David Cameron, Etonians and George Orwell

First published on www.BrandRepublic.com 28 Mar 2011 - http://bit.ly/eHjR4Z

I do feel gloating, common amongst footballers and politicians, to be most unseemly behaviour. The words ‘I told you so’ are rather distasteful too, so sorry about this….

In my blog post dated 1 November 2010 ‘The Conservatives may be doing the right thing, but in the wrong way’ (still my most-read post), I predicted that the proposed spending cuts would lead to ‘social chaos’. This was proved to be true by the student riots on 10 November 2010 and then again with the anti-cut protestors on Saturday (26 March 2011).

Yet, when I posted that prediction in November last year, there had not been riots in the streets of London for several years. For this reason, I had thought very deeply about writing this prediction as the opposite of ‘I told you so’ – being shown to be wrong – can make you a fool.

As to my post on Libya last week, I stand by every word I said.

More bombs have been dropped and more people killed – yet still the ‘protesters’ (whom, to placate the UN and Arab League, we are now to call ‘civilians despite their being somehow armed) have not ‘reoccupied’ Green Square in Tripoli, where they were on 22 February. As of today, they – or, now, we – are still not back at base.

I felt that when the protesters were there on 22 February, this was the time when a deal with Gaddafi should have been cut. As posted last week, I tweeted this view on 27 February – the day before David Cameron hawkishly proposed the no-fly zone.

He also said there would be “further isolation of the regime by expelling it from international organisations and further use of asset freezes and travel bans to encourage those on the fringes of the regime that now is the time to desert it… we do not in any way rule out the use of military assets”. http://bbc.in/eRRjAU

I believe history will show that David Cameron missed his moment.

This week, a new Conservative voice on Libya has been ubiquitous in the media. His name is Rory Stewart. Although touted as an expert on Middle Eastern affairs, he has been an MP for less than a year and shown to be completely out of his depth. When asked repeatedly by Andrew Neil on the BBC ‘what is our strategy in Libya?’ our Rory gave four different answers in four minutes. He was completely flummoxed.

Still, we can forgive him. He went to Eton. And David Cameron has a penchant for Etonians. On 6 March, he made school friend Tim Luke a business policy adviser: ‘David Cameron’s Eton chum to be No 10 adviser’ trumpeted The Sunday Mirror.

Talking of Etonians, I wonder it might be beneficial for the Prime Minister to read these words by another Etonian, George Orwell – however contrary their views on humanity. In fact, in my view, David Cameron – and all political leaders – should have this peerless writing mounted and framed on the wall by the mirror in their bedrooms so they can read them every day.

It is from an essay called ‘The Hanging’:

‘It was about forty yards to the gallows.

I watched the bare brown back of the prisoner marching in front of me. He walked clumsily with his bound arms, but quite steadily, with that bobbing gait of the Indian who never straightens his knees. 

At each step his muscles slid neatly into place, the lock of hair on his scalp danced up and down, his feet printed themselves on the wet gravel. And once, in spite of the men who gripped him by each shoulder, he stepped slightly aside to avoid a puddle on the path. 

It is curious but until that moment I had never realised what it means to destroy a healthy, conscious man.

When I saw the prisoner step aside to avoid the puddle, I saw the mystery, the unspeakable wrongness, of cutting a life short when it is in full tide.

This man was not dying. He was alive just as we were alive.

All the organs of his body were working  – bowels digesting food, skin renewing itself, nails growing, tissues forming – all toiling away in solemn foolery. His nails would still be growing when he stood on the drop, when he was falling through the air with a tenth of a second to live. His eyes saw the yellow gravel and the grey walls, and his brain still remembered, foresaw, reasoned – reasoned even about puddles.

He and we were a party of men walking together, seeing, hearing, feeling, understanding the same world; and in two minutes, with a sudden snap, one of us would be gone – one mind less, one world less.’

Prime Minister, in God’s name, what have you done?

About Hugh Salmon

Business leader. Adman. Writer.
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