Servicemen from Iraq and Afghanistan

Supporting troops needn’t mean backing war

It’s embarrassment, isn’t it? That’s the only explanation. It’s good old-fashioned British horror of anything that might provoke any kind of controversy, any public display of untoward emotion.

That’s why the local authorities of this country have displayed such glacial indifference to the 13,000 servicemen returning this autumn – hundreds of them grievously injured – from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.

That’s why the Chief of the General Staff, Sir Richard Dannatt, was driven to his sad complaint last week.

That’s why there will be no parties or treats for men and women who have given so much.

That’s why no one is laying on a parade. It’s nothing to do with our so-called stiff upper lip, or dislike of show. Don’t give me that guff.

This is a nation awash with cheap sentimentality, a nation that went into an ecstasy of mourning for the death of the Princess of Wales, and which is still far more interested – to judge by the news coverage – in the fate of one four-year-old girl than in the losses and injuries now being sustained by the entire Armed Forces.

But when British politicians, local and national, try to imagine any public act of thanksgiving for military sacrifice, they go into a kind of swoon.

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Tim Ireland

The Future of Belgium

End of Belgium should be a warning to Gordon

At the end of some office crisis, the late, great Bill Deedes had a way of turning to you – if you were lucky enough to have been through the crisis with him – and saying, in his conspiratorial way: “Well, old cock, I think we got through that one all right.”

And that, I imagine, is the feeling in Downing Street today. The panic is over, apparently. The queues of frenzied depositors have died away. By the amazing expedient of nationalising Northern Wreck, and by offering unlimited sums of taxpayers’ money to guarantee the liquidity of everyone else, Gordon Brown seems to have contained the damage caused by the first run on the banks since the collapse of Overend and Gurney in 1866.

So, before the next building society goes belly up, and before Gordon uses yet more of our dosh to protect the financiers from the consequences of their reckless deals, let me warn the Prime Minister of another crisis on the horizon; a problem that is more pregnant with risk for this country than any collapse of the housing market.

Once again the bad news comes from abroad, and no, I am not talking about American mortgages, or the terrifying prospect of a Bush-led bombing raid on Iran.

It is a sign of this column’s complete indifference to fashion that this week I take my text from Belgium.

Yes, Belgium is the place that Gordon should be watching: because lovely, misty little Belgium, with its triste cobbled streets and Calpol-tasting beer, is now on the verge of a tragic disintegration. For 102 days, the country has been without a government. The Walloons can’t abide the Flemings, and the Flemings want to maroon the Walloons, and there is now a real chance that they will call it quits.

Continue reading The Future of Belgium

The McCann Controversy

Madeleine McCann saga reflects our society

I can’t stand it any more. I can’t stand the dizzying manipulation of my sympathies.

First I had a pretty clear idea of what had happened to poor little Maddie McCann.

Then all these horrible rumours started to emanate from the Portuguese police, and my emotions lurched off in the opposite direction; and then there would be a pretty compelling counter-rumour, and a learned essay from some expert in forensic science explaining that DNA tests were not all they were cracked up to be, until I have reached the position at 5.30 on Wednesday afternoon – the latest I dare to sit down to write this piece – when I frankly haven’t got a clue what to think.

I look in vain for guidance to the tabloid press, with its legions of reporters in Praia da Luz and long expertise in knowing which way to fan the hysteria of their readers. Which is it?

Are the McCann parents a brace of cold-hearted child killers who have managed to concoct a gigantic fraud involving the police forces of western Europe, the Papacy and hundreds of yellow ribbon-wearing British MPs?

Or are they loving and normal parents who have fallen victim to a terrible crime, and who now see their agony compounded by a half-baked stitch-up operation conducted by Portugal’s equivalent of Inspector Clouseau?

Either way, it is a sensational tabloid story; and yet the papers cannot go either way. The journalists are stuck in the middle, uncertain, cautious, hedging.

The heavy artillery of Fleet Street have their barrels loaded, ready to make either case. But they don’t dare to fire them. They don’t know. I don’t know. You don’t know. None of us knows.

We are all in principle on a huge knife-edge of doubt – and yet that is not, alas, how so many of us behave.

More and more of us now seem willing to blame the McCanns, and with every hour that passes we seem to forget that we have a presumption of innocence in this country.

With ever growing confidence we tap our noses and roll our eyes and aver that we always thought there was something rum about the whole business.

We pass on – with every sign of authority – some weird allegation we have picked up from the internet or the unpasteurised Portuguese press, and that bacillus mutates in the UK tabloids into something yet more frightful before being passed back to the Portuguese; and so the cycle continues.

Continue reading The McCann Controversy

London buses


Boris: Why Londoners should vote for me

It is one of the most tragic sights of the London streets. There she is, exhausted, in high heels, weighed down at either hand with heavy shopping.

And suddenly there is her bus, steaming past her to pull up a hundred yards ahead; and, as it overtakes her, she gives a sudden gasp of panic and breaks into a trot, and as she gets closer she sees the doors hiss open, and the passengers start to get on and off, and now the stream has turned into a trickle, and she lifts a bag-weighted hand to wave at the driver, because she is now close enough to see his impassive face in his kerb-side mirror, and they make eye contact, and her face turns into a rictus of entreaty and exertion.

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