Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Render to no-one evil for evil…

Supporters of moderation and tolerance received a very unpleasant slap in the face this week, as the most inhuman and grotesque assault on a fellow human was broadcast as a sick and depraved political gesture – with the promise of more to come. For me, it matters not who is responsible for this most horrific act, but that it appears to have been committed by a fellow Brit leaves me feeling truly disgusted and ashamed. Words cannot do justice to the extreme feelings this cowardly brutality inspire: firstly, of contempt towards those behind this hideous barbarity, and, secondly, the most-profound sympathy and condolence to the family and friends of the slaughtered American photo-journalist. His bravery in seeking to enlighten our understanding of one of the darkest and most dangerous corners of our planet contrasts strongly with the gutless anonymity and decrepit ideology of his tormentors.

The Islamic State has thrust itself into our consciousness in a way that cannot be ignored. There is no doubt in their role and mission: a well-financed, deeply resourced association of the most dangerous bigoted maniacs of our time, intent on delivering death and destruction to anyone not committed to their cruel, idiotic doctrine. These globe-trotting psychopaths do not represent or defend the Islamic faith: their commitment to the religion that they besmirch through their programme of hatred is merely coincidental. Loathsome and loathing, the only thing these degenerates deliver – starting with the Muslim world – is terror, violence and intolerance.

Dr Kim Howells, a former Labour MP and minister, is right to apportion blame on our collective failure to find the courage to recognise and stand up to the existence of evil incubating in our communities over several decades. His claim that the Islamic community in the United Kingdom has been half-hearted in tackling the rise of those who proselytise venom in the name of their faith – most commonly on the internet – has more than a grain of truth. But wounds of sectarian divide have failed to be challenged in our history not only by this community alone; even a cursory glance at Northern Ireland demonstrates that pretty thoroughly. However, the danger posed by this insane bunch threatens each and every one of us: and it falls to us all to respond to this visceral call to arms.

The attitude encouraged through those years of new Labour rewarded people for looking upon themselves as victims. Fashionable metrosexuals flounced around extolling the virtues of a multiculturalism which celebrated those aspects of our nationality which drove communities apart. I regret that these grand patriarchs of new Labour had no real understanding of our country's people or heritage, or to the serious harm that they were inflicting upon those who, from their perspective, mattered so little. In this furnace, extremist agitators got a hold, and piece by piece, our society began to crumble.

In my own constituency of Northampton, we have worked hard on strengthening links between different faith groups and diaspora communities. That does not mean that we should not be doing more to address the challenge which those divisions sowed and have pushed people apart. We all stand to lose if those principles by which we choose to live our lives are thwarted by those now in Iraq and Syria who promise to import their campaign of destruction to our shores (from whence an all-too-significant number were born and brought up).

It's time to respond more effectively to the challenge of immigration and community cohesion. Numerous people have been frightened away from giving expression to legitimate concerns by the taint of racism thrown around too casually. I have no axe to grind about the benefits to our country from immigration, and there is scarcely a household in this country that does not have a link to immigrants within a few generations. But there is a vast distinction between people choosing to come and settle here, bringing with them a rich cultural diversity blending comfortably with our values, and those self-described 'jihadis' intent on ruination. We don't want them, we revile their perspective, and they don't belong here at all.

Given where we are, though, turning this situation around will not be easy. Radicalisation in the name of Islam is a cancer in our society very well entrenched. Tony Blair's lies to Parliament as a pretext to war in Iraq has provided a narrative compelling to those feeding off that same victimhood developed by new Labour as a mere cynical political ploy. Blair might still stand proud of his posturing, as some form of latter-day messianic visionary, but there can be little doubt that the catalogue of blunders made by him in the Middle East region has been one of the most effective recruiting instruments available to these peddlers of prejudice. Much of the danger which we now face has at least been exacerbated by the vacuous gestures committed in the name of Blair's misguided view of the world he wanted to create.

It is true that the terrorists may have got their hands on some of the western military kit left behind in Iraq, but the fight we are facing is one of ideology – from those with a dogged desire for the death of those who will not submit to a narrow, perverted interpretation of what they call Islam. With chilling parallels to previous conflicts, we may be paying a heavy price for allowing our social bonds to fall apart. It is time for those who believe in our country and its values to come together and defeat these evil-minded fiends, and to work towards that harmony which has otherwise characterised our nation through most of its history. 

Friday, 15 August 2014

An open letter to the Prime Minister

The Prime Minister
10 Downing Street

An open letter to the Prime Minister

14th August 2014

You are now back from a short holiday break, but I doubt it was as relaxing as you would have liked. With international crises erupting, particularly in Iraq and Palestine, the turmoil of disgruntled ex-ministers at the Foreign Office, and the news that Boris Johnson is planning his return to Parliamentary politics, there must be a great deal on your mind as you prepare yourself for the coming nine months or so.

