Christopher Weyant’s cartoon in The New Yorker (HT: SP).
Archive for the 'Politics' Category
The influence of Mrs Margaret Thatcher on British economic and cultural life is shown now, at her death, by the pages and pages and pages of newsprint devoted to her in every British newspaper, all day every day since her death. Even the Gruaniard has joined in the chorus, although sometimes singing from the hymnal of another denomination, but still with pages and pages of text and images. It is like the mass media psychosis that hit Britain the week after the death of Princess Diana in 1997.
The praise heaped on Saint Margaret (Patents Pending) has stretched credulity to the limit. Like some modern-day Bolivar, she apparently single-handedly liberated Eastern Europe from Communism, which if true would surely be news to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the USSR (1989 membership), the Central Committee of the CzechoSlovak Communist Party (April 1968 membership), the Central Committee of the United Workers Party of Poland (1956 and 1989 memberships), and the millions of brave citizens of Berlin, Leipzig, Budapest, Gdansk, Prague, Warsaw, Bucharest, Moscow, and throughout the region, who actually did, through argument and protest and strike and resistance, liberate their countries from tyranny. Part of the justification given for her role in the freedom of Eastern Europe is the fact of her early meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev, before his elevation to the General Secretary-ship of the CPSU, after which meeting she proclaimed that she could do business with him. But why would this endorsement have helped him rise? Surely such a public statement from one of the nation’s nuclear-armed enemies potentially lost him votes in the race to be General Secretary.
And, by a certain class of people, she was then, and still is, seen as the Simon Bolivar of Britain. Yes, like all politicians, she represented a particular economic class and indeed she represented their interests very effectively. (It was not, by the way, the class of her parents or of her upbringing, but it was the class of her husband.) But statesmanship requires a politician to decide in the national interest, not in the interests of a particular class. With just one possible exception, I cannot think of a single major decision she took in which she decided in favour of the nation against the interests of her own sectional base. The one exception was the decision to defend the Falkland Islands following invasion by the Argentinian military junta in 1982.
One could – and she did – defend such sectional decision-making on ideological grounds, for example, using the so-called theories of trickle-down economics, of metaphysical entities (eg, invisible hands), and of magical thinking and psychokinesis (eg, frictionless adjustment to free trade) that constitute the parallel, reality-free, universe that is neoclassical economics. In other words, she argued that although the decisions she took seemed to favour one group over another, in reality all would benefit, although perhaps not all would benefit immediately. But all economic policies have both winners and losers. Mrs Thatcher rarely evinced any public sympathy for the losers of her policies, and her contempt for those who lost was always obvious.
Her last major enacted policy – towards the end of her 11 years in power – was the Poll Tax, which punished society’s losers with a most unfair and regressive tax, at the same time as giving manifest and immediate benefit to her sectional base. This was not a policy of someone governing in the national interest. This was not a policy of someone having personal compassion for the downtrodden, the ill, the unlucky, the old, and the unfortunate in our society. This was not policy – and her dogged insistence on maintaining it against all evidence that it was not working epideictically reinforces this – that showed her approaching the challenges of governing in a reasoned or pragmatic way, with an open and rational mind, intent on balancing competing interests, or of finding the best solution for the country as a whole.
Norm is correct to castigate those who have publicly rejoiced at her death. Such rejoicing is quite understandable, even though wrong. Mrs Thatcher’s condescension, contempt, and antipathy for those who suffered from her policies or from life in general was evident to everyone, all along. She herself said there was no such thing as society. She herself said that anyone using public transport over the age of 35 was a failure in life. It is no wonder that the worst riots in Britain in the 20th century happened under Mrs Thatcher. It is no wonder that her party has no longer any support to speak of in Scotland (ground zero for the Poll Tax), and no wonder that support for Scottish indepencence is now so strong. It is no wonder that punk and reggae developed in overt opposition to her. Linton Kwesi Johnson named his famous song for her, conflating her with Inglan. It is no wonder that people are organizing street parties in the cities of Britain to celebrate her departure.
