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Listening to the speeches of the British Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons, following on the recent riots in Britain, I was struck by a few principles that should be enunciated again and again. However we should also note the way in which any country, any politician, will pick the principles that are most convenient to them at any moment. This is eminently understandable when a country faces a crisis, so we should not for a moment marvel at David Cameron’s stress on maintaining law and order when violence breaks out that threatens the innocent. Even though the BBC showed scenes, while telecasting the Prime Minister’s speech, of what seemed frightening police brutality in dealing with suspects, we must suppress our distaste – provided of course that no permanent damage is done, a proviso that will need to be considered carefully – in recognizing the need to protect the innocent and make it clear that violence will not be tolerated.
While a crisis continues, and it concerns one’s own country, it is the principles relating to the restoration of law and order that will be paramount. However, when other countries are concerned, it will be other principles that are stressed. This may seem hypocrisy to those who are adversely affected, but we have to recognize that this is simply a facet of human nature, and few people bother to discipline their natures when they see no benefits to be gained from doing so. On the contrary, when there seem to be gains to be made from sanctimonious pronouncements, they will be made insistently, with a ruthless eye to what might be termed the balance sheet.
To digress for a moment, the British capacity to pontificate while guarding their own interests came home to me vividly a few years back when I was helping to edit Derrick Nugawela’s excellent autobiography, ‘Tea and Sympathy’. In describing his work as a leading tea planter, he noted how he had tried to improve things for his Tamil estate workers, only to be told by his Managing Director from London that funds could not be available for this.