8 June 2019 — New Eastern Outlook
We have all seen it time and again – the US walks into some developing country, gives its support to its favoured politicians, irrespective of whether they are in government or not, and then starts trying to dictate domestic policy by offering “aid” the poor country is in no position to refuse.
But this is how we tell the developing countries from the developed ones. Mature democracies with large economies are not treated this way. The US may not see such countries as equals, but it regards their governments as legitimate, and deals with them accordingly. It expresses support for, or sometimes disagreement with, their policies, but does not openly support their opponents in preference to themselves, or one member of the governing party as opposed to another.
Donald Trump’s State Visit to the UK has to be one of the most disgusting spectacles ever seen on the world stage. Maybe as a businessman, or rather legalised conman, he looks at every country as a potential addition to the corporate portfolio he is not supposed to have, or profit from, while he is in office.
But even he knows you don’t come on a state visit to the UK and meet Nigel Farage, who has never been elected to parliament, and tell the government he should be leading the Brexit negotiations.
You don’t go round saying that the National Health Service, such a jewel in the UK’s crown, can be part of any US-UK trade deal he is banking on the UK being desperate to accept, even though he backtracked on these comments later.
You don’t arrange meetings with politicians behind the back of the Prime Minister, and start spouting off about who you want to win the Conservative Party’s internal leadership election to replace her.
The sight of Donald “Grab ‘Em Right by the Pussy” Trump, as President of the United States, walking into America’s former colonial master, as an honoured guest of the crown and the nation, and tearing down every previous standard of decency belongs to some sort of porn movie rather than anything the international audience should be exposed to on primetime TV. Brits have the right to ask, “How has it come to this?” But they don’t ask too loud, because they already know, and they have done it to themselves.
Cat food out of the bag
If Trump knew about anything apart from his own ego he might consider that one of the reasons the Russian autocracy was long regarded so negatively in the UK was Peter the Great’s notorious visit of 1698, during which he came across as drunk and boorish, chopping up priceless furniture for firewood and using paintings as target practice.
As England had only recently had its Glorious Revolution, designed to end absolute monarchy, this behaviour was considered an inevitable consequence of a country having a backward, inherently corrupt system of government. Two centuries later, King George V would not allow Tsar Nicholas II to settle in England after his abdication due to fear of the negative public reaction that the 1698 visit, though forgotten in itself, still engendered in the British public.
But Trump can and will get away with behaving as a later-day Peter the Great because the United Kingdom is living in a virtual reality which everyone else sees through. Of course it can offer Trump pageantry, the Queen, parliament and all the things the American colonies turned their backs on in 1776.
Indeed that is why London attracts so many American tourists: they go there to see historical fantasy, a sugar cake of their own imaginings of what life was like in a gentler era, in which they were all aristocrats rather than peasants. But that pageantry is increasingly just that: fantasy. The UK may still have one of the world’s strongest economies, but it is increasingly a house of cards waiting to fall down, even without Brexit.
For over thirty years the UK has made a point out of progressively cutting welfare assistance, a practice now disguised by the pseudo-scientific term “austerity”. The UN has criticised the country for its treatment of the poor and vulnerable, and UK state pension levels are amongst the lowest in the developed world.
The economic reforms of the Thatcher era, designed to ensure that British industry paid its way and no longer lived on public subsidy, were supposed to have swept this situation away. People who are claiming pensions now began their working lives during that period, and paid their contributions. They are entitled to believe that, having been part of these reforms and paid their way, they should now be suitably cared for by the state: they are not demanding anything they have not worked and paid for, as they were told they now had to do.
When such a situation exists, the country itself is sick. It doesn’t matter what economic or social policies you adopt: there is an inherent malaise which is resistant to reform. Sometimes it lies in the attitude of the people, sometimes the system of government is so compromised that the country is incapable of progressing. Modern Turkey is a very different animal to the old Ottoman Empire, because the Ottoman Empire as constituted could not survive, and cannot be resurrected.
The US has known the truth about the UK, the old motherland and “special friend”, for a very long time, but has been too polite to say it. Trump could never be accused of being polite, but even he isn’t saying it directly.
Nevertheless he is demonstrating by his actions that the UK is as sick as it is, because he knows he can. Brits may not like it, but their government is powerless to resist, as at present it cannot convince anyone that he UK is anything better than the Third World countries it is always so dismissive about for the crime of not copying the British.
Trump has visited the UK because he knows it is easy pickings. All that history and grandeur is for sale, and dirt cheap. As George Soros once found, all it takes for a currency to lose a significant chunk of its value is for currency traders to stop believing in its stated worth. The value on the pound note remains the same, but it is worth nothing more than Trump thinks it is, as he shows by behaving like the arrogant crook he has always been.