In contrast to most of the reporting engulfing us now, here are two responses to show the historians of the future that not all of us alive at this moment welcome the sudden attempt at canonization. The first is from a Guardian editorial on Tuesday 9 April 2013:
In the last analysis, though, her stock in trade was division. By instinct, inclination and effect she was a polariser. She glorified both individualism and the nation state, but lacked much feeling for the communities and bonds that knit them together. When she spoke, as she often did, about “our people”, she did not mean the people of Britain; she meant people who thought like her and shared her prejudices. She abhorred disorder, decadence and bad behaviour but she was the empress ruler of a process of social and cultural atomism that has fostered all of them, and still does.”
The second is an impassioned speech from Glenda Jackson MP, given in the House of Commons yesterday, about the pain Mrs Thatcher’s policies wrought. The speech was given against and over the top of much noise and shouting from the Yahoo Henrys who still, apparently, sit on the Conservative Party Benches. I say thee, Yay, Ms. Jackson, Yay!
James Button, one-time speech-writer to former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, wrote this in his recent book:
When Rudd spoke at the Department’s Christmas party, he had sketched a triangle in the air that distilled the work of producing a policy or speech into a three-point plan: where are we now; where do we want to go and why; how are we going to get there? The second point – where do we want to go and why – expressed our values, Rudd said. It was a simple way to structure a speech and I often used it when writing speeches in the year to come.” (Button 2012, page 55, large print edition).
Reading this I was reminded how inadequate I had found the analysis of political speech propounded by anthropologist Michael Silverstein in his short book on political talk (Silverstein 2003). He seems to view political speech as mere information transfer, and the utterances made therefore as essentially being propositions - statements about the world that are either true or false. Perhaps these propositions may be covered in rhetorical glitter, or presented incrementally, or subtly, or cleverly, but propositions they remain. I know of no politician, and I can think of none, who speaks that way. All political speeches (at least in the languages known to me) are calls to action of one form or another. These actions may be undertaken by the speaker or their political party – “If elected, I will do XYZ” – or they may be actions which the current elected officials should be doing – “Our Government should be doing XYZ.” Implicit in such calls is always another call, to an action by the listener: “Vote for me”. Even lists of past achievements, which Button mentions Rudd was fond of giving, are implicit or explicit entreaties for votes.
Of course, such calls to action may, of necessity, be supported by elaborate propositional statements about the world as it is, or as it could be or should be, as Rudd’s structure shows. And such propositions may be believed or not, by listeners. But people called to action do not evaluate the calls they hear the way they would propositions. It makes no sense, for instance, to talk about the “truth” or “falsity” of an action, or even of a call to action. Instead, we assess such calls on the basis of the sincerity or commitment of the speaker, on the appropriateness or feasibility or ease or legality of the action, on the consequences of the proposed action, on its costs and benefits, its likelihood of success, its potential side effects, on how it compares to any alternative actions, on the extent to which others will support it also, etc.
What has always struck me about Barack Obama’s speeches, particularly those during his first run for President in 2007-2008, is how often he makes calls-to-action for actions to be undertaken by his listeners: He would say “We should do X”, but actually mean, “You-all should do X”, since the action is often not something he can do alone, or even at all. “Yes we can!” was of this form, since he is saying, “Yes, we can take back the government from the Republicans, by us all voting.” From past political speeches I have read or seen, it seems to me that only JFK, MLK and RFK regularly spoke in this way, although I am sure there must have been other politicians who did. This approach and the associated language comes directly from Obama’s work as a community organizer: success in that role consists in persuading people to work together on their own joint behalf. Having spent lots of time in the company of foreign aid workers in Africa, this voice and these idioms were very familiar to me when I first heard Obama speak.
Rudd’s three-part structure matches closely to the formalism proposed by Atkinson et al.  for making proposals for action in multi-party dialogs over action, a structure that supports rational critique and assessment of the proposed action, along the dimensions mentioned above.
