Woolwich attack: When killers strike, should we listen to what they say? | Jonathan Freedland

Just as Anders Breivik's views on Islam did not deserve a hearing, Woolwich doesn't strengthen the left's case on foreign policy

The killers got their bloody hands on the front page first, but they struggled to keep the public's attention. On Friday, the focus moved to Lee Rigby, the man they killed, and the family he left behind. It was his face that stared from page one, the sobbing of his wife heard on the radio news.

Even on the previous day, when the victim was still nameless, the killers were not the stars of the spectacle they had scripted and staged. How galling it would be for them to know that the person attracting the most intense interest was not the men with knives, but Ingrid Loyau-Kennett – who had voluntarily stepped off a bus to insert herself in a lethal situation that she could so easily have avoided, armed only with a Brownie leader's knowledge of first aid. She spoke calmly to the murderers, very possibly preventing further bloodshed – an act of such quiet heroism it astonishes as much as it inspires. It was her, not them, we wanted to know about. If she is not included in the next honours list, then Britain's gongs are more pointless than their most damning critics assume.

Even at the moment of highest drama, as one of the men addressed an amateur camera, his hands drenched red, he did not dominate the scene. Watch it again and your eye goes to two women, unhurriedly walking past him as he speaks of horror and violence, one of them wheeling a shopping trolley. In its own way, it was a peculiarly British moment, surreally recalling the old Morecambe and Wise sketch that had Eric stride across the back of a busy stage, wearing a coat and cloth cap and carrying a shopping bag, as if oblivious of the mayhem around him. That the two women were black, while Loyau-Kennett spoke with a French accent, only completed the tableau of modern, plural London: superficially unrecognisable from the London of 1940, but still a city that knows how to keep calm and carry on.

The behaviour of these women raises a challenging question for the rest of us: when killers strike in this way, should we listen to what they have to say? Or should we walk on, pretending we can't hear?

Judging by our responses to Woolwich and comparable acts of violence, the truth is we don't know. If you were kind, you would say we are confused. Less charitably, you'd say that we are guilty of double standards and hypocrisy. It seems we're ready to listen when we have some sneaking sympathy, not for the act itself, but for the cause it seeks to highlight. But when we find the killer's motive as repugnant as his action, we put our fingers in our ears.

A useful comparison is with the case of Anders Breivik, who in 2011 planted a bomb in Oslo that killed eight people and who went on to murder another 69, mostly teenagers, on the island of Utøya in Norway. He did not spread his message via bystanders' cameraphones, but through an 1,801-page manifesto that denounced what he saw as the evils of mass immigration and multiculturalism.

At the time there was no shortage of voices on the right rushing to denounce what Breivik had done, before suggesting he was voicing a widely felt sentiment, adding that perhaps a frank conversation about the excesses of diversity and the alienating effects of globalisation and migration was overdue. As I wrote at the time: "To listen to it, you'd think Breivik had simply wanted to start a debate, that he'd perhaps written a provocative pamphlet for Demos, rather than committed an act of murderous cruelty."

Some shook their heads ruefully, sadly noting that they had long warned such violence would be the result of the headlong rush to a multicultural, rainbow-hued future.

Liberal and left opinion knew what it thought of such talk. It was wrong to accord Breivik's warped beliefs such a respectful hearing. Airing his ideas this way was to reward his massacre, surely providing an incentive for others to repeat the slaughter. His actions should be treated as murder, plain and simple. To respond by debating his grievances was to cede him, and violence itself, too much power.

Yet when the killer's cause is the matter of western intervention in Muslim countries, it seems some left voices find their previous fastidiousness has deserted them. Cue a BBC interview with Ken Livingstone, who spoke so powerfully after the 7 July bombings in London. Now, he linked Woolwich to Iraq, Afghanistan and the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Enter the Stop the War coalition, whose statement on Woolwich similarly made the connection with "western foreign policy in the Middle East and south Asia", ending with the declaration that events had proved their position "absolutely right".

Be in no doubt, Livingstone and the anti-war movement would be appalled if their arguments were played back to them in reverse. Imagine what they would say to the claim that Breivik's terror vindicated the old rivers-of-blood warnings, predicting that decades of multiculturalism would end in disaster, and now it was time to change course. Consider their reaction if the right had seized on the bombing of the Admiral Duncan pub in 1999, casting it as the inevitable result of a liberalisation of gay rights that was bound to radicalise a certain young male demographic and that therefore a policy shift was in order.

