Praising Liberal Democrats is not something that comes naturally to me, but all credit to acting leader Vince Cable for refusing to attend the official reception for King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. As Johann Hari wrote in yesteday's Independent:
This week, Gordon Brown and David Cameron will welcome the leader of one of the world's most vicious dictatorships to Britain. Both men will embrace King Abdullah al-Saud, who heads a regime in which, according to Amnesty International, "Fear and secrecy permeate every aspect of life. Every day the most fundamental human rights of people in Saudi Arabia are being violated."
You can read the full Amnesty report on Saudi Arabia here. The kingdom's abuses of human rights include detention without trial, curtailment of free speech, drastic restrictions on women's freedom, torture of prisoners and death sentences imposed after unfair trials. In other words, the Saudi regime's human rights record is on a par with that of Iran, or the Taliban, both of whom are our opponents rather than our allies in the 'war on terror'.
One of the most shameful things I ever heard on the BBC was a discussion on Radio 4's Start the Week, at the time of the furore over the drama-documentary Death of a Princess. The film's director was excoriated by all the other studio guests without exception, and by the presenter Richard Baker, for offending our Saudi allies and putting British jobs and business at risk. It was one of the earliest examples of the argument about 'giving offence' trumping concerns about free speech and human rights.
The red carpet rolled out this week for King Abdullah shows that little has changed.