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The Politics Of Terror – Cameron’s Reaction To Woolwich

Last Updated: Friday, May 24th, 2013

The Woolwich atrocity requires a political response which David Cameron is well-fitted to provide. As the Prime Minister observed when he spoke in a wind-swept Downing Street: “The people who did this were trying to divide us.”

The murderers of Drummer Lee Rigby announced that they wished to “start a war”. Cameron’s task is to avert that war by doing everything he can to strengthen social cohesion. He has to represent the overwhelming coalition of decent, law-abiding people, who are revolted by what happened in Woolwich, and are not prepared to have British politics conducted in this manner.

The politics of national consensus come naturally to Cameron. He possesses, thanks to the Anglican tradition in which he was brought up, an instinctive sense of how to stress the things on which all reasonable people can agree, however much they may disagree on other topics.

The initial response of Muslim organisations has been helpful. They have learned, partly at Tony Blair’s urging, to condemn without delay such unpardonable acts of terror. Cameron has encouraged them in their moderation by saying: “This was not just an attack on Britain and on the British way of life, it was also a betrayal of Islam and of the Muslim communities who give so much to our country. There is nothing in Islam that justifies this truly dreadful attack.”

But as Cameron well knows, he is going to have to be tough as well as conciliatory. For there is a substantial body of British opinion which will reject Cameron, and indeed the entire political class, if our leaders appear to stress the virtues of Islam at the expense of everything else. The British public is tolerant, but is not so limitlessly willing to make concessions as some liberals would like to believe.

Cameron’s early decision to encourage members of the Armed Forces to continue to wear their uniforms or other identifying items when outside barracks is a sign that he has the right instincts about this. We cannot cringe in front of a few terrorists.

The Prime Minister must not appear to exploit this situation for personal political advantage. It was a minor lapse of taste for him to say at one point, “I know from three years of being Prime Minister”. We all know he has acquired a certain amount of experience in the top job.

But as long as he observes that self-denying ordinance, Cameron now has a chance to expound and exemplify some of the best aspects of British patriotism. He rightly hastened to praise Ingrid Loyau-Kennett, the Brownies leader who with extraordinary courage and presence of mind sought to give first aid to Drummer Rigby before engaging the killers in conversation.

This horrific event is an occasion when we need leaders who help us to feel proud of our nation, its constitution and its peaceful ways of resolving disputes.

In the struggle against terrorism, the upholding of freedom under the rule of law is indispensible. The effect of the terrorists should be to make us value all the more the way we usually do things.

Liberal-minded people nowadays tend to suspect anything which might be described as “nationalism”. But when Ed Miliband conceived the brilliant idea of stealing the Tory idea of “One Nation”, a theft carried out in his party conference speech last autumn, he was recognising the need to develop a healthy nationalism, which unites different classes and indeed people from different religious traditions.

Miliband has not yet managed to fill the words “One Nation” with much content. But whether or not one uses that term, it expresses what we need to be.

UKIP has risen to political prominence because the long-established parties have become less good than they used to be at making people feel proud to be British. Beyond UKIP lies a susceptible part of our nation which feels deeply insecure, and whose insecurities are liable to be expressed by attacking people of immigrant descent. If conventional politicians fail to reassure these worried patriots, then hooligans who delude themselves into believing it is patriotic to attack Muslims will seize the chance to portray themselves as the true defenders of the nation.

In crude political terms, this attack presents Cameron, in particular, with an opportunity. He can be the leader who unites the nation in the face of adversity: who with calm resolution, rather than panicky over-reaction, gives expression to this country’s essential decency. If the Prime Minister can do that, he will oblige everyone else to follow him.

By Andrew Gimson



Paul Goodman: One of the terrorists said: “We want to start a war”. They mustn’t succeed. Attacks on mosques play their game. Governments must recognise that there are limits to what policy can achieve.  Withdrawal from Iraq and coming withdrawal from Afghanistan have not ended terror, as we saw yesterday.  The security services will not halt every plot, though they have stopped many since 21/7.  There is no evidence that initiatives such as last Government’s Prevent policy, on which it staked so much, delivered hard results or value for money for the taxpayer.

Mark Wallace: Who are UKIP? The failure of the main three parties to understand who UKIPpers are has undoubtedly contributed to Nigel Farage’s success. Those who thought them to be a protest vote to be won over with one simple pledge, a bunch of “fruitcakes and closet racists” whose xenophobic views should be ignored or a lost tribe of conservatives who should return to the fold, were all mistaken.

The Deep End: The rightwing consensus on shale gas is about to be torn apart. The risks of shale gas exploration can and should be manageable, but public opposition to such developments is not based on the cool calculation of cost-benefit analyses, but upon gut reaction (though some cool calculation of property price impacts may also feature).

Peter Hoskin: The Tory leadership is betting the house on house prices – it might not end well. Of course, from Burke through Thatcher and on to Cameron, conservatives have tended to value property-ownership. But, with the market as subverted as it is, it shouldn’t be regarded as an unalloyed good; and particularly not when a government-sponsored borrowing binge is required to bring it about.

Andrew Gimson: Ed Miliband becomes Prime Minister and detests being Francois Hollande. Six months in to what was proving to be an unhappy prime ministership, Ed Miliband woke early and found he could not go back to sleep. His aides had assured him that “a quiet weekend at Chequers with no media” would do him a power of good. But as the wind howled round the ancient mansion and the rain splattered against the window panes, his fevered brain allowed him no rest…

By Mark Wallace


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