K. Atkinson, T. Bench-Capon and P. McBurney : A dialogue-game protocol for multi-agent argument over proposals for action. Autonomous Agents and Multi-Agent Systems, 11 (2): 153-171.
James Button : Speechless: A Year in my Father’s Business. Melbourne, Australia: Melbourne University Press.
Michael Silverstein : Talking Politics: The Substance of Style from Abe to “W”. Chicago, IL, USA: Prickly Paradigm Press.
This week’s leadership-challenge-that-wasn’t in the Federal Parliamentary Caucus of the Australian Labor Party saw the likely end of Kevin Rudd’s political career. At the last moment he bottled it, having calculated that he did not have the numbers to win a vote of his caucus colleagues and so deciding not to stand. Ms Gillard was re-elected leader of the FPLP unopposed. Why Rudd failed to win caucus support is explained clearly in subsequent commentary by one of his former speech-writers, James Button:
The trick to government, Paul Keating once said, is to pick three big things and do them well. But Rudd opened a hundred policy fronts, and focused on very few of them. He centralised decision-making in his office yet could not make difficult decisions. He called climate change the greatest moral challenge of our time, then walked away from introducing an emissions trading scheme. He set a template for gsoverning that Labor must move beyond.
On Thursday, for the third time in three years, a large majority of Rudd’s caucus colleagues made it clear that they did not want him as leader. Yet for years Rudd seemed as if he would never be content until he returned as leader. On Friday he said that he would never again seek the leadership of the party. He must keep his word, or else the impasse will destabilise and derail the party until he leaves Parliament.
Since losing the prime ministership, Rudd never understood that for his prospects to change within the government he had to openly acknowledge, at least in part, that there were sensible reasons why Gillard and her supporters toppled him in 2010. Then, as hard as it would have been, he had to get behind Gillard, just as Bill Hayden put aside his great bitterness and got behind Bob Hawke and joined his ministry after losing the Labor leadership to him in 1983.
Yes, Rudd’s execution was murky and brutal and should have been done differently, perhaps with a delegation of senior ministers going to Rudd first to say change or go. Yes, the consequences have been catastrophic for Gillard and for the ALP. ”Blood will have blood,” as Dennis Glover, a former Gillard speechwriter who also wrote speeches for Rudd, said in a newspaper on Thursday.
But why did it happen? Why did so many Labor MPs resolve to vote against Rudd that he didn’t dare stand? Why was he thrashed in his 2012 challenge? Why have his numbers not significantly moved, despite all the government’s woes?
Because – it must be said again – Rudd was a poor prime minister. To his credit, he led the government’s brave and decisive response to the global financial crisis. His apology speech changed Australia and will be remembered for years to come. But beyond that he has few achievements, and the way he governed brought him down.
At the time of his 2012 challenge, seven ministers went public with fierce criticisms of Rudd’s governing style. When most of them made it clear they would not serve again in a Rudd cabinet, many commentators wrote this up as slander and character assassination of Rudd, or as one of those vicious but mysterious internal brawls that afflict the Labor Party from time to time. They missed the essential points: that the criticisms came from a diverse and representative set of ministers, and they had substance.
If the word of these seven ministers is not enough, consider the reporting of Rudd’s treatment of colleagues by Fairfax journalist David Marr in his 2010 Quarterly Essay, Power Trip. Or the words of Glover, who wrote last year that as a ”member of the Gang of Four Hundred or So (advisers and speechwriters) I can assure you that the chaos and frustration described by Gillard supporters during February’s failed leadership challenge rang very, very true with about 375 of us.”
Consider the reporting of Rudd’s downfall by ABC journalist Barrie Cassidy in his book, Party Thieves. Never had numbers tumbled so quickly, Cassidy wrote. ”That’s because Rudd himself drove them. His own behaviour had caused deep-seated resentment to take root.” Leaders had survived slumps before and would again. But ”Rudd was treated differently because he was different: autocratic, exclusive, disrespectful and at times flat-out abusive”. Former Labor minister Barry Cohen told Cassidy: ”If Rudd was a better bloke he would still be leader. But he pissed everybody off.”
