Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Too much broth and no Cook

So yesterday my friend Mike and I attended a social democratic love-in on the future of international politics after Iraq at the LSE.

The timing couldn't have been more perfect: with 52 former ambassadors and criticising Mr Tony's foreign policy, one of the speakers was going to be Robin Cook. And given Cook's support for the disgruntled diplomats earlier in the day, it promised to be an interesting evening.

But the bad news. The Government had imposed a three-line whip on its Finance Bill and Cook wasn't able to make it. A loud groan of disappointment echoed around the lecture hall. So we would have to make do with the other three speakers, David Held, Mary Kaldor and Will Hutton.

While I agree with much of the observations made by these centre-left individuals, my hackles were raised by their assumption that not only did they agree with each other, but that everyone in the room agreed with their views. And what right does Hutton have to claim that the centre-left alone stands for 'progressive politics'? Not only is it arrogant to assume the left has all the best ideas, but it still buys into the implicit statement that human activity is on a linear trajectory which can only go forward.

Of most interest was Mary Kaldor and her view that democracy can't be imposed by war or from above - something I argued in a roundabout fashion the other week. She also pointed out that with the traditional military approach in place, a hierarchy of most to least valuable lives are created during the recent war and ongoing low-level conflict which was not compatible with the rhetoric of human rights and democracy.

She argued for a shift towards a more police-centered approach in Iraq - her assumption being that the police tend to treat all individuals equally and make no distinction between them and us, since they operate within a framework of rules; by contrast the state of war makes a distinction and generally suspends everyday rules.

I don't think she's entirely right though; tell that to the residents of Rio's favelas, whose experience of policing is hardly likely to equate with that of Kaldor's.

But even Kaldor's policing approach alone won't bring peace to Iraq; and while all speakers agreed the US-British coalition should be succeeded by a broader grouping, under the control of the UN, they recognised the tainted image that organisation currently has in Iraq.

Ultimately the panelists offered no easy answers - no surprise there then. The questions were generally desultory and Mike and I had the good sense to repair to the bar for what was the real scandal of the evening - a £3.10 pint.

Just as a few years ago the £5 pack of fags seemed likely, I am now starting to think I may need to start taking a mortgage out before I go out to the pub.

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