There is usually a protest somewhere near Downing Street, and if I really get into the nitty gritty of reading the banners, I always agree with them. I, too, think that pigs should be treated humanely, vivisection should be banned, territorial disputes should be solved without violence and, in the main, when people are demonstrating about someone in prison, that person probably shouldn’t be in prison.
The demo against the visit of President Erdoğan, a man who has oppressed Kurds, imprisoned journalists and sent a creepy Big Brother-style voicemail celebrating himself to the mobile numbers of every Turkish citizen, was no different; except it was different.
This was no distant atrocity in some corner of the world, this is now how we formulate our foreign policy. Theresa May invites over some grim character from the world stage, authoritarian in their own country, often with some atrocity elsewhere still ongoing, and we dutifully – some more energetically than others – object. May raises human rights by rote at a press conference, and the leaders in question become ever bolder in their repudiation. Those 160 imprisoned journalists, Erdoğan retorted, were all terrorists. It’s best not to dig too deep into his reasoning, for therein lies a whole snakepit of bare assertion and disregard for the rule of law. But look, over there! Some shiny trade deals. We need trade, remember; we’ve got to trade with someone, and we can’t just invite Justin Trudeau over again and again.
Don’t look too closely, either, at what we’re actually trading: the prime bidder is Rolls-Royce, and they’re not flogging cars for Turkey’s booming period drama industry. They’re looking to supply parts for Erdoğan’s new TFX fighter jet, but let’s not get over-excited, we don’t know what he’ll use them for. They may just be a deterrent against all those incredibly well-armed journalists. It is not as if we are talking about Saudi Arabia, to whom we supply arms while they are actively engaged in a campaign against Yemen which the Red Cross has described as one of the ugliest in the world. No, that was last month: the same muted jingoism about the bounty of imports and exports; the same shifty yet resolute silence on what is actually going on. The financial services deal that the leaders announced may be big bucks, but is, morally, small fry. This is a relationship in which we rejoice in their purchase of our armaments, then rejoice again at our generosity in giving £50m towards humanitarian aid for the Yemenis we armed them against. It is utter ethical bankruptcy.
The arrival of President Trump in July will present a set of different challenges: but nobody walks away from a negotiating table over a bit of pussy-grabbing. The trouble is, he also wants to grab the NHS by the pussy: the high cost of US healthcare is, apparently, down to the “freeloading” of other countries, so obviously the answer is for our health service to pay more for its drugs. This agenda he will deftly prosecute by dangling our trading relationship by its ankles over the precipice of his free-market fundamentalism. Will it work? We can’t afford for it not to work. You’ve got to trade with someone, remember. It’s not the prime minister’s fault that the whole world’s gone strongman bananas at the same time.
Except, of course, it is her fault: when you walk away from the largest civilised trading bloc in the world, the entirely predictable consequence is that you end up shackled to the uncivilised. We have a long and shameful history of making friends for trading purposes who represent an insult to our stated values: the difference now is that we can’t afford to unmake them.
Red, white and patriotic blues
I’m in two minds about the sight of the nation festooned with union flags in advance of a royal wedding. On the one hand, bunting, anything that looks like bunting, anything that’s red, white and blue, any sign that untrammelled joy is a national requirement, heralds disaster. It starts off cute and big-hearted, and then before you know it, you are swelled with nostalgia and British exceptionalism and scones. On the other hand, all British flag-waving comes with a temporary waiver of the yard-arm and the drinking starts at 11am. That, I quite enjoy.
The union flag is, for some unknowable reason (no, wait, I do know it – the Scottish, Welsh and Irish are less obnoxious than the English) less combustible than that of St George. Dep chief constable Mark Roberts of the National Police Chief’s Council has warned England fans planning to travel to Russia for the World Cup that their chosen insignia might be considered “imperialistic and antagonistic”, warning them expressly about the opening game in Volgograd. Once known as Stalingrad, the city has a number of historically significant sites that Russians would not appreciate seeing cloaked in red and white. “Don’t mention the war” was his underlying message, even though we were on the same side, if memory serves, and you could argue that any nationalistic signage of ours carried a clarion of solidarity against our shared enemy. You would need pretty good Russian to make that case, though, and you would want to be able to say it quite fast.
There’s a very easy answer to all of this: all nationalistic flags should be printed with some peace or love signifier on the other side: a dove; a heart; a rainbow; maybe a cat; a joint; a G-clef. The large-scale emotional confusion would be intoxicating in itself.
The Tories’ environmental sabotage is a betrayal of our future
Investment in green energy has fallen to its lowest level since 2008, but how? The figure – 56% – is a lot of funding to lose in a single year, 2017, unless you are really trying. Ah, but they are trying: the government has privatised the green investment bank, canned the renewables obligation for onshore wind, reduced feed-in tariffs for small-scale producers, quietly ditched the zero-carbon homes policy and got rid of the £1bn investment in research on carbon capture and storage. It’s not foot-dragging on the 2050 zero emissions target: it is active sabotage. This is, amid unprecedentedly stiff competition, their worst betrayal of our future.