To say Britain has a troubled foreign policy history is like saying Brock Turner has a dubious history on women’s issues.
As the Empire unravelled and turned into Commonwealth, old colonial methods for extracting resources from some of the poorest nations on Earth to furnish the UK’s wealth changed to stealthier trade deals. While on the surface many of these deals seemed to guarantee much needed money for countries around the world, they often came with stipulations that had very negative impacts on the populations of those countries. Moves to restrict the power of multi-national companies and to take back control of the vast natural resources that many of the countries were sitting was strictly prohibited as the UK sought to keep the milk from its foreign cash cows flowing.
The UK’s International Development Budget was never supposed to be linked to these deals. The idea that as a rich nation we should provide funds to the countries of the world most in need is clearly a commendable one. It’s also one that Priti Patel, the new the Secretary of State for International Development has always been against.
In 2013, before her promotion, Patel suggested it might be a good idea to “replace DfID with a Department for International Trade and Development in order to enable the UK to focus on enhancing trade with the developing world and seek out new investment opportunities in the global race.”
Britain has committed to spending 0.7% of its national GDP on International Development. This 70p for every £100 earned equates to about £12bn each year and so it should be no surprise Patel wants to abolish Foreign Aid. Of course, she isn’t couching it in those terms. She claims she wants to “make Foreign Aid work harder for Britain”. What she means is she will use Foreign Aid as a bargaining chip to pressure poor nations into doing deals that don’t favour their populations. If the deals benefited the countries in question, they wouldn’t need to be pressured. So in the reality she’s abolished the International Development Budget and created a Bribery Budget. Patel claims she will ensure the aid will be funnelled to those who actually need it but it’s clear that £12bn will provide the grease for many a deal. The losers will be the people around the world who have come to rely on this aid.
I’m not a huge fan of aid (or development funding, as it’s been rebranded); it sounds a bit too paternalistic to me. Britain and its European friends could never dream of repaying the resources they have stolen over the centuries in India, Africa, the Caribbean, Latin American and Asia but maybe an international reparations budget would be a start. This would need to be dedicated to improving the lives of the people in the robbed countries and would have absolutely nothing to do with trade.
Patel delivered her plans to the Commons ahead of the second Prime Minister’s Questions of the new season. With the Labour Leadership race entering its home straight, the weekly Punch and Judy show will be heavily scrutinised for signs that Jeremy Corbyn is not wearing the right suit or other proof that he is not fit for leadership.
Last week, PMQs kicked off with new PM, Theresa May, responding to genuine questions on Britain’s housing crisis with cheap pre-written gags. This week Corbyn took the PM to task about her plans to reintroduce Grammar schools. Again, Corbyn’s no-nonsense straight questioning was more effective than May’s question dodging and stock soundbites. He pointed out that bringing more selection into schools could only possibly mean more children from poorer backgrounds being thrown on the scrap heap at 11. Grammar schools seem like a nice idea when you only think in terms of the elite, but it is an easily proven fact that when schools get to pick their students, it’s the black, the brown and the poor who are left behind.
This ill-conceived leadership contest may well prove to be a massive benefit to Corbyn and Labour. If he wins, Corbyn will be a stronger performer than before. He will have tightened his policies, improved his presentation and strengthened his authority. He has even bought nicer suits. Labour is now the largest political party in Europe and there may well be another swell in membership if Corbyn wins. More and more people have had a chance to listen to the man rather than relying on skewed media coverage. They are seeing a man who speaks out in favour of Notting Hill Carnival when the Mayor of London stays silent, they see a man who has never wavered from his beliefs despite unbelievable pressure, they see a man who is always passionate but never personal.
The electorate has short memories. If May manages to cling on to power until 2020, her honeymoon will be over and a unified Corbyn-led Labour party will be a much more attractive prospect.
Matthew Ryder, Deputy Mayor
Despite missing the chance to talk about Notting Hill Carnival, London Mayor Sadiq Khan carried on his bittersweet mayoralty by appointing human rights champion QC Matthew Ryder as the first ever Deputy Mayor for Social Integration. Ryder is an excellent appointment with a track record of taking on the police and a reputation for competence and approachability. At a time when London’s communities are straining under the weight of Brexit-stoked racism and media-fed Islamophobia, social integration will be an incredible important part of Khan’s challenges. Appointing Ryder shows that he is willing to have hard conversations and take controversial paths.
If Hillary’s stumble sees the rest of us fall to a Trump presidency, the world for migrants will get that bit darker. London’s role will be even more important.
This week will see the launch of an art installation which aims to push back against anti-migrant rhetoric. The installation will see members of the public invited into the back of a truck to share their reflections on the theme of “refugees welcome”, at a refugee solidarity demonstration on 17 September.
Conceptual artist Alketa Xhafa-Mripa, who moved to the UK from Kosovo in 1998, created a traditional British living room and installed it in the back of a van. Last year Xhafa-Mripa filled a Kosovan football stadium with dresses as a tribute to survivors of sexual violence during the country’s 1998-99 war.
The artistic intervention is due to take place during the Solidarity with Refugees demonstration in central London on 17 September. The demo comes a year after images of drowned toddler Aylan Kurdi briefly outraged the British public.
Refugees Welcome is commissioned by Counterpoints Arts, a charity which supports and produces the arts by and about migrants and refugees. The organisation produced a version of the installation at the British Museum for Refugee Week in June 2016.
Counterpoints Arts: www.counterpointsarts.org.uk
Solidarity with Refugees Demonstration: www.swruk.org
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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.
Maurice Mcleod is a social commentator with Jamaican/Swazi heritage. He is director of his own communications company, Marmoset Media, and writes regularly for The Guardian and The Spectator among other titles. He is also a trustee for campaign group Race on the Agenda. Maurice often appears on Sky News as a talking head and writes about social issues, race or politics. He tweets as @mowords