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Falklands War

Baroness Thatcher
from the Margaret Thatcher Foundation

Baroness Margaret Thatcher has died. Her spokesman, Lord Bell, made the announcement, saying “It is with great sadness that Mark and Carol Thatcher announced that their mother Baroness Thatcher died peacefully following a stroke this morning.”


Love her or loathe her, Margaret Thatcher could not be ignored. Her death at the age of 87 was not entirely unexpected. Some will mourn her passing; many, in Scotland at least, will not. As the Conservative prime minister from 1979 to 1990, her name here will always be associated with the much hated “Poll Tax”, with her “Sermon on the Mound” and her claim there was “no such thing as society”. She’ll be remembered as well for the Falklands War, the miners’ strike and the closure of many traditional Scottish industries. Some parts of the country have not yet recovered. And yet, one could equally argue that modern Scotland could not have existed without those changes. Like her or not, she was one of the most influential figures of the 20th century.

Her legacy had a profound effect not just on her own party but on others as well. Some claim that Tony Blair modelled his leader style upon hers (is he any more loved or respected?). What she brought to No.10 was a radical and indeed often confrontational approach to policy. She oversaw major changes in the way the UK was managed. She wanted a home-owning, share-owning democracy; that lead to thousands of ordinary people buying their council houses and shares in newly privatised companies such as British Gas and BT. But after the post-war decades when consensus politics were the order of the day, she turned her back on that shared vision. Her methods led to unrest on the streets and eventually rebellion inside her own party.

Margaret Thatcher served three terms as prime minister. When first elected, she made it quickly clear that she saw it as her main task to repair the country’s finances. She took over after years of crises — the 3-day week, the “Winter of Discontent”, the need for help from the IMF to prevent the economy collapsing. For the new Prime Minister, reform meant cutting back the state and boosting the free market. With her then Secretary of State for Industry, Keith Joseph, she introduced monetary policies that turned the City of London into one of the most vibrant and successful financial centres in the world at that time. But the downside was the Government’s assault on old-style manufacturing, rapidly running it down in the effort to create a newly competitive country. The result: unemployment rose above three million.

This led to considerable disquiet among parts of the Conservative party. Those so-called “wets” used the riots in some inner city areas to try and pressure Margaret Thatcher to modify her policies. But in her now famous phrase from the 1980 party conference: “To those waiting with bated breath for that favourite media catch phrase, the U-turn, I have only one thing to say. You turn if you want to… the lady’s not for turning.”

For a time, her rating in the opinion polls fell to just 25%, the lowest recorded for any prime minister until that time. But as the economy began to recover, her own popularity at least in the English shires began to recover as well. And it received yet another boost when she decided to respond with military action to take back the Falkland Islands after the Argentine invasion. This decisive action was popular — but the sinking of the Argentine Warship General Belgrano with the loss of 323 lives left a bad feeling in many people’s minds, not least the Labour MP for West Lothian, Tam Dalyell, who repeatedly asked awkward questions about the attack for years after.

Her second term, in which she led the Tories to victory over Labour led by Michael Foot, was dominated by the miners’ strike. In the spring of 1984, the National Union of Mineworkers walked out, despite its failure to ballot its members. The Conservative Government still had raw memories of a previous strike in 1973 when the miners faced down the administration of Edward Heath. This time, there were substantial stocks of coal in place at power stations which meant there would be no repeat of the cuts in electricity. As a reporter with the BBC at the time, I witnessed some of the brutal clashes between pickets and police. But this time, the Government not the NUM emerged victorious when the strike collapsed. Many communities particularly in Scotland never recovered.

If we remember one thing from her third and final term, it was the “Poll Tax”. Neil Kinnock’s Labour Party was still riven by years of in-fighting. The Tories may have suffered in Scotland with a slump in support; but in England Mrs Thatcher retained her influence and won the election. One of her first actions was to introduce “community charge”, a flat-rate local tax to replace the rates. It taxed individuals rather than the property in which they lived. It was introduced first in Scotland and proved immediately unpopular; but when it eventually was also brought in south of the border, it sparked some of the worst street violence in living memory.

