If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Public cynicism? Surely not.

This article in today's Times had me choking on my beansprouts:

Britain is growing so risk-averse that the public may no longer tolerate deployment of the military, the Armed Forces Minister said yesterday. Bill Rammell warned that in an age of mounting public cynicism and rolling 24-hour news, British governments faced increasing resistance to any use of military power. “We, sadly, face a series of threats, the nature of which will require the projection of power beyond our borders to protect our national security,” he said. “My great fear is that we as a nation will become so risk-averse, cynical and introverted that we will find ourselves in inglorious and impotent isolation by default.”

I think he may be right. But let's look at his reasoning.

The minister traced several trends in society that he said were “positive”, but which made it increasingly difficult for governments to deploy troops in support of Britain’s interests. “First, the decline of deference and the growth in mistrust of those in authority, which challenge government and military decision-making."

There is certainly a lack of deference these days compared to, say 50 years ago, and that is no bad thing. In the context of military necessity it may, however, be disastrous. It is impossible to imagine a government conscripting into an army a generation who have grown up with the idea that they are always in the right, that no-one has the right to tell them anything, and who have no fear of any consequences of their actions. OK so far.

"Second, the 24/7 media and the new information age, which brings with it the demand for a different kind of communication between the Government and the public about military operations."

I'm not sure that is true. 24-hour rolling news programmes certainly have created a different and more urgent news cycle, but how would government communications be any different? They have more space to put their point of view across, that's all. I don't see ministers under-represented on the BBC News channel, for instance. However ...

"Third, a freedom-of-information culture, which asserts that everything known to the State should be in the public domain without considering the impact of this on government’s ability to act in our best interest.” Mr Rammell said that this could have positive consequences, such as the practice of holding inquests into the deaths of all British soldiers killed.

“Families are more assertive in seeking information, wanting to know why a death has occurred and in challenging authority, often calling for an independent assessment of the circumstances surrounding their loved one’s death ... Through this, the MoD can continue to improve the way it deals with inquests [and] learn lessons that may help to prevent future deaths.”

OK ...

"However, he said that where the Government withheld information for reasons of operational security, this was often interpreted by the media and public as evasiveness. He also said that increasing public cynicism threatened to undermine the ability of British Forces to win in Afghanistan."

This is where my dinner hit the opposite wall of the dining room.

Mr Rammell, you just don't get it, do you? The public are cynical about the flow of information from the Government because of you, your party, and your past and present leaders. Tony Blair lied to Parliament and the country about his reasons for going to war. Information which, in private, he knew was "patchy" was presented as "beyond doubt". We were told the war was about WMDs when, in fact, it was about regime change, and we now know that this was agreed with Bush long before Parliament, or even the Cabinet, got the chance to debate it. As a result of Blair's arrogance and treachery, hundreds of our soldiers and hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis were killed (you remember, the ones we were saving from that evil Saddam), and the international reputation of Britian was stained in the eyes of half the world. Brown was involved every step of the way, as part of the 'inner circle' that took the decisions. The Labour Party was spineless enough to nod it through the Commons, despite the serious reservations of many. (And, to their shame, so did the Conservatives, although this was mainly because they were old-fashioned enough to think that when the Prime Minister said something to Parliament it would be the truth.)

And you wonder why people are a little cynical when politicians speak about war? Troops in Afghanistan, helicopters, vital equipment, body armour; the only question in our minds when these topics come up is - which bit of this is spin, and which bit a downright lie?

Labour's legacy is that the trust that existed between a government and its people has been destroyed for a generation. And you think this is because the British public is 'risk-averse'? As usual, you throw the blame onto someone else. It's not because we have suddenly become cowards. It's because no-one believes a word you lying bastards say.

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