The Back Page

WHAT THEY CALL ‘PLUCK’

Londoners, and Tony Blair, showed us how to respond to terrorists

PAUL WELLS July 18 2005
The Back Page

WHAT THEY CALL ‘PLUCK’

Londoners, and Tony Blair, showed us how to respond to terrorists

PAUL WELLS July 18 2005

WHAT THEY CALL ‘PLUCK’

The Back Page

Londoners, and Tony Blair, showed us how to respond to terrorists

PAUL WELLS

“I TELL YOU WHAT,” a London blogger who calls himself “Nosemonkey” wrote five hours after last Thursday’s mass murders. “If this is an ‘Islamic’ terrorist attack, they’re doing a piss-poor job. The pubs are all packed out, people sipping their pints happily, all a tad pissed off, but basically fine with it.

“Nice one, Al-Qaeda—you profess to be from a teetotal religion, and you’ve given the pub trade a massive mid-week boost.”

This must be what they call “pluck.” There was a lot of it on display last week. The

murderers of 7/7 caught Britain in the middle of a winning streak.

But they failed utterly to cut it short. All the killers did was force the British people to show us the stuff that so often makes them winners.

One of the first surprises from the television footage was how few of the survivors were crying.

One man stood in front of the cameras—blood clotted on his forehead, tie hanging open and useless around his neck—and described the morning’s events in the clipped and clinical tones he might have used to describe a business lunch.

Soon a communiqué appeared on an Islamist website celebrating the “blessed attack in London.” Its authors added: “Here is Britain burning now out of fear and horror in its north, south, east and west.” I guess Nosemonkey didn’t get that memo. Bomb London? Don’t these people know that’s been tried?

In another of the day’s neat little surprises, further tributes to the British spirit and to Tony Blair’s leadership were already waiting on Europe’s newsstands when the first bomb exploded at Aldgate. On Wednesday, the International Olympic Committee voted to give London the 2012 Olympic games over Paris, New York and Madrid. Parisians, more than anyone, were crushed by the rejection. Yet the reaction in the French newspapers could hardly be more gracious.

“Next to our isolation, London presented itself boldly as the city of openness,” Le Monde’s, editorialist wrote. “A multicultural

jumble of races and nationalities. A dynamic capital carried by the dynamism and youth of its prime minister, Tony Blair, whose template for society is showing itself to be more seductive than the broken-down French social model.”

Libération’s editorialist said Blair is “leading the dance in Europe, setting the tone for Africa—and governing a kingdom where cosmopolitanism is a positive value while, on the other side of the Channel, we fear the ‘Polish plumber.’”

And in Le Figaro, Yves Thréard wrote: “There will be no Paris-London showdown because the English domination is so overwhelming. Tony Blair is flying from victory to victory. Economic—his country feels the pangs of unemployment less than others. Diplomatic—he is in a perfect position to preside over the destiny of Europe. And now, Olympic. Even as far as Africa, historically a land of benevolence toward France,

it is his voice that draws more listeners. And for good reason: he joins acts to words and proposes that the poorest countries’ debts be cancelled.”

A few things are worth saying here. First, there is neither shame nor honour in being targeted by fascist murderers. Madrid and Bali and New York and, not so long ago, Paris have been targets too. The only place to find honour is in the response.

Second, to the extent it’s a simple matter of public-opinion support, Blair decisively lost the argument over the Iraq war, both at home and among his neighbours. But he never let that change his mind. And he has steadily won back friends, even among some who still disagree with him on Iraq. I was travelling around northern and eastern Europe when he launched his campaign for radical reform of the European budget. Nobody I spoke to owed Blair a thing, but the simple merits of his argument persuaded almost all of them.

I should pause to protest, a bit meekly, that I’m not one of these tweedy anglophiles who adore whatever’s British simply because it’s British. But anyone should be able to celebrate the reappearance of uncommonly sturdy fibre in a nation’s character and a good leader’s knack for bringing out the best in his people. Tony Blair shows some of the stubbornness that so enraged Napoleon at Waterloo: “This man Wellington is so stupid he does not know when he is beaten and goes on fighting.” On Thursday, Blair’s countrymen rose with him to the fight.

“Today ‘hope’ is a verb one conjugates in English,” Yves Thréard wrote in that extraordinary Le Figaro editorial. When London took the Olympics, “it was a certain state of mind that won.” The only victory Thréard had in mind was the right to host some games. The darkest test still lay ahead. Even greater trials may yet await. But a certain state of mind will prevail. ffl

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