Pips that can’t even squeak
Now Theresa May is standing down there is a scramble to replace her. Or rather it is more like a collection of ducks, some fat and some scrawny, waddling into each other and waiting to be shot.
There have always been times when governing parties have been punished at the polls, at local council elections, by-elections and European elections when they have fallen in a mid-term. When people aren’t actually voting for the government in Westminster, they often display a healthy desire to kick whichever party is in power just to remind it that it is there to serve the people, not the other way round.
The Conservatives have sunk low when in government before, most notably in 1995, when after the local elections in they controlled only around 13 local authorities in the UK as a whole, out of a total of over 300. This made them the third party in local government, after Labour and the Liberal Democrats.
But on that occasion they gained 25% of the UK wide vote, and although clearly in serious trouble they had no serious competitors for their significant share of the electorate. People who would otherwise have voted Conservative either defected to other parties temporarily or stayed at home, and could expect to be won back if the party got its act together.
At last month’s European parliament elections the Conservatives won 8.8% of the vote, by far their lowest total in any national election. They were squeezed on the right by the Brexit Party and on the left by the Liberal Democrats, and to a lesser extent Labour and the Greens. Those who remain in the Conservative fold are clinging on to something which used to be, but no longer exists. Yet this is the party of government, albeit minority government, whose next leader will become Prime Minister.
The parade has passed the Conservative Party by, at least while Nigel Farage is still roaming the media outlets and running from the law. The idea of the leader of the Conservative Party being the next British Prime Minister is about as credible as O.J. Simpson being the next US President.
The new leader may command a majority in parliament, with the support of the Ulster Unionists, but will have no relevance to the population. There has never been a greater threat to the UK’s long and distinguished tradition of parliamentary democracy than the government being run by people who only got 8.8% of the vote last time anyone was asked to cast one.
Despite this dire situation, nearly twenty MPs announced candidacies or suggested they would do so. This was not a ringing endorsement of the health of the parliamentary party however. It was more of an attempt to stop Boris Johnson, by any means possible – or get up on the coat tails of his supporters, if this endeavour succeeded.
The party is making up the rules as it goes along, in the hope that it can get someone in quick and avoid complete meltdown. The remaining ducks now need to gain the support of eight colleagues to be nominated, and then go through two more rounds of voting before the final two face a broader party vote.
The broader vote is designed to give the elected leader greater legitimacy, but is likely to have the opposite effect given the small rump of Conservative members still supportive enough to vote, or care about who gets the job if it isn’t Boris. It is the equivalent of the Lord Mayor of London being chosen by a random selection of customers voting in the back room of a supermarket, which wasn’t even in London. Even if the new leader is broadly acceptable to the public as well as the party the mere fact that they lead the Conservative Party will make them untenable as Prime Minister.
This is before they even discuss what they are going to do about Brexit. Predictably, the various candidates have different views on this subject, from “crash out on October 31st with no deal” to “renegotiate the best possible deal and sell it to the public”. Neither of those outcomes has ever been capable of existing, and now they are being promoted by a Prime Minister from the rump Conservative Party, it is crazy to even think that they might.
Bad mouths kiss
The general opinion of Trump’s presidency is that he has debased the office he holds. Whether you agree or disagree with his policies, the way he conducts himself makes people wonder why the US is such an important country, which demands everyone else should jump to its tune, when this is the best person it can elect to its highest office.
It would be unfair to say that Theresa May debased the office of UK Prime Minister by her behaviour. But she has undoubtedly done that by pursuing Brexit and pleasing nobody. History will not be kind to her legacy.
Previous UK policy failures were seen as reversible negatives, with the strength of the country’s economy and institutions, not to mention its international reputation, containing all the necessary building blocks to turn the country round. But Brexit has divided and weakened the fabric of the nation so much that it cannot point to its considerable previous achievements as the index of its worth.
All those achievements were before the monster called Brexit was invented, and that monster has cut the UK off from its past and left it no future worth speaking of. So says the international community as well as Donald Trump, as you aren’t seeing a rush of world leaders defending the UK against his behaviour, even though they don’t condone it when he goes to their countries.
When the Labour Party, in opposition, elected a new leader in 1963 leading moderate Anthony Crosland lamented that the two serious candidates were Harold Wilson and George Brown, which he said was “a choice between a crook and a drunk”. It may have been an invidious choice, but the crook and the drunk were in the same party, not opposing ones.
Throughout their careers, Wilson and Brown demonstrated that they needed each other, even if both were deeply unpopular with their colleagues. Donald Trump, the crook, has come to the UK to abuse it, making him even more unpopular than ever, and the UK government, and the country as a whole, are now so drunk and incapable that they need to cling to this wretch to walk upright while the rest of the world walks disdainfully by.
Seth Ferris, investigative journalist and political scientist, expert on Middle Eastern affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.