Thursday, 24 February 2011
To Be Born An Englishman...
The Government has come under fire today for reacting slowly to withdraw British citizens from Libya as the country continues in a state of revolt, like many other countries around the seemingly infectious tropic of cancer. However, I'm not entirely convinced we're seeing this all from the right point of view.
Let us start with the question, 'why are British people in Libya?' Probably a variety of reasons, but three main ones for which I would love you to picture a Venn diagram (almost anything can be solved with reference to a Venn diagram): The Government has a few employees over there - embassy staff / spies etc at the British Embassy in Tripoli. There are probably a few people holidaying, no doubt students of classical antiquity interested in the Byzantine heartland or Saharan explorers. Then there are people who work out there - contractors. There are a few other no doubt outside my little Venn diagram of British people in Libya, but those three circles probably encompass the vast majority.
There is no doubt the British Government is responsible for its own employees when it comes to needing to extract them from hotspots around the world to which it has sent them. So, here we see the need for the Government to have a plan for the exit of one of the Venn diagram circles - those it employs to be in the country in question. However, I consider the fact that they are also British nationals a nicety. The reason it is beholden to the Government to ensure the safekeeping, and if necessary extraction, of said people is because it employs them and put them there. It is not because they are British. For my money, a Dane who works in the British Embassy had equal right to a flight home as the Brit he (or she) works alongside.
Now onto the other two circles in my Venn diagram. Let us deal with the tourists first - if you plan to go to a country which is unstable and with whose leadership our Government has at best a shaky relationship, I think it would be an idea to take out some bloody good insurance. The reason why? You are choosing to put yourself at risk, therefore you need to be responsible for your own actions. Very much like if you go skiing, you need to insure yourself. I like skiing. You may like Libya. But either way, we both need to take responsibility for the fact that all may not go well on our respective holidays. I buy my insurance. Is holding your British passport all you have to do?
We'll move onto the final group, where I believe it is even more cut and dried. Contractors often have to work in dodgy places. Oil and other mineral deposits are not too abundant in Dorset, so companies end up sending a lot of employees overseas, and not always to places as salubrious as the Loire valley. Now why would an oil contractor choose to go to Baghdad when he could work in Houston, Texas? Simple. Money. If you get sent to not particularly nice places you get danger money. This is there to compensate you for the danger of being abroad. You might also want to check their extraction policies when you sign up for an overseas tour. You may hear echoes here of a previous post on working in odd places (here). The point is, if your oil company send you to the middle of a dodgy country, it is up to them to make sure you can get back safely if it all goes pear shaped.
Under this last category, you may have noticed that BP and other oil companies have flown out 80 or so people so far. Good. What about the rest of them? The crux of the matter is in a combination of the 'why are you out there' question, and the 'what has happened' question. On the latter question, don't think that I disagree with rescuing British nationals caught up in natural disasters or random terrorist acts around the globe; I do not. However, it is all very blame culture to think that if you willingly accept a big pay cheque to go to a dodgy country, or choose to holiday in a hot-spot, that it is not your responsibility to have an escape route planned. This is my issue with all the negative publicity the Government is receiving.
I'm sure they could have been quicker to act over evacuating those for whom they are responsible, but ultimately, the people whining that they are stuck at drilling stations in the middle of Libya should have thought a little about the ramifications of their actions. Likewise those who chose to holiday there. Whilst Cecil Rhodes may still be right that "to have been born an Englishman is to have won the lottery of life", just holding the passport does not absolve you of personal responsibility. When the cavalry arrives to bail you out, thank heaven you pay your taxes, but don't count on it, especially in these military shrinking times. The free trips home from Tripoli were not free to you and me, John and Jane Q. Taxpayer. So, for the most of the Venn diagram lay off the Government, and have a look at individual responsibility. This is part of what the Big Society is about; taking responsibility for your actions and things around you, not just expecting someone else to pick up your pieces. Just a thought...