Upon the appointment of Baroness (Valerie) Amos to the post of International Development Secretary, with a place in the cabinet, a journalist from one of the tabloids telephoned me. He wanted dirt on the fine and upstanding baroness. I was taken aback. Not one line in the 435 pieces I have written during my years in the New Statesman has ever indicated that I am prone to scandalmongering. According to the child of the house: "My dad don't deal in crap."
I am concerned, however, with some matters regarding Amos and her new job. She describes herself as a bureaucrat: I take this to mean that she abjures vision and equates politics with tinkering within the limits of the status quo. I hope she does not lock herself into that category. Perhaps the slogan should be: "Today a bureaucrat, tomorrow who knows?" And an opportunity has arisen for Amos to break free from her self-imposed limitations.
On the day of her appointment, I received news from the land of her birth, Guyana. It has always been a troubled place, a fact that the broadsheets studiously avoided in their commentaries on Amos's appointment. It has a history of vicious civil war between former African slaves and indentured Indian labour, which followed the emancipation of the slaves. That conflict has simmered beneath the surface of Guyanese politics since the 1950s, transforming the country from a quietly prosperous land into a basket case. The latest crisis was triggered by the kidnapping and murder of a 16-year-old schoolchild, which was in a long line of racial murders, rapes and kidnappings, one of which involved a US diplomat.
A crisis of this kind requires a grand leap forward. I recommend to Amos that she despatch without delay a commission made up of Caribbeans from the diaspora in Britain to investigate in detail the conditions under which the Guyanese now live. The aim should be to develop the country, which conceals untold wealth.
Amos may reply that the British high commission can provide such information. If so, the bureaucrat in her fails to appreciate that some originality is required here, and passion, too. Her right to intervene cannot be in question because her predecessor, Clare Short, who visited Guyana two years ago, had been handing out the dosh, which I am afraid goes down the Guyanese plughole. Go bravely, Baroness Amos, and begin to set the world alight.