “extremist” aside, it seems a remarkably good definition of exactly why most people do enter the public sector. One presumes that Theresa herself sought to gain a position of influence—it seems unlikely that one becomes Home Secretary by accident, or against one’s will—and one presumes that she did so in order to be able to promote her own bigotry—sorry, agenda. So is she an entryist? Well that will have to turn on whether you consider her an extremist or not, because that seems to be the only thing that picks out an entryist from an ordinary, principled public servant. Fortunately, Theresa herself has provided a definition of extremism: “the vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.”

Can we talk about Saudi Arabia, now? Saudi Arabia is not a democracy, it is a theocratic monarchy. In Saudi Arabia, according to Amnesty International, the security services carry out arbitrary arrests, detain people for considerably longer than the country’s laws permit, and generally act outside the rule of even those atrocious laws that are in place. In Saudi Arabia there may be a level of individual liberty for well-behaved Muslim men, but Theresa herself would not be allowed to leave her own house without being covered from head to toe and in the company of her husband or other family member. In Saudi Arabia “freedom of religion is neither recognized nor protected under the law and the government severely restricts it in practice” (and that’s according to our own best buddies). Taking Theresa’s fundamental British values as given (and here is not the place to quibble about them), it rather seems that Saudi Arabia is opposed to all of them, and therefore under Theresa and the Home Office’s own definitions, is a ripe candidate for the epithet “extremist.”

And this is odd, because Theresa—who is so determined to root out extremism in the public sector—was one of those who, in the recent cabinet dispute about whether or not to continue selling the services of precisely that public sector to precisely that extremist regime, lobbied Cameron to keep the contract in place.

Of all the contortions and contradictions that this and previous governments and ministers have engaged in to suck up to their oil-providing masters in the Gulf, this has to be one of the most revolting. To engage in a witch-hunt against “extremism” in the public sector whilst actively advocating the whoring out of that same public sector to the country which competes with North Korea for the most extremist regime on the planet takes a level of hypocrisy that beggars belief.

To avoid any doubt: Theresa May, by definitions of her own government, has actively promoted that our public services actively engage with extremism. Chances of her duly and unceremoniously turfing herself out on her ear? Fucking zero, of course.

On Damian and duplicity

I’ve already published D for the A to Z blogging challenge, but—lucky you—you get a bonus extra post, because I need to vent, and I need to vent about the Sturgeon affair.

Nicola Sturgeon did rather well in the leaders’ debate the other night. Too well, it turns out, because as if by magic the Daily Telegraph get leaked a memo from the Foreign Office which purports to have a record of a conversation between her and the French Ambassador in which (presumably after she had complemented her on the quality of her confectionery) Sturgeon is alleged to have expressed a preference for David Cameron to win the election, in stark contrast to her party’s and her publicly expressed desires to see him out of Downing Street. The memo is now available on the Telegraph‘s website.

The whole thing stinks—other than the lousy journalism whereby the Telegraph found time to get a quote from the leaders of Scottish Labour and Scottish Liberal Democrats, but not time to ring Ms Sturgeon herself, or anyone from her party, or anyone from the French Embassy—the memo was not only not written by anyone present (the Consul General phoned in an account of the conversation as he is required to do, and an as yet unnamed official drew up a memo based upon this) but whoever wrote the memo suggests that the contentious claim “might have been something lost in translation.” In fact, the French Embassy conduct all their interactions with British politicians in English, and so this memo, if authentic, is so fourth-hand that its author did not even know what language was being used and was utterly ignorant of the protocols concerning language use by foreign ambassadorial staff.

That the Tories are crowing over this is no surprise, but what really stinks is the mileage that Labour are now seeking to make out of it. Of course, Labour stand to lose a huge number of seats to the SNP in May, but they are also likely to need the support of the SNP to have any chance of forming a government should there be no outright majority in the consequent parliament. In their case it’s not just cheap, nasty opportunism; it’s cheap, nasty, short-sighted opportunism.

But the point at which my irritation with almost everyone concerned in this affair spilled over into the need to take to my blog and rant was this article in the Spectator by Damian McBride. McBride sets out the obvious, that (to precis):

  1. either Ms Sturgeon and the Ambassador (i.e. the interlocutors themselves) are fibbing; or
  2. the Consul General (whose report of the conversation is the basis of the memo) is or was mistaken; or
  3. the writer of the memo embellished it.

Sturgeon, a spokesperson for the Ambassador, and the Consul General have all expressly denied that this was mentioned either in the conversation itself, or in the report of it. Which would ordinarily point us towards the writer of the memo; however McBride is clear:

From my experience, this is borderline impossible. The stock in trade of FCO officials is producing memos like this: a verbatim record of conversations they’ve had, with a minor bit of commentary in the margins. This is a classic of its kind. I think we can state with some degree of certainty that what the FCO official wrote down is exactly what the Consul General said to him/her.

He also exonerates the Consul General, leaving the carefully indirectly expressed conclusion that Sturgeon is now lying and the French ambassadorial staff backing her up, for their own tricksy French reasons.

From my experience. Damian McBride is a former civil servant. He was special adviser to Gordon Brown. McBride ceased to be a mainstream civil servant when Gordon Brown appointed him special adviser, precisely because McBride’s colleagues were unhappy with how partisan he was being as a civil servant. McBride then ceased to be a special adviser when it was found that, from his official email address, he had discussed with Labour activists the possibility of starting a smear campaign about the private lives of prominent Tories using rumours that they knew to be false.

From my experience. Damian McBride’s experience is not exactly the best exemplar of the non-partisan civil servant. It is not one that, with the best will in the world, could be remotely described as circling round the widest possible interpretation of the word “honest.” It is one of a civil servant exhibiting partisanship, duplicity, deceit, a willingness to participate in outright slander, and… well… everything he so strenuously denies is possible within the FCO. The old spindog tricks do not seem to have left him, either, for the article very carefully avoids directly saying that Sturgeon is lying whilst attempting to leave the reader with the opinion that this is the only plausible explanation.

The whole affair, as I said, stinks. But the staggering duplicity and hypocrisy of McBride’s intervention is the rankest moment of all. So far.

Cultured ignorance

Our eminent Culture Secretary, Sajid Javid, has written to The Times (paywall) to decry the horrendous slaughter of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, and amen to that. However, he closes his letter with the following comments:

We have come a long way since the Ancient Greeks, who were so appalled by the views and opinions of Socrates that they forced him to drink hemlock. Thousands of years have passed since the Gadfly of Athens died, yet his writings—work that the authorities of the day tried to suppress as dangerous and subversive—continue to be some of the most widely read and influential in the world.

We should not, I suppose, be surprised that our Culture Secretary is spectacularly ignorant of a basic, rather well-known cultural fact—that Socrates wrote nothing. This is, after all, the government that gave us an Equalities Minister who voted against gay marriage, and a Defence Secretary whose idea of national security clearance included the criterion of being his best mate. It is not this that particularly preoccupies me.

What I find rather more problematic is the bemoaning of the treatment of Socrates. Socrates had the benefit of being tried in an open court. Socrates was granted the privilege of knowing who his accusers were—even two and a half millennia later, so do we. Socrates was permitted to know the charges and the evidence against him. Socrates was permitted to conduct his own defence. None of these basic freedoms are available under Javid’s government’s secret courts. Javid, the medium notwithstanding, is correct that the Athenians sought to suppress the speech of a man they considered dangerous—and we are to take it that he faults them for it. Hemlock may no longer be the preferred method, but this is exactly what his own government seeks to do.

Our Culture Secretary’s ignorance of culture does not anger me much. His stinking hypocrisy, however, rather more substantially does.