The hypocrisy of the hawks

From Blair to McCain, how can we take these people seriously on Libya and military action?

One of the weirdest features of the Libya crisis has been the re-emergence of T Blair. I was both annoyed and amused to see our former premier -- described by Saif Gaddafi as a "close personal friend" of the Gaddafi family -- penning pieces for the Times and the Sun in recent days, supporting military action against his (former) friends.

Then there's David Cameron's hypocrisy -- as I note in my feature piece in this week's magazine, the current premier has enthusiastically sent British jets to bomb a regime to which his own government last year issued £231m worth of arms exports licences (including the supply of small arms munition, tear gas and sniper rifles). Are we supposed just to forget this? Turn a blind eye?

But British hawks aren't the only hypocrites around. Take the pro-war Republican senator John McCain in the United States. Here's a report from the Associated Press from August 2009:

A delegation of US senators led by John McCain met with Libya's leader yesterday to discuss the possible delivery of non-lethal defence equipment. The visit and Washington's offer of military equipment was another sign of the improving ties between the former long-time adversaries.

"We discussed the possibility of moving ahead with the provision of non-lethal defence equipment to the government of Libya,'' McCain said during a press conference. He gave no details on the kind of military equipment Washington is offering.

So, back then, he was recommending the sale of military equipment to the Gaddafi-run Libya; these days, the same McCain is agitating for a ground war in Libya and the ouster of Gaddafi -- the same Gaddafi he praised in 2009.

In the sarcastic words of the HuffPo's Jason Linkins:

John McCain was in favour of supplying military aid to Gaddafi before he was for supplying military aid to the forces looking to topple Gaddafi.

Is it any wonder, then, why some of us are so suspicious about the motives of the so-called liberal interventionists?

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.