Boris Johnson wasn’t just attacking Obama’s heritage, he was attacking us all

by Kiri Kankhwende 

Before Obama landed last week, Brexiters were beside themselves at the thought that he would weigh in to the referendum debate and tip the scales against them.

After all, one of the main planks of the Brexit economic argument is that an independent Britain, free from the shackles of the EU, will be free to trade with the rest of the world – in particular the US and the Commonwealth.

ObamaBoris’ intervention in the debate revealed some contradictions in their arguments, summed up by his suggestion that Obama was in favour of the UK staying in the EU (and removed a bust of Churchill from the Oval Office) because of an “ancestral dislike of the British empire” due to his Kenyan heritage.

Undeterred, Obama wasted no time in clarifying that Britain outside of the EU would not enjoy preferential treatment with the US on trade – “back of the queue” was his exact phrase.

“They [the Brexit camp] are voicing an opinion about what the United States is going to do. I figured you might want to hear from the president of the United States what I think the United States is going to do,” he said. (Spoiler alert: definitely not making us a friendship bracelet.)

Never mind, there’s still the Commonwealth. But if Boris (co-signed by Nigel Farage, Iain Duncan Smith and others) honestly thinks that Obama’s part-Kenyan heritage is a source of his animus towards Britain, how exactly is the Commonwealth, comprising nations in various stages of a post-colonial hangover from Britain, supposed to be our other trade BFF?

There is an enduring belief that somehow with the Commonwealth Britain can get what it can’t from the EU: all of the trade, none of the immigration and grateful countries who share our misty-eyed nostalgia for Empire. Countries like Kenya, where in 2013 former Mau Mau fighters took their case to The Hague and won an apology and compensation from the British government for the torture they endured during the battle for independence?

It’s farcical to suggest that Britain will be able to have its own way (again) with Commonwealth countries and not have to do something to ease the inefficient visa regime that is splitting up families and negatively impacting students, workers and tourists.

Boris’ comments also unmasked a xenophobic undercurrent to the Brexit campaign and a Tory party that reaches all too easily for nasty when its back is against the wall — like Zac Goldsmith’s Mayoral campaign’s exploitation of racial stereotypes and colonial history, which journalist Peter Oborne has warned sends the message that that there is no role for British Muslims in the British democratic system.

By Boris’ logic, the cloud of suspicion should extend to anyone with heritage in a Commonwealth country – a sort of patriotic gatekeeping that sounds a lot like another brash politician with questionable blonde hair. Obama brought facts to Brexit but it was Boris who imported Trump-ery from the US.

Junior doctors and BHS workers squeezed for profit margins

Junior doctorsAs you read this, junior doctors are staging the first walkout in NHS history in which they will not provide emergency cover. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, undeterred by this shameful historical watershed moment, continues to insist that he will impose the problematic new contract that will have a devastating impact on the doctors’ working conditions and has rebuffed efforts to broker a compromise.

At the same time, retailer BHS is going into administration, putting 11,000 jobs at risk. The common denominator: profit over people.

As GP and author Youssef El Gingihy writes, the junior doctor contract dispute can only be understood in the context of the privatisation of the NHS because bringing down the wage bill (as the new contract will achieve) will increase the profit margins necessary to pave the way for greater privatisation. The junior doctors are on the frontline of the battle to preserve the NHS as we know it; similar contracts for other staff will surely follow.

Meanwhile, BHS is floundering with a pension deficit of £571 million while Sir Philip Green, whose business interests are registered in his wife’s name overseas, collected £586 million from the business in the 15 years it was part of his retail group before it was sold on. BHS has been stripped bare and 11,000 workers have been left twisting in the wind as the company crumples.

And as Philip Green and others squirrel away their millions in tax havens abroad, the government will step in to guarantee BHS workers’ pensions.

That’s the taxpayer: you and me. Somehow the taxpayer is only evoked when we’re talking of paying for the poor, disadvantaged or disabled. But corporate welfare is the real benefits bill that needs slashing.

An Oxfam report on tax avoidance by found that the top 50 US companies, which together made nearly $4 trillion in profits globally between 2008 and 2014, received $11 trillion in US government support over the same period. If the Panama papers have taught us anything, it’s that this is unlikely to be a solely US phenomenon.

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White Men Dancing is a weekly column. Kiri Kankhwende and Maurice Mcleod keep an eye on Westminster. Politics is too important to leave to politicians.

Kiri Kankhwende is a Malawian journalist and blogger specialising in immigration and politics. She has a background in French and Chinese language studies and holds an MSc in International Political Communications, Politics and Human Rights Advocacy. An accomplished public speaker, she has also written for the Guardian and the Independent, and has been a contributor to BBC TV and radio, Al-Jazeera and Fox News. Find her on Twitter @madomasi 

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4 replies

  1. As an American, I don’t understand the big fuss from UK government about removing the bust of Churchill. Last I checked, Churchill was British, not American. The ‘elites’ like him (Churchill) very much here, the ones that don’t see his contribution in world events during WWII – regardless if bust sits in White House or not. Obama, the first black president as Boris Johnson loves to point out, replaced Churchill’s bust with Dr. Martin Luther King, our civil rights leader, who was also black, which I think is more fitting – it really doesn’t require an explanation and it shouldn’t be a point of confusion. I really do not get the banging on from the Conservative party in the UK. Obama’s father, whom he never really knew because he abandoned his young family when he was only a child, was Kenyan (and a Muslim). The only significant time Obama spent with his father before he died was a 2 week period when he was 12 (or maybe 10) years old. His father was a drunk and led a dissolute life, I doubt he imparted any of that Mau-Mau rebellion history to his young son. Anything significant Obama would learn about Mau-mau Rebellion would be from history books.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Short(ish) answer to your question. In common English consensus, Churchill is regarded as something close to a god. He’s seen in a similar way to someone like Abraham Lincoln is in the US. To do anything less than lionise the man is heresy in the British imperialist mind (read: Johnson, Boris).

      Back in 2002, the BBC held a series of programmes looking for the greatest ever Briton. The public got to vote, and Churchill came out on top, and it was largely looked upon as the right decision.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you for answering my question. It makes for better understanding.
        I am aware that the British, and a lot of the world does lionize Winston Churchill, most mainstream Americans do as well, but the fact remains, Churchill is a Briton, not an American, the likes of Boris Johnson and his ilk shouldn’t take such great umbrage at a black American president choosing to put the bust of a black civil rights hero in place of Churchill. It’s perfectly reasonable and does not require explanation. Just like most Americans understand Abraham Lincoln is an “American” president, an American hero, others in the world, even our cousins across the pond need not agree. 🙂

        Like

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