02/03/2012 Newsnight


Wounded British photojournalist Paul Conroy on Syria, David Cameron loses a key advisor and Russia goes to the polls. With Gavin Elser.

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The Syrian army stops the Red Cross gaining access to Baba Amr, scene


of the bloodiest shelling of civilians. What is really going on


in the area around Homs. We talk to Paul Conroy, the wounded British


photo journalist, smuggled out three days ago, who said his


colleague, Marie Colvin, died trying to alert the world to the


slaughter they witnessed. We have lost a good friend, and one of the


best has been taken from us, I salute her and I will go back and


get her when the time is right, and bring her home. Steve Hilton, David


Cameron's back room brains has quit Downing Street for California. Is


he taking Cameron's mojo with him. We will ask what his friends and


enemies think the Prime Minister will miss.


In Russia, as they vote for the new boss, he looks like the old boss.


Will they get fooled again? Russia's protest movement is


getting stronger and better organised. With Vladimir Putin


certain to win the upcoming presidential elections, what can it


Good evening, the United Nations secretary-general, Ban Ki-Moon,


said tonight, that he feared Syrian Government forces were ash trairly


executing and torturing people in the city of Homs. The Syrian army


agreed to let the Red Cross and Red Crescent into the city today, but


refused to let them into Baba Amr, which they have been pounding for


days. Our diplomatic editor has been trying to figure out what is


happening. What is happening in Homs, as far as we know? The city


status is the cradle of opposition to the regime. One of the key


focuses of it is not extinguished, but the opposition has suffered a


heavy blow there. If we look in detail at the map. The reason it


became such a centre for opposition, it is very close to the border,


that allowed people to get in and out, particularly through the


western approach, through the rural area, to the west of the city, to


Baba Amr, which is within that circle. It was the route for people,


guns, money, journalists to get in and out, and all the rest of it.


That is what made it such a focus and caldron for both sides. The


opposition forces thought they could hold on to it, and for some


weeks, during the pounding, it seemed they comfortable but the


Assad regime was gathering its forces and preparing what it was


going to do next. If we look in closer still, we can describe what


happened, over the last few days. That's Baba Amr again. Just the


centre of it. I will put the symbol for the Free Syrian Army fighters


in there. The Government already held positions in some


neighbourhoods, where people are loyal to them, in the centre of


town, and extended, during these weeks of bombardment, extended its


position in areas like the university. In recent days, they


have moved armour from, it is believed, the President's brothers


division, the mechanised division, to interdict these groups in and


out of the city to the west. That is what the journalist, who were


trying to escape, had to run the gauntlet of that. Around Tuesday,


other armoured units from the resident brigade, the 90th Brigade,


went in and cut off the northern route in and out of Baba Amr as


well. Once that situation had become a reality for the fighters


in there, power was gone, water was gone, they ordered a withdrawal.


They decided to quit Baba Amr. That seems to have happened Wednesday


night, with the Free Syrian Army announcing it on Thursday. Was


there an assault, as such, or did the Syrian army just drive in? It


seems to be more the latter. Where does it leave the humanitarian


situation for the people there? Desperate. Before this happened,


about 100,000 people living in the area. Syrian Government aired these


pictures this morning, we can tell they are recent because of the snow.


That is south towards the university area. Look at the state


of the houses, many hit on the upper storeys during the weeks of


bombardment. What horror lurks there, people who have died in


their homes, or struggling to survive on the meagre food and


water they have. That is another view from the tall building at Baba


Amr, it authenticates the cameraman was there, we can identify the


mosque, and so where the footage was taken. They are in control,


they have a ghost town, they have thousands of people in a desperate


condition there. That, perhaps, has motivated their decision not to let


the Red Cross in. Are they engaged in some sort of clearout, or as the


opposition alleges, in there murdering people. However you look


at it, tactical withdrawal or not, it is a big setback for the


opposition? It is. If you like, it must empower people around


President Assad who think they can resolve some of these issues by


force. If we go in and look closely. Homs was a divided city, the yellow


areas represent the pro-Government strongholds, if you like. Now, of


course, Government troops in Baba Amr, in the north of the city, that


is the last remaining area where the Free Syrian Army still has


fighters in Homs itself. The battle is moving north within the city,


and within the country, to other places north of Homs, like Idlib. A


last couple of images to show the sort of people that will be facing


the onslaught next. These are biders in Bider taken a couple of


days ago. Quite a professionally put together position there, that


will take some punishment. Some evidence that arms are coming


through, perhaps, they say, from black market sources in Lebanon. An


AK rifle, fitted with a sniper glass, so more modern than the army.


