Britain’s Stone Cold Democracy
Sadiq Khan’s notes from a small island do, indeed, highlight an unravelling commitment to democracy. But one closer to home than across the Atlantic, writes Miranda Husain.
The show was in full swing. Even before Theresa May bowed out as premier. For during her final days at Number 10, Donald Trump went down to London to visit the Queen. But there was no little mouse for him to frighten under her chair. Of this, both Larry the Cat and Sadiq Khan made sure. Though only one managed to install himself under the armour-plated presidential Beast.
A state visit by the unquiet American was always going to be a pantomime of sorts. And it didn’t disappoint. Right from the get-go, the Khan-Trump sideshow took centre-stage. Penning a scathing op-ed in one of the broadsheets, the Mayor of London warned against rolling out the red carpet for the world’s best known ‘mother bomber’. But in a timely reminder that US efficiency often — ahem — trumps the British way of doing things, the US president tweeted that his nemesis was nothing more than a “stone cold loser” who would do better to focus on the capital’s soaring crime rates. Thereby debunking that old adage about words never hurting.
Yet as the Westminster spotlight shines on the race to the top, analysts have all but forgotten this latest chapter in an ongoing Twitter row. This is a gross misstep. Not least because the London mayor’s notes from a small island do, indeed, highlight an unravelling commitment to democracy. But one closer to home than across the Atlantic. All of which raises important questions about accountability. Or the lack thereof.
Mr Khan has legitimate reason to term Trump “one of the most egregious examples” of a growing global far-right threat. Ditto when it comes to accusing him and others of using “the same divisive tropes of the fascists of the 20th century”; pitting citizens against each other. But to dwell solely on this is to effectively whitewash London’s own inglorious past. From colonisation. To Enoch Powell’s chilling Rivers of Blood speech.
To Margaret Thatcher’s promise to make Great Britain great again while safeguarding against “swamping” from immigrant cultures. To Toxic Blair’s relentless insistence that being ‘soft’ on welfare fuelled migrant influxes to the country. To Gordon Brown’s mainstreaming of the far-right British Nationalist Party (BNP) slogan: British jobs for British workers.
To Cameron who conveniently labelled ISIS the biggest threat to world peace just as the Occupy Movement was taking hold in the US and beyond. In the face of a devastating Tory austerity package, this move sought to justify a continued militarised foreign policy while painting the Muslim world as an insular breeding ground for terrorism.
The result being that any half-hearted moves at offering safe-havens to those fleeing NATO bullets and bombs have naturally been met with hostility from host populations as well as a mainstream media that persists in misidentifying refugees as migrants. All of which neatly puts paid to the fallacy that racism and xenophobia are a peculiarly Brexit-linked phenomena.
Similarly, the reminder that Trump Town is a place that holds no respect for democratic ideals also falls rather flat. Especially considering that it was the younger Bush who threw out all rulebooks on the Geneva Conventions as he ushered in the era of the pre-emptive strike. In Afghanistan, this translated into a war that still burns nearly two decades later; largely due to the American refusal to accept the Taliban offer to hand over Bin Laden to a third country.
Elsewhere, a war of aggression — the supreme crime as determined by the Nuremberg principles — was launched in Iraq. And throughout both military misadventures, the British poodle was more than eager and willing to play ball. Meaning that unless and until Khan begins to direct his ire towards a certain former British Prime Minister and erstwhile head of his own Labour Party — mayoral criticism of Washington’s man at the top will ring hollow. For Blair has never been brought to book. Let alone tired for war crimes.
Either by the country’s judiciary or by his own party; the four costly but toothless inquiries into Iraq notwithstanding.
Thus, instead of lamenting how Britain will look back on Trump’s state visit with profound regret mixed with a sense of being on the wrong side of history — the entire political establishment ought to do the needful and recognise recent warmongering not only in Afghanistan and Iraq but also in Libya and Syria. So far, Jeremy Corbyn remains a lone and steadfast voice on this front.
In short, the biggest takeaway from Trump’s royal visit is that Britain remains willfully myopic regarding its own democratic record. And that for all the public displays of dissent — including images of the incumbent and his predecessor splashed across the Tower of London complete with respective UK approval ratings — that old truism of power being seized and not handed over still prevails.
After all, everyone and their cat knows that the political elite is devoted to the ‘special relationship’ like no other. It gives them swagger. None of which is going down the pan just because Khan saw fit to take an American president to task instead of his own peers.
That the leader of the so-called free world views Corbyn as a ‘negative force’ ought to rally those who want to see a real change in the power dynamics of UK-US ties. Hopefully. Paws crossed.
Miranda Husain is a senior journalist and has worked as Deputy Managing Editor at Daily Times, Features Editor at The Friday Times (TFT) and Deputy Editor at Newsweek Pakistan. She writes on local and international politics; race and identity; and cats! She can be reached at [email protected] and tweets @humeiwei