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Monday, April 11, 2005

Your starter for 10

In response to overwhelming popular demand, Mr Grumpy agrees to begin his campaign of curmudgeonliness. The honour of being our first target falls to... yes, Mr Hilary Benn MP, Secretary of State at the UK Government's Department for International Development. He is to be found writing to the London Independent at

Mr Benn is, we believe, the son of the famous left-winger Tony Benn. From the fact that Tony Blair gave him a job it will be obvious that he is several light years to the right of his dad. However he seems to have fully inherited Benn Senior's skill in dodging an awkward question.

In a letter about the Darfur conflict in the Sudan Mr Benn was challenged by Becky Tinsley of Waging Peace ( to stop "shifting responsibility away from the National Islamic Front regime"; he replies saying she is "wrong on a number of counts". First of these is "The truth is that no one knows how many people have died in Darfur." Well, what is your best guess, Mr Benn? 70,000 as suggested by the WHO, or several hundred thousand as critics have claimed?

Then comes something truly staggering. Mr Benn refers to the UK's role in brokering a peace agreement in the separate conflict in southern Sudan, after 20 years of war and two million deaths. And, yes, Mr Benn is clearly proud of this. He must think the international community's inaction over the genocide in Rwanda was a tremendous success - after all, the death toll there was only 800,000. Meanwhile, the people in Darfur just have to wait until the body count reaches seven digits and then the rest of the world might decide to do a bit more than slap the Khartoum regime's wrist.

Next off, a nice bit of evasion. As evidence that the UK is taking a political approach to the situation, Mr B cites support for a Security Council resolution "introducing a sanctions regime against those responsible for the violence in Darfur." Well, here is Security Council resolution no. 1591: It is addressed to all parties in the conflict, and the most it offers in the way of specific condemnation of the Sudanese government is Point 6 which demands that it "immediately cease conducting offensive military flights in and over the Darfur region". So by hiding behind the resolution Mr B neatly avoids the challenge thrown out by Ms Tinsley to name and shame the Khartoum regime.

His final point is that the UK has supported the African Union mission in Darfur. Well, isn't that precisely Ms Tinsley's criticism: he has plenty to say about the UK's contributions to humanitarian relief but nothing about the political roots of the crisis.

So there you have it. Expect the Sudan to be about 497th in the list of issues in the UK General Election campaign, and expect zero improvement if some freak of nature brings Michael Howard to No. 10. Can anyone convince Mr Grumpy that it's worth voting?

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