The Government is planning to move to other places further north. They


think they can do it by force. My assessment would be they don't have


enough people to do it in all the places simultaneously, where


opposition now rages. Last weekend the British


photographer, Paul Conroy, was working with the Sunday Times


reporter, Marie Colvin, in Homs, when she was killed, alongside the


French journalist, Remi Ochlik. Paul Conroy and several others were


wounded. He has finally made his way back to a hospital in London. I


met him earlier tonight. Can we start with what happened


when you were hit, what was that moment like? It was, traumatic,


instant chaos. A few shells had hit the house, the final shell that


Marie, and Remi, my friend, everything went black, I felt a


huge pressure in my leg, put my hand down, put my hand straight


through my leg, realised it was bad, stuck a tourniquet on, and


essentially tried to crawl out of the house where I found Marie. From


that point on it was really all hell broke lose. It took 15 minutes


and we were finally evacuated to a field hospital, with the doctors,


with very limited supplies. Basics, they did what they could to fill


the holes. From that point on we entered the very basic Baba Amr


healthcare system. Over the next couple of days, what did you see? I


know you feel very much for the suffering of the Syrians around


you? Absolutely. The situation, I mean I have done a fair few wars, I


have never seen anything on this level. It is a bit of misnomer to


call it a warzone, there is no actual war. The Free Syrian Army do


their best to get in things like bread, and evacuate anyone. There


are no targets in Baba Amr, there are no military targets, this is


pure and utter, systematic slaughter of a civilian population.


There is nothing. You and Marie, of course, knew in one sense, what you


were getting in to, people at home will wonder why on earth anyone


does this? There are places in the world that light is very rarely


shone, unless people do go. We live in an age where we have the


Internet and YouTube, we see these videos, what happens is people will


take it, the regime will take it and put their commentry on, the


activists will put their commentry on, it leads to more confusion. I


think it is a necessity, otherwise we sit by and this will happen


without any witness, I think it is important to bear witness. Marie


was passionate about getting the truth out, about fact, attention to


detail. That was unsurpassed. She would go for the detail. You see in


a news report with unverified, that is not good enough for me, and for


Marie, and the few people who do this. I just think it is critically


important, these people are being slaughtered, massacred, and there


is nobody there, we will all get on with eating our dinner, and this


will happen, and in ten years time we will all be wringing our hands


going why didn't anybody do anything. I know you can't go into


details about how you got out. Give us some idea about how you did it?


There was a lull in the shelling, we were piled. It was the Free


Syrian Army took, it was a last ditch, they had wounded of their


own to get out. They knew we were in a bad shape, edit was


deteriorating, it was -- Edith was deteriorating, it was a proper


American out of the embassy, type, we have one shot at this. They


threw us into vehicles, there was a lot of sniping, there were shells


going out. They got us to the escape place. Half of us got out,


the Government shot, lots of people got shot, including the Spanish


journalist who was shot, not fatal low. A lot of people lost their


lives. I was in a room, they started piling bodies in, people


shot through the head. I can only say the people who got us out of


Baba Amr, every person in there is a hero, but these people especially


put their lives on the line and I can only say the biggest thanks to


the Syrian people. Just about yourself, have you got all the bits


of shrapnel out of your body? is a few bits still in there, they


are not going to chase them. They reckon they will eventually pop out


on their own one day and I will be able with a pair of tweezers, I


don't know how it comes out. have a souvenir by your bed? This


is a present from, probably the Russians, this one. You know really,


the Syrians had the unfortunate situation where they happened to be


under siege during Putin's election campaign. And now that is him doing


all he can to help the poor people of Baba Amr. Finally, you must


think a lot about Marie? Yeah. I mean, extremely close friend. A


journalist who worked to a standard that is unsurpassed. I don't know


anyone who had the tenacity, the bravery, all in one package. She


would not let go. This is why I have really got to tell this. She


was the best of the best, and I worked all last year in Libya with


her, we worked in Iraq ten years ago together. The world, we have


all lost a good friend, and one of the best has been taken from us. I


salute her, and I will go back and get her when the time is right.


Bring her home. Paul, thank you very much.


