Coming pretty much straight from the London riots to the Libyan revolution has made me more contemptuous than ever of Britain’s self-pitying, self-indulgent, social-security-claiming insurrectionaries. For all the fear and death, Tripoli’s uprising has been far more disciplined. Cool young rebels, in their bandanas and Free Libya T-shirts, guard the streets. Barely a shop has been looted, and trainers are still changing hands in the normal way. Only one group of people, in fact, is brazenly disregarding private property and disrespecting the law: western journalists.
In the continuing absence of Colonel Gaddafi, there is only one other thing that most hacks want to find: the definitive government document proving that, say, Tony Blair agreed to overlook the killing of WPC Yvonne Fletcher in return for a personal, lifetime supply of uranium yellowcake. Like Gaddafi himself, we feel, it must be out there somewhere, and no government building or politician’s residence is safe.
So here’s the routine. You screech up to the relevant premises. Actually, that’s an exaggeration: there are no addresses in Libya, so you drive wearily up to the relevant premises, having spent an hour or two asking round the neighbourhood for it. There are none of the handy ways we find people in England, such as the electoral roll (there hasn’t, until now, been much call for voting in these parts). Last week was also Eid, the end of Ramadan, so the streets were almost empty of people to ask: imagine trying to find Peter Mandelson’s house on Christmas Day, knowing only that it is somewhere in north London.
You then talk your way in (or, in the case of the British ambassador’s residence, climb over the wall). At government offices, as Libya’s new rulers start to get their acts together, things are tightening up, so our focus has shifted to the private homes of senior regime members, now deserted as their former occupants join 4 x 4 convoys to Algeria and Niger.