Thatcher survived opposition to this policy — and indeed succeeded in holding on to power for over ten years. But there was one issue which has caused problems for both Labour and Conservatives over the years, one which, eventually, caused her downfall — Europe. Following one of the regular EU summits, she outraged even some of her own colleagues with her intransigence. Her comments at the time have again gone into the history books: “The President of the Commission, Monsieur Delors, said at a press conference the other day that he wanted the European Parliament to be the democratic body of the Community, he wanted the Commission to be the Executive and he wanted the Council of Ministers to be the Senate. No. No. No.”

The man who delivered the coup de grace was a one-time former ally, Sir Geoffrey Howe. The former foreign secretary had been harbouring simmering resentment after Thatcher took that office away from him. He quit the cabinet and delivered a devastating resignation speech in which he attacked the Prime Minister for running increasingly serious risks for the future of the country. The speech is perhaps best remembered for his cricketing simile for British negotiations on European Monetary Union. “It is rather like sending your opening batsmen to the crease,” he told the Commons, “only for them to find, as the first balls are being bowled, that their bats have been broken before the game by the team captain”. He called on others to “consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long”.

The following day, Michael Heseltine threw his hat into the ring. In the poll of MPs which followed, he fell just two votes short of preventing the contest going to a second round. Margaret Thatcher tried to fight on but was eventually told by close colleagues, the famous “men in grey suits,” that she would lose. She announced her resignation at the next cabinet meeting, shedding a few tears as she later left Downing Street for the last time. She later described what happened as “treachery with a smile on its face.”

I interviewed Margaret Thatcher twice. I remember that, before the tape recorder was switched on, she was, like most politicians, perfectly reasonable. But press the “record” button and her personality, even her voice, seemed to change. It was almost as if I had met Margaret Thatcher the person and Margaret Thatcher the Prime Minister, two people in one body. Now that body is to be accorded a State Funeral similar to that of Princess Diana. Her enemies will resent that honour — but will watch if only to make sure she’s gone. Her supporters will think it only right after all that she did for the country. After all, even her critics admit that she changed the the United Kingdom for ever.

There are some who believe that her attitude to Scotland may have fueled the growth of the SNP’s popularity. Today, Scottish politicians have paid tribute to her, with First Minister, Alex Salmond, describing her as “truly formidable”. He went on to say the former Conservative leader’s policies had “defined a political generation” for many people in Scotland. “No doubt there will now be a renewed debate about the impact of that legacy. Today, however, the proper reaction should be respect and condolences to her family.”

The Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, insisted that Baroness Thatcher had been “one of the truly great Prime Ministers”. She added that, as Prime Minister, “she defended Britain’s sovereignty, helped win the cold war, empowered thousands to own their own home by democratising property ownership and smashed the glass ceiling. My thoughts are with her family.”

The current Prime Minister David Cameron, called her a “great Briton” and the Queen spoke of her sadness at the death.

<em>Picture: rahuldlucca</em>

Picture: rahuldlucca

1 – Anyone is allowed to make a film about Margaret Thatcher – just don’t make it dull
For all the silly howls of protest about giant Maggies on a bus, they were perfectly entitled to make a film about Baroness Thatcher if Idi Amin, Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein’s brother, Richard Nixon and countless serial killers can be immortalised on the big screen.

Anything less than portraying her as the green-skinned character in The Wizard of Oz wasn’t going to be enough for some people.

The film should have been about all the things she did – good or bad, her ideology, her umpteen wars waged – a political biography. Focusing it on the frailty that comes from getting old sells her life’s work very short as a dramatic conceit.

2 – Meryl Streep’s performance
The problem is that this film is just about the performance. After the Greatest Actress of her Generation was approached to play the grocer’s daughter by her Mamma Mia! director Phyllida Lloyd, my my, how can we resist you? Well, quite easily as it turns out. Fifteen minutes in, I made up my mind it must come to an end. Streep gives a note-perfect performance, and will probably (after she struck out five times with nominations and no wins) collect an Oscar, but the Maggie impression towers over a non-existent story.

3 – That story in full
This movie starts with her buying a pint of milk, and ends with her sending clothes to a charity shop. Spoiler alert: not that much happens in the middle hour-and-a-half.

The film centres around Margaret Thatcher in the current day grieving over her husband’s death and speaking to an imaginary Denis. The justification from the director and screenwriter Abi Morgan (Traffic, Shame) is that daughter Carol wrote about this illness, but that’s a thin excuse for picking on an old lady – even this old lady.

4 – It’s curiously anti-feminist
One of Hollywood’s most powerful actors and a female writer and director collaborate on a film about our first female prime minister and the main theme is… she goes to pieces as soon as her husband goes.