No problem, cheers, thanks. Steve Hilton is one of those people


who pull the levers of power, without generally ever appearing in


public it's regards at David Cameron's closest adviser, but has


-- and is regarded as David Cameron's closest adviser. But he


has quit to go to a job in California. He's credited with the


Cameron's Big Idea and The Big Idea society. Why has he gone? It is


largely family reasons. His wife lives in America, she commutes from


America to London. Two small kids, the first of whom goes next


September, if they are going to get out and go and live in sunny


California, now is the time. We would be kidding ourselves if


anyone walked away from Government, he had an office next to the Prime


Minister, for purely the sun. It is not much fun to be Steve Hilton.


He's thwarted often, eventhough he has massive access to the Prime


Minister, he has found the Civil Service frustrating. The icon yum


of transition doesn't translate easy. The coalition, he adored the


Lib Dems and then he came to believe they were more conservative


than he was. It is 55% family, you don't go, however, making the


decision, unless you feel thwarted. What will he do there? It is


acedemia for a year. International studies, fatastically vague. He


will do some work for Cameron. He will still be sending in the ideas


via e-mail. He will come back in 2013, when kid number one goes to


school. He has talked in the past wanting to do Meryl stuff, this is


the -- mayoral stuff, this is the stuff he has been pushing through


wanting mayors in other places. We will see more of him not less. He


is a big figure, which, no doubt, others will talk about. If they


have a legacy, this Government, it will be in large part down to him.


He pushed through some unpopular stuff on welfare and education.


While we parody him as the Big Society brain, which didn't really


brilliantly work, and maybe, in part, why he has decided to leave.


There are the other nitty gritty things, in Downing Street, might


have failed. He would like to go, do a bit of thinking in the


sunshine, and then come back and run as mayor? I think he will


probably come back, but it will possibly be to a frontline role


himself, rather than necessarily being an adviser, when it is not


masses of fun being an adviser when you are not getting your way.


Thank you. Joining me is the former speech writing for David Cameron,


and Lynn Collins from the Times. You know him well, what kind of


person is he? He's nice, very funny, he zings with ideas. He's an


enthusiast, he's very passionate and an idealist, he wants to make


things happen, he wants to see changes. He has very good attention


to detail, which he's not given credit for. In all that sense, is


he a bit of a loss for David Cameron? I think he's a loss for


David Cameron on a personal level, they are very close. It was said


when they are seen batting around ideas it is hard to see where David


Cameron begins and Hilton ends, they are so close. But David


Cameron is now very comfortable with being Prime Minister, it is a


biggest loss to the coalition, he is the ideas man, and he is the one


who says why are we doing that, why not do it differently. Do you see


him as a big loss? Most advisers come and go and nobody notices,


Steve Hilton made a big difference, but mostly in opposition. I think


the way people see the Conservative Party changed, and Steve Hilton saw


that early. He was clever in identifying what was wrong in the


way people viewed the Tory Party. That was hugely important for David


Cameron? Yes, in the change of the Tory Party. He has a real legacy, I


think he really made a difference. I don't think that translated


anywhere near as well into Government. Governments go through


phases, and Downing Street will be quite a lot less creative for his


absence, but perhaps a little bit more organised. A bit duller?


think they need to be a bit duller. It has been the opposite of dull on


the NHS bill, the period of dullness is what they need, they


need to get dull people in there to do some very conventional political


intelligence, and drive it through. In terms of the Big Society, I know


people in the Conservative Party, some of them have thought this was


a completely daft idea, it is one thing to have lots of ideas, but it


is presumptionably the Prime Minister's job to say that one will


work and that won't, with the Big Society there will be less


impetuous on it? David Cameron believes in the Big Society, Steve


Hilton didn't impose it on the Prime Minister, he genuinely and


passionately believes in it. It is important to remember the last time


Steve went to California in opposition, the Tories were doing


very well and were 45% in the polls, and the Big Society was part of the


language being used. It was when he went and the language went on to


convention issues like cuts and crime, that the Tories began to


drop. It was a myth that the Big Society was not a success, it was


doing well elect trally. Given his energy, he was somebody who


embodied that within the party? has been hard to translate it into


policy. It is hard to take the Big Society from an ethereal idea and


embody it as a real policy. I don't think it has translated


particularly well. It is interesting the Prime Minister


hasn't mentioned it for quite a long time. It will be intriguing to


see, coming up to the conference speech, whether the Big Society


features as a theme in the conference speech. It is still the


only overarching idea the Government has. It has gone missing.


