Jim Sillars: Blair heir must pick battles wisely

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This man Cameron once declared himself the heir to Blair. It appears to be so, and that is a cause for concern. Both think purely in PR terms, shaping the next headline, careless about the consequences of their words and actions.

Only in a Britain now in its final stages of decline could these men be ranked as statesmen. Compared with Asquith, Lloyd George, Churchill, Attlee, Macmillan – the giants of the 20th century – these two are minnows.

Like Blair, Cameron is fond of waving the military stick around. He, too, has contributed to a shambles in the Arab world. Remember him and the French president boasting of having given Libya freedom from Gaddafi, through the use of their war planes which destroyed his tanks, army and finally the man himself.

You don’t hear much about Libya from him these days, given that it has been torn apart as Islamist groups fight each other for supremacy, and countries evacuate their embassies out of fear of the terror now unleashed.

But like Blair, Cameron just moves on to other fields, waving his military stick. This time, however, it isn’t little Libya, but big Russia he has himself lined up against. In a letter to fellow Nato leaders he talks of taking military measures to “reassure those allies who fear for their country’s security and to deter any Russian aggression” by sustaining “a robust presence in Eastern Europe”.

He urges his counterparts to take “specific actions” including “prepositioning of equipment and supplies; and an enhanced Nato Response Force”. He goes on to say: “While Nato has only ever sought to be a partner to Russia, not a threat, it is clear that Russia views Nato as an adversary.”

Now why would that be? Here is a pertinent question that has never been asked, and so never answered: why did Nato advance right up to the borders of Russia when, through the agency of the United States, it assured Gorbachev, when he let Eastern Europe go from under Communist control, that it would never do so?

Although it is 100 years ago since the outbreak of the First World War, our collective memory remains sharp and influences us even today in our views of the world we live in. The Second World War has a still greater influence. In that one, homeland Britain had 452,000 military personnel killed and 60,000 civilians. We have never forgotten it.

Just think of Russia: 13 million military killed, seven million civilians and their villages, towns, hospitals and cities razed to the ground. Not something they are likely to forget.

That war shaped Stalin’s European policy and it, and those memories, continue to shape Russia’s today. Imperative to that thinking is to have a cordon in front of Russia, a buffer zone, to prevent a direct invasion.

If it wasn’t Putin in the Kremlin, it would be another Russian, conscious that its state interests means no military presence on its borders. That is something a strategic thinker like a Churchill would understand, but it eludes the shallow PR man Cameron.

Russia took the Crimea to prevent a Ukraine that might join Nato, which is a Western ambition, taking over its Black Sea fleet base. It is destabilising Ukraine to keep it out of Nato.

Russia threatens no Nato state, and Cameron’s militaristic bluster is dangerous. Small Libya was one thing. Nuclear Russia is quite another.

As Churchill said in 1954: “It is better to jaw-jaw than to war-war.” Negotiation, taking account of real Russian fears, should be the basis of policy instead of a battle group sent to the Baltics.

Shooting down sexist attitudes

WHEN I became a young councillor, it was accepted that if a single female member of the town’s employees got married, she automatically left her job. My old man couldn’t cook because he believed a woman’s work was in the house.

That strange world was brought back to me this week reading the obituary of Lettice Curtis, a pilot in the Air Transport Auxiliary whose members flew new aircraft to RAF and US air crews during the fight against the Nazis.

Ms Curtis and other women were expert pilots, needed to release men for frontline duty, but not welcomed. A specialist magazine editor wrote: “The menace is a woman who thinks she ought to be flying a high-speed bomber when she really has not the intelligence to scrub the floor of a hospital properly.”

For the record, ATA delivered 309,011 aircraft. Lettice flew 364 heavy bombers. Women are still not driving cars in Saudi Arabia.

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