Friday, December 17, 2004

there will be continuity

I'm having a hard time joining in the glee some feel watching David Blunkett's demise.

He is, of course, only gone temporarily. As Cecil Parkinson and Peter Mandelson can tell you, just cos you've been caught doing things you always criticised others for and then denied you'd done until faced with irrefutable proof, it doesn't mean your political career is over.

But more to the point, Blunkett was a paranoid and repressive Home Secretary, no worse than his predecessors and surely no worse than his successor. Indeed, Charles Clarke has said in so many words; There will be continuity between David's approach and mine.

So even though Michael Howard swept in a range of repressive laws curtailing the right to freedom of assembly and freedom of speech, Labour surpassed the 1994 Criminal Justice Act with their anti-terrorist legislation. Even though Howard's successor Jack Straw introduced laws making wearing the wrong T-shirt punishable by 12 months in jail, even though he was followed by Blunkett who, the day after he quit, was found to have acted illegally in allowing indefinite internment without trial, Charles Clarke believes we've still not gone far enough.

Such a vast amount of power placed in anyone's hands is going to make them act against the interests of most of the people they supposedly serve. And for some reason, upon being made Home Secretary a politician suddenly veers into a dark and paranoid netherworld, issuing decrees that people should be imprisoned for thoughtcrime and the only solution to anything is harsher and harsher penalties triggered by earlier and smaller misdeeds.

There will be continuity.

Like I said, finding it hard to share the glee. It's only a change of badge. The interest in it is largely based on the titillation of a celebrity sex scandal, the kind of thing that many of those who've reveled in it criticise others for when it's Jordan and Peter Andre.

Gossip is an essential function of human socialising, but please, let's not pretend that when it's a politician it's somehow something serious. The Blunkett gossip gets passed off as news, despite other things going on that warrant far more attention than whether somebody actually did a favour for someone they fancy.

The UN dithers about whether anything should really be done about the genocide in Darfur. We in the EU ignore or, more accurately, aren't told about the way companies from at least five EU countries - including the UK - have been supplying arms to the conflict even though there's an EU embargo.

Person arriving home from a day at Endeavour Resources UK Ltd...

'Have a nice day at work dear?'

'Yeah, great, tied up the deals for the Brazilian handguns and the Ukranian planes for Sudan. Once they get those planes they'll be able to drop barrel-bombs of shrapnel on villages. Only mud huts, the shrapnel goes straight through as if they weren't there so there's nowhere to hide. One day's work but a lifetime's legacy. What's for tea?'

Across Africa, the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo has intensified again, unnoticed by pretty much everyone over here except the reliably excellent George Monbiot. The war in DRC is a continuation of the war in Rwanda ten years ago. It's never really stopped.

The driving force - 'the engine of the war' according to the UN - is the fact that the land stands on two-thirds of the world's reserves of coltan, a rare mineral essential for consumer electronics. Our desire for pretend wars on Playstations means there's a real war, the bloodiest on earth since WW2, going on in Africa.

For all his shoot-yerself-in-the-foot poor choice of platform, I can't express it any better than Bono put it at the Labour Party conference:

Africa makes a fool of our idea of justice; it makes a farce of our idea of equality. It mocks our pieties, it doubts our concern, it questions our commitment.

Because there's no way we can look at Africa - a continent bursting into flames - and if we're honest conclude that it would ever be allowed to happen anywhere else. Anywhere else.

Certainly not here, in Europe. Or America. Or Australia, or Canada. There's just no chance.

You see, deep down, if we really accepted that Africans were equal to us, we would all do more to put the fire out.

But we don't get to hear about that cos, hell, they're only darkies and we want those DRC-mined electronic gadgets for Christmas, and anyway David Blunkett actually had sex and has had to be replaced so the hydra has a new head, and that's the real news.

There will be continuity.

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