5 – John Sessions is excellent at impersonations…
…really, you could fill a street with them – but, with regret, his Ted Heath is not one of the greatest hits. No one’s going to buy him as a man who could run a country.

6 – If you like her (yes, both of you in Scotland), you won’t like it
For a woman who elicits strong opinions, this film seems like an unfair shot at an old lady. The Falklands war takes barely ten minutes, winning three general elections less so, and her relationship with Denis – the man who encouraged her to stand for leader – is portrayed as him accusing her of being selfish. Documentary evidence suggests the opposite.

7 – If you don’t like her, you won’t like it either
Westland, the poll tax, the miners’ strike, the rift with Nigel Lawson, the fact she landed us with John Major – all glossed over or ignored. But you do get to see her watch The King and I on DVD.

8 – Richard E Grant as Michael Heseltine
He’s got the hair and the glasses, but he never quite perfects the famous Hezza “flounce.”

9 – Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet members in The Iron Lady are even more ineffectual than Margaret Thatcher’s real cabinet
The figures in Spitting Image are made to look like Francis Urquhart pitted against those in this film.

Political trainspotters will have fun with Little Britain’s PM, Anthony Head, as Geoffrey Howe, while Roger Allam the Tory in The Thick of It as adviser Gordon Reece and Nicholas Farrell (Tony Blair in Sir David Hare’s Iraq play, Stuff Happens) as Airey Neave also crop up. The central protagonist herself lacks strong antagonists until the film almost ends.

For all that Lloyd talks about King Lear, that had at least four strong characters. This has got one-and-a-half, and the one suffers from dementia through most of it.

10 – The film doesn’t answer the central burning question about a Margaret Thatcher biopic
That question – if they ever made a Maggie Thatcher film, who would play Roy Aitken? It’s all very well glossing over Westland, the miners’ strike, knackering an education system and denying kids milk money – but not including the 1988 Scottish Cup Final? Unforgivable.

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Raúl Alfonsín Foulkes in 1983 <em>Picture: Revista Semanario</em>

Raúl Alfonsín Foulkes in 1983 Picture: Revista Semanario

Those who know me know that I am not from these parts. Like many, however, I have been in a kind of swoon since the SNP’s electoral triumph, the like of which I had not experienced since … well, an election far away and long ago.*

It was October 1983, and Argentines were throwing off the shackles of military power in the wake of the Falklands War. The military regime’s impending exit was not, as Margaret Thatcher and her Tories (wet and dry) claimed, directly a result of defeat by the British Task Force the previous year.

In fact, Argentines had been rioting in the streets, Arab Spring-style (sans Facebook and Twitter, but with stones), for days before the occupation of Port Stanley on 2 April 1982. I know this because I was tear-gassed in the streets and was there when heads were battered.

The military regime, though in even more obvious rigor mortis after their humiliating defeat, stayed true to the Argentine armed forces’ traditional commitment to preserving the nation state, and suddenly, there I was, months after the war, summoned to help man an electoral desk at the Schule Alemán (German school) in the Buenos Aires suburb of Lomas de Zamora.

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This was not a paid position. As I recall, the instructions received through the post explained that the appointment was a great honour, but if I didn’t appreciate the honour and failed to turn up on election day, I could spend up to two years in jail. So this was both a civic right and a duty: it was democracy, force-fed, and it was great.

I remember every instance of that day: the paraplegics who came to vote for the first time; the very elderly who still remembered what democracy was about; the young people and middle-aged, also voting for the first time; the parents explaining to their children what they were doing before entering the cuarto oscuro (dark room), as it was known.

After 10pm we had to count the votes there and then, but someone had left the window open, the piles of ballots were scattered across the classroom in a gust of wind, and we had to start counting all over again. Did we care? No, this was democracy, and we hadn’t had much of it in our lives.

When it was over, I found a cousin waiting for me outside, three sheets to the wind, shouting “He’s done it! He’s done it! We’ve won!”

Who had done it? Against all the odds (for even the US embassy had been sure a Peronist victory was on the cards – hence the Americans’ endless receptions for and sucking up to Peronist figures before the polls), it was Raúl Alfonsín Foulkes of the Radical Party, who was to become Argentina’s first president of Scots descent, deeply despised by the US as a “socialist”.