Can either of you see him coming back into frontline politic, again,


one of the things about people who have lots of ideas, they also rub


other people up the wrong way, and actually being in frontline


politics means not making unnecessary enemies? I think he is


telling people he doesn't need to come back after a year, it is


unlikely he will come back to the same role. He wants to make change


and make things happen, there is a very good chance, not a definite


chance, a good chance he will come back and do something such as


perhaps going for the mayor or something like that. I think Steve


Hilton is searching for where power is in Britain, I think he has got


to the side of the Prime Minister, and got into Government, in Downing


Street, he has found power isn't quite there, because you are


thwarted at every turn, and the Civil Service seem to run things


without you doing anything. He will be become, people who know him well


say that, he will seek out power in some other guise. I wonder, going


back to what you were saying, driving things through, whether


people do enough thinking in politic. It is a good idea if you


have a big thinker to take a break and think some ideas and come back?


I think you are absolutely right. It is such a maelstrom of events,


there is not nearly enough thinking, that is why he's so important


because he does think. I totally agree, I have said to people there


you have to find space and take time out to think, without thinking


you are just reacting to events. The Government needs a strong


narrative, which perhaps it doesn't have at the moment, because it is


all a narrative for cuts. It is more boring for political


journalist, perhaps? I don't want to give the impression I'm against


thinking, I'm strongly in favour of people thinking. I don't want them


doing it while in Government, they are dangerous. What it meant is the


Government, over the next two years, in the run up to the election, is


in the implementation phase of its cycle. The health bill, for example,


doesn't even begin until it goes through the House of Commons. Then


it starts to really count. And you need that vigilence all the time.


It is quite hard conventional political work. Number Ten at the


moment is very, very underpowered on its political operation. I think


if David Cameron uses this as an opportunity to get some fairly


conventional political advice in there, and beef up his operation,


actually it won't be such a bad day for him.


On Sunday Russians go to the polls to vote in their presidential


elections, everyone knows who will win. It seems certain that Vladimir


Putin will be re-elected for a third term, although after recent


weeks of protests, unprecedented since the last days of the Soviet


Union, his next presidency may be more turbulent than the last. We're


in Moscow assessing the mood of the opposition ahead of Sunday's poll.


In Moscow's Gorky Park, it is time for a knees up.


The end of the long Russian winter is almost in sight.


They are celebrating mass lenitza, the carnival before Lent, the last


chance to fill up on pancakes. I have been coming to goarkyo park


since I first lived in Russia -- Gorky Park, since I first lived in


Russia, back in communist times. It was always a place of licensed


entertainment, where the masses could play, as long as they towed


the party line. And loyalty has been expected of them again since


Vladimir Putin came to power many years ago. Now something is going


wrong. TRANSLATION: I want to -- want to know if life is as sweet as


a Russian pancake. She says it is just as round! She says everything


goes round in circles, in a political sense too, she's


referring to Putin's plan to come back as President, after a term as


Prime Minister. But now there are people, even in


Gorky Park, who have had enough of him. TRANSLATION: I will vote


against Putin, I don't support his policies, I will vote for one of


the others. We shouldn't go backwards. Putin has already been


President before, and I think his time has run out. TRANSLATION:


think the presidency of Vladimir Putin's shouldn't be repeated so


often. Why? TRANSLATION: There is too much corruption in Russia.


Where did the rebellion begin? One place was this quiet forest outside


Moscow, where a young entrepeneur and mother liked to go walking.


Suddenly, one day, five years ago, she discovered many of the trees


were marked for felling. TRANSLATION: There were trees all


over here, this was terrible Barberism to destroy a forest near


Moscow, here we managed to stop them. These activists helped her


stop the plan to build a motorway here. The plan of a tycoon closely


linked to the Kremlin. They were injured in battles with police and


contractors, and for now, they have won, though they keep a constant


vigil here. But she wants -- once apolitical as most Russians, is no


longer fighting for trees, she's one of the leaders of a movement


fighting for a new democratic Russia without Vladimir Putin.


