Sunday, 27 February 2011

Government By Blackberry

In the past seven days the Westminster government has been severely criticised over their handling of the evacuation of British nationals from Libya.

The MSM and the 24-hour drip feed of news provided by Sky and the BBC have delighted in bringing angry Brits, with their stories of abandonment by the UK government, to our living rooms.

From what I've seen on television, I think the UK government has done a reasonable job considering the PM and deputy were out of the country, but more about that later.  The initial hesitation may have been attributed to this.

Anyone going to work or live in a country like Libya must know the risks involved. Many go because they're paid more than they would be in the UK and if they stay out of the UK enough days each year, they do not have to pay UK taxes.  I have no problem with that because it's their choice.

What I do have a problem with is some Brits expecting immediate rescue when - with the exception of those in the desert - they could have left the country a week ago as civilian flights were still operating to a reasonable schedule and the UK also chartered aircraft.  Many decided to disregard the situation until the middle of the week when they found Tripoli airport in chaos with thousands desperate to leave and civilian flights few and far between.

"It's the UK government's fault," was a popular response in the media.  I disagree.  When anyone decides to go abroad, for whatever reason, they must take responsibility for their own health and safety.  In serious emergency the British Embassy may be able to help but it's not always possible.  In the past couple of days Libya has become a serious emergency and, if the words of those who have successfully escaped the country, the Embassy staff have done everything in their power to ensure they were safely escorted to the port/airport.  I've yet to hear a word of criticism against anyone connected with the evacuation by an evacuee.  Neither have I heard any criticism of BP who also accepted other nationalities when  space was available on their flights to Malta.

It is unfortunate some oil workers' families, here in the UK, decided to go public with their concerns for their loved one's safety because they also gave too much information to the interviewer.  Those who work in middle east oil fields are well protected by guards employed by the relevant company. Looting from local crooks is not unknown and the guards and workers do their best to keep a good relationship with the host nation. After William Hague's plea to oil workers to let the Foreign Office know where they were, it was obvious to anyone listening that their safety was in doubt and action was being considered.

Most are very acquaint with survival skills but these were reduced when one of their escape routes, through the desert, was blocked. Too much information was being provided on news channels which was putting any rescue attempt in jeopardy.  Thankfully late yesterday around 150 British and other foreign nationals were airlifted safely to Malta by the British military.  Another 300 await rescue.

The media must be told to be more responsible. Gaddafi's henchmen didn't need to spend much time finding out where the UK's special forces were gathered. There is a fine line between news and news which must be withheld from the public because it would endanger the lives of others.  The line was crossed a few times this past week.

But David Cameron certainly didn't provide an acceptable level of leadership this week.  Since the coalition was formed I've occasionally questioned why he was giving Nick Clegg so much exposure in the media and wondered if he was hoping Mr Clegg would eventually flounder.  Nick Clegg did so last week - spectacularly, but David Cameron was unable to capitalise on it.  Why?  For some strange reason he allowed Mr Clegg to trot off on a skiing holiday in the same week the middle east was in uproar and he was to jet around parts of it in an effort to boost the sales of his business entourage. Such planning is not permitted in Ruralshire and certainly it was poor diary organisation from No 10.

It escapes my memory whether it was David Cameron or Nick Clegg who was reported to have said there was no necessity for the PM or his deputy to physically be in the country because communications equipment was excellent these days. The Blackberry was mentioned.  Does this show that Britain's PM and other senior politicians are purely figureheads these days or has it always been so and it's only due to modern communication systems, such as the Blackberry, that their hollowness has been revealed?


Mr. Mxyzptlk said...


Rule by Blackberry a very laid back old Etonian way of life........

Cameron has about as much in common with the ordinary person as the man in the moon.

English Pensioner said...

I think that you are a little unfair on those working abroad as most weigh up the risks and benefits very carefully before going,taking advice from appropriate sources. Following the recent "dirty" dealings of Blair & Co, Libya was not considered to be a particularly high risk area.
I would tend to at least put part of the blame on poor official advise which is usually drafted by someone sitting in the FO's ivory tower!
My son-in-Law was recently considering a job in Abu Dhabi and looked at official advise; there are apparently no significant risks in the gulf states provided that you don't infringe their (quite liberal) Islamic code. I wonder if this advise has been updated since the trouble in Bahrain?
Personally, I believe the whole purpose of the Military is to defend this country against aggressors and to come to the aid of British Citizens abroad in situations like this. Which is why I'm opposed to what is happening in Afghanistan and wasn't very happy with Iraq.
And as I mentioned in my own blog, I just wonder if the FO have any plans for getting British Citizens out of the Gulf States should something go badly wrong. There are many thousands there, ex-pats and tourists; I was in Dubai last year on a cruise, it was "changeover day" so there were something like 5000 passengers coming off or boarding the ship, most of whom stayed in Dubai for a few extra days in hotels. And this was just one ship!

