It’s a measure of the challenges facing the Government that it’s quite difficult to produce a very long list of recent out-and-out successes, particularly if you limit the cut to decisions which were both right and well-communicated. Indeed, so troubled are the times that the leading example in recent months involved the response to a hostile foreign power releasing a nerve agent on British territory.
On reflection, the handling of the Salisbury outrage has been really quite effective, despite the horrendous and extremely sensitive circumstances. This week’s release of a remarkable level of detail about the Russian would-be assassins is a credit to the police and the security services, and another step in countering attempts to obscure the truth of what happened.
The political response – from the co-ordinated international action against the Kremlin’s spies in numerous countries, to the clear and repeated explanations of basic facts in the face of the peculiar unwillingness of the Opposition to confront the nature of Putin’s regime – has also been notably effective. There have been mis-steps (“Russia should go away and shut up” being a cringeworthy example) but generally the ministerial handling of the issue has been appropriately factual and robust.
While it is sometimes assumed that security is an easy topic for a Government run by a former Home Secretary, that isn’t always a given. Sometimes the caution and jargon beloved of the Home Office creep into the Government’s language. This irritates the public, who not unreasonably wonder why clear words like “terrorist attack” are replaced with mealy-mouthed terms like “security incident”, even when the reality of a situation is clear.
The response to Salisbury is therefore a welcome improvement. As Bob Seely argued on this site yesterday, defending the UK against Russian aggression is not just a physical, digital and military task, it is also a political and presentational battle. Having allowed the propaganda of our country’s enemies to take hold, apparently even among some in Parliament, it is positive that the British state appears to be upping its game in making the facts of what happened in March indisputably clear.