NEW Zealand’s Prime Minister – Jacinda Ardern – handled matters with great dignity after 50 of her people were killed by a right-wing terrorist.
Not only did she resist hysteria, not only was she compassionate, she also struck a blow against the assassin’s credo.
Nothing she could do would mend the devastation of the victims’ families, but by refusing to use the murderer’s name, she denied him the notoriety that he and his henchmen craved.
Such slaughter may have come as a surprise in peaceful New Zealand, but all it was, really, was a symptom of what is going on in all our democracies.
Angry minorities use violence against liberal regimes because such regimes are now deeply reluctant to react robustly for their own defence. From the death penalty and corporal punishment to military action, ‘civilised’ societies will almost always stay their hand.
Of course, that’s a wonderful thing so long as the liberal states’ opponents play by the same rules. The trouble is that they don’t. And, when you throw a little decay into the institutions and psyche of our leaders, violence becomes disproportionately effective. Savagery – even the threat of it – gets noticed, it frightens folk and, ultimately, it works!
But is ‘decay’ a a fair noun to use and is our society really in thrall to thugs? Well, the EU has just described its negotiations with us as “like dealing with a failed state”. If that’s not an indication of our once splendid nation’s decay, then I don’t know what is.
As for thuggery, remember that our very own Irish terrorists killed and maimed just enough soldiers, police officers and civilians to force a government to capitulate.
‘Peace’ was so vital that our politicians pardoned murderers, emasculated a police force and now, after 40 years, are going to prosecute and perhaps imprison their own troops in order to continue their appeasement.
And, be in no doubt, it is the implied threat of a return to violence that has made the Irish backstop question so difficult. Leo Varadkar, the Taoiseach, has become the mouse that roared because people believe that he holds the key to stability in Ireland. He or his EU pals only need to mutter the phrase ‘the Good Friday Agreement could be at risk’ and Westminster has a corporate nervous breakdown.
Furthermore, a decaying government avoid decisions which in turn means social breakdown. That’s why in our bigger cities kids stick knives into each other because our police – who are strapped for cash and hobbled by humbug – cannot stop them. In these areas a power vacuum has developed into which have stepped feral youths who have imposed their own law – the law of the jungle.
Meanwhile, the very people who make the law have started to resemble a Lord of the Flies tribute group. Earlier this week, as the bemused, benighted Cabinet attempted to patch another apology for a strategy together, up popped another feral kid who applied his own bit of political thuggery. The Speaker came up with his own specious reason for frustrating the will of the people and tyrannised Theresa May whilst her ministers looked on aghast – move over Oliver Cromwell!
But I hope you saw Bill Carmichael’s excellent column on these pages last week? He suggested that our MPs won’t be forgiven, arguing that if Brexit is ‘stolen’, “... that will unleash a crisis that will make our current problems look like tea with the vicar”. And those words made me tremble.
That genteel image belies a worrying, rather sinister question of what on earth we can do when our political system breaks down. There can be no better indication, surely, of failure and the crisis that is now upon us than Mrs May’s hapless statement on Wednesday night.
To see our Premier thrashing about lost, out of her depth, was appalling. Her misjudgement was as bad as her conduct after Grenfell or her statement after the last election – she compares so badly with Jacinda Ardern.
We’re not alone with our crisis, though. Across the Channel, despite Emmanuel Macron’s brags and boasts, France faces civil disobedience that verges on insurrection. People of all political shades are exasperated with Macron’s government so they have turned to violent protest which we have scarcely noticed as we’re too obsessed with our own problems.
And yet, we’re only a spit away from such excesses here. We’ve had an MP murdered, unceasing death threats to others of her profession, bombs in the post and a brittle Ulster while muscular plans are being made to blockade our ports and refineries and even for a general strike.
Of course, as a nation, we’ve faced worse. But have we ever had to react from a state of – and I’ll use the word again – decay or with such flaccid leadership?
I know one vicar’s daughter who would be so much happier sipping tea on the lawn than having to deal with this mess.
Patrick Mercer is the ex-Conservative MP for Newark. He is also a former soldier.