Mischief, Thou Art Afoot

‘The next few months will test David Cameron’s nerve, as Britain plays its part in defending Western civilisation from Mitteleuropa to Mesopotamia’

Manchester Square Politics
Baroness Warsi: Irresponsible? (credit: FCO)

  What has Baroness Warsi in common with Shakespeare’s Mark Antony? Both are practitioners of apophasis — the demagogue’s favourite rhetorical device. 

Few had heard and even fewer cared about the former Senior Minister of State at the Foreign Office until she resigned last month, accusing the British government of holding a “morally indefensible” position on Gaza. Her own letter of resignation was grammatically indefensible — indeed, almost illiterate. (The Baroness misspells “Britain” and even her favourite word, “Islamophobia”.) But it was most notable for a sentence which, though flabby, sounded a menacing note: “However, early evidence from the Home Office and others shows that the fallout of the current conflict and the potential for the crisis in Gaza and our response to it becoming a basis for radicalisation could have consequences for us for years to come.” Translated into the Queen’s English, this means that the government’s failure to condemn Israel is to blame for the fact that young British Muslims may turn into terrorists. From a former Minister of State for Faith and Communities, this is irresponsible stuff.

Ever since her resignation, it has been hard to avoid her interviews, all of them designed to damage the government, the party and the Prime Minister to whom she owed her elevation. The Baroness makes mischievous use of apophasis — a species of irony that implies the opposite of what she says: “I don’t hold the fact that someone went to public school against them. I don’t hold the fact that they haven’t had the breadth of experience that some of us who didn’t go to public school have had. I don’t hold against them that they haven’t had to fight as hard to get the jobs that we have had to fight as hard to get.” It may not be Shakespeare, but she knows how to make an Old Etonian wince.

It gets worse, however. Like Brutus and Cassius, the Baroness implies, the Chancellor and the Chief Whip are both honourable men. However: “People like George Osborne and Michael Gove are very, very close to the Israeli leadership . . . I congratulate the Friends of Israel and those who lobby on behalf of Israel, because they are incredibly effective . . . I sincerely hope that how the Tory party raises its funds does not have an impact in relation to its policy in government. The national interest should never be subject to the chequebooks of anybody.” 

This is apophasis in the service of rabble-rousing. Baroness Warsi is insinuating that the “Israel lobby” has not only co-opted leading ministers but is buying influence. She lends credence to the Islamist conspiracy theory that the foreign policies of the British, US and other governments are controlled by Jewish money.

Baroness Warsi claims that others at the heart of the British government share her views, and she is probably right. Indeed, she implied that William Hague — First Secretary of State, Leader of the House of Commons and former Foreign Secretary — might be among them. 

As it happens, his former chief of staff Arminka Helic has just been elevated to the peerage. She is a Bosnian Muslim who is reported to have persuaded Mr Hague to adopt a more critical stance towards Israel, whether for using “disproportionate” force or building “illegal” settlements. Mr Hague has loyally supported the government during the latest Gaza conflict, but we shall soon see what his former adviser has to say when she takes her seat in the House of Lords — a chamber which also includes Lord Ahmed, who last year claimed that he was jailed for going to Gaza to support Palestinians, blaming “my Jewish friends who own newspapers and TV channels”. (He was briefly imprisoned for dangerous driving after being involved in a fatal car crash.)

What makes Baroness Warsi’s apophastic attack on the Tories so embarrassing is that she was promoted by David Cameron as the party’s unofficial “minister for Muslims”. Now, because he refused to obey her over Gaza, she has written off his hopes of winning the Muslim vote — and hence of an outright majority: “We’ve probably left it a little too late to start taking this part of the electorate seriously.” The Prime Minister is being told that unless he distances himself from Israel and starts toeing the Islamist line on Gaza, he will lose next year’s general election. This is blackmail.

Mr Cameron should resist such pressure. It is true that there is a significant Muslim vote in almost every one of the Conservatives’ target seats. Still: Labour dumped Tony Blair after he backed Israel’s intervention in Lebanon — but they lost the election anyway. Ed Miliband has consistently denounced Israel, and not just over Gaza — but he is much less respected as a leader than Mr Cameron. 

The next few months will test the Prime Minister’s nerve, as Britain plays its part in defending Western civilisation from Mitteleuropa to Mesopotamia, from the Jordan to the Don. Israel, as one of the few countries that is not afraid to fight back, is an important ally. At all costs, Britain should shun the French example: the Socialist government there condemned Israel to appease Muslim opinion at home and abroad, while anti-Semitic outrages on the streets of Paris brought shame on France.

After his speech over the dead Caesar, and having whipped up the mob by the black magic of apophasia, Antony soliloquises: “Mischief, thou art afoot, /Take thou what course thou wilt.” We should beware the mischief unleashed in the wake of Gaza.