Our security is probably weaker than at any time since the Cold War
A data firm, Zegami, has published an analysis of all party leaders’ tweets in the first half of this election campaign. There were 764 of them, of which 414 came from either Jeremy Corbyn or Boris Johnson.Of those 764, only two tweets mentioned defence. This is the neatest proof I have so far seen of the instinctive ability of rival political parties to collude. Neither the Tories nor Labour want to talk about defence – the first because they have offered no strategy and not enough money, the second because Labour, under Mr Corbyn’s CND influence, does not believe in the armed services, except as a form of public-sector job creation.Yet our security is probably weaker than at any time since the Cold War – even, perhaps, since 1945. As well as the threat of interstate conflicts, it is undermined by non-state actors, who are much more powerful now than before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
As if to confirm this comes a new survey by the French think-tank, Fondapol, of all terrorist attacks across the globe since the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan 40 years ago. Over the period, it calculates, there have been at least 33,769 Islamist terrorist attacks worldwide. These account for 39.1 per cent of a total of 167,096 lives lost to terrorism. The rate of Islamist attacks has grown significantly since 2013. Such attacks have contributed 63.4 per cent of the deaths caused by terrorist violence since that date. To a Western eye, perhaps the most surprising thing about these figures is that 91.2 per cent of the victims have been Muslims, a fact which rather gives the lie to Mr Corbyn’s devout belief that the blame must lie with Western foreign policy. This should not lead us into believing, however, that we are unaffected. Our refusal to confront these threats degrades our democracy. Every general election campaign these days includes a terrorist attack. Yet the parties hasten on to another subject as soon as they think they decently can, and the risk rises.
The case of Jo Swinson is a sad tale of how an initial mistake can cost a politician dear. It sounded bold at the time to say that the Liberal Democrats were the only ones flat out for Brexit. Now she is forced to admit this will not be within her power. Instead, she says, she will back a second referendum as the next best thing, but not let Jeremy Corbyn be prime minister. What if she cannot do that, either?Ms Swinson is in danger of becoming the Nigel Farage of Remain – doing fine until she started to over-claim.
Brexit has always been a national question
At the weekend, in a speech backing three ex-Conservative candidates at this election – and therefore, by implication, refusing to back the 635 ones still in the party – Sir John Major described Brexit as “the worst foreign policy decision of my lifetime’.His phrase revealed the fundamental error of the pro-European, now almost flightless, wing of the Conservatives. Membership of the European Union is not, and never has been, a foreign policy decision; nor is leaving it.
If foreign policy were the only thing at stake, membership of a European political alliance – a civilian equivalent of NATO – might be a very good idea. But right from its beginning in the 1950s, “Europe” has been a political project to supersede the nation state. This means that Brexit, like the issue of British entry in the first place, is a constitutional question and should therefore be a democratic one.By leaving the issue to diplomats and keeping it away from voters, British pro-Europeans sealed its political fate when we were finally allowed a referendum. Thanks to people such as Sir John, who refuse to see this, we are having to re-seal it when we vote this Thursday.
Food banks are a blessing
Last week, I paid my first ever visit to a food bank. Run in Hastings, by an evangelical church movement, New Frontiers, and backed by the Trussell Trust, which supports over 1,200 such food banks nationwide, it is impressive in its throughput. Nearly 88,000 meals were distributed last year.It is also properly organised – the clients, issued with vouchers for three days’ worth of food at a time, need to be authorised before they can claim, in order to avoid cheating. The food is all good, basic, nutritious. As a result, the atmosphere is friendly and relaxed. The outbursts of frustrated rage often to be seen in government agencies are vanishingly rare.
The clients tend to be people who are in short-term need because of the gap between a new cost and the next payment of money. The temporary victims of the botched transfer to universal credit are typical examples. Their need is met in an efficient, quick and friendly manner, which makes them much better able to cope with life.Some object that the shortcomings of the state welfare apparatus should not have to be supported out of private charity; but I would counter that this is just the sort of thing private charity is good at. While the state wrestles with rules and bureaucracy, good things can be done by good people answering need directly.Want is always a sign of failure in a rich society. But it is not a disgrace that there are food banks in Britain: it is a blessing.