Chagos, Vince Cable, and Ed Miliband

The Chagos controversy is now making an impact at the highest levels of government. How will the new

chagos letter

On 13 September, the Staggers exclusively revealed the contents of a letter from the new business secretary, Vince Cable, to his constituent, Dr George Beckmann, claiming that the coalition government was about to come to a "friendly settlement" with the Chagos Islanders, whose case concerning the right of return to their homeland is pending before the European Court of Human Rights. Then followed a frantic attempt by an official at the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills to claim that the letter had been sent "in error by his constituency office".

Dr Cable has now sent a second letter to his constituent (see above), also from his constituency office, apologising "for the mistake that was made" in "giving an incorrect impression of the actions of the British Government". Nevertheless, it is highly revealing about the status of the new business secretary that Cable did not feel obliged to toe the conventional Foreign Office line and invoke the usual smokescreen about defence security and "treaty obligations" to the US (note: sorry but an exchange of letters does not constitute a treaty) much used by former British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, and the current minister responsible for British overseas territories, Henry Bellingham, particularly as regards the use of the military base on Diego Garcia, part of the British Indian Ocean Territory.

Instead, in his second letter, Cable makes it abundantly clear where his sympathies lie. He explains that while his busy ministerial role precludes him from "remaining as actively involved with this cause" he ventures, "I am sure that the Chagossian cause will continue to be championed by my colleagues within the Liberal Democrat party and campaigners such as yourself".

Meanwhile, at the United Nations General Assembly in New York this week Mauritius foreign minister, Dr Arvin Boolell, demanded the unconditional return of the Chagos Archipelago, including Diego Garcia, to Mauritius as soon as possible.

It is a sign of the frustration that Mauritius feels with successive UK governments that Boolell was unusually forthright. "The Chagos Archipelago was excised from Mauritian territory illegally by the United Kingdom... this is a flagrant violation of United Nations resolutions 1514 and 2066," he said, referring to the fact that it was illegal under international law for Britain to excise part of the colony of Mauritius in 1965 before granting independence in 1968.

Boolell also reiterated that his government remains fully behind the right of return of the Chagos Islanders and "greatly appreciated the unanimous and unflinching support from the African Union and the Non-Aligned Movement". Further worries for the FCO will come from the announcement by Dr Boolell that his country had decided not to recognise the marine protected area in the British Indian Ocean Territory, which was announced by David Miliband on 1 April.

As for the future -- given that David Miliband, who during his time in government stuck resolutely to Foreign Office policy on Chagos, is now to leave front bench politics to spend more time with his family, the question is whether there will be a change in attitude on the right of return of the Chagos Islanders at the top of the Labour Party. It is well-known that Ed Miliband was supported from early on in his bid for the leadership by the Kinnocks. Although as a FCO minister Baroness Kinnock was obliged to defend the Foreign Secretary's policy towards the Islanders in the House of Lords on 6 April, she was clearly very embarrassed to do so. Perhaps, it is time for Glenys to make amends and use her famous Welsh charm to persuade Ed to follow Dr Cable's lead on this one.

Dr Sean Carey is Research Fellow at the Centre for Research on Nationalism, Ethnicity and Multiculturalism (CRONEM), Roehampton University.

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Leader: Mourning in Manchester

Yet another attack shows we are going to have to get to used to the idea that our liberalism and our freedoms can only be preserved by a strong state.

Children are murdered and maimed by a suicide bomber as they are leaving a pop concert in Manchester. As a consequence, the government raises the terror threat to “critical”, which implies that another attack is imminent, and the army is sent out on to the streets of our cities in an attempt to reassure and encourage all good citizens to carry on as normal. The general election campaign is suspended. Islamic State gleefully denounces the murdered and wounded as “crusaders” and “polytheists”.

Meanwhile, the usual questions are asked, as they are after each new Islamist terrorist atrocity. Why do they hate us so much? Have they no conscience or pity or sense of fellow feeling? We hear, too, the same platitudes: there is more that unites us than divides us, and so on. And so we wait for the next attack on innocent civilians, the next assault on the free and open society, the next demonstration that Islamism is the world’s most malignant and dangerous ideology.

The truth of the matter is that the Manchester suicide bomber, Salman Ramadan Abedi, was born and educated in Britain. He was 22 when he chose to end his own life. He had grown up among us: indeed, like the London bombers of 7 July 2005, you could call him, however reluctantly, one of us. The son of Libyan refugees, he supported Manchester United, studied business management at Salford University and worshipped at Didsbury Mosque. Yet he hated this country and its people so viscerally that he was prepared to blow himself up in an attempt to murder and wound as many of his fellow citizens as possible.

The Manchester massacre was an act of nihilism by a wicked man. It was also sadly inevitable. “The bomb was,” writes the Mancunian cultural commentator Stuart Maconie on page 26, “as far as we can guess, an attack on the fans of a young American woman and entertainer, on the frivolousness and foolishness and fun of young girlhood, on lipstick and dressing up and dancing, on ‘boyfs’ and ‘bezzies’ and all the other freedoms that so enrage the fanatics and contradict their idiot dogmas. Hatred of women is a smouldering core of their wider, deeper loathing for us. But to single out children feels like a new low of wickedness.”

We understand the geopolitical context for the atrocity. IS is under assault and in retreat in its former strongholds of Mosul and Raqqa. Instead of urging recruits to migrate to the “caliphate”, IS has been urging its sympathisers and operatives in Europe to carry out attacks in their countries of residence. As our contributing writer and terrorism expert, Shiraz Maher, explains on page 22, these attacks are considered to be acts of revenge by the foot soldiers and fellow-travellers of the caliphate. There have been Western interventions in Muslim lands and so, in their view, all civilians in Western countries are legitimate targets for retaliatory violence.

An ever-present threat of terrorism is the new reality of our lives in Europe. If these zealots can murder children at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, there is no action that they would not consider unconscionable. And in this country there are many thousands – perhaps even tens of thousands – who are in thrall to Islamist ideology. “Terror makes the new future possible,” the American Don DeLillo wrote in his novel Mao II, long before the al-Qaeda attacks of 11 September 2001. The main work of terrorists “involves mid-air explosions and crumbled buildings. This is the new tragic narrative.”

Immediately after the Paris attacks in November 2015, John Gray reminded us in these pages of how “peaceful coexistence is not the default condition of modern humankind”. We are going to have to get used to the idea that our liberalism and our freedoms can only be preserved by a strong state. “The progressive narrative in which freedom is advancing throughout the world has left liberal societies unaware of their fragility,” John Gray wrote. Liberals may not like it, but a strong state is the precondition of any civilised social order. Certain cherished freedoms may have to be compromised. This is the new tragic narrative.

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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