Monday, 30 January 2017

The Tories and the Special Relationship

Stoke-on-Trent might be the centre of the political universe, but that isn't to say tumultuous events don't take place outwith the gilded city limits. And while by-election fever and an altogether unpleasant illness have gripped me, Donald Trump marked his first week in the Oval Office by unleashing a hurricane-level shit storm. His "temporary" travel ban on people born in seven Muslim countries where Trump happens to have no business interests drew near unanimous condemnation. And yet he found backing from Boris Johnson in the Commons this afternoon. The foreign secretary said this isn't as bad as his pledges on the campaign trail and that means his bark is worse than his bite, and so we should be thankful. Just how we should thank racists for firebombing one Mosque as opposed to two, or the EDL for beating up an Asian kid instead of tearing up a town centre. May is no better. Her craven performance as the first overseas courtier to meet the new president was, remarkably, regarded as something of a coup across the official commentariat and established media. How fast things change. Dismissing Trump's travel ban merely as a "matter for the Americans" speaks for the moral vacuity at the heart of her project.

The right's counter argument invokes that misused and knackered old beast, the "special relationship". The Churchill bust is back, Trump went out of his way to woo "his Maggie", he promised the UK would be at "the front of the queue" for a trade deal post-Brexit, and he even allowed the Prime Minister to take his dainty hand and guide him down a wee incline. We must therefore seize this moment and stay as close to this well-disposed president as possible. To utter the slightest criticism puts his Anglophilia at risk. None of this should come as any surprise, the Tories are well practiced at sucking up to worse people than Trump. The legacy of appeasement runs deep.

The Tory understanding of the special relationship comes from the overdue sunset on the British empire. As anyone conversant with any half-decent analysis of global geopolitics will tell you, Churchill (himself half-American) worked to get the United States involved in the war against Nazi Germany and then to step up to the plate as the guardian of the liberal capitalist order. Exhausted, as Britain withdrew from its colonies the US became the anti-communist bulwark old Winston always wanted it to be. Never mind that it subverted democracies, destroyed popular movements, and installed and supported dictators wherever it saw fit, little Britain was there by its side, sharing intelligence and providing fig leafs. Britain may have its own bomb and advanced military capabilities, but in a world inhabited first by the Soviet Union, and now a resurgent China it only "punches above its weight" by virtue of its being the herald for United States interests. They can never really admit it, but the Tories know well this is the case. Hence why they weren't fans of Obama nor Hillary Clinton who, for their part, viewed the special relationship with some distaste. Why not hang around with interesting folks like Angela Merkel's Germany instead of a ceremonial hangover as obscure and puzzling as parliamentary protocols are to most normal people. It's also why the Tories had no problem with Blair getting his thing on with Dubya. He understood Britain's proper place, and that was in America's lap. And why almost every single Conservative MP happily walked through the lobby in support of the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq.

The character of the special relationship May has planned for Britain post-Brexit will see America and Britain become even closer. Already we have one of the most open economies in the world. Open for businesses from anywhere to swoop in and make a killing on the property market, take advantage of our anti-worker legislation to lock millions into poorly paid, insecure employment, and snap up strategic industries without even a shrug of the government's shoulders. A trade deal with Trump's America would exacerbate the situation. As we export more than what we import from the US, because their economy is over six times the size of our own, and as we'll be desperate for a deal if May follows through with her wrexit promise, Britain is going to be in a weak negotiating position. And that means two things, because this was what the Americans were pressing for under the aborted TTIP negotiations under Trump's liberal hero predecessor. A diminution of food standards so the Americans can freely sell all kinds of hormone injected meat and dairy without labelling, and opening more of the state up to private capital - including the NHS. A handshake greased with the slick of billions of tax monies heading for the coffers of American insurance companies. All presided over by secret corporate courts in which businesses can sue the government if they take action that threatens profitable returns on investments. Talk about sovereignty. Talking about taking back control.

That isn't to say the special relationship is a fiction, it is real. American culture is global culture, and because of the shared language Britain binges on their cultural produce like no other. But it is not a one-way street. British cultural exports and talent find ready audiences over there as well. The numbers of British actors, directors and producers, and video game developers that participate in the shaping of how America sees itself is surprising. And that's without acknowledging the roots burrowed under the ocean bed that link the two nations to the point where an understanding of the national character of each is impossible without reference to the other. And like all relationships, there's some give and some take. When Obama came to London and said no special favours for the UK post-Brexit, that didn't scare leave-minded voters - it motivated them to say up yours, a bloody sod you then. It firmed up the Brexit camp because, despite the special relationship, the then president was totally uninterested in the give. When May has gone through years of the weekly humiliation of soft soaping, white washing, and spinning for Trump, when her appeasement starts costing Britain friends and trade, and when finally she goes cap in hand to the White House for a trade deal, May will be doing the giving and Trump the taking. And all in full public view. The special relationship is tilting toward appeasement, how long before it becomes supplication?


Anonymous said...

Remember seeing the US war plans to defeat the British Empire.

Speedy said...

It's all so immensely predictable - never has the UK been so diminished. It's not all the Tories fault however: the Lexit idiots also contributed. What did they expect? What am I saying - these are the same people that think Jeremy Corbin will "save" the Labour Party. Proof that lunacy is not exclusive to the right.

The odd thing however is that there is little acknowledgement by the Left, anywhere, of the role they played in Trump and Brexit, or Wilders or Le Pen for that matter. As Gump says - stupid is as stupid does.

The Tories are doing what Tories always do, but the Left acts as if it was some kind of natural disaster, and isn't it terrible how right wing people have become, seemingly oblivious to the correlation between its abandonment of the working class and switch to policing their behaviour in order to impose policies that only really enriched the middle-class and made them feel good about themselves.

Jeremy Corbyn (Parody) said...

Perky faux socialist, Owen Smith, today pushing for another EU referendum. Let's get the Leaver vote in Stoke Central and Copeland really angry. Let's have Trumpism over here! I can't believe he's being so stupid.