Picture Credit: Peter Dazeley/Getty
Artillery Row

The establishment prefers distractions to solutions

Politicians discuss irrelevances rather than confronting the obvious

British politics only makes sense once you accept that most of its participants have little to no interest in actually fixing things. It’s a freeing moment when you realise this. Otherwise, you might think you were going absolutely mad.

Here, for example, is a common occurrence: something bad will happen and politicians and journalists will start to talk about something tangential or outright unrelated. A man will be walking down the street, say, and fall down an enormous hole in the pavement to his untimely death. Soon, the best and the brightest among Britain’s MPs and opinion columnists will be talking about the problem of people looking at their phones in public, with the hole in the street remaining blissfully unfilled.

Why invent scenarios? David Amess MP was stabbed to death by a jihadi in 2021 and politicians and journalists started to bang on about people who were being mean online. What did that have to do with anything? Bugger all. But it was a lot easier to talk about than Islamic radicalism.

Last week, in London, twelve people were injured by a corrosive alkaline substance, with the suspect, Abdul Ezedi, promptly disappearing. Mr Ezedi, who reportedly had a relationship with one of the victims, successfully applied for asylum in the UK in 2020 following not just two failed attempts but a suspended sentence for a sexual offence. 

If indeed Abdul Ezedi is the assailant, it would be tough to find a clearer example of Britain’s asylum system failing the British people. This guy, we have been told, was an actual, factual sex criminal and yet was granted leave to remain. Nonetheless, Gillian Keegan MP, Secretary of State for Education, tells us that the story “is not really about asylum”. Caroline Nokes MP, former Minister for Immigration, told Newsnight’s Kirsty Wark that wants to talk about “microaggressions”, as if the attacker is liable to have graduated from calling women “love” to alkaline attacks. Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP claims that this terrible crime shows that society “normalises violence against women and girls” (does she mean Britain or Afghanistan, where Ezedi spent most of his life?). This sort of hand-flapping is an absolutely shameless attempt to distract people from the failures of the state.

This at least appears to be an outrageous failure of the part of the authorities, which enabled the murder of a child

In Manchester, meanwhile, two teenagers have been convicted of the “exceptionally brutal” murder of Brianna Ghey. One of them, the BBC has reported, was moved to Ghey’s school after drugging a younger pupil with a cannabis sweet. Despite this appalling and dangerous behaviour, the school wanted to “avoid permanent exclusion and to give [her] a second chance”. So, she was moved to Ghey’s school without her new school even being told what she had done. Soon, she was drugging Ghey.

This at least appears to be an outrageous failure of the part of the authorities, which enabled the murder of a child. Yet almost no politicians and journalists have mentioned it. Some of the discourse has been about transphobia, because one of the killers is reported to have written hateful and dehumanising messages about Ghey’s self-identification. Some of it has concerned social media and the Internet, because the female killer was obsessed with watching torture videos on the Dark Web.

These, granted, are not irrelevant factors. There is valid cause for discussing the means by which the young killers might have been inspired to commit their dreadful crime (even if their self-stated desire for infamy is being fulfilled by the deluge of reports about their lives). But the extent to which they have been focused on while a school’s apparent enabling of a murderer has been ignored is miserable. 

There are always going to be wicked children. Robert Thompson and John Venables abducted and killed James Bulger long before the Dark Web existed and transgenderism was in common parlance. To be sure, expulsion would not have stopped the killers from being dangerous (Thompson and Venables were skipping school when they abducted Bulger, after all). But she would not have endangered Ghey, whose teachers were unable to even appreciate the risks that she posed to her fellow students.

As Simon Cooke comments, we often “miss the point so as to sit firmly on a hobby horse”. Social media apps appear to have had little to nothing to do with the murder of Brianna Ghey, but their impact on young people was a subject of passionate discourse already, so that discourse has simply absorbed the event. 

Yet we also miss the point when we are averse to facing it. Conservatives don’t want to talk about the chronic failures of state institutions they have presided over for thirteen years, and when those failures reflect insufficient toughness when it comes to borders and education, Labour is unlikely to hold them to account. 

This represents a dire lack of accountability. Gillian Keegan was caught on camera last year complaining that no one ever gives politicians credit. Equally, no one seems to face consequences. So, as I wrote in the aftermath of David Amess’s murder, we are forced to endure “the spinning of a web of discourse that bears no perceptible relation to the event that brought it into being”. Far from getting closer to the truth, we are all too often distracted from it — enveloped in the dense fabric of clichés.

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