Friday, December 16, 2005

Pa hauled him off to the woodshed

Today's House Points column from Liberal Democrat News.

Telling tales

Gather round children. Today’s story is about Tony Blair when he was a little boy no older than you. One day Tony’s father noticed his favourite tree had been cut down. “Tony,” asked his father, “do you know who killed that beautiful little cherry tree yonder in the garden?”

And Tony replied: “In respect of cherry trees, I do not know what the right honourable gentleman is referring to.”

That’s what the prime minister told Charles Kennedy last Wednesday. Charles had asked how many American flights carrying suspects to countries that use torture had stopped off at British airports. To use one of Blair’s own favourite words, it was pathetic.

Then Whitehall’s finest brains went to work. And on Monday Jack Straw had a better answer. We know the Americans do not have such flights. And we know it because they say so.

But some less trusting souls are still worrying at the question. Dick Marty, a Swiss senator, believes the CIA did hold prisoners in Europe until the story broke in November. And the parliamentary group on extraordinary rendition (leading lights Ming Campbell and the Tory Andrew Tyrie) says that in law the British government cannot accept American assurances and must investigate for itself.

Wednesday also saw defence questions, when the minister Adam Ingram sounded uncomfortable defending the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill. As well he might. The bill means that someone convicted of, say, the Enniskillen bombing, in which 11 people died, would not spend a day in prison.

Historians may one day wonder why a terrorist attack on America had such a profound effect on British society when we took attacks on ourselves so lightly.

* * * *

Tony’s tree recalls another story. One day Junior was rocking the family privy. He got excited and pushed too hard. It toppled into the creek.

Later that day Pa asked who did it. Junior, who knew his American history, owned up at once. Pa hauled him off to the woodshed.

“But Pa, I don’t understand. When George Washington owned up about the cherry tree his father was so pleased he didn’t punish him.”

“Son, George Washington’s father wasn’t sitting in that cherry tree while he cut it down.”

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