For my money, on the old autocracy and brutality scale the Stalinist monarchy of North Korea is eclipsed only by the Saudis. Sure, our friends in the North have networks of forced labour camps, a culture of summary execution, and a grotesque personality cult. Every obscene trapping of a disgusting dictatorship is present in spades. Yet North Korea gets by without reducing women to chattel, publicly whipping alcohol drinkers, beheading people for sorcery, and executes a woman in the same manner, albeit after dragging her through the streets of Islam's holiest city.
This might occasionally be covered by the British media, but there's - at best - a unanimity of silence from our politicians. At worst, as per today, the most gut-wrenching hypocrisy. With the honourable exception of Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson, and a handful of others. Come, let's gaze upon their hypocrisy.
David Cameron: "I am deeply saddened to hear of the death of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, His Majesty King Abdullah bin Abd Al Aziz Al Saud. He will be remembered for his long years of service to the Kingdom, for his commitment to peace and for strengthening understanding between faiths. My thoughts and prayers are with the Saudi Royal Family and the people of the Kingdom at this sad time."
The Queen: "I am saddened to learn of the death of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, HM King Abdullah bin Abd Al Aziz. Your distinguished brother Abdullah had devoted his life to the service of the Kingdom and the service of Islam. He will be long remembered by all who work for peace and understanding between nations and between faiths. I offer Your Majesty my sincere condolences and I offer my sympathy to the Saudi people."
Westminster Abbey: "The Abbey flag is flying at half mast as a mark of respect following the death of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, King of Saudi Arabia"
Barack Obama: "As our countries worked together to confront many challenges, I always valued King Abdullah’s perspective and appreciated our genuine and warm friendship. As a leader, he was always candid and had the courage of his convictions."
There's more. There's so much more, but one can stomach only so much.
"America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests" so said Henry Kissinger in a hard-nosed reflection of his time at the State Department. A truth that applies equally to perfidious Albion and its relations with other states. The relationship the UK has had historically with Saudi Arabia are intertwined with oil and markets. The al-Yamamah arms deal brokered by the freedom-loving Thatcher government has seen BAE systems rake in £43bn in revenue between 1985 and 2006. There have been a number of subsequent deals that has also seen BAE in receipt of a couple of billion here, several billion there (further details). Governments of all stripes maintain that armaments support skilled, well-paid jobs. Then again, so did a great deal of Britain's manufacturing base, which they were only too happy to see go to the wall. The truth of the matter is Saudi oil money helps lubricate the establishment, contributes to the treasury (theoretically), and flatters the egos of those who care about such things that Britain remains a Middle East player.
There's also an unhealthy investment balance between the two kingdoms. British investment in Saudi Arabia stood this time last year at around $15bn, annual exports at £3.1bn and stand to grow more as their economy rapidly expands. Meanwhile, total Saudi assets invested here are estimated at £62bn. They are gobbling property in and throwing up buildings London, making a not inconsiderable contribution to economic growth figures. Like other Gulf sheikhdoms, money is spreading out from property speculation to the real economy: supermarkets, creative industries, education, sport. There is a very real material interest helping explain why our government is supine when it comes to Saudi brutality and sponsorship of terrorism.
Not that that's a good excuse, of course. As a rule, I am wary of sanctions against rancid regimes. Capitalism and markets, for all their faults (and their faults are legion), have a tendency to promote private freedoms corrosive of public authoritarianism and tyranny. Sanctions against North Korea and Cuba should be scrapped, for instance. Also, that the Saudi Arabian economy like the other Gulf States are diversifying domestically as well is good news. Their monarchies may not be long for this world. The relationship Britain has had with Saudi Arabia these last 60 years is very different from the ongoing process of integrating it into global capitalism. It has been a corrupt one-to-one where we supply Saudi absolutism with weapons - the means to secure it - in return for cash and oil. Our trading relationship has not undermined the monarchy, it has strengthened it. And it's becoming increasingly dysfunctional from our point of view. It's their money helping inflate London/South East property prices and exacerbating our housing crisis, for instance.
No, it's time the relationship with Saudi Arabia and Gulf State sheikhdoms were reset. Our arms deals are helping prop up some of the 21st century's most disgusting regimes. They have to go.