Saturday, 3 June 2017

Trump, Climate Change, and Britain's abandonment of independence

America first, we now learn, seems to mean the planet second.

That may strike you as a paradoxical position to take, America being, like it or not, part of the planet. If that’s your reaction, it only means that you’re one of those who feel we’re duty-bound to take reality into account in forming our beliefs. A great many others, and not just in America, seem to regard reality as an inconvenient obstacle, to be overcome in the quest of some transcendent truth.

Trump digs coal so much he’s prepared to sacrifice the planet to get it
Not just in America. Certainly not. If you’re a Brit in your thirties or older, you probably remember that great May Day in 1997, when Tony Blair grabbed Downing Street for Labour after eighteen years of Tory rule. A new age appeared to be dawning, hope was resurgent, a better future seemed within our grasp.

These days, it’s fashionable to focus on the disappointments that followed. That however is to belittle, to betray some remarkable achievements: a huge onslaught against child poverty, an unprecedented and sustained level of investment in the NHS, the incorporation of the convention on human rights into domestic law, devolution to the constituent nations of the UK, the Good Friday agreement, to name only some of the more remarkable. It seems a pity to focus instead on the poor performance in education and certain areas of benefits: it was a mixed bag, perhaps, but infinitely preferable to the unmixed bag of injustice and cruelty we’ve seen since Labour lost office.

Among the disappointments, however, one is particularly unforgivable: British participation in the Iraq War, which introduced further instability to the Middle East and precipitated a wave of international terror from which we’re suffering still today. It’s most recent manifestation was the suicide bomb attack in Manchester.

The seeds that disastrous adventure can be traced to the greatest weakness of New Labout. Peter Mandelson, always perceived as the would-be puppet master of the Labour government, summed it up when he declared himself “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich”. Those are words I never expected to hear from the mouth of a Labour Minister. That people can get rich by contributing to society seems only fair, but that:

  • Bankers can drive their banks into the ground and precipitate a financial crisis while taking eye-popping bonuses? 
  • Tony Hayward, then Chief Executive of BP, point out that he’d like his “life back” after the Deepwater Horizon disaster on one of his company’s oil rigs? 
  • Alex Cruz, Chief Executive of British Airways, refusing to take any responsibility for his company’s apparent inability to run a reliable computer system?

These are indeed examples of people who are “filthy” rich, rather than deservedly rich – who have taken their remuneration rather than earning it – and no one should be relaxed about them, intensely or not, least of all in the Labour Party.

New Labour suffered from a tendency to be star-struck by wealth and power. Its proponents felt at ease with the filthy rich and powerful. No one is more prosperous and powerful than the United States. That was enough to drive us into that war, even though it was led y the man who surely then held the uncontested crown of worst US President even, Dubya Bush.

Today Trump has seized that crown from Bush’s head. The new worst President has pulled the US out of the Paris agreement on climate change. And the saddest aspect from Britain’s point of view? While Germany, France and Italy were quick to oppose Trump, Theresa May’s Britain – Brexit Britain – wouldn’t, or possibly couldn’t, line up with them.

Certainly, there’s no reason to believe a Tory government would be any less star-struck by the US than New Labour was. But in addition, we now have another constraint on our independence of action: Brexit means we have been thrown into far greater subservience still to the US. We can’t stand up to Trump because we need him.

It’s another strange paradox. Many backers of Brexit claimed that its aim was to make Britain independent. The reality is that it will reduce our independence. And just when we should be learning what dire consequences it has on our lives when we abandon it – surely the Iraq War was lesson enough.

Taking back control? You sure? Or are we just handing it to yet another appalling US president?

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