I welcome David Cameron’s climbdown/U turn, call it what you will, over the worsening humanitarian crisis occurring in large parts of the world. I do not know precisely what his proposals represent and I don’t particularly care how you describe Cameron’s change of heart. I am just glad that he has had one.
The tragic, overwhelmingly sad sight of Aylan Kurdi lying lifeless of a Turkish beach has changed everything in terms of how we perceive this ongoing tragedy. I do not know anyone, even those who oppose all forms of immigration, who did not feel sadness at Aylan’s death. Quite frankly, I would not want to know anyone who was not moved by it.
I was totally unconvinced by Cameron at his press briefing yesterday. He looked and sounded like a politician going through the motions, reading from a narrative prepared by spin doctors and speech-writers, the content of which was bland but essentially dismissive to the idea of doing anything else. His do nothing policy has changed today, presumably someone in a Tory focus group has told him we don’t like what’s going on.
Nonetheless, the PM did have a good point or two to say yesterday. In the long term, we – the whole world – will need to address the reasons why so many people are on the move. We actually know a lot of the factors involved – war, civil war, islamic fascism – but none of us, not your average Joe, nor your world leader, has the first idea of how to deal with them. At the moment, our only solution is to bomb people and to provide aid. I would question the former, welcome the latter, but acknowledge the simple truth that we could take decades, maybe longer, to resolve this mass of serious issues.
How, for example, do you defeat the islamic fascists of ISIS? By dropping so many bombs that there aren’t any more of them? By negotiating with sick murderers who behead, drown and set fire to innocent people and who rape children? By troops on the ground? That worked well in Iraq and Afghanistan, didn’t it?
So there are two distinct issues. The immediate humanitarian catastrophe unfolding around the world and how to save lives is one, an idea of how to deal with the reasons for it is quite another. But we cannot deal with one and ignore the other. Cameron’s clumsy comment yesterday said that taking in desperate refugees would not address the problem as to why they were there in the first place, but by the same token he gave no indication that he had the foggiest idea what to do next. And why should he? Cameron’s only job outside politics was as a TV executive, the next Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s only experience of authority was as chair of the Haringey housing department back in the 1970s. True, they have access to better experts than you and I, but that’s about as far as it can go.
To move forward united requires that as many people as possible have their views heard. It’s true that there are genuine concerns about immigration, some of which I share. It is an issue that we have closed our eyes to for far too long, perhaps in the hope it might go away. We need a grown up, open debate about immigration too, not ignoring those with a different world view.
Our government – and opposition – has been hopeless, as has the EU. There are a lot of countries who want something done but want someone else to do it. This is the issue of the century so far and we’d best make sure that men and women will vision and new ideas come up with urgent solutions. It isn’t going away on its own, that’s for sure.