These accounts tallied with my own observations when I worked as a speechwriter for Rudd in 2009. While my own experience of Rudd was both poor and brief, I worked with many people – 40 or more – who worked closely with him. Their accounts were always the same. While Rudd was charming to the outside world, behind closed doors he treated people with rudeness and contempt. At first I kept waiting for my colleagues to give me another side of Rudd: that he could be difficult but was at heart a good bloke. Yet apart from some conversations in which people praised his handling of the global financial crisis, no one ever did.
Since he lost power, is there any sign that Rudd has reflected on his time in office, accepted that he made mistakes, that he held deep and unaccountable grudges and treated people terribly?
Did he reflect on the rages he would fly into when people gave him advice he didn’t want, how he would put those people into what his staff called ”the freezer”, sometimes not speaking to them for months or more? Did he reflect on the way he governed in a near permanent state of crisis, how his reluctance to make decisions until the very last moment coupled with a refusal to take unwelcome advice led his government into chaos by the middle of 2010, when his obsessive focus on his health reforms left the government utterly unprepared to deal with the challenges of the emissions trading scheme, the budget, the Henry tax review and the mining tax? To date there is no sign that he has learnt from the failures of his time as prime minister.
Through his wife, Rudd is currently the richest member of the Australian Commonwealth Parliament, and perhaps the richest person ever to be an MP. He is also fluent in Mandarin Chinese and famously intelligent, although perhaps not as bright as his predecessors as Labor leader, Gough Whitlam or Doc Evatt, or former ministers, Isaac Isaacs, Ted Theodore or Barry Jones. It is possible, of course, to have a first-rate mind and a second-rate temperament. An autocratic management style – unpopular within the Labor Party at any time, as Evatt and Whitlam both learnt - is even less appropriate when the Party lacks a majority in the House, and has to rely on a permanent, floating two-up game of ad hoc negotiations with Green and Independent MPs to pass legislation.
An explanation of Bam’s aloof style and strategic cunning in terms of the idioms of traditional Javanese kingship, by Edward Fox in Aeon Magazine, here. Fox could also have mentioned the first-term Cabinet of Rivals as another example of this idiom, absorbing one’s enemies.
The Javanese have a word for this kind of bearing. They call it halus. The nearest literal equivalent in English might be ‘chivalrous’, which means not just finely mannered, but implies a complete code of noble behaviour and conduct. The American anthropologist Clifford Geertz, who wrote some of the most important studies of Javanese culture in English, defined halus in The Religion of Java (1976) as:
“Formality of bearing, restraint of expression, and bodily self-discipline … spontaneity or naturalness of gesture or speech is fitting only for those ‘not yet Javanese’ — ie, the mad, the simple-minded, and children.”
Even now, four decades after leaving Java, Obama exemplifies halus behaviour par excellence.
Halus is also the key characteristic of Javanese kingship, a tradition still followed by rulers of the modern state of Indonesia. During my period of study in Indonesia, I discovered that halus is the fundamental outward sign or proof of a ruler’s legitimacy. The tradition is described in ancient Javanese literature and in studies by modern anthropologists. The spirit of the halus ruler must burn with a constant flame, that is without (any outward) turbulence. In his classic essay, ‘The Idea of Power in Javanese Culture’ (1990), the Indonesian scholar Benedict Anderson describes the ruler’s halus as:
“The quality of not being disturbed, spotted, uneven, or discoloured. Smoothness of spirit means self-control, smoothness of appearance means beauty and elegance, smoothness of behaviour means politeness and sensitivity. Conversely, the antithetical quality of being kasar means lack of control, irregularity, imbalance, disharmony, ugliness, coarseness, and impurity.”
One can see the clear distinction between Obama’s ostensibly aloof style of political negotiation in contrast to the aggressive, backslapping, physically overbearing political style of a president such as Lyndon Johnson.
