I have just been in Ireland visiting an elderly uncle. Everyone talks of cuts and unemployment and the young emigrating again. There is a deep sense of derision for the politicians but also a kind of mood of defiance and a remembering of history. The election result is predictable but the mood is not. The minimum wage was cut whilst I was there.
I agreed to participate in the commentary on the newspapers on the Andrew Marr Show on the Sunday after Tony Blair gave evidence to the Chilcot Enquiry. The other panellists were Amanda Platell and Peter Hitchens, both right-wing columnists. It was interesting that they were focused on the Andy Coulson resignation from the role of spin-doctor to David Cameron, and other political gossip stories. I picked out the possibility of a restructuring of the banks to prevent another crisis and the possibility of an uprising in Egypt.
One of my sisters,who is now living in Cape Town, commented when she came back to visit that the media discussion of politics consists mostly of journalists interviewing journalists. And unsurprisingly, journalists are interested in stories about journalists and the media. And thus the commentary gets disconnected from events in the real world.
I was invited to join the Question Time panel this week because, they said, Egypt was bound to come up. And it did, two of the panellists were focused on “the risk” that the Moslem Brotherhood would take over in Egypt. The two politicians said bland and reasonable things about the need for democracy, and didn’t wish to comment on the West’s responsibility for propping up dictators, and failing to require Israel to make a just peace with the Palestinians. The audience was much more open-minded and made points about the need for us to cease to support dictators and the right of the Egyptian people to elect whoever they choose.
The panel discussion was very disappointing. We are living through a period of revolution in the Middle East, led by people who want freedom, economic development and democracy. Their courage is deeply moving and this is and historical change which will shift the balance of forces in the Middle East and provides the opportunity for a new era of openness and development. There are major lessons to be learned about the foolishness of Western policy, but most of the UK commentary is about the risk of Islamism.
The best book I know is The Last Chance: The Middle East in the Balance by David Gardner.