She wanted this election to be about her. She chose her platform: “strong and stable.” Implicit in this was the idea of her as defender of the country and its values. Her opponent by contrast was depicted as weak, unpatriotic, unreliable on defence, and even an ally of terrorists (the IRA).
On 22 May a young British-born man of Libyan parentage, living in Manchester, detonated a home-made bomb in the foyer of a Manchester concert hall and killed 22 people, injuring 119 more. Within a few hours he was named as Salman Abedi and the British police said they believed he had been acting alone.
That was quick, I thought. How could they be sure of so much so soon? It was as if they knew something else they weren’t saying.
One should always keep one’s eye on the House of Commons Select Committees. I am indebted to a friend who sent me a link to John Pilger’s website www.johnpilger.com (Terror in Britain), where I found a very interesting piece of information. Last September, the Foreign Affairs Select Committee concluded that David Cameron had taken Britain to war against Colonel Gaddafi on “erroneous assumptions” and that “the proposition that Mu’ammar Gaddafi would have ordered the massacre of civilians in Benghazi was not supported by the available evidence.”
On the basis of that proposition, Britain took part in a NATO operation that carried out 9,700 “strike sorties,” used fragmentation bombs and depleted uranium, and carpet-bombed two Libyan cities. Unicef reported that a high proportion of the children killed were under ten. After Gaddafi’s death, the country descended into chaos.
Where did that false information come from? “Salafist militias facing defeat by Libyan government forces,” explains Pilger.
Overthrowing Gaddafi had been a goal of Western policy for decades. He was a tyrant, but that wasn’t the problem; the problem was that he was an Arab nationalist, a pan-Arabist, a socialist (he did much to improve Libya’s housing, literacy and health care), that he controlled most of Africa’s oil wealth and, latterly and fatally, that he was intending to abandon the petrodollar, which underpins America’s economy.
In addition to the above, Britain had a personal animus against Gaddafi (Lockerbie; the shooting of PC Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan embassy). When the revolt against him broke out in 2011 as part of the Arab Spring, the British authorities smiled on the anti-Gaddafi Islamic militants living in Britain, some of whom had been under Home Office control orders. The control orders were lifted. The militants were allowed to travel to Libya to fight, and travel back. The Home Secretary at the time was Theresa May.
Among the militias was a group that had been active against Gaddafi for a long time, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. It had a base in Manchester. It was “cultivated,” says Pilger, by MI5. The Middle East Eye website, which has a good article on this subject (May 27, “Sorted” by MI5), shows a mural on a wall in Tripoli commemorating the “Manchester fighters.”
Salman Abedi’s parents were members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. So was Salman Abedi. As a teenager he had waged jihad against Gaddafi.
There was nothing of this in the announcements by the British police immediately after the bombing. The prompt and confident assertion that Abedi had “probably been acting alone,” combined with the void around it, was puzzling. Even more puzzling was the furious response of the British Government when a leak from the FBI to a Washington journalist, which identified Abedi before he had been named in Britain, turned out to have surfaced in an American newspaper.
It’s now known that Abedi repeatedly travelled to Libya and back after 2011. The FBI had tracked him, and had told MI6 he was looking for a “political target” in Britain. Nevertheless, the British Government, with Theresa May now in Downing Street, had allowed him in May 2017 to go to Libya again, where he contacted an IS group based in Syria. He returned via Düsseldorf to Manchester just a few days before he set off his bomb.
The Government’s anger at the leak seemed disproportionate (and Theresa May doesn’t say boo to Trump) if all the FBI had done was jump the gun in naming Abedi. However, that wasn’t all: the FBI had blown the gaff on the British pretence that Abedi was merely a criminal loner. It revealed an “extensive network” (Pilger) of contacts. This information, which has since disappeared from the record, threatened to open up the British involvement with the Libyan extremists and raise questions about the results of British interventionist foreign policy in the Middle East.