Traditionally, the Javanese ruler triumphs over his adversary without even appearing to exert himself. His adversary must have been defeated already, as a consequence of the ruler’s total command over natural and human forces. This is a common theme in traditional Javanese drama, where the halus hero effortlessly triumphs over his kasar (literally, unrefined or uncivilised) enemy. ‘In the traditional battle scenes,’ Anderson notes:
“The contrast between the two becomes strikingly apparent in the slow, smooth, impassive and elegant movements of the satria [hero], who scarcely stirs from his place, and the acrobatic leaps, somersaults, shrieks, taunts, lunges, and rapid sallies of his demonic opponent. The clash is especially well-symbolised at the moment when the satria [hero] stands perfectly still, eyes downcast, apparently defenceless, while his demonic adversary repeatedly strikes at him with dagger, club, or sword — but to no avail. The concentrated power of the satria [hero] makes him invulnerable.”
Even to seem to exert himself is vulgar, yet he wins. This style of confrontation echoes that first famous live TV debate in the election of 2012 between Obama and Romney, in which Obama seemed passive, with eyes downcast, apparently defenceless (some alleged ‘broken’) in the face of his enemy, only to triumph in later debates and in the election itself.
Like a Javanese king, Obama has never taken on a political fight that he has not, arguably, already won
But such a disposition is not just external posturing. Halus in a Javanese ruler is the outward sign of a visible inner harmony which gathers and concentrates power in him personally. In the West, we might call this charisma. Crucially, in the Javanese idea of kingship, the ruler does not conquer opposing political forces, but absorbs them all under himself. In the words of Anderson again, the Javanese ruler has ‘the ability to contain opposites and to absorb his adversaries’. The goal is a unity of power that spreads throughout the kingdom. To allow a multiplicity of contending forces in the kingdom is a sign of weakness. Power is achieved through spiritual discipline — yoga-like and ascetic practices. The ruler seeks nothing for himself; if he acquires wealth, it is a by-product of power. To actively seek wealth is a spiritual weakness, as is selfishness or any other personal motive other than the good of the kingdom.”
The death of Joan Child reminded me of a fellow MP of hers who had served in both the British House of Commons and the Australian House of Representatives. I thus thought it interesting to list people who had been elected to two or more parliaments or assemblies (excluding those belonging to both national and regional assemblies from federations, such as the European Parliament, Australia, etc), and those elected to parliaments of successor states (such as Rhodesia and Zimbabwe).
- Adolf Berman (1906-1978), Polish Sejm (Polish Workers Party, c. 1945-1950) and the Israeli Knesset (Mapam – United Workers Party and later Maki – Communist Party of Israel, 1951-1955).
- Stanley Melbourne Bruce, 1st Viscount Bruce of Melbourne (1883-1967), Australian House of Representatives (Nationalist Party and United Australia Party, 1918-1933) and British House of Lords (Life Peerage, 1947-1967). Bruce was the first Australian member of the House of Lords.
- Hugh Childers (1827-1896), appointed member of the Legislative Council of the colony of Victoria (1852-c.1857), then elected member of the British House of Commons (1860-1892, peripatetically). In Britain, Childers held various senior ministerial positions in administrations of William Gladstone, including Secretary of State for War, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Home Secretary.
- William Yates (1921-2010), British House of Commons (Conservative and Unionist Party, 1955-1966) and the Australian House of Representatives (Liberal Party, 1975-1980).
Others who almost make this list are:
- Daniel Cohn-Bendit (1945- ), Member of the European Parliament, who could readily be elected to both the French and the German national parliaments.
- Andrew Clarke (1824-1902), Appointed member of the Legislative Council of Victoria (1853-1856), elected Member of the Legislative Assembly of Victoria (1856-1858), contested the constituency of Chatham in the British House of Commons in 1886 and 1892, both times unsuccessfully. In between times, Clarke was Governor of Singapore and Governor of the Straits Settlements, 1873-1875.