With an inevitable focus on the coming general election, I have decided to write to you with a few thoughts to help define what may figure amongst the major themes for this epic upcoming contest. The pundits acknowledge that you are a man most capable of meeting the challenge of making a big impression on a significant occasion.

In that respect there are a number of pressing themes which I believe many in the country would like to see you address. You, together with The Chancellor of the Exchequer has steered the economy through some extremely difficult times, and the growth which we now see has been established on that foundation. The work done by John Redwood however is very much to be commended, and, whilst we should not drift in our ambition to create the most business-friendly tax regime amongst our competitors, I would hope to see some effort to help ordinary people beyond raising the personal allowance for income tax.

In particular, this Parliament has been dominated by debate about the level of the upper rate. Yes, the Labour Party have tried to make the argument one about tax-breaks for millionaires, though the country has seen through the cheap politics of their claims, having introduced the 50p rate in the last days of their thirteen years in office. But it is time to see this debate in a completely different context: the level of the threshold has, through a process of fiscal drag, created a situation which is suffocating those who were never envisaged to be included in paying the upper rate at the time it was set. Did we really intend nurses, teachers and large numbers of other public sector workers to be caught up in the upper rate tax band? I think not, and I hope therefore that you can promise a rise in the threshold for upper rate income tax payers shortly.

Another major priority this autumn must be the fall-out from some of the international discontent. There is more than a modicum of irony that, upon coming to office in 1997, Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell and Jack Straw warned about the rising levels of what they termed Islamophobia. Levels of anti-Muslim sentiment in the United Kingdom are high, and yet there still seems to be a desire to entangle ourselves in the Sunni-Shi'ite conflict. Perhaps George Bush senior should have finished the job with Saddam Hussein, as Mrs Thatcher was reputed to have wanted, following the liberation of Kuwait, but the second Gulf war has cast a toxic shadow over our national community cohesion and has disrupted the rhythm of the entire Middle East region. Tony Blair and his supporters have a lot to answer for and the legacy that they bequeathed the region has infected our approach to foreign policy ever since.

One example was the Arab Spring, which was never going to be the dawn of western-style democratic reform in the Middle East and North Africa. The problems in Syria, Iraq, Iran, the Lebanon, Egypt, Libya, and the pressures on Jordan and Turkey will not be resolved so simply. But real action is needed to stem the tide against the growing levels of radicalism and extremism in our country. I am sure that you share my dismay at the sickening Islamophobic and anti-Semitic attacks witnessed recently. Perhaps we should not be surprised that the Minister who, until last week had responsibility for community cohesion, is now muttering and grumbling off stage, but that does not diminish the crisis that we are now facing. I’m sure you know that we need to stem the poison which is decaying community bonds across our country and I am equally sure that your ministers are both aware of the problems and working to find the answers, although I recognise how difficult that task will be.

As we inch towards the next General Election, the period before the promised 2017 referendum on our membership of the European Union gets closer. You will know that I am one of a number of your Parliamentary colleagues eager to establish what the red lines will be in the negotiations which you will lead. I believe that any additional clarity on that will strengthen the case which we will put to the electorate next year, and I would like to suggest one particular measure which will resonate with our constituents.

Public disquiet with levels of immigration has some parallels with the dissatisfaction felt against those who regarded a life on benefits as a legitimate option. I am proud that this Government has been bold on welfare reform, and the effects were reinforced in yesterday's record employment figures. Our pledge to bring levels of immigration to within tens of thousands each year has been beset with difficulties, in large part because we do not have adequate command of the levers that will make this happen. I believe that the time has come for individual member states of the European Union to be able to set an agreed annual cap on the level of intra-EU migration that they will accept, based upon, for example, economic need. In that scenario, each member state could have control of their domestic immigration policy within the umbrella of the European Union. Unless we establish some mechanism to control immigration from the European Union, any promises on the subject could appear hollow. It is clear that Labour, in government, were cynical in encouraging immigration; in opposition, they lack the will to make the case for anything substantively different from the status quo. We are clear about getting to grips with this issue, and this seems to me to be a sensible way to establish that control and address the public anxiety.

Being bold takes courage, but you are not short of that commodity; we need to use the coming months to reinforce that the Conservative party is still capable of meeting the challenges which face us domestically and internationally. Extending the bravery shown in dragging the economy back from the brink towards a renewed period of prosperity needs to be felt in the wallets and purses of the hard-working and aspirational. But bringing our country back together and healing the wounds caused by a Prime Minister betraying Parliament and the country more than a decade ago will be a bigger challenge. And that, I am sure, will be very much on your mind as you contemplate the coming months – but it would be a legacy truly to be proud of, and would lay the foundations for a second successful majority Conservative government beyond 2015.

