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Dec 2003 Journal

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What made East Brent cross? (editorial)

'When history repeats itself it occurs first as tragedy, then as farce.' Thus wrote Karl Marx and, unlike many of his oracular statements, this one has been borne out by history. The 'sensational' East Brent by-election is an obvious example. One could describe the result as uniquely farcical - certainly compared to the tragic outcome of the Oxford by-election of early 1939, a few months after Munich.

What was at stake then was the direction of British foreign policy vis-à-vis Nazi Germany - and, sad to relate, the electors were so short-sighted that the anti-appeasement candidate, Professor Lindsay, lost. This result clearly emboldened Hitler to tear up the Munich agreement and march into Prague, which in turn made the Second World War practically inevitable.

The result at Brent was likewise a victory for the appeasers, but a retrospective one, since it occurred after the event, i.e. war in Iraq. The aftermath of that war is protracted and painful - a problem compounded by a split in the West. The main splitter this time round is France, which is nailing America to the rack by impeding effective UN action over crisis-torn postwar Iraq.

After the Great War the boot had been very much on the other foot - with the USA withdrawing into its isolationist shell, and making France (and, to a lesser extent, Britain) carry the heavy burden of policing the Versailles settlement.

When France, confronted by a resurgent Nazi Germany, constructed the defensive Maginot Line, it lamentably failed to safeguard its left flank because Belgium, conveniently forgetting what happened to it in 1914, had declared itself neutral. (Consequently the Maginot Line was rendered useless because it did not continue all the way to the Channel coast.)

Today, France does to America what Belgium did to her in the 1930s - she declares herself practically equidistant from both Saddam and Bush. Likewise the voters of Brent East did what their Oxford predecessors had done in that 'mean decade'. In fact, all that time ago Oxfordians suffered from fewer delusions than the voters of Brent: they simply thought that the best way of taming a ravenous beast was by trying to humour it.

In Brent, two large groups of voters - the Muslims and the Left - harboured additional misconceptions. The Muslims convinced themselves that the US-UK coalition was anti-Islamic, whereas, in fact, during the 1990s Anglo-American soldiers saved literally thousands of Muslim lives in Bosnia and Kosovo. The hard-core Socialists of Brent - after all, this was once Ken Livingstone's constituency - were probably seduced by the name of the Socialist Ba'ath Party, and by the temporary left-wing stance of the Liberal Democrats.

All this is, of course, farcical in the extreme. Can the Lib Dems with leaders like Shirley Williams (who defected from Labour because of its leftward drift) position themselves on the left of the British political spectrum - as Scargillites in sheep's clothing? Of course, they can't.

But the British electorate could, in the worst-case scenario, turn farce back into tragedy. If Brent East is not a by-election flash-in-the-pan, but heralds a turning point in British politics, we may yet see an occupant of Number Ten eager to join a Paris-Teheran axis. This is not as far-fetched as it sounds. Lib-Dem appeasement extends beyond Saddam to al-Q'aida.

At the start of military operations against the Taliban, Jenny Tonge MP received Lib Dem conference cheers for declaring 'We should drop food parcels, and not bombs on Afghanistan.' Now, the Lib Dem Party wants murderous Guantanamo Bay prisoners to be returned to their countries of origin for trial by Syrian, Sudanese or Libyan courts!

If all this comes to pass, the Americans will abandon their thankless task of acting as the world's policeman and retreat into isolationism. The net result will be, not world peace - but the war of all against all. It is a fallacy to think that the United Nations could provide effective world government. In the absence of Uncle Sam, the world policeman, every tin-pot dictator on earth - in Pyongyang, Rangoon, Harare, Damascus and Ramallah - will have a field day.

And let us remember this: if France is today's Belgium, Israel is today's Czechoslovakia. It is undoubtedly true that, as constituted in 1918, Czechoslovakia did not conform to Woodrow Wilson's precept of the 'self-determination of nations'. The secondary injustice suffered by the Sudeten Germans gave Hitler the justification for inflicting the far greater injustice on Czechoslovakia, i.e. expunging the only democracy in Central Europe. It is not too fanciful to suppose that in the absence of countervailing American power, the Occupied Territories would become tomorrow's Sudetenland and be used to erase Israel from the map of the Middle East.

previous article:Letter from Israel