PETER HITCHENS: If David Cameron’s job is to keep us safe, why is he so intent on rattling his sabre again?

Why does Lord Slippery of Tripoli like conflict so much? There are many tasks for our Foreign Secretary, whose chief job is surely to keep us safe in this dangerous world. But the former David Cameron seems to be oddly interested in making the world more tense.

Has he learned nothing from his disastrous intervention in Libya while he was Prime Minister? His idol and model, Sir Anthony Blair, is widely despised for his Iraq folly. But somehow, Lord Slippery gets away with what he did in Libya.

I can’t see why. Ever since he decided to overthrow that country’s despot, Muammar Gaddafi, two things have happened. One is that the Mediterranean has become a vast, open highway by which migrants make their way to Western Europe in uncountable numbers, causing a social and political crisis from Naples to Hamburg, which nobody can solve.

For Gaddafi, whatever his other many faults, had prevented this from happening. This was well-known. He boasted of it. Anyone could have guessed that toppling him would cause this problem. Anyone except a certain British politician.

The other is that Libya itself is trapped in what looks like endless civil war. For ordinary Libyans, life is worse than it was before. The old rule that even tyranny is better than anarchy is once again proved to be true.

David Cameron receives his honour from Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah in Jeddah in 2012

Yet the person responsible (who, it has to be said, lacks any great record of achievement in any area of life, apart from the feathering of his own nest) is now Foreign Secretary. And what does he do? Is he chastened by his past blunders? No, he has got out his sabre and is rattling it. While the rest of the country settled down to turkey and plum duff, he gave an interview in which he growled that Iran must be sent ‘an incredibly clear message’ that its current behaviour ‘will not be tolerated’. He proclaimed that Britain would work with allies to ‘develop a really strong set of deterrent measures’ against Tehran.

Well, look, I am no apologist for the Iranian Mullahs. They threw a friend of mine, Jason Rezaian, into jail on wholly false charges of spying, in what was basically a kidnap. Thank God, he is now home, but the experience was horrible, and we can only imagine what things must be like for those the regime does not release.

But Britain has no real business preaching to Iran. Plenty of Iranians are in fact pro-Western and opposed to their own regime. But Britain’s major part in overthrowing their last truly legitimate government, in a shameful putsch in 1953, is remembered there as if it was yesterday.

Iranians wonder if Britain’s militancy towards them has something to do with our creepy, subservient relationship with another grim Middle Eastern despotism, that of Saudi Arabia. And before he was elevated to the House of Mones, sorry, House of Lords, David Cameron’s one major honour was his membership of the Order of Abdulaziz al Saud, awarded in 2012 for ‘meritorious service to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’.

That Kingdom (already famous for its crowded jails, public executions and total lack of political freedom) has since distinguished itself by conducting a vicious war outside its borders in Yemen, and by strangling and dismembering a leading dissident, Jamal Khashoggi, after luring him into its Istanbul consulate.

Is Saudi Arabia aggressive? Many in Yemen would say so. I also find it hard to believe it was not involved in the recent disastrous destabilisation of Syria, in which so many formerly happy and prosperous people were turned into corpses or refugees, over several terrible years.

David Cameron seems to be oddly interested in making the world more tense

David Cameron seems to be oddly interested in making the world more tense

Actually, I understand that this country has to hold its nose in dealing with many foreign regimes. It has always been so, and always will be. But holding your nose is one thing. Active public grovelling and toadying is another.

I’d add that, as our armed forces are terribly weakened by decades of bipartisan neglect, we really are in no position to posture as a major power. It is all a bit like a weekly freesheet in Wiltshire publishing blistering editorials condemning Vladimir Putin.

Couldn’t someone explain to the man formerly known as David Cameron that he is not a modern Lord Palmerston or Winston Churchill and that the vast high-ceilinged room in which he sits is a relic of a lost age?

Sometimes I think the Foreign Office building should be turned into a museum of British power, and its Ministers and officials relocated to a trading estate in Slough.

The real smoking gun…

The BBC made a reasonable stab over Christmas at televising Arthur Conan Doyle’s thrilling story Lot No 249 – one of his marvellous Tales Of Twilight And The Unseen which enthralled me as a boy.

Set in Victorian Oxford, it concerns a wicked student who brings an Egyptian Mummy back to life and uses it for evil aims. This may strike you as unlikely. But not as unlikely as the way in which the hero forces the villain to destroy his grisly relic. He goes to Clifford’s the gunmakers in Oxford High Street, and there buys ‘a heavy revolver’ plus ammunition.

You see, before 1920, Britain’s gun laws were so relaxed they made Texas look effeminate. You could buy a pistol and bullets at the ironmonger’s. But this country, in that period, was not a hellhole of mass shootings and armed bank raids.

Is it possible that the USA’s problems with gun crime, or indeed the hideous massacre which took place in Prague the other day, are not caused by the ready availability of guns, but by the ready availability of something else?

Hero: Kit Harington as Abercrombie Smith in the BBC’s Lot No249

Hero: Kit Harington as Abercrombie Smith in the BBC’s Lot No249

This weighty issue needs a fresh vote 

Since the shameful 2001 prosecution of the Sunderland greengrocer Steve Thoburn for selling bananas by the pound, thousands of equally honest traders have been afraid of selling in traditional English measures.

Steve (I attended his ridiculous trial) died nearly 20 years ago. He should long since have been pardoned. He committed no crime. A proper conservative Government would have agreed with George Orwell who warned in 1947 that this country’s familiar pounds, ounces, feet and yards should never be banned.

The Department for Business and Trade (DBT) held a ‘consultation’ on this issue in June 2022. This closed in August of that year. If I had known about it, I should have publicised it, and urged my readers to take part.

I would have expected to hear about it from my friends at the British Weights and Measures Association (BWMA), a fine body which campaigns vigorously on this cause, and whose existence is certainly known to the DBT. But the BWMA told me yesterday that they had not been informed of the consultation. If I and they had known of it, I suspect that it would have had rather more than the 100,000-odd responses it received. North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un would probably have been embarrassed by its absurdly one-sided outcome which showed 98.7 per cent of respondents were in favour of using metric units. 98.7 per cent! How did they do that?

I suggest to Rishi Sunak he orders the DBT to rerun this private referendum – but in public. Then we might keep our pounds and yards.