Brian Binley MP

Northampton South Constituency 

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Depart in peace…?

Baroness Warsi's decision to resign from the Government yesterday caused me some surprise. Today, I read that 'senior Tories' are rallying around in support of her: well, as a senior citizen and a Conservative, perhaps that should include me? But I won't be rallying around what I regard as an unbalanced resignation: and I very much doubt whether those supporting her position could be counted beyond the fingers of one hand.

I am perplexed by both her timing and her argument. Philip Hammond has had a real baptism of fire as Foreign Secretary, with various international conflagrations kicking off before he's even had the chance to settle into his new office. And yet, despite the challenges of coming to terms with these massive geo-political issues, he has managed to strike precisely the right balance in urging Israel to respect the principles of proportionality in the face of a vicious, murderous, terrorist onslaught. Indeed, I feel that he has gone further than almost any Foreign Secretary that I can remember in speaking out at the weekend about the 'intolerable suffering' of ordinary people living in Gaza – warning also of the potential for increased incidents of anti-Semitism in this country in response to the continued Israeli assault.  Far from being 'morally indefensible', surely these comments move British foreign policy in precisely the direction that Baroness Warsi claims to want to see (particularly when compared with the position which she supported as a minister for the last four years)?

In that context, it appears either that Baroness Warsi failed to read the statements issued by her senior ministerial colleague in the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, or, if she did, her option was to play a political card instead.  Coming the day after she represented the Government at the First World War commemoration at Westminster Abbey and while the Prime Minister is on holiday was always going to be an exercise in poor timing. But I would have hoped that even she would have been able to see the broader perspective, and, as a lawyer, reconcile more coherently the massive flaw in her argument.

The situation in the Middle East is especially delicate at the moment. The primary obstacle to peace in the region is the murderous organisation committed to the annihilation of the state of Israel at any price – Hamas.
Firing thousands of rockets indiscriminately into Israeli territory is an ignoble act of supreme cowardice. Digging tunnels to ensure that their terrorist raids can reach into the heart of Israeli territory is despicable. Baroness Warsi should not allow herself to give room for the accommodation of terrorists whose murderous campaign continues to fuel a conflict which does nothing but perpetuate human misery.

I repeat, Hamas are not fighting on behalf of those who live in Gaza, and the suffering which these war-weary people endure is regarded by them as secondary to their obsessive campaigns of mass murder. Their cynical use of civilian locations as the basis for their attacks on Israel is designed to create human suffering: ordinary Palestinians are mere pawns in their hideous plan to exterminate all things Israeli. They have no interest in finding a peaceful accommodation, and hence they disregard any political process which might bring about co-existence.

Yet as the daughter of Pakistani immigrants, I am surprised that this appears something novel to our recently departed Senior Minister for Foreign Affairs. There can be no doubt as to the price paid by Pakistan through decades of human suffering and instability at the hands of terrorists and insurgents. The answer there, as in Palestine, is not to do anything which might encourage those same radicals who fuel the conflicts in both countries.

Which brings me back to the support that it is claimed Baroness Warsi is receiving; who are these 'senior Tories' who have gone on the record to join the Warsi chorus: Nicholas Soames has been vocal in criticising some of us who have failed to fall into line with front-bench pronouncements on far less significant areas of Government policy; Dominic Grieve's complaints echo with the reverberations of ex-ministerial bitterness; and the other is neither 'senior' nor really a 'Tory'. Who and where are all the others, and why are they so timid as to make sotto voce murmurings?

For those who were senior ministers in the Government, surely the shaping of Government policy was part of their remit. For more than four years they have lived contentedly with the stated policy position. And yet, when the position hardens towards that which they advocate, can it really be credible that this is the time to walk out in disgust – and without even the courtesy of a quiet, private word with the Prime Minister about specific misgivings?

No, I'm not convinced at all. I would never demand the blind loyalty to every policy pronouncement which some of those joining the Warsi chorus have previously espoused, but some degree of consistency and coherence is necessary to ensure credibility. Philip Hammond has, by any measure, made a very impressive start in what has become an explosive and chaotic ministerial brief:  he deserves nothing less than the full support of his colleagues in his efforts to try and end the decades-long colossal human suffering in Palestine, and that is not assisted by giving tacit support to heavily-armed, extremist terrorist groups bent on the destruction of Israel at any cost, even the pain and deaths of thousands upon thousands of civilians. To support that cause does nothing to secure the peace which we should all want to last.​