Of course they'd have rejected such logic utterly. But if it's wrong for the right to seek vindication in acts of brutal violence, then it's surely wrong for the left to do the same. Nor is it any good for the latter to say, "we're not justifying, we're simply explaining": the right said the same about Breivik. Nor can they claim theirs is no more than a cold, analytical judgment, merely forecasting rather than endorsing the logical consequences of a current course of action. Their opponents could and did say the same about multiculturalism after Breivik.

As it happens, I too once made the case that the war in Iraq would only fuel more terror on our own soil. But what happened in Norway has made me hesitant to use that argument any longer. For now we know that there are minds twisted enough to be provoked to kill by any policy they despise. If you believe western foreign policy is wrong, then argue that case. But don't rest your argument on the threat of blowback violence against us. For as we have learned at great cost, in today's world horror can come from any direction.

Twitter: @j_freedland


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| Jonathan Freedland

Insulting Nigel Farage won't work, but David Cameron shouldn't impersonate him either. The answer is far subtler

David Cameron gave a hint, never properly fleshed out, during an interview this week that one of his close relatives is a supporter of the UK Independence party. The remark was seized on by political chatterers, delighted by the prospect of a prime ministerial version of an earlier story involving Priti Patel, a Conservative MP whose father was a Ukip candidate in Hertfordshire – until he appeared to withdraw, presumably under some heavy filial pressure, before unwithdrawing 90 minutes later. Both stories struck a chord because they spoke to a larger truth about the Ukip phenomenon: that this is a family feud on the right, a split in the conservative clan that could prove lethal for their shared cause.

At the very least, Ukip's success when the votes were counted yesterday – bagging more than a quarter of ballots cast and winning more than 147 councillors, to go with a silver medal in the South Shields byelection, where they pushed the Tories into third place – has brought into the open what has been an internal Conservative argument since 2005.

Now, in plain view, are two theories for how the right can win in Britain. The first says the answer is to hug a hoodie, a huskie and the centre ground; to ape Tony Blair and modernise. But Ukip is presenting a frontal challenge to that Cameron project, insisting on a traditional conservative message on welfare, immigration, tax, defence and, though much less important than widely thought, Europe.

Viewed like this, Ukip's success stands as a rebuke to the Cameroons and also a statement of the obvious: if the Conservatives reinvented themselves as the party of international aid and gay marriage then a breakaway group offering a traditional Tory diet, heavy on the red meat, was bound to fill the gap.

For a while, plenty of Conservatives tried to convince themselves that such a group would appeal only to the right's wilder fringe, those identified by the late backbench maverick Eric Forth , who once declared: "There are millions of people in this country who are white, Anglo-Saxon and bigoted, and they need to be represented."

But when Ukip can claim the backing of one in four voters, that kind of dismissal is no longer available. The pressing question now for the Tories, and for British politics, is: can the Ukip surge last? Most believe the party will peak at next year's European elections, where the temptation to show two, Farage-shaped fingers to Brussels will be irresistible. What matters more is whether Ukip can stay strong all the way till 2015. If you're a Tory, that is the point at which the Faragiste army could do serious damage.

The precedent was voiced explicitly by the Ukip leader when he spelled out the three letters burned into the hearts of Labour veterans of the 1980s and which should now chill the blood of Conservatives: SDP. The Social Democratic party surged 30-plus years ago. Like Ukip – which uniquely polled above 20% in both South Shields and February's byelection in Eastleigh, a feat not matched by any of the three main parties – they proved able to win in the Labour north and Tory south. The SDP did not form a government, but they did shape one. Indeed they shaped at least two, by splitting the anti-Conservative vote and keeping the Tories in office. Cameron's fear is that by splitting the anti-Labour vote, Ukip could do to him in 2015 what the SDP did to Foot and Kinnock in 1983 and 1987.

How should he respond to this threat? His first reaction was on display yesterday: no more insults. There'll be no talk of fruitcakes, closet racists or clowns now – for fear it will be understood as an attack not on Farage but on the quarter of the nation that backs him. The party will be shown courtesy, lest its supporters be alienated any further.

On the substance, there's a noisy faction, out in force today, that believes imitation is the best form of defence. Their remedy to the Ukip threat is to be like Ukip, to chuck out all that compassionate conservatism nonsense and replace it with harder positions on social security, immigration and Europe.By way of example, the council votes were barely counted when John Redwood demanded the in/out EU referendum be brought forward, to a date before 2015.

