It is probably true to say that most people - in Britain and throughout the world - are extremely cynical about politicians. Especially in view of the on-going sleeze revelations affecting not only Conservative but Labour MPs, this cynicism has deepened recently. My opinion of politicians, especially of MPs, is less cynical than most; this is due primarily to personal experience. People who blame all the country’s or all the world’s problems on politicians usually don’t think things out. A typical claim about MPs in particular is that they enter politics as radicals, promising all manner of changes for the better, and then once they obtain power themselves, they “sell out”. An extreme example of this is the South African-born Peter Hain, currently a Minister under Tony Blair. During the 1970s, Hain was a leading anti-Apartheid campaigner; recently he was branded a racist by Robert Mugabe. (1)
Although Mugabe’s attack on Hain was clearly politically motivated (as well as baseless), attacks on other former radicals are often sincere. The reality is that far from selling out what happens is that radicals and idealists soon realise that it is always easier to run the country in opposition. It is one thing to campaign against the arms trade; it is another thing entirely to stop selling arms to a rogue state on humanitarian grounds when to do so will lead to redundancies in an employment black spot and the trade unions breathing down your neck. And the rogue state in question buying its guns elsewhere.
Even those few MPs who do “sell out” are basically well-meaning, and trusting, as are people in general, so like the general public they will often support apparently humanitarian legislation, action or campaigns without thinking things through, or without making a thorough investigation of the facts. This is probably the main reason we have so many bad or outright evil laws. (2) They cannot always be blamed for this; most MPs have neither the time nor the resources to investigate meticulously every claim of injustice put before them by some apparently well-meaning pressure group or other. This was what undoubtedly led to the Early Day Motion tabled by the Labour MP John McDonnell on January 12, 2000. The text of this motion reads as follows:
“That this House calls for the release of Mr. Satpal Ram who has now served 13 years in prison for killing in self-defence a racist who, with five accomplices, attacked Mr Ram, stabbing him twice and who died because he refused medical treatment; and further calls for an inquiry into the investigation and trial which resulted in this miscarriage of justice”. (Click here for a scan of the original.)
A search of the Parliament website conducted by the current writer on March 20, 2001, revealed that John McDonnell, Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington, had put his name to 317 EDMs, an extraordinarily high number.
By contrast, Paul Marsden, another Labour Member, had put his name to 139, and former Cabinet Minister Peter Mandelson to one. Many MPs had not endorsed any at all. One must always be careful when interpreting such figures, but the fact that Mr McDonnell has endorsed so many EDMs is strongly suggestive of the proposition that his heart is in the right place but that he is an easy prey to anybody who comes along with an ostensibly righteous cause (or a sob story).
The current writer was subsequently informed by the House of Commons Information Office that by January 20, a total of six MPs had signed this motion (3) and that eventually a total of twenty would sign it.
Hansard has been available on-line for some time; a search for the name Satpal Ram revealed that the following month, Prisons Minister Paul Boateng replied in a Written Answers session to two questions from David Winnick. These replies concerned only Ram’s behaviour in prison and his eligibility for parole. (Click here for full text.)
Although neither Mr Winnick nor Mr Boateng made any mention of the Early Day Motion, much less the outrageous lies the gullible John McDonnell was duped into laying before the House, it is obvious that the Free Satpal Campaign’s card has been marked by the powers-that-be. There will be no more Early Day Motions, and no more talk of an inquiry into the trial and investigation. That being said, in spite of his being led up the garden path, John McDonnell joined the march on Downing Street later that year; the campaign reports that he met Ram on January 31, 2000 in Full Sutton Prison. He would do well to utilise his time to champion more worthy causes, of which there are many around.
This is not to say that the authorities should oppose any such investigations, because the only people who would come out of one in a bad light would be Ram and his campaigners. It is in fact difficult to take these incessant demands seriously; their only purpose can be to win over popular support by generating outrage and righteous indignation over what most uninformed people will readily interpret as yet another long-running miscarriage of justice.
The big mistake the authorities have made in this case - and which they make in many cases where the public is deceived by well-organised liars - is that they have largely remained silent. The truth is on the record, but the general public does not by and large have access to it. All that is about to change now though, which is why this website has been set up.
April 18, 2001.
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