- Thomas Paine (1737-1809), who was secretary to the Committee on Foreign Affairs of (but not a delegate to) the Second Continental Congress and was a member of the French National Convention (1792-1793).
- Ian Paisley (1926- ), who has been an elected member variously of the British House of Commons, the Northern Ireland Assembly, and the European Parliament, and could probably also have been elected, had he so wished, to the Scottish Parliament.
- Sir Garfield Todd (1908-2002), elected member of the House of Assembly of Southern Rhodesia (1948-1958, including Prime Minister, 1953-1958), appointed Senator in the Senate of Zimbabwe (1980-1985). Todd was born in New Zealand, whose Government arranged for his knighthood. His Zimbabwean citizenship was revoked in 2002.
The death has occurred of Mrs Joan Child (1921-2013), first female Speaker of the Australian House of Representatives (1986-1989) and Labor MHR for Henty in Melbourne (1974-1975, 1980-1990). She was the first female Labor Party MHR, and only the fourth woman elected to the House. That it took 73 years for the Australian Labor Party to elect a woman to the Lower House of Federal Parliament is quite telling about attitudes in the Party and in the wider society. As Speaker, she refused to wear the traditional wig and gown, and was always very down-to-earth. On the evening before the Queen’s opening of the new Australian Commonwealth Parliament House in 1988, for instance, Madame Speaker Child could be found relaxing where she often went – having a drink and playing the pokies at the Canberra Labor Club. She was always quite approachable there, too.
Her SMH obit is here.
POSTSCRIPT (2013-03-29): Here is James Button, son of former Labor Industry Minister, Senator John Button, writing about the ALP:
Outside Albania, was there ever a more macho party than the old ALP? Its first female member of the House of Representatives, Joan Child, was not elected until 1974, thirty-one years after Enid Lyons became the first female conservative MP. It was a party that prized hardness, humour, guts and aggression: men who could hold their drink, hold their tongue when they had to, and hold their own in argument. Its language was vivid, often vulgar. Doing the numbers for Hawke, his backer Graham Richardson once said, was ‘better than sex and almost as exciting as a good feed’.” (Button 2013, page 126 of large print edition)
James Button : Speechless: A Year in my Father’s Business. Melbourne, Australia: Melbourne University Press.
Robert Mugabe is a superb public speaker. I have been fortunate to hear him speak in public many times, from large ceremonial public addresses on state and official occasions, to speeches at ZANU-PF political rallies (ranging from a few hundred to several scores of thousands of people at Rufaro Stadium, and with both sophisticated urban and traditional rural participants), to addresses to foreign investors and business leaders, to quiet, grave-side orations at funerals of mutual friends. And I have expressed before my admiration for his rhetorical skills, his superb command of different registers, his intelligence, his Jesuit-trained casuistry, and his guile. I have never met him, but from accounts of people who have, he can also be very charming when he wishes.
Despite claims by some that he has become diminished with age, and even falls asleep during official meetings, the opposition ministers in his Cohabitation Government say that he is just as charming, intelligent, and wily as ever. From a report this week in the Guardian:
Welshman Ncube, Zimbabwe’s Minister of Commerce and Industry and leader of one of the factions of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), lost his grandfather in the 1980s Gukurahundi. The Gukurahundi was a violent campaign in which thousands of opposition Zimbabwe African Peoples Union (Zapu) party supporters were killed and beaten by a brigade owing allegiance to President Robert Mugabe’s government.
Ncube shares his experience working with Mugabe in a unity government since 2009: “Ninety percent of the time, I cannot recognise the Mugabe I sit with in cabinet with the Mugabe who has ruled this country through violence. He shows real concern for his country and people, like a father. And he can master detail over a wide range of government matters. If I had only this experience with Mugabe in government and had not lived through the Gukurahundi and seen him denouncing Zapu with anger and belief on television, and you told me he carried out the Gukurahundi, I would say ‘no, not this man, he is not capable of it’. But I saw him.”
Another MDC minister, Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga, also struggles to reconcile the man she thought Mugabe was, before entering government, with the one she knows today. “I did not think Mugabe believed in things. Now I know that Mugabe actually believes in things, ideologically, like that the British are after regime change in Zimbabwe. When he believes in something he will genuinely defend it. If he believes in an action, no matter how wrong it is, he will not apologise. That is one hallmark of Mugabe. He is loyal to his beliefs.”
On Mugabe’s personality, Misihairabwi-Mushonga says that she had not known that he was “a serious charmer around women. A very, very, very good charmer . . . He also has an exceptional sense of humour. You literally are in stitches throughout cabinet. But he also has an intellectual arrogance. If you do not strike him as someone intelligent he has no time for you. There are certain people who, when they speak in cabinet, he sits up and listens, and others who, when they speak, he pretends to be asleep.”
Nelson Chamisa, the MDC Minister of Information and Communication Technology, once thought Mugabe was “unbalanced”, but adds: “sitting in cabinet with him, I admire his intellect. He has dexterity of encyclopaedic proportions. He is bad leader but a gifted politician. Why do I say he is a gifted politician? He has the ability to manage political emotions and intentions. But leadership is a different thing. The best form of leadership is to create other leaders who can come reproduce your vision after you. Mugabe has not done that.”
I add a note to clarify this post: None of the above should be seen as an endorsement of Mugabe’s policies, many of which have been motivated by malfeasance, peculation, and plain, old-fashioned, evil. Unfortunately, his administration, unlike many in Africa, has been overwhelmingly competent, with even the policy of hyperinflation aimed – deliberately and very successfully – at enriching a few thousand people with foreign currency holdings at the expense of every other Zimbabwean. The pinnacle of this deadly-effective malevolence has been the enrichment of the political and military elite by using of the state’s military forces to operate protection rackets in foreign countries – eg, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with whom Zimbabwe shares no border nor any strategic interest.
In the past, global empires such as those of Rome or Britain or France could face attacks from anywhere across the empire. Britain, for instance, fought Imperial wars in Southern Africa and Afghanistan. The Internet takes us back to that situation – any country, no matter how small or obscure, potentially faces cyber espionage or incursions or attacks from people anywhere in the world. Ask Estonia or Denmark, both small countries that came under attack from cyber attackers.
The Roman Empire never did manage to subdue the belligerent peoples in what is now Scotland. How ironic, then, that Scots nationalists seem not to have realized that an independent nation will need to defend itself from global attack. MP Rory Stewart has reminded them, asking some hard, clear-light-of-day, questions about the romantic, candle-lit, vision of Scottish independence. Questioning Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s Deputy First Minister, who was appearing before the UK House of Commons Committee on Foreign Affiars, Stewart asked about independent Scotland’s plans for intelligence and security:
Sturgeon came under repeated pressure from the Tory MP for Penrith and the Border, Rory Stewart, a former army officer and Foreign Office diplomat, to explain how an independent Scotland would build, equip, train and fund its own spying and security services.
Stewart said the UK’s current annual spying and security budget did not include the total historic costs of building and equipping its intelligence services, from setting up secure intelligence units in overseas embassies, training its agents, to building and equipping GCHQ.
It would cost billions, he said, to set up the secure communications Scotland needed for its intelligence agencies. For instance, if an independent Scotland wanted to have the same number of embassies overseas as Ireland, which has 97, or Finland, which has 93, it would cost hundreds of millions to equip them.”
I have argued before that it is an abuse of power for major newspapers to run obituaries of obscure back-office staff, simply because they can. This is an abuse since a newspaper is a public organization, playing a very public role in public life, not some private family newsletter shared, like samizdat, between close relatives over kitchen coffee.
The Guardian now runs, as the cover story in its Saturday Review section, extracts from the piano-learning diary of its Editor, Alan Rusbridger. Perhaps there is nothing actually unethical about a major newspaper running long cover stories about its Editor’s private hobbies, and promoting his new book. But one has to ask: Is The Guardian now the private family newsletter of its Editor?