After the Sousse attack: Where is the empathy from government?

30 Jun

Thirty Britons have been murdered: holidaymakers slaughtered when they were at their most vulnerable. The British government has swung into action. David Cameron has promised a “full spectrum” response (whatever that means). The RAF has flown some of the injured home. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has provided consular assistance to those affected (although has been much criticised). The police have sent officers to assist in the investigation (although this one seems like an open and shut case).

What is lacking, however, from the government response is any sense of empathy with the victims – a sense of the dreadful human impact of the attack. Heads of state and government leaders are, of course, often removed from the populace and erect and maintain barriers against the public. They depend on a ruling mystique.

Yet, at a time when thirty citizens have been murdered, it seems as though the State (the head of state, the prime minister and government agencies) are out of touch with the hurt that people feel. Yesterday we saw the quite ridiculous spectacle of the British Home Secretary and other interior ministers standing awkwardly on the beach at Sousse and laying flowers in the memory of the dead. They were dressed in business suits in the sweltering sun and, at one point, put their arms around each other in a visibly uncomfortable embrace. It was bizarre.

OK, you may argue that governments have jobs to do and that they should have no time for this soft-centred stuff; they should get on with the job of fighting “terrorism” and leave others to do the touchy-feely stuff. But what is the point of a government without emotional intelligence? If a government cannot feel, grieve, reflect and mourn what is the point of it?

Thus far, the British media have been superb in showing the human face of this disaster. There have been sympathetic interviews with victims, and lots of coverage of that puts a human face on the massacre. From the British government there has been a statement from the Queen of England, statements from a perplexed looking Prime Minister, and unseemly behind the scenes briefings that the police need more powers (have we ever heard the police say they need fewer powers?). Even when government ministers visit hospitals it all looks so stage-managed (because it is).

Yet, some heads of state can roll up their sleeves and look like a man/woman of the people. Obama can do it for instance. It may all be optics and for the cameras, but it matters. The British Establishment lacks the human touch. This might be excusable if it was capable and competent in other respects. But it is not. Its ability to influence events overseas is very limited. So what we are seeing and hearing (the statements and business-suited seriousness) is mainly theatre occurring in the absence of an understanding that the British government is impotent.

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