Ashcroft’s farmyard fun diverts us from Cameron’s serious incompetence

According to another claim in Ashcroft's new book, Cameron never learnt to be a sensible, responsible commander

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The Independent Online

This being Yom Kippur, today is the last day on which even as bad a Jew as your columnist would affect any pious disregard towards the primal urge for revenge. Jehovah is a vengeful God, as the Old Testament unceasingly reminds us, hence the need to placate the old boy by fasting in atonement today. And if vengefulness is good enough for the Lord, Creator of Mankind, who would dare disdain the same emotion in arguably lesser Lords than He?

I am thinking here of Baron Ashcroft of Chichester in the County of West Sussex. While Lord Ashcroft denies that revenge for being denied the senior government job he had been promised in 2010 was his motive, his David Cameron biography, Call Me Dave, joins the resignation statements of Geoffrey Howe and Norman Lamont in the canon of Tory missives against serving PMs.

At almost 1,000 pages, Ashcroft’s work is a shade wordier than Howe’s 1990 stiletto stab to Margaret Thatcher’s heart, or the line about being “in office but not in power” with which Lamont (Cameron’s old boss) later incinerated the residue of John Major’s authority.

It is also a touch more sensational. Howe never accused Thatcher of acquainting her nether regions with a deceased farmyard animal’s oral cavity. Lamont failed to suggest that Major, as a lad, listened to Supertramp in a dopey haze. Those predecessors came from an age when one could lead the Tories despite being born above a Lincolnshire grocer’s store, or reared to manhood in a Brixton flat with a Jamaican drug dealer for a neighbour. To them, the curious alleged charms of the Piers Gaveston club were strangers.

But while it is unclear whether or not a bespoke form of pork barrel politics was really a sport for the gilded youth of 1980s Oxford, there’s no question that allowing the outlandish to deflect us from the serious is a timeless national sport. So it is that we fixate on Ashcroft’s captivating trivia while largely ignoring his revelations about Cameron’s competence in matters of war.

When the Commons returns after the conference season, a vote to sanction bombing Islamic State in Syria seems inevitable. Yet what Ashcroft relates about the PM’s military machinations entrenches the gravest doubts about his judgement in this field.

The results of the Libyan campaign he prosecuted, nominally to protect the people of Benghazi, are similar to those emanating from his hero Mr Tony Blair’s adventure in Iraq. “We now have a country which is ungovernable, with vast amounts of Gaddafi’s arsenal moved south, arming Boko Haram in Nigeria,” Ashcroft quotes the former Tory shadow Foreign Secretary, Michael Ancram as saying: “They’re more of a threat to us than Gaddafi was. Rather like Blair, he was determined to change the regime.” Retired from the British Army, General Sir Dave Richards is still more devastating. “We never analysed thing properly,” he says of the time – adding that in a meeting he told Cameron that his experience of Eton’s Combined Cadet Force was no qualification for mastering the Byzantine tactical complexities of a coalition war effort.




In a sane world, it wouldn’t be Jeremy Corbyn’s patriotism that was questioned when he argued against further coalition bombing in a region where killing bad guys not only necessitates killing the innocent as well, but always seems to leave worse guys to fill the void. “I have seen many decisions taken ... Go here, invade there, bomb there, do this, do that,” Corbyn told a rally the day after becoming Labour leader. “It is the easy solution, the media beef it up,” he added. “Tragically, wars don’t end when the last ... bomb is dropped.”

In a sane world, as Cameron prepares to join forces with a relentlessly war-hungry Murdoch press, which is once again under the aegis of his old country supper playmate Rebekah Brooks, every scintilla of doubt would concern the PM’s patriotism. Just as before the 2011 vote on bombing Syria – dreamt up in a trice, never explained, and botched to the bemused rage of the US administration – he cannot properly explain the strategic purpose or how it could possibly serve the national interest.

There seems no logic to it at all. Which brings us, clunkingly enough, to the prog rock band to which the reportedly high undergrad Dave listened in a friend’s Oxford room. “When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful/A miracle, oh it was beautiful, magical,” Supertramp reflect in “The Logical Song”. “But then they sent me away to teach me to be sensible/Logical, responsible, practical ...” Apparently not. Judging by General Richards’s scathing account, Cameron never learnt to be a sensible, responsible, dependable martial commander.

The latest bombing campaign he is poised to sell to the country is no pig in a poke. We have been offered the same porky – that bombing from on high somehow improves ravaged lives – and seen the monstrous consequences too often to pretend this product is being offered sight unseen. We’ve been sold this pup by callous politicians and blood-lustful newspapers time and again. We have seen this dead horse flogged too often.

“There are times when all the world’s asleep/The questions run too deep, For such a simple man,” choruses “The Logical Song”. “Won’t you please, please tell me what we’ve learnt/I know it sounds absurd, but please tell me who I am.”

Politically, I cannot tell Cameron who he is: husky-hugger one minute, decrier of “green crap” the next; compassionate Conservative when that was expedient, vindictive shrinker of the welfare state now it suits him better – he appears to have no coherent philosophy at all.

But I can tell him what he’s learnt about the wicked futility and counterproductive lunacy of invoking the law of unintended consequences in sizzling countries far away of which we still seem to know very little. Absolutely nothing.