The Politics of the Unpopular

It's unlikely that Paul Marsden will ever amount to more than a hill of beans, but here in Britain, he's just taught us all a big lesson.

He's one of our least known legislators, and he's amongst a minority, maybe as few as a dozen out of six hundred and fifty nine, who want a halt to the bombing of Afghanistan. Principled people who believe that the full implications of what the coalition is doing have not been thought through. But Tony Blair's government cannot bear any kind of criticism, particularly if it comes from within. So last week, Paul Marsden was called to his boss's office and subjected to a forty-five minute tirade of abuse that would have had you or me reaching for the baseball bat. She told him in effect that he should keep his mouth shut. She also said that it was people like him who appeased Hitler before World War Two. And that while abortion is a matter of conscience, war is not. And he was told, it is Government policy that we are at war -- you are either with us or against us.

Paul Marsden did not lose his cool, neither did he back down from his principles. Later today, our Parliament will debate the case of the government spin doctor who said that September the eleventh was a good day to bury bad news. She's still in her job. Paul Marsden and his small band of supporters will probably vote to censure her, and will probably suffer another humiliating series of rebukes. We are told that this is a war to save the values of democracy. Of the millions of people in America and Britain, the vast majority do not agree with what Paul Marsden believes.

But democracy is about defending to the death his right to say it. And that is what American and British men and women are being asked to do in Afghanistan right now. If on the other hand, this is really a war being waged so that those in power can run their countries unimpeded by criticism, then heaven help us.