In the Daily Mail (26 May), Peter Oborne attacks MI6 for endangering the country’s security. In its untrammelled pursuit of the Government’s foreign policy objectives, he says, it encouraged the Home Office to lift the control orders on the extremists. He accuses MI6 officers of “creating a generation of British-born jihadis who are prepared to do anything … in their efforts to destroy this country,” and says that the Manchester bombing was “in part a direct consequence of MI6’s meddling.”
This is Jeremy Corbyn’s turf and he didn’t flinch, although he must have known what would happen. Speaking in London, he said, “Many experts, including security professionals in our intelligence and security services, have pointed to the connections between the wars our government has supported and fought in other countries and terrorism here at home… An informed understanding of the causes of terrorism is an essential part of an effective response that will protect the security of our people that fights rather than fuels terrorism.”
That is true and important and it’s common sense, but it provoked outrage, although I don’t recall any outrage when Eliza Manningham-Buller said the same thing: silence descended instead. And no-one is going to take on Dacre’s Mail (although that article is not as iconoclastic as it sounds1). But to make government morally responsible for the effect of its wars is not normally allowed: it would make war impossible. Corbyn would like to make war impossible, which puts him, in Parliament, in the position of a sheep in an abattoir.
Money and jobs depend, in one way or another, on war. Publication of the report David Cameron commissioned on overseas funding of terror may never see the light of day because it will inevitably focus on Saudi Arabia, to which our Prime Minister recently paid a trip that resulted in a major arms deal. We are going to need money and jobs after a hard Brexit. Saudi Arabia funnels millions of dollars to terrorists. Nevertheless jobs are more important.
Corbyn’s willingness to talk about this difficult, tabooed stuff is why he has to be vilified. However, to many people that willingness is like fresh air in a tomb. If the public is getting tired of the lies and hypocrisy of government, nowhere are the lies thicker than around national security. Theresa May’s mechanical iteration of opaque platitudes doesn’t impress, and is not attractive.
She finds herself on the back foot, as well, on ground which she probably thought she commanded. She is a former Home Secretary: she has authority. But that, now, is the problem. She was in charge of the Home Office when the control orders on Islamic extremists were lifted. As Home Secretary, she cut police numbers by 20,000. She was warned by the Police Federation about the likely effect, but accused it of crying “Wolf!” More than that, it has emerged that in 2015 she was planning even deeper cuts, but was prevented by the then Chancellor, George Osborne.
Corbyn thinks she should resign. So does David Cameron’s former strategy chief, Steve Hilton, who on Monday tweeted, “Theresa May responsible for security failures of London Bridge, Manchester, Westminster Bridge. She should be resigning, not seeking re-election.”
It isn’t the only thing. There is the toadying to an American President who is a climate change denier and insults the Mayor of London. There is the very disturbing state of our schools, which she will improve by eliminating free school lunches. There is the sinister Naylor Review, which she intends to implement, which will asset-strip the NHS. There is her arrogant refusal to answer questions or to debate. There is her complete unpreparedness for the Brexit negotiations; the “12-point Brexit Plan” is the length of a shopping list and less informative, whereas the EU has released a raft of position papers.
But the security failure is arguably the worst thing. People have died, many of them children. Her first duty is to protect, and she has not done it. Who, in this contest, is weak, unpatriotic, unreliable on defence and an ally of terrorists?
And she won’t tell us the truth. Ever. Her every instinct is to conceal.
This country is about to sail into the eye of a hurricane. If we are going to come through it, we need to understand what is happening. Cameron was right about this much: we are all in it together. We cannot afford to have a dead-eyed secret-hugger, who does not trust either the passengers or the crew, as Captain.
1 Oborne attacks MI6 and praises MI5, and claims that the two organisations are working against each other. It’s clear from Pilger’s report and the M.E.E. website that MI5 is equally to blame in that it “cultivated” the militants and allowed them to travel. But the Home Secretary is responsible to Parliament for the conduct of MI5, whereas the Foreign Secretary has to answer for MI6. Oborne is protecting Theresa May.