05 April, 2017

“When we're rich as Croesus Jesus! Won't we see you all in hell”

Theresa May’s visit to Saudi Arabia this week tells you all you need to know about contemporary Britain, its politics, politicians, values and morals. It also tells you much about May herself – the daughter of a vicar who really should know better.

In an area of the globe which can at best be described as an unstable time bomb, her trip is, she tells us, to develop Saudi Arabian ties which are important for UK security and prosperity. Speaking to the BBC, she refused to criticise the bombardment of Yemen, which is estimated to have killed more than 10,000 civilians and displaced more than 3 million people. When pressed she acknowledged that she will discuss humanitarian issues, aid measures and women’s rights in the region but at the same time justifies our selling of arms to the Saudis by saying  we do that in order that we are able to raise these other issues: "So rather than just standing on the sidelines and sniping, it's important to engage, to talk to people, to talk about our interests and to raise, yes, difficult issues when we feel it's necessary." Sadly, she rather shot herself in the foot by adding “These countries” (Saudi Arabia & Jordan), are "important for us in terms of security, they are important  for us in terms of defence and yes, in terms of trade........ Gulf security is our security and Gulf prosperity is our prosperity."  When asked what "the May doctrine of foreign policy"  was she replied "that everything we do is in our British national interest.....It's in our British national interest to have good relations around the world so we can trade around the world - that brings jobs and prosperity to the UK......It's also in our national interest to ensure we're working with others around the world to maintain our safety and security - and yes, it's in our national interests to ensure that the values that underpin us as Britons are values that we promote around the world - and that's what we're doing”.

In short, in Mayland, the only thing of interest and value is our own self interest. We will not condemn in case it hinders our getting that trade agreement - the UK’s ethical line in the sand appears to be easily bought. “Buy your slightly soiled  values and morals here. Brexit UK has discontinued lines, straight off the back of the lorry, no questions asked!” seems to be the rationale and sales pitch.

Mmmmm?.......presumably these “values that underpin”  we Brits and which we wish to promote in the middle east include cluster bombs and the rest. So I ask myself how does all this square with the continuing famine in Yemen, and civilian casualties from the Saudi-led - and UK-backed - blockade and attacks on rebel forces which means that we sell arms at one end of the process and the pay out in foreign humanitarian aid at the other. And I further wonder if these underpinning values that Theresa May seems so fond of are the same  values that Liam Fox meant when meeting President Duterte in the Philippines this week. Rodrigo Duterte who has been busy wiping out over 7000 of his own citizens is clearly not beyond the pale in the eyes and estimation our Brexit government  because our trade secretary Liam Fox was very anxious to be friends saying that he wanted to develop  “a foundation of shared values and shared interests”. It’s those values again! Duterte, who has publicly encouraged civilians to kill drug addicts and is generally considered an international pariah last month  warned the EU not to “fuck with us” after the European Parliament passed a resolution expressing “grave concern over credible reports that Philippine police were engaged in extrajudicial killings. But hey, we share values! – what’s not to like - these guys are just misunderstood business men who share our values seems to be the underlying narrative of UK policy. We are happy  turn up our noses at the values of the French, the Germans, the Spanish, the Italians and the rest of Europe but we have no qualms in developing dangerous liaisons with  dubious, the unpredictable  and the crackpot  regimes across the world – the only criteria or value on show seems to be  money, brass, moola!  In 2017 Brexit Britain cash is the driving force for action; it is also our default value and moral standpoint.

Political pundits across the spectrum have pointed out in recent weeks that May and the UK government are desperate for trade links with anyone who will speak to us as our divorce from our major trading partners in Europe looms larger. May’s embarrassing and pathetic wooing of Donald Trump, her scurrying off to snuggle up to Turkey’s President Erdogan - himself no stranger to dispute and shady dealings - her unwillingness to openly condemn many of Trumps and Erdogan’s actions suggest to me that she and her Brexit government are desperate for a deal with any human-rights-abusing dictator that will meet them. And in their discussions  all is justified, it seems, at the altar of mammon. This vicar’s daughter has a skewed view of morality and ethical action; as a child she clearly never took in the message that her father preached when he stood in the pulpit and told the Biblical tale of Esau selling his birthright to his brother Jacob for a bowl of stew. Now, May the woman and Prime Minister is, it seems, willing to sell her own and our very souls at the altar of prosperity as if there are no other possible definers of national well being. Increasingly we are losing, or maybe have already lost, whatever remained of our national moral compass.

May’s comment that “...that everything we do is in our British national interest.....It's in our British national interest to have good relations around the world so we can trade around the world - that brings jobs and prosperity to the UK......It's also in our national interest to ensure we're working with others around the world to maintain our safety and security - and yes, it's in our national interests to ensure that the values that underpin us as Britons are values that we promote around the world - and that's what we're doing”  is thoroughly unpleasant in its overt wording and covert message. We are now a nation who will do anything, cuddle up to anyone as long as it is in our interest to do so. Under successive governments, but especially so with this one, with its Brexit mandate and populist motive there is no depth to which we will not sink, no offer that we will refuse – so long that is there is something in it for us.