Alfonsín was a prominent human rights lawyer at a time of vicious human rights violations by the military and atrocities by left- and right-wing urban guerrillas with whom they were locked in a terrible “dirty war”. My grandmother seemed unaware of the significance of Alfonsín’s victory. She remembered Raúl only as a “little boy running around the yard” in her, and his, hometown, Chascomús, on the Pampas.

Yet her grandfather had donated the land on the Pampas on which the first “Rancho Kirk” – a thatched-roof, white-washed adobe building – had been built in Argentina. A Scots church stands to this day on that site – and Alfonsín was a product of that Scots community, his mother a member of that kirk.

Alfonsín’s legacy is one any Scot would be proud of. He opposed Argentina’s occupation of the Falkland Islands; on taking office he pledged “100 years of democracy” for Argentina; he vowed that the demands of the International Monetary Fund would not be considered over the right of the people not to starve; he faced down the last military revolt by the Carapintadas (Painted Faces); he jailed former junta leaders for human rights violations; and he tried to introduce social welfare reforms, only to be voted down by a belligerent Peronist Congress, intent on preserving trade union control over health and benefit schemes introduced by Perón and Evita in the 1950s.

What I remember most vividly, however, is the wind of freedom that suddenly blew through the streets of Buenos Aires: the blossoming of buskers and street artists, and the right of people to say whatever they wanted to say.

And now, in Scotland, I find the same rush of the democratic pulse of a nation at ease with itself: it has found a way, for now at least, out of the wasteland that Britain became after Thatcher’s cold shoulder, John Major’s anachronistic appeal for a decidedly English “return to basics”, with gin and tonics and cricket on the common – and Tony Blair’s savage, pointless war in Iraq, the stigma of which will plague Labour forever.

In Argentina’s time of peril, a Scot came to its rescue. Before his death in 2009, Alfonsín was honoured by the unveiling of a bust in his image at Government House in Buenos Aires, by President Cristina Kirchner, a Peronist. Who would have thought?

Today, to my mind, Alex Salmond strikes the same chord among Scots as Alfonsín did among Argentines all those years ago. Alfonsín knew what Argentines were about, even if they didn’t – but, most of all, he knew which way they should be heading. He was eventually undone by hyperinflation, the scourge of his time, and by a disloyal opposition – but he was an honest man who by then had made his mark and had laid the foundations for a lasting democracy, a fact for which all Argentines are becoming increasingly aware and grateful.

Alex Salmond and the SNP face a not dissimilar challenge here. Of course, there is no military regime, no repression, no desaparecidos, but Scotland seemed to have lost its way – until now. Even leaving aside the question of independence, the task of building a new nation, or rebuilding one on ancient foundations, should not be beyond the reach of the SNP. Not with its majority, not if it senses, as I do, something in the air – as Raúl Alfonsín Foulkes did all those years ago in Argentina.

* Far Away and Long Ago, by William Henry Hudson, is a masterpiece of life on the Pampas in the 1840s. “One cannot tell how this fellow gets his effects; he writes as the grass grows…” – Joseph Conrad.

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Michael Foot, the former Labour leader, has died at the age of 96.

Mr Foot was in charge of the party when it fought the 1983 general election against Margaret Thatcher. Mr Foot was only leader of the Labour Party for three years – between 1980 and 1983 – but he took charge during a time of great upheaval within the party.

In 1980, Labour had just been beaten by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives, Jim Callaghan, the former Prime Minister, stood down as leader and Mr Foot went for the leadership.

He beat Denis Healey to the leadership on a platform of being a compromise candidate, hoping to unite a party which was being divided by a left-wing revolt based around Tony Benn.

Mr Foot led the party into the 1983 General Election but, by this time, Labour was having to cope with a ‘perfect storm’ of events which led to a crushing defeat at the polls.

In 1981, four senior Labour right-wingers – Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams, David Owen and Bill Rodgers – broke away to form the SDP, taking a number of activists and supporters with them.

Then, in 1982, the Falklands War was won, giving the Thatcher government a massive boost in popularity.

With Labour still divided and with a manifesto which Gerald Kaufman later described as “the longest suicide note in history” (it included nuclear disarmament and tax rises), Labour was trounced in the 1983 election, leading to Mr Foot’s resignation as leader.

He was replaced by Neil Kinnock.

