Tuesday, August 23, 2005

My God, I agree with Nicholas Ridley


This has never happened before. I actually find myself agreeing with the late Nicholas Ridley, former Transport (and sometime Environment and later Trade) Secretary under Thatcher, and notorious right-winger (and right whinger). He was one of the token hate-figures of the Left in the eighties and was famous for his trenchantly anti-European views.

However, documents have come to light which reveal a stance taken by Ridley which I actually would have applauded, had I known about it at the time. The Guardian reports that Greenpeace have had documents released to them under the Freedom of Information Act relating to the blowing up of the Rainbow Warrior*. For those too young to remember, the ship was blown up by French secret agents in 1985 to prevent Greenpeace protesting against nuclear weapons tests in the South Pacific. The ship was moored in Auckland and one of the crew, Fernando Pereira (a Dutchman of Portuguese origin**), was killed. The French government actually admitted carrying out the explosion.

Ridley was outraged, as was John Prescott (who was less of a bath-tub in those days). Prescott, an opposition MP back then, wrote to Ridley demanding that the British government condemn the action and hold an inquiry. Ridley instructed his civil servants to "take a robust attitude". He wanted the government to condemn the action and seek compensation for Pereira's family. A letter to Prescott was duly drafted (click here and scroll to bottom to see the draft). It reads:
This was an outrageous act of terrorism against a British vessel with tragic loss of life, which the Government utterly condemn. Given that this was clearly an act of sabotage rather than a casualty with marine causes, and occurred in a New Zealand port, it is appropriate that the New Zealand authorities should be investigating it. Criminal proceedings are already pending in New Zealand. [You will know that] we [have provided] [are providing] British diving expertise to help the New Zealand authorities with the investigations [...] Clearly there is the question of compensation for the family of the murdered man [...] and for Greenpeace in respect of the loss of the vessel [...] I can assure you that if appropriate the Government will seek through diplomatic channels to secure compensation for British interests.

The draft letter was seen by Geoffrey Howe, who was then Foreign Secretary. He wrote to the Department of Transport, suggesting that the reply to Prescott be toned down. It seems from the documents that the French government was already under some pressure from the French press over the incident, and the British decided they did not want to "rub salt into the French wounds" (Howe's words). A watered-down reply was sent to Prescott: "This was a lamentable event. The government deeply regret the death of a member of the crew. We hope the culprits can be brought to justice."

The full set of documents can be read here.

Five questions come to my mind:
1. Was Ridley outraged because he was genuinely shocked at the murder of an innocent man, or because he saw a great chance to bash the French?
2. Will Prescott now demand the holding of an inquiry?
3. If this was "an outrageous act of terrorism", will Blair be calling for military action against France, as part of The War Against Terror?
4. Does Geoffrey (now Lord) Howe feel any differently now from how he did then?
5. What the fucking hell does it take for the British government to introduce an element of ethics into its foreign policy, as so famously put forward by the late Robin Cook eight years ago? Protesting to Zimbabwe is an easy option. Taking action against the French (even in the form of a diplomatic protest) would, belatedly, show that someone actually cared about criminal activity taken against British interests, even when such activity has not been carried out by Arabs or Pakistanis.

* Is it not interesting that the media (and the GBP) tend to refer to the 'sinking' of the Rainbow Warrior (and the Belgrano, come to that)? 'Sinking' sounds somehow less murderous and criminal than 'blowing up' or 'illegal destruction'. The power of words...

** You really take your life in your hands when you have a Portuguese name, don't you? Tsch.


Blogger Devil's Kitchen said...

I think that you're on dodgy ground mentioning The Belgrano to be honest, as this testifies.

This is from Captain Hector Bonzo (*snigger*), the commander of the Belgrano:

'I already had orders to fire on any British warships that came within range,' he said. 'We were not just to cruise around on patrol. Our mission was to attack. Our people were highly trained - we were keen to pull the trigger.'

We were, in any case, at war (after an act of aggression against British citizens (leave aside whether they should be, it matters not because they were) by the Argentine military junta). The Belgrano was a warship and thus an entirely legitimate target.

The French were not legally at war with Greenpeace.

2:38 am  

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