Careless People Part One

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on May 25, 2021.

https://ceylontoday.lk/news/careless-people

David Cameron is under fire for his dealings with Lex Greensill

David Cameron was not the perfect guest when he visited Sri Lanka in November 2013. He tried to get the Commonwealth summit meeting to focus on human rights abuses and war crimes allegedly perpetrated by the Sri Lankan government in the closing stages of the successful campaign against the LTTE. He visited Jaffna and stirred up disaffected Tamils. I got the impression that his concern for the allegedly oppressed was not totally sincere.

Sincerity and a respect for truth are not notable elements of the Cameron character. Maverick Labour MP Dennis Skinner was expelled from the House of Commons for referring to him as Dodgy Dave. Recent events have proved the Beast of Bolsover to be accurate in his characterization.

Dodgy Dave Dodges Dodgy Questions

Cameron dodged questions throughout the hearings of two separate parliamentary committees (Treasury select committee and Public Accounts Committee) lasting a total of four hours on May 11, and May 13, 2021.The former prime minister was being grilled about his activities as a lobbyist for Greensill Capital, which involved him bombarding ministers and civil servants with needy pleas for favours for the dodgy company. Labour’s Angela Eagle said Cameron’s behaviour was “more like stalking than lobbying”. The opposition leader, Keir Starmer has had little to chuckle about recently, but he permitted himself a little joke at Cameron’s expense, describing him as “a former prime minister and now I suspect a former lobbyist”. Indeed, Cameron was not very good as a prime minister and pretty useless as a lobbyist, although he might have made money for himself. Dodgy Dave dodged questions about how much Greensill paid him for his efforts. He admitted it was more than his £150,000 salary as PM. He claimed that reports he stood to gain £60m were “absurd”. Labour’s Rushanara Ali told him, “It gives me no pleasure to say this, but your reputation is in tatters.”.

A Word in your Ear

In February 2010, Cameron promised to end the kind of corruption of which he is now accused. “We all know how it works. The lunches, the hospitality, the quiet word in your ear, the ex-ministers and ex-advisers for hire, helping big business find the right way to get its way. In this party, we believe in competition, not cronyism.” Eleven years on, how does that sound?

Honest Dave told the committee, “I have spent most of my adult life in public service. I believe in it deeply.” One can translate that to mean that he had never done a proper job in his life before he became the UK’s youngest prime minister since Lord Liverpool in 1812. Cameron became prime minister in at the age of 43 in 2010. He had been leader of the Conservative Party since 2005 when he was 39.

He enjoyed a gilded life. Born in London to an upper-middle-class family, he went to Eton and in 1988, got a first at Brasenose, Oxford (a source of bitterness to his former schoolmate Boris Johnson who only got 2.1 at Balliol).

He went straight from Oxford to the Conservative Research Department where he worked until 1993, at the later stages working for the Conservative prime minister, John Major. In 1994, before he became an MP, he went to work for Carlton Communications because believed a stint in the private sector would benefit his political career. He got the job through personal contacts such as Samantha Cameron’s mother who was married to William Waldorf Astor III, 4th Viscount Astor. Executives at Carlton Towers could eat gourmet meals in a private dining room, served by a butler summoned by pressing a button under the dining table. One senior business journalist who dealt with Cameron extensively describes him as “thoroughly unpleasant” and not a very efficient press officer. “Cameron’s affable demeanour is only skin-deep; he cultivated only those who could prove useful. “Cameron did this PR job until 2001 and this was the only work experience he had outside the cosy world of Westminster.

Human Rights

Although he made a show of distaste for the Sri Lankan government’s human rights record his own record is distasteful.

In 1989, while Nelson Mandela was still in prison under the apartheid regime, Cameron accepted a trip to South Africa paid for by an anti-sanctions lobby firm. A spokesperson for Cameron responded by saying that the Conservative Party was at that time opposed to sanctions against South Africa and that his trip was a fact-finding mission. However, the Independent reported that Cameron’s then superior at Conservative Research Department called the trip “jolly”, saying that “it was all terribly relaxed, just a little treat, a perk of the job. The Botha regime was attempting to make itself look less horrible, but I don’t regard it as having been of the faintest political consequence.” Cameron distanced himself from his party’s history of opposing sanctions against the regime.

It always seemed very odd that Saudi Arabia, a nation noted for a judicial system which included public beheadings and amputations and stoning of adulteresses, should be a member of the UNHRC which was condemning Sri Lanka for human rights abuses. According to WikiLeaks, Cameron initiated a secret deal with Saudi Arabia ensuring both countries were elected to the UNHRC. In 2015, Cameron’s government announced “firm political support” for the Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen against the Shi’a Houthis, re-supplying the Saudi military with weapons and providing them with training.

Libya

The foreign affairs select committee, which had a majority of Conservative members, published a damning report in September 2016 on Britain’s disastrous intervention in Libya in 2011. Cameron refused to give evidence to the select committee. In one of his few reflections on the debacle, which turned Libya into a failed state exporting thousands of refugees, he blamed the Libyan people for failing to take their chance of democracy.

 

The result of Cameron’s decisions “was political and economic collapse, inter-militia and inter-tribal warfare, humanitarian and migrant crises, widespread human rights violations, the spread of Gaddafi regime weapons across the region and the growth of Isil [Islamic State] in north Africa”.

The committee concluded that the intervention was carried out with no proper intelligence analysis, drifted into an unannounced goal of regime change and shirked its moral responsibility to help reconstruct the country. Sir Alan Duncan, a Foreign Office minister, is quoted as describing the plans for postwar planning as fanciful rot and an unrealistic desktop exercise. The report concurs with Barack Obama’s assessment that Britain’s intervention was “a shitshow”, adding that Cameron stopped paying attention and became “distracted by a range of other things”..

Jonathan Freedland wrote in the Guardian, “It all adds yet more colour to the sketch history is likely to draw of Cameron. That he was hopelessly short-termist, too often acting for the moment, doing what he needed to get out of an immediate hole but failing to think things through. Sometimes, in the day-to-day tumble of domestic politics, that approach did little harm and served him well. It made him agile. But when blood and lives were at stake, it was a fatal flaw.”

The committee’s main charge was that Cameron allowed the original mission to creep into an undeclared pursuit of regime change in Libya. We in Sri Lanka are lucky that he did not get very with changing our regime.

More next week