Leaders: Recognising the rules of engagement | Bank withdrawal

THE reaction to Prince Harry’s comments about opening fire on Taleban insurgents in Afghanistan is revealing about how we insulate ourselves from what the men and women who are fighting abroad in our armed forces do.

The prince was yesterday criticised for being “arrogant and insensitive” in speaking about the actions he carried out in the course of his duties flying an attack helicopter in Helmand province in this, his second stint in a war zone.

But the language used by the prince was simply the way that soldiers speak. He was using the language that people doing his job use as a matter of routine in a theatre of war.

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His description of “take a life to save a life” makes perfect to sense to a member of the British forces coming up against insurgents who are trying to kill his or her colleagues. It may have a cold and brutal clarity to it, but this is surely preferable to the kind of euphemism sometimes deployed in describing those who are killed in combat. For Lindsey German, convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, to take the argument into a debate about Prince Harry’s “crassness”, and to point out that the prince “returns to a life of idleness and luxury,” is an unnecessary and less than edifying digression into another kind of warfare – class warfare.

No member of the royal family can win arguments such as this. If the prince had been kept from a frontline role and protected from the possibility of ever having to pull a trigger when faced with an enemy, his critics would no doubt have condemned the military top brass for cotton-wooling him while other soldiers faced danger.

There is a reason why soldiers can often come across as arrogant and aggressive – and that is because arrogance and aggression are qualities that tend to be an advantage in a theatre of war, where firm and decisive action can be the difference between life and death for many. That reticence and sensitivity are less valued should not come as a surprise. Should we really demand that Harry moderate his language to a more socially acceptable or politically correct form of terminology? And let’s not forget he was speaking in a war zone.

Prince Harry’s bluntness about the job he does is perhaps a useful reminder to all of us what is being done in our name. He and his colleagues were in Afghanistan because our government sent them there. Better, perhaps, that we are under no illusions about what is being done on our behalf, on the ground or in the air.

If we do not have the stomach for the job he was sent there to do – or, more pertinently, for similar jobs in similar places in the future – then we are perfectly within our rights to tell our political masters that at the ballot box. That is democracy. If Harry’s bluntness has helped us appreciate that more fully, then so be it, it will have served a purpose.

Bank withdrawal

The massive injection of public money that nationalised or part-nationalised two of the biggest names in British banking in 2008 was an extraordinary event in both the political and economic history of this country.

Almost five years on, the situation is no less remarkable. To have such major beasts in the financial sector to some degree under the ownership of the tax-payer is still a curiosity – as well as a reminder of how perilously close the banking system came to a calamitous collapse.

But to some extent these nationalised banks are now part of the financial landscape. We have become familiar with their curious status, and have simply accepted it as a fact of life in these extraordinary times. Normal financial life carries on around them, with little being different from before – albeit to the frustration of those who would have bankers lend more willingly to British firms in desperate need for new investment .

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So to hear, as we did yesterday, Bank of England governor Sir Mervyn King say that these banks could soon return to the private sector was something of a shock.

There has been little discussion about a timetable for the divestment of the public stakeholding in our major banks. Instead there seemed to be an acceptance that stability was the key, and the public’s investment should remain in place as long as that stability was at risk without it.

Will the moment soon arrive when both stability and liquidity can be provided without a crutch in the form of state investment? Sir Mervyn would seem to think so. So what is the view of ministers? There are certainly other good uses to which the money could be put.