John le Carré: The author's official website

Conversations with my neighbour

The human rights lawyer Philippe Sands discusses the ‘secret world’ and Syria with fellow Hampstead resident, John le Carré

From The Financial Times:

I am sitting in a sunny and perfectly ordered garden in north London, engaged in tea and conversation with my neighbour David Cornwell, the writer John le Carré. We cover our usual topics (Hampstead, Britain, his books and films, my legal cases), reflecting on the state of the world and his appearance at the Hay Festival earlier this summer, where I had interviewed him. “I do think we live in most extraordinary period of history,” he says now. “The fact that we feel becalmed is the element that is most terrifying, the second-rate quality of leadership, the third-rate quality of parliamentary behaviour.”

Just last week, the House of Commons surprised us all by voting down the desire of David Cameron and Nick Clegg to wage war on Syria, for President Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons. This time, unlike Iraq, the supposed legal advice and intelligence weren’t persuasive. The parliamentary revolt is a belated gift from Bush and Blair to the people of Syria, and an event that allows my decade-long conversation with le Carré to complete its circle.

I inquire of his reaction. “If you bomb it, you own it,” he says in an email. He writes that he’s “profoundly relieved and for once proud of the House of Commons”, for “a landmark of belated political maturity”. It is a moment of self-recognition, that Britain is not where it once was, that there will not be a knee-jerk accommodation to the wishes of our political masters, or the Americans. The view is rational, reached on reflection. “Punitive raids,” he tells me, “when you don’t know who you are punishing, and who you are unwittingly supporting – and whether one raid will do the trick or a few more might be necessary – are sheer insanity at any time, but now more than ever before.”

The full article is available to read on The Financial Times Website.