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Sunday 15 February 2009

Even our principles have become institutionalised 

Self-interest now seems more important than democracy or doing what is right, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards

Iranian TV, Declan Ganley and being bumped from a meeting with Gordon Brown were among the highlights of my week.

On Monday night, there was Press TV, an English-speaking channel funded by the Iranian government. Its presenters include George Galloway, MP for the Respect party, who is notorious for having saluted Saddam Hussein for "your courage, your strength, your indefatigability"; having said a suicide bomb attack on Tony Blair would be morally justifiable "as revenge for the war on Iraq"; and having made a priceless appearance on Celebrity Big Brother, in which he pretended to be an exceptionally sensual cat.

Although I'd be on for a vicarious punch-up with the Iranian regime, I would not take on Galloway, but reviewing the papers with Lauren Booth was a different matter. It's true that having initially made her journalistic reputation out of being one of Cherie Booth's six half-sisters, she later turned virulently on the Blairs over Iraq, and is so anti-Zionist she now describes Gaza "as the largest concentration camp in the world today". However, when I observed her lightly clad in the Australian jungle in I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here, she seemed pleasant enough.

And so she was, in her tasteful headscarf, but as she works not just for Press TV but also for the UK Islam channel, she has a predictable world vision; at least when in the context of Gaza she described Benjamin Netanyahu as anti-Palestinian, I was there to point out he was merely anti-Hamas.

In the House of Commons at Tuesday lunchtime, Declan Ganley had an audience of mainly young people who thought him a hero for his role in the 'No' vote on Lisbon. But while I would guess most of them are Eurosceptic to the point of Europhobia, he came across as anything but. "Ireland is the weakest EU link," said one questioner, hoping that Lisbon would be rejected again. "No," said Ganley. "Ireland is the anchor."

For Ganley, another 'No' to Lisbon would be a blow for accountability and reform: it would be pro, not anti, Europe. His quarrel with the EU is that its institutions have gone from being non-democratic to anti-democratic.

"We lend -- not give -- power to politicians," he said. "That's what they've forgotten. Europe can be reformed. Don't just give up on it. We could ignite a new renaissance. Take a risk. Take a punt on Libertas."

Being sympathetically disposed, I went away brooding yet again about how principles are betrayed when people become institutionalised. Eurocrats were idealistic once. Bankers originally wanted to look after people's money rather than run casinos. Academics wanted to inspire young minds rather than jostle for power on committees. And so on.

It was a theme that I warmed to on Wednesday afternoon, when instead of being in Number 10 Downing Street with the Omagh families, I was waiting for them in a nearby restaurant with their lawyer, Jason McCue, chewing over why we'd been excluded. Victor Barker, whose son James was murdered, was contacted the previous day by an Northern Ireland Office official to explain that while he had a perfect right to take me with him as a friend, I was a journalist and my presence might hamper "a full and open discussion between those present".

That I had been involved with the families for nine years and that I am discreet was irrelevant. The intervention was made weeks after I'd been put on the list, but it was a wily argument which left me no option but to stand down. Jason, who has acted for the families in their civil case since 2000, was contacted by Number 10 on Wednesday meeting and baldly told he would not be admitted.

Why would Gordon Brown's minders want to exclude the press and the law? Because they're institutionalised, that's why. Their job was not to give the families help, but to protect the Prime Minister and the security forces from avoidable awkward questions. "They closed ranks," said one of those attending.

I understand that. I was a civil servant once, and one reason I left was that I could feel myself becoming institutionalised. The symptoms are when you forget about the rights and wrongs and think only of expediency, precedent and the protection of your masters and colleagues. It is that mindset that has the Establishment ignore the role played by Iran and Saudi Arabia in funding the radicalisation of British Muslims, yet ban from Britain a solitary Dutch parliamentarian who made a film warning against the Islamisation of Europe.

Like the EU, they have become anti-democratic.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards