Sunday 6 November 2011

Endangered Species: Pembrokeshire's Tory MPs - 2. Stephen Crabb

On the face of it, you would think that the two sitting Pembrokeshire MPs could not be more different. Simon Hart is the archetypal English squire: hunting, shooting, fishing, likes dressing up in military uniforms, minor public school, Cirencester and links to the murky world of arms dealers, lobbyists, South African mercenaries and Arab businessmen.

Stephen Crabb, on the other hand, is a working class lad who was born in Scotland but grew up on a council estate in Pembrokeshire and went to a state school in Haverfordwest. But as we shall see, there is more than just membership of the Conservative Party that brings them together.

Mr Crabb was elected to parliament in 2005 and so has a head start on new boy, Simon Hart. Hart is quite active in debates and asking questions, even though he has a bit of a fixation with squirrels. Crabb, on the other hand, has become a shrinking violet, having asked no written questions in the last year and taken part in just one debate.

This was not the case before the last general election, however, when Mr Crabb was very busy asking questions of the last Labour government. The questions take us on an exotic journey around what were for the most part forlorn backwaters of the British Empire of old: Burma, Palestine, Orissa state in India, Kenya, Aden. A strong theme is human rights, particularly in respect of religious freedom and the persecution of Christian minorities. He is frequently worried about Israeli security, and clearly does not like Hamas in the Gaza Strip or Hezbollah in the south of Lebanon.

To be fair, there are also questions of more direct relevance to his constituents, including questions on Trust Ports, Liquefied Natural Gas and Defence Rescue Services. In 2008 he was on a mission to question the provision of Welsh language services by every government department you can think of, including the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. The sub-text was that, in his view, money was being wasted when there was no evidence of demand.

Strangely, this activity comes to almost a complete halt after the election which resulted in David Cameron becoming Prime Minister. In fact it appears that he has spoken just twice in 2011, uttering a staggering 24 words; once to ask for more time to allow members to arrive at a committee meeting, and the other to comment that someone or other "knows his stuff".

The interest in the fate of Christians in far-flung places, and Mr Crabb's unswerving support for Israel may well be explained by his membership of CARE (Christian Action Research and Education) described by the pinko-lefty Daily Telegraph as having "borrowed the tactics of America's religious Right in its attempts to affect policy. Care describes itself as a 'mainstream Christian charity bringing Christian insight and experience to matters of public policy'. A closer look at its website appears to contradict the claim to be 'mainstream'. The organisation's published doctrinal basis is distinctly fundamentalist and among other things talks of 'the divine inspiration of Holy Scripture and its consequent entire trustworthiness and supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct'. In other words, the Bible is the literal truth."

Before becoming an MP, Mr Crabb was a CARE intern working for another Tory MP in parliament. CARE is keen to extend its influence in parliament and hopes to create a generation of fundamentalist Christian politicians. To do this, it sponsors interns in the hope that they will become MPs, who then take on CARE interns.... Which is just what Mr Crabb has done.

As you might expect, Mr Crabb has strong views on issues such as gay rights and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. Unsurprisingly, Mr Crabb's website is silent on his links with CARE, but it does tell us that he is leader of "Project Umubano, the Conservative Party’s social action project in Rwanda and Sierra Leone. Each July he leads large teams of Conservative volunteers to work in the fields of Education, Business, Health, Justice and Community alongside local partners in these two countries."

Project Umubano has received a good press and the support of David Cameron as one of the strands in his "Big Society". Both Sierra Leone and Rwanda have of course been through appalling suffering, and as a result Rwanda is turning away from its francophone and Catholic heritage. The country has become a member of the Commonwealth, and is proving to be fertile ground for fundamentalist evangelicals.

All of this charitable work and prayer did not prevent Mr Crabb from becoming mired in the MPs' expenses scandal, when it emerged that he had indulged in a spot of "flipping" which eventually led to a bedroom in a shared flat being designated as his main home.

A glance at the Register of Interests shows trips to various exotic destinations being paid for by a whole host of organisations, including Christian Aid, Oxfam Novib, International Alert, ActionAid and Christian Solidarity Worldwide (president Jonathan Aitken, former jailbird and disgraced ex-Tory minister) . In 2005 on another visit to India, we read that flights were paid for by Dr Liam Fox's office with a donation from a man described as a Middlesex businessman called Stanley Fink*. Dr Fox's office operated like a right-wing travel agency, it would seem.

In common with his neighbour, Simon Hart, Stephen Crabb does not have a lot of time for the Welsh language. His website makes no reference to it, and he supported the government's plans to undermine S4C. Nevertheless, the constituency includes one of the cradles of Welsh culture in the northern part of the county, with its distinctive dialect, its role in the Mabinogion and its association with Waldo Williams, possibly the most popular of all Welsh poets, and a pacifist who went to jail for his beliefs. The Preselau were also the scene of a famous battle between chapel ministers and their congregations on the one side, and the Ministry of Defence on the other which wanted to turn the mountains into a giant military playground after the Second World War.

At a meeting of Cymdeithas yr Iaith (the Welsh Language Society) in Mr Crabb's constituency at Crymych last year, residents were less than admiring of the county's two Tory MPs, who it seems are known affectionately as "Crap and Fart".

Mr Crabb comes across like some latterday Mrs Jellyby, fretting about the far-flung Christians of Orissa and Burma, and championing Israeli security. In the recent scandal involving Dr Liam Fox, we learned of an agenda to strengthen ties with the American Right and Israel, with a motley mix of arms dealers, Tea Party lunatics and Christian fundamentalists trying to shape government policy here. And it is in part this mix of friends and associates that links our Mrs Jellyby with the neighbouring fox hunting squire in Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, another character straight out of the pages of Victorian literature.

* Stanley Fink would appear to be the same Stanley Fink who is co-treasurer of the Conservative Party, a hedge fund manager and pal of Lord Levy. Lord Levy, it will be remembered, is Tony Blair's friend who was interviewed by the police as part of the Cash for Honours scandal. What a small world.


consterdine said...

The extent to which Mr Crabb 'benefits' from state handouts, or rather 'expenses', shows a more questionable relationship to ethics and morality than his expressed 'christian' values might suggest. This aspect of his professional life also sits uneasily with his condemnation of, and desire to limit the support for, benefits claimants.

God forbid that a duplicitous careerist of dubious character might have achieved high office! Whatever next?

Iestyn said...

"shows a more questionable relationship to ethics and morality than his expressed 'christian' values might suggest"

No not at all. Christian fundamentalists, just like Islamic fundamentalists, are only "fundamental" about the the parts of the religion that they consider important. So for the "christians", the old testament - God hate's Gays / woman should be dutiful / an eye for an eye - is far more important than such minor, more hazy concepts such as "treat others as you would want to be treated yousrelf" and "love your neighbour".

Once you appreciate that, then merely being dishonest, in order to further the good of "The Cause" is totally acceptable. Just like "jihad", if the sin is in the service of God, then it's not a sin. I'm sure they could find scrpture references to prove it as well...