Fiddling as Rome Burns - don’t be neutral about Suella the firefighter
Legend has it that Emperor Nero played his violin as the great city of Rome went up in flames in AD64. Two millennia later, this same tendency to “fiddle as Rome burns” is being demonstrated by the British political class. For whilst the streets of our great Capital are taken over by those who detest Western civilisation and all that it stands for, the attention of the Westminster bubble is captivated by an argument about which version of a Minister’s newspaper column was signed off by Number 10.
It is hard to overstate the significance of the events of the last five weeks. On 7th October, 1400 Israeli civilians were burned, raped, tortured and taken hostage by Hamas terrorists who proudly filmed their evil for the world to see.
Before those bodies were even cold, tens of thousands of protestors took to the streets in British cities, not to express sorrow about what happened in Israel or to show solidarity with Jews, but to join pro-Palestine marches at which some participants have glorified terrorism, called for the death of Jewish people, defaced national monuments, and called for jihad.
Planned protests now threaten to overshadow Armistice Day, an event which represents one of the few remaining collective sacred moments of modern Britain.
We are at a serious moment in history. It is clear that a rigid adherence to a liberal doctrine of tolerance has allowed intolerance to flourish. What is less clear is what happens next.
Does our tolerance stretch to the intolerable?
Will our enemies capitalise on our very public divisions? How can we reconcile the presence of ugly antisemitism with our modern, post-Holocaust society? If the war in the Middle East is prolonged will there be a complete breakdown of social order?
One would expect these questions to be dominating discussions in Parliament and the national news cycle. But instead the media — and some politicians — are instead obsessed with the fate of Home Secretary Suella Braverman, whose straight talking interventions on the policing of protests have landed her in hot water.
Writing for The Times yesterday, the Home Secretary called on London’s Metropolitan Police to be even handed in their policing of the “hate marches”, drawing reference to some fairly one-sided handling of protests in the recent past.
Braverman’s detractors were outraged on two fronts. Firstly, they resent her criticism of the Police — though her comments were objectively correct; and her use of the term “hate” — an appropriate description for the sentiment displayed towards Israel and the Jews by many joining the protests. The Home Secretary’s critics claim these remarks are “stirring tensions” although of course the real responsibility for stoking hostility surely lies with those who publicly support Hamas.
The second cause for outrage is the uncertainty over whether or not Number 10 cleared the article in advance, or more specifically whether all their suggested edits were accepted by the Home Secretary’s team before publication. I have never been a minister and I am unfamiliar with the relevant protocols, but I do know that Braverman’s article contained no criticism of Government policy and did not in any way break collective responsibility.
Of course there are many who will not agree with the Home Secretary’s views (although polling shows she holds thoroughly mainstream opinions with only 30 per cent of the British Public trusting the police to manage the protests). But the disproportionate reaction to her comments can only be described as a “pile-on”, and, as is often the case when individuals are singled out or made scapegoats, the reasons cited for punishment are rarely the true cause of offence.
So, in the minds of the Westminster bubble, what exactly are the Home Secretary’s crimes?
Well, Suella Braverman is someone who speaks her mind. Whilst some may accuse her of being provocative, this is only true in a relative sense when compared with those who carefully curate their views to avoid controversy. But of course, a willingness to speak frankly inevitably creates more headlines and with it the potential for criticism.
It is also true that, whilst Suella Braverman’s views on law and order represent mainstream conservative British opinion, the opinions of those in Westminster are considerably less conservative and more liberal than in the country as a whole. Just as we saw during Brexit and debates on immigration there is a gaping chasm between the elites and ordinary voters. The establishment gets riled when one of their own sides with the ordinary voters.
I also wonder if the almost visceral reaction by some to the Home Secretary are, at least in part, due to the fact that she is a woman. Women are often expected to be softer, more compromising and more liberal than men and a woman who advocates for a robust approach to law and order is seen as breaking the mould. The caricatures so often drawn in the press of Braverman as an evil and heartless fiend are so far removed from her true character — as open, friendly and down-to-earth as they come — that it would be funny if it wasn’t so cruel. It is the role of any Home Secretary to advocate for law and order and so perhaps it is no surprise that Braverman’s two predecessors — Priti Patel and Theresa May — faced similar attacks.
But I believe that the true reason for the outrage directed towards the Home Secretary is down to the fact that — unlike so many others — she refuses to fiddle as Rome burns but is trying to put out the fires instead. These appalling protests show that a doctrine of liberalism and progressivism and a refusal to make sound judgements has proven unable to deliver a united and peaceful society with a cohesive set of values. Something has to change and Suella Braverman has shown that she is willing to face up to that change. To those who would rather bury their heads in the sand, she is anathema.