On The IRA, And Jihadis

As someone who remembers the Troubles in Northern Ireland that started in the late 1960s, I am beginning to see some horrible parallels with the jihadist attacks in Paris, Brussels and elsewhere.

A history lesson. During the Troubles cities like Londonderry and Belfast had substantial areas where the majority of the population were disaffected Catholics, with some genuine reason to hold grievances. These were pretty much no-go areas for police and security forces except if entered in force.

A minority of that Catholic population were active supporters of the IRA and other terrorist organisations. The majority were sufficiently alienated that they were not much inclined to help the security forces.

This meant the IRA et al were able to operate there, collecting funds, using safe houses and storing weapons.

This is exactly the situation in Molenbeek in Brussels, in some banlieues in Paris and, to a much lesser degree, in parts of the UK that have produced their own home grown jihadis. That Paris bomber who was shot in the leg and captured the other day, Salah Abdeslam, was almost certainly caught after a rare tip-off to police. He had been living, unhindered, in Molenbeek for several months.

You have a large, disaffected religious minority. You have a minority within them, and the opinion polls bear this out, who support the extremists. You have virtual no-go areas. You have terrorists able to hide among that community. The parallels are obvious.

There are three differences, all of them negatives, in my view. One, the IRA did not set out to kill indiscriminately. Two, some of those genuine grievances could be addressed.

This meant that, after the IRA was worn down by decades of attritional military action, a settlement could be reached with the Catholics to give them a greater say in civil society. The Good Friday Agreement 18 years ago.

There is still the odd idiot out there that thinks we can reach agreement with the jihadis/Isis, but I imagine their number is shrinking with each atrocity. As to wearing the jihadis down, I don’t see how, given their nihilistic mindset.

Three, and this is a long way off but the clock is ticking, the jihadis/Isis have potential access to weapons of mass destruction, and will use them.

All this suggests we face decades of terrorist action, along the lines of the IRA struggle but much, much worse. Rather than a bomb here and a murder there, we face decades of events like those in Brussels and Paris, and 7/7. On a regular basis. It is too easy to achieve, given all the above and the seemingly endless supply of jihadis.

What can be done? The jihadis cannot be beaten in a military/security context without an abandonment of their (and our) civil rights – imprisonment without trial for all sympathisers, mass deportations, worse – that is unacceptable today to the majority of the population.

How many civilian deaths will there have to be before this becomes acceptable? And do we even want this to happen?

Have a nice day.


On Chancellors, and PMs

We were talking over lunch the other day about the decline and fall of George/Gideon Osborne, his dimming prospects of getting to Number Ten, and wondering how far back you had to go to find a Chancellor who subsequently made a successful Prime Minister. A long way, I reckon.

Almost by definition, unsuccessful Chancellors do not get promoted to the top job. While some of the best Chancellors since the war, say Rab Butler, Nigel Lawson, Ken Clarke, Roy Jenkins, never got to move next door or may never have wanted to do so

 Of those that did, James Callahan presided over the Winter of Discontent, national humiliation at the IMF and “crisis, what crisis?” (Which I know he never said, but he might as well have done.)

John Major had Black Wednesday, the cones hotline, Back to Basics and a truly calamitous election defeat. Then there was Gordon Brown…

The two most successful relatively recent Prime Ministers, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair, were never Chancellor. You have to go back to Harold Macmillan to find one who successfully made the transition.

Perhaps we did well to avoid PM Osborne.

On Hinkley Point

Having rejected nuclear physics as far too easy a career option, I do not feel qualified to have a view on the new nuclear power station that will probably now never be built at Hinkley Point, Somerset. I was interested, though, by the views on his blog by John Uttley, who I knew in the City a while back and who genuinely does know the subject.

You can read it here, and I recommend you do:


He thinks, quite sensibly, it seems to me, that there is some scope for nuclear power using thorium. And possibly some for renewables, such as a tidal barrage. But the only way out of the UK’s looming energy problem is to frack for gas.

Something I’ve suggested here before, from my limited technical knowledge. It has transformed the US energy industry, to the point where they are exporting the stuff. The scare stories about earthquakes and pollution are just that, scare stories, according to people whose own technical knowledge I trust.

And I know of no one who thinks Hinkley Point C is anything other than an unbuildable white elephant.

On High-Rise

They are making a film of JG Ballard’s High-Rise, his 1975 dystopia.

Actually, I am not sure that dystopian is the right word. Though Ballard shows a society disintegrating into warring packs inside a huge high rise block sealed from the outside world, he makes the prospect seem quite attractive.

This is a typical Ballardian trick, the unspeakable being made to seem humdrum, everyday. Cf Crash.

I have no idea what the film will be like; probably very violent. Ballard, with his usual perspicacity, was using the high rise as a metaphor for an increasingly unequal and stratified society. Those on the lowest floors war with those just above, the middle classes, literally, and so on up the block.

The film will lack one thing, though, one of the most arresting first sentences in modern fiction. “Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months.”

You would tend to read on, wouldn’t you?