In Flecker’s magnificent poem “The Gates of Damascus”, he writes “Thou hast not many miles to tread/Nor other foes than fleas to dread/Homs shall behold thy morning meal/And Hama see the safe in bed”. See the poem here (and spot the typo!).
Sadly Flecker reckoned without President Assad. There are few of us today who would care to take our morning meal in Homs, or to try to sleep safely in Hama. A large part of Homs is surrounded by the tanks and artillery of the Assad régime. There is a brutal assault on the town, with wholesale slaughter of civilians — men, women, children — and indiscriminate destruction of property and infrastructure. It’s a war zone. Recent reports say that the artillery is deliberately targeting the field hospital in the besieged area. Syria is, in short, a tyrannical dictatorship, lashing out desperately with all the military force at its disposal, determined to silence opposition at any cost, including the cost of human life.
So I was surprised by a Telegraph headline on Feb 6th, “Britain as tyrannical as Syria with unelected Lords, says Lib-Dem”. The Lib-Dem in question was one Tim Farron, the Lib-Dem President. He is sometimes suggested as a future leader of the Party, if the last-century muesli-and-sandals brigade should benefit from the inevitable demise of the Orange Book tendency under Nick Clegg.
So let’s stand back and get the perspective. The President of a once-great party is telling us that Britain is as tyrannical as Syria, because the Lords are unelected.
Let’s also recall that we live in a democracy, where we saw a change of government less than two years ago. We have a House of Lords largely appointed by the elected government, with very limited revising powers. Meantime the elected Prime Minister can wheel out the Parliament Act to get his business through if he is so minded.
The Lords themselves are, for the most part, a bunch of avuncular figures, men (and women) of good will, if occasionally misguided. So help us, they even include a good number of Lib-Dems, Mr. Farron’s allies. They are, to a man (and to a woman) committed to the ideals of democracy and human rights. And the appointment of these well-meaning folk, with their strictly circumscribed powers, makes us “as tyrannical as Syria”.
We are accustomed to hearing politicians on flights of rhetorical hyperbole, but we surely except them to try to be reasonably credible, at least with their supporters, if no one else. Yet I imagine that the Lib-Dems themselves are cringing at Fallon’s proposition. He is on such a flight of fancy that he brings himself and his Party (and the profession of politics) into disrepute. And he reminds us yet again of the huge irrelevance of the Lib-Dems to the British body politic.
I shall have a lasting mental image of Mr. Farron, waiting wistfully on the pavement outside Lib-Dem HQ, ready in the cause of democracy to throw himself under the tracks of the tanks that never came.