Putting the pic­ture to­gether

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMENT - Lu­cian Hud­son

LEAD­ER­SHIP in a cri­sis re­quires not just skill in re­spond­ing ap­pro­pri­ately in the mo­ment but a co­her­ence and con­sis­tency of pur­pose over time. White­hall and West­min­ster’s re­sponse has lacked strat­egy, lim­it­ing UK’s in­flu­ence short and long term, and un­leash­ing an anti-Is­rael sen­ti­ment at home that can be in­creas­ingly used to fos­ter an­ti­semitism.

On the Is­rael-Gaza con­flict, the coali­tion gov­ern­ment was split, the cross-party con­sen­sus broke down, and most of the me­dia, in­clud­ing the BBC, run away with a su­per­fi­cial view of the con­flict, when gov­ern­ment and MPs could have used their ex­per­tise and ex­pe­ri­ence to en­sure a much deeper un­der­stand­ing of the is­sues.

As a for­mer pi­o­neer of 24-hour tele­vi­sion and the in­ter­net, one con­clu­sion I draw is that tele­vi­sion news and so­cial me­dia might give a snap­shot of news and views in a cri­sis, but are sin­gu­larly poor at ex­plain­ing con­text and in­ter­ro­gat­ing dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives. Last year, No 10’s plans on Syria partly back­fired be­cause of a mis­judged ten­dency to con­duct for­eign pol­icy by Twit­ter. En­gage­ment with so­cial me­dia is not a sub­sti­tute for effective pol­icy com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

Each of the main po­lit­i­cal party lead­ers held a vi­tal part of the jig­saw on this cur­rent con­flict, but none the full pic­ture. The prime min­is­ter kept his nerve, and re­mained a stead­fast de­fender of the right of a lib­eral demo­cratic state to de­fend its cit­i­zens un­der ter­ror­ist at­tack. With more ef­fort go­ing into de­vel­op­ing a cross-party po­lit­i­cal con­sen­sus, in for­eign pol­icy terms we could now have a Cameron doc­trine.

Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband rightly tapped into public dis­tress at the hu­man suf­fer­ing and loss of life on both sides. The is­sue of arm sales to Is­rael was a dis­trac­tion, re­veal­ing the dan­gers of coali­tion gov­ern­ment when re­spond­ing to a cri­sis in for­eign and de­fence pol­icy. At a time of cri­sis, pol­icy should not be made on the hoof. The Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil should have stamped on this. What­ever the coali­tion gov­ern­ment’s fail­ings in this area, Labour needs to de­velop a com­pre­hen­sive and far-reach­ing for­eign and de­fence pol­icy. If con­fi­dence in a party’s abil­ity to man­age the econ­omy is one elec­toral test, con­fi­dence in pro­tect­ing its cit­i­zens and sup­port­ing al­lies in a sim­i­lar predica­ment is an­other. This is a mes­sage politi­cians from all par­ties should heed.

If Bri­tish MPs have con­cerns about Is­rael’s mil­i­tary doc­trine and tac­tics, they would be in a stronger po­si­tion to in­flu­ence Is­rael if they sup­ported Is­rael con­di­tion­ally. Is­rael will be left con­fused by the UK’s re­sponse across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum. Fail­ure of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to re­spond more fully to the con­flict will cre­ate even more of a vac­uum in the Mid­dle East. The me­dia’s fail­ure gen­er­ally to hold Ha­mas to ac­count for its ac­tions while dis­pro­por­tion­ately fo­cus­ing on Is­rael means the public is no nearer to un­der­stand­ing what a longer term so­lu­tion might look like.

Each leader held part of the jig­saw, but not all

In my decade in White­hall, work­ing di­rectly to cabi­net min­is­ters and per­ma­nent sec­re­taries dur­ing the 9/11 and 7/7 at­tacks, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and sev­eral crises at the FCO, UK strat­egy was un­der con­stant chal­lenge.

But as a gov­ern­ment com­mu­ni­ca­tions direc­tor, I knew that de­spite short­com­ings in our strat­egy, at least one was in place. As chair­man of the gov­ern­ment’s me­dia emer­gency forum, I could share back­ground con­text with se­nior me­dia rep­re­sen­ta­tives to in­form public un­der­stand­ing of risk. The role of spe­cial­ist for­eign cor­re­spon­dent has never been more im­por­tant.

One for­mer Labour min­is­ter who served Blair and Brown told me, “Po­lit­i­cal lead­ers shouldn’t use the con­flict as a do­mes­tic di­vid­ing line, ei­ther with other par­ties or pre­vi­ous lead­ers.” Be­ing states­man-like must be the aim. A Jewish com­mu­nity leader with Labour sym­pa­thies said: “If Ed wins next May, he will be the first Labour Jewish prime min­is­ter with a chasm to close with his own Jewish com­mu­nity.”

Labour MPs and prospec­tive par­lia­men­tary can­di­dates who are sup­port­ive of Is­rael risk be­ing marginalised by their party at TUC and Labour Party con­fer­ence, un­less Ed Miliband and Dou­glas Alexan­der them­selves try to close the gap that their stance on the con­flict has opened up. They can­not re­verse their op­po­si­tion to Is­rael on this is­sue, but they can nu­ance it.

Wher­ever Bri­tish Jews are on the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum, they should ex­pect their po­lit­i­cal lead­ers to strive for con­sen­sus, and fo­cus on what is in the in­ter­ests of con­tain­ing and re­solv­ing con­flict. Lu­cian J. Hud­son was com­mu­ni­ca­tions chief in five White­hall de­part­ments, in­clud­ing direc­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions at the For­eign Of­fice

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