TRANSLATION: Five years ago I was a typically anonymous person, I


thought it was only a few crazy city types who went on


demonstrations. I ran my business, I got three university degrees, I


raised two children, all by the age of 35, but I always thought there


was something wrong. What did I need all the money for? Then, when


I saw the trees account down, I started to think, should I live --


cut down, I started to think, should I live differently, you


can't buy another forest, I didn't come to politics, politics came to


me. Suddenly, Russians like these have turned from subjects of the


state into citizens. They are no longer satisfied with the material


comforts that Vladimir Putin can offer, they want a say in the


running of their country. But are there enough of them, and are they


organised enough for the Kremlin to care?


The answer is, yes. This pro- Government video paints an


apocalyptic picture of Russia without Putin.


The country dissolves into anarchy, Chirikova and her opposition


friends take over, and their alleged backers in the west are


delighted. Can a woman, who spends so much of her time looking after


her daughters in her tiny flat really scare the Kremlin so much?


TRANSLATION: Of course, they are afraid of me. But it is the same as


when they tried to discredit dissidents in Soviet times t has


the opposite effect. People want to know where they are abusing us.


Then they get interested. Then they join us. Today she's being


photographed outside a polling station, for an internet campaign


to recruit election monitors. We are confronted by an angry


official, who wants us to leave. Back home the photo is uploaded and


will be seen all over Russia. These young people are already


being trained by an independent organisation to observe proceedings


in polling stations next Sunday. But there aren't enough volunteers


like this, particularly outside Moscow, to cover all the polling


stations in the country. And maybe the result has already been decided


any way. I think we will rewrite the result documents, through the


electoral commissions, where we will give all result documents from


polling stations and they will calculate, and if they don't see


that the result which they need, so they will just put another number.


But I don't think that way they will cheat a lot on the voting day


from the polling stations, there will be a lot of observers to


prevent those violations and prevent them. So usually when they


are trying to rewrite their result document, there are no observers to


see this process, so it is quite easy to do this.


The fear that the election will be stolen brings thousands of


Muscovites out on to the streets, a week before the poll, to form a


symbolic ring around the city. Most wear the white ribbon, that has


become the badge of the fair elections movement. Bizarrely,


puten to said they looked like flaccid condoms, now in satirical


response, they are waving blown up ones. Yevgenia Chirikova is here


too, in carnival costume, to celebrate what she calls the


approaching end of Russia's political winter. TRANSLATION:


most important thing is to change the way people think. We are not


struggling for power, we are struggling to drown this slave


mentality out of ourselves. On a day like this you really feel there


is a new spirit in Moscow, for people who have woken up


politically, their demands remain so general s it is still not clear


what they can achieve. In any case, the opposition is


still largely urban and middle- class, it doesn't represent the


whole of Russia. The man they want to beat still


bestrides his country's stage. He would probably still be able, even


in a fair election, to win a mandate a western politician would


consider acceptable, even if not a genuine majority of votes. He has


no clear programme, only the same patriotic rhetoric that hasn't


changed in years. TRANSLATION: have come here today to say we love


Russia. To say it so that the whole country can hear us. And I'm asking


you to say a simple yes, the question is this, do we love


Russia? Is it the rhetoric of a former spy chief, who can't see how


his country is changing? One of Russia's best-selling


novelists says social change will eventually sweep Putin away.


Middle-class is a new class in Russia, it has a lot of energy, it


is very much different from middle- classes in the west. Because to sur


vief in the 1990s in -- survive in the 1990s in Russia, to become a


member of the middle-class, you had to be strong and you had to fight.


With very harsh conditions of life, with corrupt police, to fight


against authorities. This is a class of winners, and survivors.


This is Putin's main problem, I think. Back in Gorky Park, the


middle-class is testing its strength in a traditional carnival


tug-of-war. It is not easy for them to get a grip on this wintry down,


and for now, it is still the state that decides who gets the prizes.


In a moment the review show, and Kirsty is here to tell us what is


coming up. Tonight two different takes on


British history, from the 1960s to today in White Heat, and the


financial crisis of 2008 in John Lanchester's new novel, Capital. We


also journey to Mars in Disney's 3.D epic, John Carter, and mark the


icon Lou Reed. That's all from Newsnight tonight,


Jeremy is back on Monday. The singer, Morrisey, has ensured


himself of another year without a Knighthood, after declaring the


British people know the Falkland islands belong to Argentina, we


don't have any footage of the concert in Argentina where he made


the pronouncement, we will settle for this.


# Sweetness, I was only joking # When I said by right


# You should be bludgeoned # In your bed


# And now I know how Joan of Arc felt


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