They say talk is cheap.
They may be right, but it can also deliver something better than bullets and missiles…
On Sunday (7 June), at the G7 (in fact, the G8 minus Russia) world leaders’ summit in Germany, UK Prime Minister David Cameron spoke to the media about the thousands of people risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean to gain refuge in the EU.
‘We need to do more to stop these people leaving their countries in the first place,’ he said. ‘The causes of migration need to be dealt with, not simply its consequences.’
It was a surprise – albeit a very welcome one. After all, this is exactly what is necessary, and came from a man whose government has so far been studious in its efforts to avoid that central issue.
It’s hard to know what to think. Perhaps he read this blog?* Maybe he simply finally got round to speaking to an expert on the issue?
*(I do not think it’s very likely that he read this blog)
National media, including The Guardian in the UK have interpreted his words as a reiteration of his government’s harsh, militaristic stance on the matter. They may, of course, be right. He is certainly expected to repeat Home Secretary Theresa May’s inflexible (and unreasonable) statement that the UK will not accept any migrants as part of an EU deal, either now or at any point in the future.
And Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond seems to be continuing to work on his plan to send drones to blast boats from Libyan waters (though HMS Bulwark is in the Mediterranean off the coast of Libya to save lives, its Commodore Martin Connell claimed he would like to ‘get his hands on some of these smuggling gangs’ as if the owners of fishing boats are to blame for thousands of people wishing to escape to Europe, rather than corrupt regimes, and a corrupt international economic system which sits back and watches people needlessly starve to death or die of preventable disease).
But Defence Secretary Michael Fallon offered a rare sign that perhaps the government is willing at least to learn more, saying ‘We all have an interest in tackling this much further back. The issue here is poverty and conflict in west Africa and poverty and conflict in east Africa.’ (He did not mention poverty and conflict in north Africa or the Middle East, but credit where it is due, this is a brilliant start).
Of course, this now means that the UK’s Home and Foreign Secretaries favour a hard-line, militaristic approach to the challenge of thousands of people risking their lives to enter the EU, while the Defence Secretary – who after all is the man who would have to justify the cost of any violent response and answer for its failure – appears to be asking his colleagues in the Foreign Office to do their actual job: finding a peaceful and meaningful solution to an international crisis.
And there is no doubt whatsoever that when, in another part of his speech, Cameron said ‘We’re a country with a conscience’ he was attempting to reduce the embarrassment caused by Hammond’s earlier, ill-advised claim that ‘saving lives is not a long-term solution’.
But such changing of stance – whatever the reason – may be the first genuine sign that the government is taking a more considered approach to an issue which is actually not much more complex than it has so far treated it as being, even though the ‘answers’ to it are very different from those it reached for first.
And it could be that when David Cameron talks of ‘dealing with the causes of migration, not simply its consequences’ he is genuinely considering engaging sensibly with the matter, rather than simply reaching for the easiest and noisiest response. After all, if one wishes to deal with something’s cause, one first has to understand what it is (just in case he or any member of his government DOES happen to read this, the general causes are repression, corruption, societal division, poverty and the wars which can result from any one of the four, as well as avoidable starvation and rampant but treatable disease, combined with the comparatively vast wealth of the states to which desperate people are attempting to escape: a little economic equalisation and a little assistance with food and medicine could go a very long way indeed).
It is a warm(ish) June evening, so let us end on a positive note: perhaps, in this instance, talk being cheap might prevent the more aggressive – and expensive – alternatives. We must hope this is not a false dawn from our government.