War starts at midnight
One of the problems with being a soi-distant semi-detached Labour supporter – one of those people who want them to win, but merely because you feel them by far the least, worst option – is the moments they do something so monumentally crass that you die a little inside.
From yesterday’s Sun:-
ABUSIVE insults aimed at our war heroes will be a crime if Labour wins power, Ed Miliband vowed yesterday.
He made the pledge to our troops on a flying visit to Afghanistan — saying he would change the law within a year if he became PM.
Now this proposal has been knocking around a few years, and every time I hear it surface, I think of the episode of The Thick of It, where they make up policy on the spot, or Alan Partridge desperately coming up with more and more ludicrous tv show ideas to pitch to his ex-boss. But no, no, no. Labour keep coming back to this policy, like a dog returning to its own vomit. They really, genuinely, mean to make this law.
I suppose my objections to the policy break down into three areas. Firstly, it is spectacularly illiberal. I’ve little or no time for right wingers who bang on about Labour’s authoritarian soul and then vote Tory, who have their own problems with authoritarianism. It seems most supporters of either of the two parties that actually still matter anymore (We aren’t going to bother surveying Liberal Democrat attitudes because, well, life’s too short, and they’ll probably announce they are for the law but against the troops or something similarly vapid) really have a problem with soft authoritarianism when it comes from the other side but are completely happy with it when it comes from their own. But even so. Even with that caveat. Doesn’t it smack more than a tad of the totalitarian to you? Granted, I’m not actually arguing that we’ll be North Korea overnight or anything out of proportion, but “jailed for disrespecting the armed forces of our glorious nation” does have a DPRK ring to it, doesn’t it?
The second is, I wonder how it will work?
Am I free to insult a soldier as long as I don’t call him Tommy, or Squaddie, or Sarge? Can I call him a wanker, but not a hired killer? (I don’t actually have that attitude towards soldiers, just to make it clear, I just see them as ordinary human beings who do an often dangerous and challenging job. That’s it. Not saint. Not sinner. Just, you know. Soldier).
At what point do you decide that my abuse breaks the law and is worthy of sending me to court for? How the hell do you define it? And, y’see, normally, coupled with my first point, I’d normally see this as a good thing…if I didn’t have more than a sneaking suspicion that “how you define it” will, inevitably, be “as broadly as possible”. We’ve been here before. This never leads anywhere good.
And then, bringing up the rear, there’s the political consideration. And my political brain says that this – just like immigration – is a battlefield that Labour will never win on. The more attention they give to it, the more they clothe themselves in the uniform, the more the Tories will push it, go further militaristic, further patriotic.
I sense this because it seems to me that the Tories are more comfortable with the armed forces – I don’t know why; perhaps it’s a quirk of history; the way they have managed to rebrand a National Government featuring Deputy PM Atlee as “Churchill and others”; perhaps there’s a cultural thing going on – your average Labour leader more likely to be the boy who’s parents bought him a sponsorship to teach an African child for his birthday than one who bought him an Airfix model and a complete set of Battle comics.
Whatever the reason behind it, it remains a perception. Even a draft-dodger like Thatcher (low blow, apologies) seemed more comfortable with the Armed forces than Callaghan, who served in the Royal Navy.
And Ed Miliband is most definitely no salty sea-dog. In his hands, it comes over to me like the swotty kid at school, sidling up next to the class hard-case, laughing at his jokes in all the wrong places, jarring, awkward.
On top of all this, I do wonder whether it is actually something servicemen and women give a shit about?
So here’s an idea for a replacement policy, Ed, no charge.
How about, making sure they have the right equipment?
That when they go to war you try and ensure the odds are in their favour and that none of them die needlessly?
That if they get injured, they get treatment and support?
That if they die, their families get adequately looked after?
I’m pretty sure that would be enough. Leave the posturing, the empty gestures that lead to bad laws, and stick to the basics.
Now do excuse me. War starts at midnight.