Saturday, 23 February 2013

Low Cost Apology

David Cameron visited India to beef up this important export market was also notable for his visit to Amritsar.  The scene of a dreadful massacre massacre in 1920, when India was under colonial rule. The massacre was one of the most shameful episodes in British colonial history, at least 379 unarmed protesters died that day, when troops under the orders of Brigadier Reginald Dyer opened fire on a broadly peaceful demonstration. Appropriately, Cameron harked back to the words Winston Churchill used at the time. The Prime Minister said: "This was a deeply shameful event in British history, one that Winston Churchill rightly described at the time as "monstrous". We must never forget what happened here. In remembering we must ensure that the United Kingdom stands up for the right to peaceful protest around the world." You will notice that he stopped short of using the word sorry!

Cameron has great ability when it comes to this kind staged event, when he has reflected properly and dug deep to craft the words. Sukumar Mukherjee, descendant of a massacre survivor, noted that the visit, hit the right note "He has come here, he has paid his tribute. It is more than an apology."

The prime minister also thought it was helpful "Today was fascinating and illuminating – to go to the place that is so central to the Sikh religion. I am proud to be the first British prime minister to go and visit the Golden Temple and see what an extraordinary place it is – very moving, very serene, very spiritual. It was a huge honour and a great thing to be able to do. I learnt a lot''.  One suspects that he also has one eye on the Indian and Sikh vote in the UK which is not unimportant.  But let's not be cynical - the visit was important and he delivered the right speech at the right time.

When he was planning his speech with the mandarins at the Foreign Office I am sure they kept in mind a 'monstrous' ruling made in our own high courts last October.  A court  in London rejected claims from the UK's government's lawyers that too much time had passed since the Mau Mau  insurgency in the 1950s, and it was no longer possible to hold a fair trial. Mr Justice McCombe, rejected the government's claim that claimants should be suing the Kenyan government, as it had inherited Britain's legal responsibilities on independence in 1963. Some estimate that more than 5,000 of the 70,000-plus people detained by the British colonial authorities are still alive. Many may bring claims against the British government.  This ruling may also make it possible for victims of colonial atrocities in other parts of the world to sue the UK.

So this brings us neatly back to the Cameron speech in India this week.  If we in the UK were to hold up our hands for all the injustices we have bestowed on an unwilling world we will be paying reparations for eternity.  In preparation for this we should be looking to start our own case against those who have damaged us over the years - we could start with the Norwegians (the Viking hoards), the Italians (the Roman conquest) and of course the French (for 1066).

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