Mr Foot’s public image was often one of a rather shabby intellectual and he was lambasted by the tabloid papers for wearing a “donkey jacket” to the annual Remembrance Day commemoration at the Cenotaph – it was actually a duffel coat. But this was more a reflection of the way he was treated by the press than of his character.

Mr Foot was, without doubt, one of the brightest, most intellectual and most sincere of party leaders the Labour Party – or indeed any major party – has had.

He wrote several books, including well-received biographies of Aneurin Bevan and H.G. Wells.

A poll of Labour activists described him as the worst post-war Labour leader but it has also been argued that no-one else could have held the Labour Party during the early 1980s, such was the extent of the division, the backbiting and the infighting within the party at this team.

A lifelong Plymouth Argyle fan, the club gave him a shirt with the number 90 on the back when he turned 90 in 2003. The club also registered him as a player, making him officially the oldest registered professional player in the history of football.

A committed republican, Mr Foot refused honours from the Queen on several occasions, including a knighthood and a peerage.

In Government, he served as Secretary of State for Employment under Harold Wilson and as Leader of the House of Commons under Mr Callaghan.

Memories of Michael Foot

By Hugh Kerr
I first met Michael as a very young socialist at the Labour Party Conference in Blackpool in 1961. We were both upstairs in the visitors section. It was my first Labour Conference and I was an observer for the Young Socialists.

Michael was an MP and should have been on the floor of the conference but had just been suspended from the Parliamentary Labour Party for voting against the defence estimates – not least because they contained funding for nuclear weapons, something Michael never supported.

Michael was very helpful to me throughout the week in explaining the arcane procedure of Labour Conferences (in those days they were more democratic!) and the many Labour characters of the time. Later that week I heard him electrify the Tribune rally and I realised that this was one of the great orators of our time.

I met and saw Michael at many meetings and rallies over the years often at CND rallies and when in opposition he was a great orator however the burden of government or being in authority somewhat smothered his voice and character. In particular he didn’t take easily to the modern craft of spin and presentation. I remember an election rally in 1983 in Harlow – my political base for many years – where Michael gave a spirited sppech but made a fatal error in a new town which Harlow was by calling it a council estate!

I last saw Michael at a memorial rally for his nephew Paul Foot the great journalist and socialist – an old comrade of mine in the International Socialists. Michael by then was 92 and though frail was still sharp.

He said: “Paul and I disagreed all his life. He was a revolutionary socialist and I was a democratic socialist. What is more he was always borrowing my books and never brought them back!”

I by then had been expelled from Labour ironically by the man Michael had helped to become Labour leader: one Tony Blair, who Michael campaigned for in 1982.

Hugh Kerr was a Labour MEP until expelled for opposing Tony Blair and New Labour he is now a freelance journalist based in Edinburgh.

<em>Picture: Eric Gaba</em>

Picture: Eric Gaba

By John Knox
Is it time to talk to Argentina about the future of the Falkland Islands? Even asking the question opens up a can of awkward worms. And a lot of them are Scottish.

The drilling rig now prospecting for oil in the sea around the Falklands is, naturally enough, from Aberdeen and crewed by a largely Scottish crew. Its presence has, again naturally enough, prompted the Argentine government to renew its claim to the Malvinas. In recent days it has won the backing of 32 South American and Caribbean states and taken its appeal to the United Nations which has said it stands ready to mediate.

If oil is found it could blow apart the uneasy peace that has remained like a mist over the islands since Mrs Thatcher’s war in 1982. Experts say there could be 60 billion barrels of oil in the waters around the Falklands, as much as there was in the North Sea. And of course it’s Britain’s oil. Just imagine how much tax revenue might flow from it.

And just imagine how miffed the Argentines might be. I’m not suggesting the present Argentine government would invade the Falklands like Galtieri’s military junta did in 1982 – the country is now a law abiding democracy with an Eva Peron-like lady president, Christina Fernandez Kirchner. But consider how the Argentines might feel and how bizarre the situation would be.

It would be like France – in an accident of history – owning the Channel Islands, discovering oil and running off with all the revenues. Or the Shetland Islands being owned by Norway. Or St Kilda by the Irish Republic. In fact, it’s stranger than that, because the country claiming sovereignty is not adjacent but on the other side of the planet.

