Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Article excerpt

Right-minded people are fighting to retain habeas corpus. We would have more popular success, I feel, if the public knew what habeas corpus meant. The trouble is that, even translated into English, it is still obscure.

Habeas corpus means, of course, 'you may have the body'. The IRA seem to have their own interpretation of the phrase. First, their men murder Robert McCartney, splitting his abdomen from his navel to his breastbone, severing his jugular vein and gouging out one of his eyes. Next, they deny involvement. Then, when protests grow too loud, they say that witnesses should come forward, though without talking to the police. Finally, when that won't do, they have a brilliant idea. They go to Mr McCartney's family and suggest shooting the men who killed him, more bodies ('habeas corpora') being, in their minds, a natural solution. They seem perplexed that this idea does not find favour with the McCartneys and the public. As we know from the Irish justice minister, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness are on the IRA's provisional army council. Just before Christmas, the British government tried yet again to get these men to be part of the government of Northern Ireland, inviting their representatives to be on the province's policing board and agreeing to split responsibility for law and order between two ministries, one of which would have been run by Sinn Fein. Even today, our 'joined-up' government still offers this deal with armed, bank-robbing murderers, while saying we must lock up other terrorists without trial. It is beyond morality, reason or parody.

Rather as Sinn Fein always turns aside criticism of IRA murders with talk about removing the 'root causes' of violence, so the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds hates to acknowledge that some birds kill other birds. Raptors don't kill grouse, it claims: the fault is always with pollution, or whatever. Now the RSPB is defending magpies. They do not kill songbirds, apparently, and therefore should not be culled. This is despite the evidence of the Game Conservancy study at Loddington in Leicestershire which compared two neighbouring farms, one which was cleared of crows, magpies and stoats, and one which wasn't. The former showed a huge increase in the population of yellowhammers and songthrushes. As my learned friend Matt Ridley points out, the magpie is a 'subsidised predator'. What he means is that modern conditions, with huge amounts of roadkill, provide magpies with a permanent sushi bar of flesh on which to feed. Augmented by this, they go off and kill more songbirds. The RSPB's refusal to face these facts shows what a strangely political organisation it is.

As the longing for democracy starts to find expression in the Arab world, it is worth remembering why that longing was slow to show itself in Iraq after the invasion. It is not because Iraqi people did not want democracy: it was because they continued to doubt whether the Americans were serious about letting them have it. They were therefore afraid. After all, they had answered past administration calls to rise up against Saddam Hussein only to be abandoned by the Western allies. Without de-Baathification and real elections after his fall, how could they know that they would not be dumped once more as Western leaders simply picked a new strongman with a moustache to replace the old? …

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