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Seek renewal for the long haul, not a quick fix

22 August 2014

DAVID CAMERON was right to resist vehement cries from the press and elsewhere to recall Parliament in the wake of an apparently worsening crisis in northern Iraq. In the event, he returned from holiday a mere day early, and is now away again.

Last year, you will remember, Parliament was recalled early to debate the crisis in Syria. There was talk then of military intervention, but Parliament decided against it, for better or worse. If Mr Cameron had recalled Parliament this time, it would surely have set a pattern for the future. We would come to expect the August news lull routinely to be broken by the threat of impending catastrophe.

Part of the reason for this almost ritual break-up of the holiday season is the pressure created by our 24-hour news cycle. News needs a constant sense of crisis; there are only so many good news stories that we can tolerate, and, when terrible things are going on all over the world, we have come to expect our politicians to be available to take action.

Never mind that they need, as we all do, a genuine break from the fevered atmosphere in which they live and work. It is part of the way in which the media encourage us to control and even punish our leaders by insisting that they are always available, always doing something. Barack Obama, we are told, spends too much time on the golf course. Mr Cameron is too good at "chillaxing".

But it is ludicrous to expect our elected politicians to be able to solve the world's crises whenever there is a new atrocity or an intensification of an existing conflict. We are living in illusion if we really think that they have that sort of power.

We have to accept the fact that the world is a dangerous place, and that there are many conflicts going on that have the potential to affect our security and long-term interests: Gaza, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Ukraine. Egypt has quietened down for the moment, while Turkey moves in an ever more Islamist direction.

What is needed at such a time is not high-flown rhetoric, or promises of intervention which may have dire unforeseen consequences, even if we are able to deliver it. We need better intelligence, and sober judgement about what Britain's place really is in this dangerous new world that we find ourselves in. There are no quick fixes, and August is a time to recognise that fact, and seek renewal for the long haul.

The Revd Angela Tilby is Diocesan Canon of Christ Church, Oxford, and Continuing Ministerial Development Adviser for the diocese of Oxford.

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