It is claimed that Russia is menacing Britain. Please don’t burst out laughing. This is a serious business. The defence minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the colourful Mr Gavin Williamson, told enthralled readers of the xenophobic right wing Daily Telegraph newspaper (a sad and stumbling shadow of its former distinguished self) that Russia is a “real threat” to the UK.
Williamson wrote that Russia was examining energy cables and pipelines between the UK and the EU, and warned that sabotage could come by a cyber-attack, missile or undersea activity. He asked “Why would they keep photographing and looking at power stations, why are they looking at the interconnectors that bring so much electricity and so much energy into our country?”
And well he might ask that question, because all that anyone needs to do is tap Google Search and up will come dozens of maps showing exactly where power stations are located, by type, in Britain. Here is just one example, published by the UK’s Daily Mail newspaper.
And here’s Pembroke Combined Cycle Power Plant in west Wales.
There are thousands of maps and photographs published showing power plants, pipelines and cables all over Europe. And Russia, like other countries, has satellites that show in exquisite detail everything that is capable of being photographed. If it wants information about any of the creaking power infrastructure in poor old Britain there is no need to send a spook out of John Le Carré to “look at power stations.” The BBC pointed this out to its listeners in reporting the comment by Russia’s defence Ministry spokesman that “for the minister's information, all data regarding the location of British power stations and pipelines is as secret as, for instance, photographs and the location of Westminster Abbey or Big Ben.”
The absurdity of Williamson’s excited warning tends to erode his reputation for high intelligence, but then it is only too often, as observed in the analysis ‘Clever Sillies’, that “the most intelligent people are more likely than those of average intelligence to have novel but silly ideas, and therefore to believe and behave maladaptively.”
Williamson is not alone in delivering breath-taking allegations of the supposedly active Russian danger. The BBC noted that “he was backed by former First Sea Lord [civilian head of the Royal Navy] and security minister Lord West, who told the paper he was ‘absolutely certain’ Russia was looking at how to get into the UK's critical infrastructure.” His words echoed those of the head of the National Cyber Security Centre, Ciaran Martin, who alleged that Russia had already staged attacks against Britain's media, telecommunications and energy sectors over the past year.
Then came the observation that all this “comes as the Ministry of Defence is under pressure to avoid cuts that could be coming from the Treasury.”
When needing money, it is most tempting for politicians and their adherents to conjure up a threat that can be neither disproved nor discounted and is attractive to believe. These people don’t need to provide evidence to back up their assertions (look at Trump), and the magic word “patriotism” is always implied, hanging unsaid but majestically dominant over those whose prudence and rationality are always defeated by the hype of contrived nationalistic fervour. That’s how the manic promoters of Brexit have managed to do so much damage to the essentially decent spirit of the people of the United Kingdom, and polarise the nation.
It appears that Mr Williamson is trying his best to obtain a lot of money out of an unwilling finance ministry (the Treasury) in order to stop or at least slow down the decline in effectiveness of Britain’s Army, Navy and Air Force, which attracted the attention of the UK’s satirical magazine Private Eye some months ago:
There is no doubt that Britain’s defence forces are in a parlous state. They are at their lowest strength for over a century, and their capabilities have declined alarmingly. On February 4 the BBC reported that “A government review has proposed axing up to 2,000 marines and the Royal Navy's two specialist landing ships, but a Commons Defence Select Committee report said such cuts would be ‘militarily illiterate’,” which is far from reassuring to those remaining in the sadly depleted armed services.
When I joined the British Army in 1958 the strength of the Royal Artillery, alone, was some 80,000. The most recent reports indicate that the entire army now numbers “77,440 fully trained regular soldiers.” Not only that, but good soldiers are leaving the army (as I hear in London which I’m visiting as I write this piece) because their conditions of service are terrible and the dreaded “outsourcing” of support services — Britain’s disastrous privatisation racket — has badly affected the ethos of the military family, be that centred on land, sea or air.
But Williamson is not noted for his devotion to family, either his own or others. He is utterly bereft of sympathy or solicitude for those members of society who are disadvantaged through no fault of their own.
For example, in Parliament he has consistently voted against measures to advance equality and human rights while voting in favour of reducing people’s benefits, and against raising them at least in line with prices. He has also voted against paying higher benefits over longer periods for those unable to work due to disability or illness. He voted against making it illegal for people to discriminate against others on the basis of caste and in favour of repealing the Human Rights Act 1998. You get the picture : he’s hardly a caring and compassionate human being.
According to the British Government “The Armed Forces Covenant is a promise from the nation that those who serve or have served, and their families, are treated fairly. We’re working with businesses, local authorities, charities and community organisations to support the forces through services, policy and projects.” Yet it is a matter of record that Mr Williamson “voted against strengthening this covenant. He has voted against a legally binding covenant set out in law and against public bodies considering the effects of people’s service in the forces when setting healthcare, education and housing policies.”
Given his history of intolerance, coldness and insensitivity Williamson is hardly the sort of defence minister to engender support and respect from the armed forces, but that factor would not even enter his mind. What is uppermost in his mind is that the way to the political top of the Conservative Party is to attract attention and headlines and that one way of achieving publicity is to jump on the anti-Russia bandwagon by declaring that Russia is determined to “Damage [Britain’s] economy, rip its infrastructure apart, actually cause thousands and thousands and thousands of deaths, but actually have an element of creating total chaos within the country.”
Fortunately, in addition to the editors of Britain’s Private Eye magazine, some other people and organisations have a sense of humour and treated Williamson’s nutty outburst with calm derision. Russia’s defence ministry spokesman, Major General Igor Konashenkov, summed it up in a way that got a lot of positive attention in Britain.
His pithy observation was that “Gavin Williamson in his fiery crusade for military budget money appears to have lost his grasp on reason. His fears about Russia getting pictures of power plants and studying the routes of British pipelines are worthy of a comic plot or a Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch.”
Farce marches on.