The trouble is, such moves are unlikely to work. For one thing, they simply strengthen Ukip, by showing that Farage's party is setting the agenda. For another, any concession will never be enough: tack right and Ukip will demand you go further. Besides, if people want Ukip policy, why would they vote for the inauthentic copy when they could have the real thing? No, the more respectful approach to Ukip is to recognise that it is about more than just a few policy positions. It is articulating a broader rage against what Farage referred to yesterday as the "establishment", the political class that goes beyond the Tory party and which includes those who have run the country for the last two decades or more, those who have presided over the drift to Brussels and mass immigration, yes, but also about declining living standards, the MPs' expenses scandal and runaway bankers' pay.

This kind of fury is not confined to these shores, but present in Europe and beyond, whether articulated by Beppe Grillo in Italy or Syriza in Greece. Indeed, it's an irony that it should fall to the least internationalist of parties – Ukip – to be the British face of a truly international phenomenon.

It is not only the Tories who have to respond to this attack on politics-as-usual. All parties will have to strive to present themselves as outside the metroplitan elite, with its incestuous, dynastic politics and cronyism. Labour believes it held up its vote in South Shields partly because it had an authentically local candidate, rather than an apparachik, air-dropped from London. "The days of the parachute are very nearly over," says one senior figure.

But change will have to go deeper. Ukip's appeal won't be blunted by a policy change here or there, because it is voicing something less concrete – a nostalgic desire to halt the changes of recent years, to turn the clock back to an imagined gentler past. Such a message appeals, says pollster and former Tory strategist Rick Nye, only if people feel they have "an insufficient stake in the present and future".

Give them that stake – by improving, say, living standards, growth and public services – and the lure of Farage's golden age romanticism will wane. In this way,Ukip's rise is not the cause of Tory woes, but merely their symptom. Throwing them a bone on Europe or migrants won't fool them or their supporters. They want something much bigger than that – and they won't go away till they get it.

Twitter: @j_freedland


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How can the Tories end their family feud with Ukip? | Jonathan Freedland

Insulting Nigel Farage won't work, but David Cameron shouldn't impersonate him either. The answer is far subtler

David Cameron gave a hint, never properly fleshed out, during an interview this week that one of his close relatives is a supporter of the UK Independence party. The remark was seized on by political chatterers, delighted by the prospect of a prime ministerial version of an earlier story involving Priti Patel, a Conservative MP whose father was a Ukip candidate in Hertfordshire until he appeared to withdraw, presumably under some heavy filial pressure, before unwithdrawing 90 minutes later. Both stories struck a chord because they spoke to a larger truth about the Ukip phenomenon: that this is a family feud on the right, a split in the conservative clan that could prove lethal for their shared cause.

At the very least, Ukip's success when the votes were counted yesterday bagging more than a quarter of ballots cast and winning 139 councillors, to go with a silver medal in the South Shields byelection, where they pushed the Tories into third place has brought into the open what has been an internal Conservative argument since 2005.

Continue reading...

Local elections results: panel verdict | The panel

As Ukip makes big gains in local elections across England, our panel discuss what this means for wider politics

Simon Jenkins: A protest vote has acquired backbone

There is no doubt of the victor. The UK Independence party is the new kid on the electoral block and looking good. The key statistic in the local elections is overall poll share. At the time of writing that is one quarter, and it is well distributed, double their performance in the opinion polls.

Ukip showed strongly from South Shields in the north to Hampshire in the south. It hurt everyone, shaving Labour, humiliating the Liberal Democrats as never before and leaving the Tories with heavy loss of blood.

The trouble for the Tories is that a customary mid-term protest vote has acquired backbone from three hardcore issues: immigration, Europe and gay marriage. It is hard to see how David Cameron can produce policies that will calm his worried party in the time available. If he were to try on immigration or Europe he could hardly hold his coalition together – though he might argue that no one wants an early election less then Nick Clegg's Liberal Democrats.

Splinter parties on the extremes rarely threaten entrenched parties in the long term. Core votes may defect for a while, but have no other place to go when the reason for defection diminishes. But politics is about the short term. Ukip is in a similar position to the Social Democratic party in 1981. It devastated Michael Foot's Labour and helped keep it from office through three subsequent elections. It recovered only when completely recast – in the SDP's image – by Tony Blair. That is the prospect now facing the Conservatives.

Jonathan Freedland: Ukip has cross-country appeal

Even before the day had begun, when votes had been counted for just seven of the 35 councils up for election, Ukip could claim to have won a great prize: the right to regard themselves as a challenge to every party, everywhere.

