Today, however, the email showed not some latest piece of posturing on the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital, or on Shropshire's proposed unitary council, but instead a contribution to a debate on Saudi Arabia. With some resignation I clicked on the link to see what he'd said. I was expecting some pretty odious double standards from a Tory on the need to ignore what he continually euphemistically refers to as "unfortunate incidents" and "regrettable matters" in the interest of playing a part in the "business culture" of Saudi Arabia. I did not quite expect to see a virtually identical view from the Labour contributors at the debate (indeed, that "business culture" quote is actually from a Labour MP).
Halfway through the debate, we hear the first contribution from a Liberal Democrat, Mark Hunter. Curiously enough (despite at this point having heard from Jim Sheridan (L), Mark Pritchard (C), Jim Devine (L) and Daniel Kawczynski (C)), this coincides almost exactly with the first mention by anybody of the words "human rights". Indeed, later on, David Lidington is so loathe to use the words that he instead uses the tortuous phrase "developments of the sort to which he referred"!
It is worth pointing out at this point that Saudi Arabia is not just average in terms of human rights abuse in a region which doesn't exactly cover itself in glory on that front, it is one of the very worst offenders on such points as treatment of women. And yet all we hear from Kawczynski in response to these concerns are feeble debating points such as:
The hon. Gentleman mentions capital punishment in Saudi Arabia. We have many more debates on the United States in this Chamber than on Saudi Arabia, yet I have never known any hon. Member to criticise the Americans for having capital punishment. For some reason, however, when middle eastern countries are mentioned, capital punishment is always referred to. It is disingenuous of us to treat Saudi Arabia differently from the United States.or the pathetically partisan:
I suspected that the Liberal Democrats would try to rake up the problems of BAE Systems again and I regret that the hon. Gentleman has done so. When we consider all the problems that our constituents are facing in this country—for example, with housing, floods and other issues—for the Liberal Democrats to use one of their Opposition days to debate a probe into BAE Systems was shocking, appalling and a gross abuse of the priorities of the House. I hope that he will move on and concentrate on the positive side of our relations and the vital importance of trade, rather than raking up such regrettable matters.(Of course, the most recent Lib Dem sponsored debate took place on 16th July, and took place between 4.18pm and 7.01pm, followed by about half an hour of divisions as MPs lined up to tell the Lib Dems to sit down and shut up on this issue. So in total, we ensured that about 3 hours of the house's time was dedicated to the issue. On the same day, we also moved a debate on taxation of the wealthy. The most recent Tory Opposition Day, by contrast, featured debates on the penal system and global poverty, so no sign of simply banging the party drums there, then!)
I thought it was supposed to be conservatives who bemoaned "moral relativism"? And yet, according the the New Tory Labour cosy consensus we see here, apparently such an approach is more than justified by the opportunity to take part in the "business culture" of one of the world's leading human rights abusers.