I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised but I am. I really am.
Liberal Democrats have often seemed lacking in principle, not really knowing whether they are free-market Gladstonians like Jeremy Browne the thoughtful and intelligent MP for Taunton who is standing down at the next election; or smug, incompetent social democratic meddlers like Vince Cable who, sadly, isn’t.
As a result the archetypical LibDem has a backbone of wet cardboard and no discernible principles at all, like Simon Hughes the monumentally pointless Justice Minister.
She is a bit more flexible on windfarms, which she approves of in principle, although preferably not in her constituency.
She bravely stood up for sweeter mincemeat when the Government proposed to cut the minimum sugar content required under the Jam and Similar Products (England) Regulations 2003 from 60% to 50%.
She is also against fracking for natural gas. She thinks that doing so may contaminate water in the Mendips, and in some way – she is no hydrologist – in Bath (where I live), and possibly in Wells too.
So far. So reasonable. I think she is talking utter rubbish, but there is no reason why MPs should not do that, lots of them do it. In any case, it is now less than 100 days until the election, her majority is only 800 and the voters of Wells will soon have a chance to get rid of her.
Back to Munt’s principles. During her time in Parliament she had risen to be Parliamentary Private Secretary to Mr Cable. In his characteristic irritating, dithering way Mr Cable is not quite so much against fracking as she is: naturally his preferred position is sitting on the fence.
The government as a whole, on the other hand, wants to allow some fracking to go ahead.
So, as a woman of principle, Ms Munt felt that she had to resign. Cynics might say that it didn’t take a great deal of principle and even less courage to resign from an unpaid non-job at a time when her election defeat and descent into even greater political obscurity were probably only a few weeks away anyway. On the other hand it’s more of a show of principle than most of the rest of her wretched Party have been able to muster about anything in the last 5 years.
By coincidence her resignation coincided with the opening of the inquiry in London into the 2006 murder of former FSB agent Alexander Litvinenko. His tea was poisoned with polonium, one of the world’s most deadly poisons. His murderers were very probably two Russian agents, Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun.
The polonium (which had a commercial vaue of tens of million of dollars) appears to have come from a Russian nuclear facility. The agents were acting, according to Mrs Litvinenko’s barrister Ben Emmerson QC, on the direct instructions of Vladimir Putin. Indeed, it is hard to imagine how, without Putin’s authority anybody could have obtained and taken such a large quantity of polonium out of Russia.
As well as Mr Litvinenko hmself other innocent people were put at considerable risk; not least the doctors and nurses who tried to save him from his agonising death, and Dr Nathaniel Cary, the pathologist who carried out “possibly the most dangerous autopsy ever in the Western world.”
Since Mr Litvinenko’s probable killers have long since fled the country, and have refused to come back or cooperate with the investigations in any way, they will almost certainly never be tried. It is even less likely that Putin, their Godfather and paymaster will be.
Should any of them ever be convicted of murder by an English court, each would probably receive a sentence of imprisonment for the whole of their lives (the relevant statutory guideline being “murder done for the purpose of advancing a political … cause.”) Mr Putin, Mr Lugovoi and Mr Kovtun would join the select and unsavoury club of prisoners who will never be released and whose members include the Yorkshire Ripper, Rosemary West, Ian Brady and the murderers of Lee Rigby.
Mr Putin’s indictment could also include charges, like the Nazi leaders, of “waging an aggressive war” (by annexing parts of Georgia and Ukraine), and genocide against Chechens. Set against murder, genocide and waging war Putin’s financial crimes could perhaps be, as criminal lawyers say, “left on the file.”
Well that’s all very well, you may say, but what does one of the world’s nastiest criminals and dictators have to do with a Liberal Democrat MP and her principled stand against fracking?
The answer is that Putin, as well as murdering his enemies, annexing his neighbours’ territories and flattening whole cities inhabited by those who resist him; and in addition to being “effectively indistinguishable” from the head of a massive organised crime syndicate, also runs a propaganda TV station: RT TV.
It was to RT television that Ms Munt went after her resignation in order to conduct an interview explaining her opposition to fracking.
“RT” stands for “Russia Today.” The station was re-branded not long ago, so polluted had it become. It is now a slick, modern outfit. Some of its staff used to work for respectable media organisations, some used to work for Iranian Press TV, and at least one of its star presenters, the repulsive George Galloway, appears on both stations regularly. It covers mainstream news and sometimes, though certainly not always, it covers them in a fair and honest way. But its purpose remains exactly as it was before the rebrand: to disseminate Putin’s lies and promote Putin’s interests in the rest of the world.
One thing is entirely clear. RT is run by the Russian government and the Russian government is run by Vladimir Putin. If RT sometimes tells the truth it only does so to add credibility to those occasions when it wants to tell lies.
It is just possible, though unlikely, that Ms Munt is stupid enough not to realise that a British MP appearing on RT is giving it credibility and respectability, exactly the things that Mr Putin most lacks and therefore most craves. Why give it to him? It is quite staggering and, if she is not stupid it is inexplicable.
Let me repeat: Putin is a murderer. RT is his mouthpiece. What on earth is a respectable woman like like Tessa Munt doing giving credibility to a murderer?
It would be shocking enough that a British MP (apart from Galloway) is willing to appear on RT to talk about any subject at all. But, as it happens, it is particularly useful to Putin to have an MP speaking against fracking. RT has covered an enormous number of such stories. I cannot claim to have watched all of them, but you need only look at the headlines of their reports to see that almost all are, in some way, slanted against fracking. Now why would that be, I wonder?
Russia’s economy, Russia’s power and Mr Putin’s personal wealth are all, of course, inextricably tied up with the price of oil and gas. As far as Putin is concerned anything which lowers the price of gas and oil must be opposed. Fracking in America has already contributed to the recent collapse in energy prices and should it become widespread in Europe the damage to Russia’s hydrocarbon economy and to Putin’s personal wealth would be catastrophic.
I have asked Ms Munt repeatedly why she agreed to an interview on RT. She has not responded.
There is no particular reason why she should answer my question, I suppose. I am not one of her constituents, although I don’t live very far away. But with an election looming the voters should demand that she comes up with an answer soon.
Some of them may be feeling rather disgusted that the beautiful city of Wells is now being represented by a woman who is willing to appear on RT, and by doing so to perform a useful service for a murderer. It is hardly the sort of thing anyone would want Wells to be associated with.
There was a time when Liberals had a proud record of standing up to tyranny. The great John Arlott, for example, was twice a Liberal candidate. He had the courage of his convictions, risking his own career to support the mixed race South African cricketer Basil D’Oliveira, and then refusing to commentate on any Test matches involving South Africa. He explained why he was against playing games with Apartheid in a 1968 debate at the Cambridge Union:
“It is political commitment and political belief that can make a man think that his opponent’s views are so obnoxious that he will abstain from playing any game with him as a protest against what the other man believes. Any man’s political commitment, if it is deep enough, is his very personal philosophy and it governs his whole way of life, it governs his belief, and it certainly governs the people with whom he is prepared to mix.”
I am quite sure that Munt cannot possibly support Putin’s murderous kleptocratic tyranny. I am quite sure that she is sincere in her opposition to fracking.
But what a shame that unlike Arlott’s her political principles are flexible enough to allow her not just to mix with, but to be used and manipulated by the world’s most dangerous living dictator and his horrible lickspittle TV station.