At the time of the Falklands war, Britain based its claim to sovereignty not just on history but on the fact that the 2,000 islanders wanted to be British. But what would happen if the Shetlanders wanted to be Norwegian? Or if the people of Skye wanted to be Irish? Would we let them secede from the United Kingdom ? We are trapped not just by our history but by our geography.

I think it’s about time that everyone admitted that the 5th Viscount Falkland is dead and that the islands named after this Scottish nobleman in 1690 should have been handed over to mainland Argentina when it became independent in 1816 or at least when Britain divested itself if its empire in the 1960s.

But we were where we were in 1982 and Mrs Thatcher was not going to let a military dictator overrun a legally separate country. She insisted on the same thing when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in August 1990. International relations have moved on substantially since then. In recent years we have not gone to war to defend territory but to defend human rights against tyranny, threats to peace, ethnic cleansing, genocide, terrorism. None of these apply to the Falklands today, so our case for going to war – even if the Argentines did invade – would not be strong.

In fact the case for peace with Argentina is becoming more compelling. Now is a good time to reach a deal, just before we know whether there’s oil around the Falklands or not. They can have the islands in exchange for a share in the proceeds from the oil, if there is any. President Kirchner would be tempted. It may be the best deal we can get. It would win Britain a place in the hearts of all South Americans and it would relieve us of the expense of keeping a garrison on the islands and a flotilla at sea.

As for the islanders – there are now 3,000 – they would probably see little difference to their daily life of sheep farming and fishing……unless of course oil is discovered, in which case they will become as rich as the Aberdonians. The Malvinas would become a devolved province of Argentina and everyone would be left asking what the fuss over sovereignty was all about.

Which is yet another of those topical Scottish worms. What does sovereignty or independence mean in the modern world ? However independent we are, we still have to belong to someone else’s currency, abide by international trade and environmental rules, and we are still faced with the same problems as everywhere else … of creating jobs, providing public services, giving individuals a decent life.

Troops being dropped off on the Falkland Islands. <em>Picture: conman007</em>

Troops being dropped off on the Falkland Islands. Picture: conman007

Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner may be in line for a show of support from Latin American and Caribbean leaders for her country’s claim to the Falkland Islands after she played down any prospect of a fresh military conflict with Britain.

Distancing distance herself from the former Argentine military regime and its 1982 occupation of the islands, she hit out at the Foreign Office in an address to the Rio group summit in Cancún, Mexico, for its “ridiculous and cynical floating of the idea of a potential war threat by Argentina… because few countries have shown more signs of peaceful intentions than Argentina after the advent of democracy [in 1983].”

Argentine forces were active in UN peace missions in Haiti and Cyprus, but “we are not present in Afghanistan or Iraq; we are opposed to any sort of occupation; to any sort of violation of international law because we believe this is one of the reasons the world is becoming more insecure”.

She said neither she nor previous democratically-elected governments of Argentina could bear responsibility for the actions of the former military regime, stressing that throughout history “our region … suffered recurrent coups d’état, most of them sponsored by the big powers.”

Argentina hopes the Rio group will issue a statement condemning British drilling operations around the islands, which it knows as las Malvinas, which got under way on Monday.

Photo: Gilbert House

Photo: Falklands Islands Legislative Assembly

Argentina today called for negotiations with Britain over the future of the Falklands Islands, but said it did not expect to make progress any time soon.

Victorio Taccetti, the deputy foreign minister, said Argentina’s aim was to “sit down with England [sic] and negotiate the issue of sovereignty of the islands and the surrounding seas… we haven’t achieved that yet but we think we will be able to at some point.”

Taccetti’s comments came as the Falklands Islands Legislative Assembly announced that drilling for oil off the islands would go ahead as scheduled, despite Argentina’s warning that it would require all ships in the South Atlantic heading for the Falklands to apply for special permits. Last week a ship carrying drilling equipment was detained by Argentine officials.

Drilling on the Ocean Guardian rig, which arrived in the islands today after a three-month voyage from Invergordon, begins tomorrow 60 miles off the islands. Desire Petroleum, owners of the Ocean Guardian, said no permit had been required for the rig because it had not been near Argentine waters.

Taccetti, speaking to Millenium Radio in Buenos Aires, said the foreign minister, Jorge Taiana, would ask the UN secretary general, Ban Ki Moon, at a meeting in New York on Wednesday to convene negotiations between the two countries. However, he warned that “Argentines have to start thinking long-term, because this is a long-term policy, we can’t expect results today or in a few days time.”