Consider this fact. Only one party managed to clear the 20% threshold in both the South Shields byelection last night and the parliamentary contest in Eastleigh in February. That was not Labour, which safely won in the former last night, after it had trailed in fourth in the latter. It certainly was not the Tories, who came third in both places. And it emphatically was not the Liberal Democrats who managed to retain Eastleigh, but won a miserable 352 votes – half those of the BNP – to come seventh in South Shields.

Only Ukip performed strongly in both these seats, one in the heart of traditionally Tory southern England, the other in a northern Labour stronghold – claiming nearly 28% in the first and 24% in the second.

To have such wide geographic appeal, taking on both government and opposition, is a feat rarely achieved by a third party, let alone a fourth.

It's early in the day; we still await four-fifths of the council election results. And, yes, protest parties that do well in midterm or local elections usually fade come the general election that chooses a government. But this represents a huge step forward by Ukip, a protest party that, of course, threatens the Tories above all – but which now represents a challenge that will be felt in every corner of Westminster.

Polly Toynbee: Next year will be as good as it gets for the Faragistes

Didn't Ukip do well? But the party had better relish the day and revel to the max. I'm going to take a risk and predict that this and probably next year's Euro elections will be its peak, as good as it gets. There is no better time for a protest vote, nor have their been better reasons to protest in most people's living memory. Living standards have dipped low and long, with not much hope in prospect. Immigration has always been the age-old issue that rises up when the low paid feel the pinch: blame the foreigners is the easy weapon to hand, when distant forces too great to grasp grind people down. Besides, there is some truth that the lowest paid have paid the price of immigration.

But come the general election things will turn less favourable for the Faragistes. The unforgiving logic of our first-past-the-post electoral system crushes incomers: I know, I've been there with the SDP, which at one stage hit 50% in the polls. Who governs the country matters more than who governs the county, sending people back to vote for their least worst likely winner. Besides, once Ukip is under real scrutiny – and attack from the Tory press – slashing tax while increasing defence spending by 40% is just one of its impossible policies that will puncture the lilo. What's more, rightwing mavericks have form for falling apart once they arrive in council chambers.

Nonetheless, warning lights should flash. The Tories will turn reckless right, losing the last shreds of pretending to be nice. Labour will agonise: go right, say the Blairites, hug the middle way. Others will say the only way is bold: cautious establishment mush, double-speak and ambiguity only makes people despair of politics. They didn't like Thatcher or her policies, but her clarity and determination won the day. We need not watch Ukip too closely, but watch what Ukip does to the only two contenders for 2015.

John Harris: Ukip can now weave itself into the social fabric

"An astounding performance of a historic scale," says the psephologist John Curtice of the great Ukip surge, and he's not wrong. Sixteen councillors in Lincolnshire, 10 in Hampshire, nine in Essex – and so the list will go on as results are announced through the day, and Tory headaches grow ever-more painful. Metropolitan political commentary pays too little attention to local government, and the upshot of these results is simple enough: Nigel Farage's party now has the basis of an English national infrastructure, and a means by which its activists can be introduced to the grind of public office. Some, perhaps, will find it a shock. But for the next four years at least, Ukip can weave itself into the social fabric of scores of neighbourhoods.

Nice to see the Greens winning two seats in Essex, but the message sent out to the left by Ukip's rise is sobering beyond words: after years of wondering what a crack in mainstream politics might look like, there comes a huge fissure – and the people responsible hail from the populist right. And what does it speak of? Anger and bafflement – "protest", if you prefer – about immigration and so-called "welfare", for sure. But also a profound cultural estrangement from Westminster, and an anodyne political class whose inadequacies were always going to spark public anger, not least in the midst of an economic crisis seemingly without end.

Such is the message for Labour from South Shields, though there obviously are even sharper signals from these results for the Conservative party. I was in Essex with Ukip on Wednesday, and among voters of a certain age, there was bafflement about the Tories' modern public face, and a nostalgic yearning for the days of Thatcher, Norman Tebbit, and such past local MPs as Teddy Taylor and Teresa Gorman. The merits or demerits of what the government is up to are secondary: the people I spoke to see Cameron and Osborne as representatives of the same alien tribe as Tony Blair, and long for politicians who instinctively understand the nitty-gritty of their lives, and cannot quite understand why the Tories' once rock-solid bond with the south-eastern working class has been so neglected. Similar questions, I would imagine, will be eating away at more clued-up Tories throughout the weekend, and beyond.


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