January 18, 2022 2.42 pm

Barry Turner: More a tin of Spam than a T-Bone steak

Rounding up the usual targets like migrants and the BBC never fails. Except this time.

The revelations go on. It’s getting to the stage that the news story is soon going to be about a day when there wasn’t a party. Wine fridges and sending for a carry-out, boozing at lunchtime and a febrile email traffic about the next ‘work related’ drinking session.

Dominic Cummings is now at the centre of the fray with his offers to take an oath and swear that Boris Johnson knew all along about the Bacchanalian life style of the governments special advisors and even may have encouraged it. There is of course the nagging doubt over this development. Mr Cummings has made solemn pledges before that have been broken and there is still that mater of his do-it-yourself eye-test during the first lockdown.

It is interesting that old Dominic feels the need to give testimony under oath about his knowledge of the parties. Of all people we would have to assume that he is in possession of a good number of those ‘bring a bottle’ emails. Why does he not just produce them? Well, there is still time and when better than just before Prime Minister’s Question Time in the House.

So, the Boris loyalists have come up with a cunning plan, the dead cat strategy as it has become known. Distraction politics to take the heat off and what is better than some real hard-nosed populist policies to achieve that? Hello! Operation Red Meat. Policies the public wants to hear, Boris at his best making the big promise. Round up the usual targets like migrants and the BBC. Never fails.

Except this time, it has. Two high profile Tories at least have dismissed the strategy for different reasons but dismissed it they have. Nadim Zahawi tells us that it’s all hot air, “government doesn’t work like that”. Andrew Bridgen says it’s only a restatement of manifesto pledges, nothing to see here at all folks. Behind the scenes the letters to Sir Graham Brady are waiting alongside their envelopes for Sue Gray to report.

So, what about the Red Meat, the true blue policies they did in fact sort of mention in the manifesto long before the stories of wine fridges appeared. What is it that is going to distract the public from the booziest workplace beyond the local brewery?

Let’s start with the BBC, a long time enemy of some of the more fevered minds in the Conservative Party.  A left-wing conspiracy biased, prejudiced and downright horrible to the licence payer.  Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries pleased the anti-BBC lobby on the back benches the other day with her announcement that the statement on the licence fee would be the last as an ominous threat, only the next day to say well actually she meant parliament was going to talk about it. A somewhat different point of view.

It is not that the BBC is not in need of some root and branch reorganisation and reform, it is, but the red meat in that statement turned out to of an inferior cut.

Onto the migrant crisis, always a good one to stir the faithful. The Navy is being brought in to ‘turn back’ the boats we were told. Images of plucky Jack Tars fighting off the advancing Armada of rubber dinghies just like Sir John Hawkins and Sir Francis Drake, under the command of Good Queen Bess did to those pesky Spaniards years ago. But not quite, apparently a few technical details got in the way.

 The United Kingdom is a signatory to international treaties on the law of the sea requiring its naval and merchant fleet to rescue ‘those in peril on the sea’ in other words there is a legal requirement to pick up people in distress at sea. We can of course do the trick of leaving such treaty agreements, but quite how that squares with our policy on China and its frequent treaty breaches is anybody’s guess.

So basically, we need to leave the ECHR and the UN to be able to do this. We also need to tear up all of these international treaties that would effectively make sea going trade virtually impossible for British ships. No state would allow our ships in their ports under those circumstances.

By what physical mechanism do we ‘turn back’ the boats. Some suggest pushing them back to France, sheer brilliance apart from a couple of minor technical problems. What do we think might happen if a powerful naval vessel pushes an outboard motor driven rubber boat?  If in that process refugees/migrants are killed or seriously injured, who gets to face the music? Well, we can be certain it will not be the clowns who dreamt this up, oh no, indeed it will be the sailors on the Navy vessels who will get court martialled.

There is of course the other minor detail in that Royal Navy ships cannot simply push the boats back to the French coast. There is the matter of French territorial waters to consider.

The government, for want of a better term, say this is to tackle the people smugglers. They are not of course on the boats and those that are have already paid for the ride. The people smugglers will be delighted with them being sent back to France; they can pay again for another attempt. In the case of migrants drowning as a result of such lunacy, the people traffickers do not give a monkey’s about that. So just about the only people this policy does not affect are the people smugglers.

But never fear what was going to be a turning back of the boats has rapidly morphed into the navy having a coordinating role in the Channel

We are told that all of those policy advisors in Number 10 are smart, white-hot intelligent people. They have devised this and other daft ideas as part of Operation Red Meat/ Save Big Dog! It sounds much more like the policies were devised after one of the now infamous booze-ups that seem to occur at the end of — and even in the middle of — every working day in Number 10.

Barry Turner is a Senior Lecturer in War Reporting and Human Rights and a member of the Royal United Services Institute.