Referring to Gordon Brown’s statement in Parliament that Britain had “made all the preparations that are necessary to make sure the Falkland islanders are properly protected”, Taccetti said: “It’s a good thing that the British have acknowledged there is a controversy with Argentina, because the first step in resolving a problem is to recognise that it exists.”

Playing down Falkland Islanders’ fears of a new South Atlantic conflict, Taccetti said “warfare is nowhere on our horizon, they can rest assured about that, but they must also understand that Argentina will not abandon its legitimate rights.”

In Port Stanley, the Falklands Legislative Assembly issued a statement accusing Argentina of trying to “disrupt the oil drilling… Currently, all the supplies the industry needs are located here in the islands and drilling will commence as planned, weather permitting.

“The Falkland Islands Government has every right to develop a hydrocarbons industry within our waters. The British Government has clearly stated that they support our right to develop legitimate business. The British Government have also reiterated their stance on our British sovereignty.

“It is no surprise to anyone that Argentina is behaving in this way but it is nonetheless disappointing when they do”.

Meanwhile, the islanders were becoming increasingly irritated by the perceived jingoism of some of the British media. “Islanders are reading with disbelief the daily media offerings touting Argy blockades and an impending task force cutting its way towards the Falklands,” wrote J. Brock in the Falkland Island News.

“Students, seasoned by this are calling home anyway to see if their parents, siblings and friends are OK. Still we read articles like the one by Tom Newton Dunn in the Sun about a British military build-up that quite frankly isn’t going to happen.

“Come on, folks, get real. We recognise that things aren’t the best between us and Argentina but why make things worse?”

Photograph: Eric Gaba

Credit: Eric Gaba

We don’t want to fight but by jingo if we do
We’ve got the ships, we’ve got the men, we’ve got the money too,
We’ve fought the Bear before, and while we’re Britons true,
The Russians shall not have Constantinople
(and the Argentines won’t have the Falklands…

A wave of Falklands frenzy may be sweeping the British media again, but in Argentina the government’s announcement that all ships sailing from its ports to the islands will now require special permits has caused hardly a ripple.

Sickened by corruption, a stalling economy and rising crime, most Argentines have more serious issues to worry about than the imminent arrival of a British oil exploration rig in the Falklands.  which President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner appears to be using as an excuse to ratchet up old tensions between the two countries. Besides, the plight of thousands of Malvinas war veterans, most of them former conscripts, is a wound that has yet to heal, and Argentines don’t want to be reminded of what for many was a tragic episode in their lives.

Though less strident in their sovereignty claims than the military regimes of the past, democratic Argentine governments still tend to overstate their case. By the same token, understandably, but regrettably, the Falkland Islanders are not always their own best friends. This is what Phyllis Rendell, Falkland Islands director of minerals and agriculture, had to say last year of Argentina’s alleged attempt to thwart the islanders’ efforts to survive economically:

“The funding [for oil exploration] is so great… they can fly in from wherever…If oil and gas were to be found, oil firms would most likely use floating production, storage and offloading vessels. It’s what they do off Brazil. It would be quite feasible to process the oil offshore and then ship to whichever refinery the companies send it to. It doesn’t have to go to Argentina at all. You can completely bypass Argentina.”

Imagine how that went down in Buenos Aires.

Meanwhile, here in Britain, we seem to be back in 1982, with the old jingoism to be found here, here, here, and here. (What it was like to work in the Sun’s newsroom in 1982 can be found here).

In contrast, the Argentine media, while reporting the news at length, has been anything but shrill. Writing in La Nación newspaper under the heading “Another chain around our legs”, Vicente Palermo called for Argentine diplomacy that “shows we care that the islanders are free to decide whatever they want for themselves.”

He said Argentina should enter into a “spirit of co-operation” with the islanders in various fields, including the exploitation of resources, tourism, communications, science and technology and the environment.

“On the Malvinas issue there has been too much opportunism and too much silence,” Palermo added. “Official policy is foolish, but so far the opposition has done little to contribute to the development of a fresh policy.”

An editorial in Clarín warned that because of the historical and emotional impact the islands have on all Argentines, British policy in the region required an “intelligent” response. “This issue is of such a delicate nature that it must be managed by the state in such a way that it is not used as a smokescreen for the serious internal problems currently afflicting the government,” the paper said, rather pointedly.

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