Brian said...

Even the "front-line" (what a ridiculous term outside the military) in JobCentres had to co-ordinate annual-leave and lunch hours to ensure sufficient cover was maintained at all times. That Nick Clegg, the Deputy, is allowed to go home early and on holiday when he wishes, is evidence that he is grudgingly carried on the complement as a Coalition obligation.

Jo G said...

I think your post was brave Subrosa and well put.

There is one particular man whose phone calls from Libya have been played over and over. He seems to equate the exercise of getting everyone out with calling a taxi and it isn't that simple surely? And of course he'd have to be a Scot.

Things are about to getworse now that the Security Council has frozen Libyan assets and imposed sanctions. Ironically this came with words along the lines of Gadaffi "not being allowed to slaughter innocent civilians". Spot the irony in the US and the UK backing such a resolution after we walked away from the Security Council to go and launch our own illegal invasion of Iraq where tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians were killed by our bombs.

Crinkly & Ragged Arsed Philosophers said...

Rosa; not sure I'm with you on this one.

As far as the evacuation effort goes, the locations and related logistics of the oil plants etc are well known. As are the locations where the possibilities of an airlift would be possible, so I doubt if any newscast would have any effect.

Other than that it's natural for any family of an ex-pat to want their loved one out of a dangerous situation. Nobody knew, let alone expected, this was going to happen.

Other than that, isn't ironic, that Mr Cameron should be touting for his arms dealers while the Middle East and North Africa is in such a flux. Especially when you consider a large part of his dealer contingent, are corporates who specialise in the tools of Civil Controls?

Perhaps we should remember this particular expertise so highly favoured by our government the next time we protest on the streets.

JRB said...

The reasons why British nationals go abroad may be legion. For some these reasons may be selfish for others they may be out of necessity and for others a desire to earn an honest wage.

In times of trouble it is without question the duty of our Legations; Embassies; Foreign Office; Government, to make every effort to ensure the safety of our nationals no mater how or for what reason they come to be in that situation, and to do so without judgement or criticism.

When BA cancelled its scheduled flights the FO should have seen that there was a potential problem brewing. If it did make this deduction it failed to respond and did nothing. At the same time other European nations were reacting positively to extract their citizens, and as for the Americans they totally took command of the situation and sailed relief vessels directly into Libyan ports.

All that UK citizens got was William Hague talking the talk but totally unable to put words into deeds. When he did get aircraft organised they were unable to take-off as the pilots were out of hours.

Whilst all this was happening our esteemed PM was on an obscene trip to other middle-eastern countries selling arms.

If all that were not sufficiently nauseating, the Deputy PM was on the piste totally oblivious to what was happening and to his duties as Deputy PM.

God help us all.

subrosa said...

Niko, replace Cameron with 'any politician'.

subrosa said...

EP, I don't think I was too harsh because my information comes from someone who has worked there for some years and knows the political atmosphere well. Many British nationals came out at the first sign of trouble because they were aware what had happened in Egypt.

Surely people weren't replying on FO advice especially when it's so well known that the UK bent over backwards to ensure Megrahi was released?

Our military are on standby 365 days a years for occasions like this. They get on with the job, but their hardware has been so reduced. I mean by that the likes of ships and aircraft.

subrosa said...

It's a disgrace he sloped off (pun intended Brian), but it shows how unnecessary he really is.

subrosa said...

You mean the moaning oilman Jo? I think 99% of oil workers were embarrassed by his actions. Most oil compounds are very safe but those which use local labour for security had problems. Hence the looting. The worst thing that can happen is that transport is stolen but it's not nearly as drastic these days as the days before today's communication systems.

I did spot the irony Jo but many don't do they?

subrosa said...

Crinkly, with a madman such as Gaddafi it's much safer not to mention specific oil camps. So I'm told by one who has worked in them for 25 years. Much better to keep q low profile just in case his men 'come visiting' which they have done occasionally over the years I'm told.

I'm no expert on middle east affairs, but I was told when Egypt erupted it was the beginning or ME problems not the end.

For Cameron to go on his sales trip last week is exceptionally poor judgement.

subrosa said...

John, I entirely agree that we should protect our nationals, but surely, with the unrest in Egypt the week before, most were alerted to a more unstable situation.

With the recent highlighting of the UK's desperation to be pals again with Gaddafi, surely everyone who lived there must have been aware where our previous, and this, government stood where Libya was concerned. 'Don't rock the boat' springs to mind.

I understand there were more problems with chartered aircraft other than pilots' hours. Insurance was one and permissions were another.

The main point of the post was to highlight the uselessness of our political leaders. It does go to show they're purely figureheads these days.

As for the Deputy PM - don't get me going again.

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