Mark Thomas sees Geoff Hoon as an anarchist hero
Geoff Hoon, who described Iraqi looting as an attempt at "liberating" old regime property, sounds so
The Home Secretary, David Blunkett, recently announced that his son had altered his name to avoid the embarrassment of being associated with his former namesake. The truly shocking part of this story is that Blunkett has two other children who, it appears, have not changed their names. I can only assume that this is the start of a trend among new Labour cabinet offspring, who could rename themselves anything from Barrymore to Windsor and still feel less burdened and less stigmatised.
The Labour list of shame encompasses all of them, from the Christian bomber Blair, to the liar Short and the ever-wrong Geoff Hoon, whose primary PR function seems to be making statements about the war that only moments later turn out to be totally false. Such is his proficiency at this skill that anti-war protesters pray for the day when he steps up to the Despatch Box to announce: "I am Minister of Defence."
Not even Hoon's defenders (to give him the benefit of the plural) could have predicted his awesome analysis of the rioting and looting in Baghdad. The looters were, he said, "liberating" the stolen items. I hope Hoon's constituents will remember those wise words next time they turn up at his constituency surgery at Kirkby-in-Ashfield and "liberate" a chair or a filing cabinet on the way out. So insightful were Hoon's comments that 18-year-old student members of the Anarchist Debating Society must have been nodding, "Yeah, right, Geoff man" the length and breadth of the country. They probably expect him to be charging around the City in a balaclava come May Day, or at least to turn up at the Gloucestershire Hunt, punch Prince Charles and nick his horse.
In fact, a few more statements like that and the Sunday Times Insight team will be going undercover and befriending Hoon in the hope of exposing him as a ringleader of an extremist organisation. And given new Labour's track record, they have a good chance of being proved right.
Hoon's comments reflect the US and the UK governments' determination to be seen as liberators at all costs; anything that occurs in Iraq must now promote that idea. From the bombing of markets to the shooting of cars and the killing of women and children: all of these must be seen not as murderous acts but as - yep, you guessed it - the "L" word. And if murder can be seen as liberation, then it is not a great leap for stealing to be regarded as liberating, too.
The scale of thieving is embarrassing for the US and the UK governments because it implies that the Iraqis are desperately poor: why else in the midst of an invasion, bombardment and overthrow of a tyrant would anyone choose to steal a sheet of corrugated iron?
To ask why they are so poor means having to confront the effects of the US- and UK-led sanctions imposed upon the country. Sanctions that, according to Unicef, resulted in 500,000 Iraqi children under the age of five dying. Sanctions that gave each Iraqi the princely sum of 54 cents a day to live off, for food, health, education, housing, electricity generation, water sanitation and distribution, oil industry supplies, infrastructure supplies, transport and communications. Sanctions that deliver food distribution into the hands of a dictator in a nation where 60 per cent are dependent on food aid. It is little wonder Labour refuses to acknowledge the role the UK played in the deaths of thousands and the impoverishment of millions. Wilful ignorance of the past denies the UK's responsibilities for the future.
Labour insists that Britain's role in arming Saddam Hussein occurred under Margaret Thatcher; however, the debts of those deals are now firmly the responsibility of Blair.
Most of the arms deals and construction projects to build Saddam Hussein's palaces were backed by the Export Credits Guarantee Department. It underwrote the loans with which Hussein armed his state and created his chemical weapons. When Saddam didn't keep up with the payments, the ECGD stepped in to pay the companies and banks with taxpayers' money. The debt for these deals has been quietly left in the ECGD's pending file for some time. Saddam Hussein, the ECGD says, defaulted on roughly £620m. This figure doesn't include the interest on the loans, as according to the ECGD, the deals were complex and the calculations difficult. A reassuring answer for a government department responsible for billions of pounds of our money.
So let me help. If the interest rate is 8 per cent (a fairly rough but reasonable estimate), payable since 1990 (rough, but probably an underestimate given that the troubles began in 1985), then Iraq owes the ECGD £1,685,760,440. Unless that debt is cancelled, Iraq, one of the poorest nations on earth, must pay for the arms and palaces that caused its people's oppression. This is liberation.