I’m no fan of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn but he was exactly right when he called for the immediate suspension of UK arms exports to Saudi Arabia. He criticised the "dictatorial Saudi monarchy's shocking human rights record” and said “the Saudi-led coalition bombing in Yemen, backed by the British government, has left thousands dead, 21 million people in need of humanitarian assistance and three million refugees uprooted from their homes.... Yemen urgently needs a ceasefire, a political settlement, and food aid, not more bombing... British-made weapons are being used in a war which has caused a humanitarian catastrophe."

As I watched the TV news and witnessed May’s rictus smile as she paid grizzly homage to the Saudi royals my mind was filled with the sewer song from the musical Les Miserables , sung by the awful M & Mme Thenardiers as they roam  the 19th century Paris sewers scavenging from the bodies and the excrement lying there:

Here among the sewer rats
A breath away from Hell you get accustomed to the smell......
Here's a tasty ring, pretty little thing
Wouldn't want to waste it that would really be a crime
Thank you sir, I'm in your debt
Here's another toy, take it off the boy
His heart's no longer going and he's lived his little time
But his watch is ticking yet!....
......Well, someone's got to clean them up, my friends
Before the little harvest disappears into the mud
Someone's got to collect their odds and ends when the gutters run with blood.
It's a world where the dog eats the dog where they kill for bones in the street
And God in His Heaven He don't interfere
'Cause he's dead as the stiffs at my feet
But we're the ones who take it, we're the ones who make it in the end!
Watch the buggers dance watch 'em till they drop
Keep your wits about you and you stand on top!
Masters of the land always get our share
Clear away the barricades and we're still there!
We know where the wind is blowing money is the stuff we smell.

And when we're rich as Croesus Jesus! Won't we see you all in hell!

Brexit Britain is “open for business” and like M & Mme Thenardier we will leave no stone unturned, no sewer swamp undredged, no corpse unrobbed to earn our fast buck, to do a deal, to make a trade; ensuring our “interests” is all that now matters and we care not what the moral or ethical consequences are either for ourselves or others. As today’s Guardian argued “....We will be the financier and arms merchant to dictators. We will be the trading centre for financial products too dangerous for European standards. We will be the premier investment hub for the emerging super rich of the developing world, where everything can be bought for a good enough price. Britain is for sale, and we don’t much care who is buying”.  We increasingly not only look like a banana republic by taunting and sneering at our near neighbours but we behave like a banana republic - our government ministers talking of tax havens, off shore financial dealings being welcome in Brexit London or senior Tories like Michael Howard issuing veiled threats of war against Spain over the Gibraltar issue. Hollywood Mafia Don Vito Corleone would feel very much at home in May’s Brexit Britain making offers that people couldn’t refuse!

In this world where all revolves around a sharp deal, a fast buck, a good trade our national well being is now almost solely defined in terms of how wealthy our nation is or how secure we are. As we cut ourselves off from our friends in Europe and increasingly lose some of the very characteristics that make us part of humanity – conscience, sympathy, empathy, decency - I ask myself at what point, and where, do we ever stop and ask ourselves the question is what we are doing  right, is it fair, is it worthy, is it just, is it acceptable, is it decent, can it be morally or ethically justified? Together with the USA, we have not only stopped seeking an answer to these questions which are fundamental  to our individual and national humanity but have lost the ability to even ask the questions themselves.  We are the modern day Thenardiers of 2017 roaming the world scavenging, selling to and involving ourselves with anyone that will share our tainted values or buy our tainted goods.

Last night I finished reading Gary Younge’s compelling, powerful but excruciatingly painful  book “Another Day in the Death of America”.  Younge’s detailed telling of one typical day in America (Nov. 23rd 2013) and the ten children who were killed by guns on that day pulls no punches and left me squirming with rage at America’s obsession with firearms. In his concluding chapter Younge  bitterly and overwhelmingly sadly says: “it’s made me want to scream at anyone......to just howl at the moon. A long, doleful, piercing cry for a wealthy country that could and should do better for its youth and its children....but appears to have settled...on a pain threshold that is morally unacceptable”.  Without wishing to detract from Younge’s powerful and insightful analysis of the gun dominated culture of the USA those last comments of his ring a bell with me when I reflect upon what we British are doing around the world in the name of trade, security, prosperity and, overarching all, Brexit.  We are, like the USA, a wealthy country, but our crime is not one of guns in our own land but rather of our being prepared to shun our true friends in Europe and roam the world cavorting with any shady character or crackpot dictator who will entertain us and to whom we can sell weapons that will kill others. As Younge says of the USA we in Britain could and should do better but it appears that as in America,  Brexit Britain has settled on a pain threshold that is morally unacceptable.

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