Monday, September 01, 2003
Free Life Commentary
Issue Number 111
Monday, 1st September 2003
This article and many replies to it will be published in the next issue of Free Life Magazine:

What is Happening in Dover?
More Reason to Blame Tony Blair
By Sean Gabb

Last Friday evening, the 29th August, my wife and I had Dr Tame and Rebecca Baty over to dinner - as ever, a most enjoyable occasion. After they had left, I turned on the wireless for the news, and heard of a security alert in Dover, which is about seven miles down the coast from where we live. According to the report, the authorities had closed the port and closed both motorways into the town. Traffic was being parked on the motorways outside the exclusion zone. Out to sea, all the ferries had been stopped, and the passengers were reported to be happily making calls from their mobile telephones and consuming their cheap cigarettes and alcohol. The following morning, I turned on the news again, and heard that the alert was over and that Dover was back to normal.

Nothing much here, I suppose. I have spent all my life with security alerts of one kind or another. A generation of Fenian terrorism has accustomed all of us to the occasional disruption. The English are not known for any tendency to panic, and our authorities are usually both efficient and restrained. Anyone from outside the area will have given small attention to the news reports and gone about his daily business without further thought. Those of us in the area, however, have much else to report.

The following afternoon, Dr Tame cycled over for coffee. Afterwards, we went for a walk along the seafront. It was a clear day, and we could see right across the English Channel to the French hills behind Calais. Between the Straits of Dover, we could see dozens of ships all standing at anchor - passenger ferries, cargo ships, and much smaller traffic. Whatever the media might choose to report, Dover was clearly not back to normal.

The next afternoon, Dr Tame called and said he had stood on the seafront in his own town, watching heavily armed military aeroplanes flying slowly towards Dover. Mrs Gabb dissuaded me from getting into my car and driving off to Dover to see for myself what was happening. But that evening, I drove over to have dinner with Rebecca and Dr Tame, David Carr having driven down to join us. Mrs Gabb stayed behind to get on with some painting. At about 9:00pm, there was a long power cut between where she was and Dover. She went out and looked around into blackness in all directions. This morning, she called from her railway train to report black naval ships racing up and down the Channel - one of them with a helicopter pad. All day, I have heard jets flying overhead.

According to the news reports, all the authorities found last Friday evening was a prohibited firearm in a car. Three men with British passports - Amir Khan, a county court bailiff from Kensington, Ramin Malique, a garage manager from Clapham, and Zubiar Khan, from West London - have been charged with criminal offences, and are presently in court at the start of normal criminal proceedings.

No mention on the BBC website of terrorism - though the foreign news agencies mention it. But, whatever the legal process, the reaction to those three men has been wildly disproportionate to what those three men are alleged to have been doing. Mrs Gabb telephoned me earlier to renew her instructions for me to keep away from Dover, and that is as much a bar to my going over there as an armed police cordon. But it would not surprise me to learn that someone had been caught trying to import a mass of explosives into the country, and was now under close siege, and that news of this was being kept from us by a media blackout.

I know that not every terrorist act is reported in this country. About ten years ago, a very close friend was cycling between Holborn and Westminster. As he got to Buckingham Palace, he noticed a large crater in one of the lawns outside the gates. He has always insisted it was a crater, not an ordinary hole left by one of the utility companies. That afternoon, he cycled past again, and everything was back to normal - the crater filled in and turfed over, so that no one would ever notice it had been there. There was nothing of this mentioned in any of the news reports. I have heard other stories - though not at first hand - of unreported gun battles in Central London. It is reasonable to believe that the authorities prevent many terrorist acts frm being reported. The purpose is either to deny publicity to the terrorists or to keep the rest of us from growing too concerned. Is this now happening in Dover? Is this what happened last week, when much of London suffered a power cut? Is this what happened the week before, when much of America had the same? We are coming up to the second anniversary of the September bombings in America. There have been two big terrorist hits in Iraq in the past fortnight, and one in Bombay, with another foiled in New Delhi. Were those power cuts the work of al-Qua’eda? What about Dover?

The answer is that I have no idea, and probably never shall. The real question in my mind, though, is whether the authorities should have the right to keep these matters out of the news. I asked this of Mrs Gabb last night. She was firm in her answer. She wanted to know what was happening, she insisted, so that she could make suitable arrangements. If we cannot be trusted to know about these matters, there is no point in trusting us with the vote.

I tend to agree. Certainly, there is a case for media blackouts when an operation is in progress. But I can see none for routinely covering things up after the event. We are told to be vigilant. It would at least be useful for us to know for sure that vigilance was justified.

The other question, of course, is why there should be any need in the first place for vigilance. Where the Fenians are concerned, we have no choice. The Irish problem is not something our own generation has freely chosen. It is the legacy of an 800 year involvement in Ireland and of things done there that cannot now be undone, however unwise or regrettable they may turn out to have been. There is no solution to that problem - short, that is, of a degree of firmness incompatible with our liberal traditions, or of an abject surrender to the terrorists that not even Mr Blair has been able to achieve. But the main terrorist threat to us at present comes not from Ireland. It comes from the Middle East - a region in which, trading aside, we no longer have any legitimate interests. In the face of domestic hostility and international ridicule and condemnation, Mr Blair took us to war with Iraq last spring. He did so on the basis of claims about weapons of mass destruction that no one with half a brain could have believed at the time, and that have now been shown as falsehoods. With the Americans, we are now occupying the country with pitiably inadequate resources. We cannot guarantee law and order even where our forces are most concentrated. We cannot even ensure regular supplies of water and electricity to the civilian populations - something Saddam Hussein appears to have managed despite a decade of sanctions and occasional bombing. No other big power is willing to lift a finger to help us. Throughout the Islamic world - and this now includes parts of Bradford, Manchester and London, Holy War is being preached against us.

None of this was necessary. How the Americans regard their own government is for them to decide. But for us, it is important to remember who got us into this mess. It was Mr Blair. Why he claimed and still claims to believe the falsehoods with which he pushed us to war is irrelevant. All that does matter is that, as our head of government, he is our trustee. His duty is to protect our lives and property at home and to secure us from foreign attack at minimal cost. He is in negligent breach of that trust.

I do not know how we can get out of Iraq. The best I can imagine is a unilateral withdrawal, leaving the Americans to take up the whole burden. Doubtless, they would punish us in some way for this desertion, but probably not so violently as the holy war against us that a withdrawal might - and I can only say “might” - avoid. But this cannot be done while Mr Blair remains Prime Minister. Therefore, he must go. If he had any sense, he would resign now, before having to face the TUC and Labour Party conferences later this month and then the reassembled Parliament. He could then look forward to the same public hatred and media sycophancy that Edward Heath has enjoyed these past 30 years. We could then all turn ourselves to working on Gordon Brown the traditional British miracle of making a Prime Minister age 15 years in three.

But I do not think he will go willingly. What appears to motivate him is a desire to be remembered as a great Prime Minister. To achieve this, he has gambled recklessly with our lives, our money and our good reputation abroad. If he goes now, he will have failed. So, like other compulsive gamblers, his inclination will be to stay in the game, regardless of the rising stakes. He will eventually go, and will go with every one of his incoming dreams of glory brought to nothing. This is no less than I have ever wished for him. But I also wish - and I really do wish - it could have come at a lower cost.

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