March 19, 2001

Simon Jenkins: Last of the Little Englanders


One of the reasons I started writing this column more than a year ago was the belief that no one in Britain was making the case for a limited foreign policy, at least on the right. There were some Libertarians, who quite naturally did not focus on the foreign dimension. The most prolific of these is Sean Gabb, who has been featured on a couple of times. There were a number of other authors, including our own Christine Stone, and the excellent John Laughland – although in the latter case his main writing has naturally been on Europe. His Intelligence Digest is always worth reading, especially for its news on Eastern Europe. Mick Hume, formerly of Living Marxism, also writes solidly anti-interventionist fare with a suspiciously right wing flavour, and has now set up in a new web magazine, Spiked Online.


Simon Jenkins is, however, the most influential anti-interventionist journalist. This is somewhat of a surprise, as he is an establishment man to the core. He writes for the Times (who have a dreadful web presence – one of the reasons for writing this article was to provide reference to his work scattered over the web). He is most famous in Britain for his book on Britainís thousand best churches – and his biggest impact on public policy was persuading Tony Blair not to dump the Millennium Dome. His politics range from a staunch local patriotism for London to a bias towards laissez faire economics, and general leaning towards Labour. This former editor of the London Times and chair of the Booker prize judges is not the model heretic.


On foreign policy, Simon Jenkins is an admirable heretic. His consistent opposition to "humanitarian" intervention, from a perspective of national interest, is a breed of commentary that is far too rare in England. Profiles of him mention his opposition to hare-brained military intervention in passing. It seems so out of place, it is not worth mentioning. The statements of principle are there, such as Weep for poor Orisa or The new order that splits the world. Both of these explain the British case against intervention far better than I could, and deserve to be read.


Simon Jenkins is also very much in favour of George Bush. This is mainly on the (over-optimistic) view that George Bush is a closet isolationist, who will not get into silly wars. It is also based upon distaste for Clinton, both in his policies (especially on the drug war) and for the man himself. Perhaps he is wrong on Bushís distaste for foreign wars, but he is certainly right on what would have been a worse outcome.

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Emmanuel Goldstein is the pseudonym of a political drifter on the fringes of English classical liberal and Euro-sceptic activity. He is a former member of the Labour Party, who knows Blair and some of his closest buddies better than they realise, yet. He has a challenging job in the real world, working for a profit-making private company and not sponging off the taxpayer in politics, journalism or the civil service. "Airstrip One," appears Mondays at


The main thrust recently has been the Western adventure in Kosovo. Before the conflict started, he had an eye on the province, warning of the folly of intervening there. During the war, he railed against it, saying that it was barbaric, condemning it as a "crime against civilisation" and lampooning the liberal fascination with the Balkans. When the air war did not work, he grimly predicted ground troops; something only saved from us by Milosovicís premature surrender. Even after the war, he was still pointing out the bad consequences, from the stranglehold of the KLA in Kosovo or the hypocrisy of the West. He also demolished the idea that it was the West, rather than Serbs, who toppled Milosovic.


Western intervention does not these days seem to be limited by plausible motives, like security or even greed and idealism. It simply means that the West should be intervening anywhere, which means that any critic of intervention should keep his eyes everywhere. Iraq, with its continual war, forgotten casualties and perverse policy, is obvious. However, East Timor? Who would have thought it? Zimbabwe? Laos? How do we think we are going to maintain this? One of Simon Jenkinsí virtues is that he asks this seemingly obvious question.


This is especially apt with our rather hypocritical attitude towards the arms trade, for example. We have to topple dictators, but in the meantime, we will give them export credits, another puncture of official conceit by Simon Jenkins. Do-gooders and liberals are to blame for our malaise, with their unrealistic view of human nature and faith in the power of western force. It is a sad commentary on the state of Conservative opinion in Britain that Simon Jenkins is virtually unique in putting forward a consistent anti-interventionist view in the media. Thank God someone is.

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