By Baba Ruckus
We all want to be special. Some people think they are special. Some people think that rainbows and the uncompromising love of a mother for her child are special. However, if you’ve followed much of the coverage of Theresa May’s visit to America last week you’d be forgiven for thinking that there is nothing more special than “the special relationship”. So, what’s so special about the special relationship? And what are its implications for Britain under the right-wing administration of Donald Trump and Theresa May’s vision for Brexit? SPOILER ALERT: The implications are very special.
We’ve been given some clues in the past week that will help us answer the second question. But first, let’s take a quick look at the most special of all relationships.
The special relationship – the ‘fourth base’ of international diplomatic relations
The term “special relationship” describes the close political, economic, military and cultural ties between the United Kingdom and the United States. It first appeared in the late 1800s but gained greater significance after being used in several speeches by Winston Churchill, post-WWII. A time when Britain’s malevolent empire was crumbling and America had completed its transition to becoming the world’s only real superpower – owning half the world’s wealth and boasting a military capability that dwarfed any rival, including a nuclear arsenal that had recently decimated hundreds of thousands of civilians in Japan. As Britain became increasingly less significant on the world stage, the frequency in which British prime ministers would refer to the special relationship in a bid to reaffirm Britain’s importance to the world increased.
Proponents of the special relationship believe the level of cooperation between the UK and US to be unparalleled in history. Which seems a little odd, especially with the existence of the European Union. Take, Germany-Austria or France-Belgium, for example. These countries have much more than “close” political, economic, military and cultural ties; they exist within a formal political, economic and monetary union – passing common laws, sharing a currency and a central bank, with unrestricted trade and free movement of people. It’s therefore difficult to take this assertion seriously and the continued use of the term ‘special’ in this context seems increasingly fatuous.
Nevertheless, this hasn’t stopped successive Prime Ministers parading about the world stage like a cheerleader from a low grade American teen movie. One whose smugness and self-esteem is derived purely from the fact that she’s been taken to “fourth base” by the biggest and richest jock at the school. “Gimme an S! Gimme a P! Gimme an E! Gimme a C! ….” All this despite the jock having relations with almost all the other kids in school (apart from the poor brown kids that he occasionally punches in the face when they don’t give him their lunch money). I guess the key difference is that the others feel they have the will and ability to say yes or no, as and when it suits them.
Which brings us to what – since Reagan-Thatcher in the 80’s, at least – actually makes the current special relationship so special: Britain’s inability to say no to America on any significant issue, no matter the cost or how damaging it may be to Britain itself. There are many examples that are well documented that I won’t cover here. However, there can be no meaningful discussion on the special relationship without at least touching on Tony Blair and his decision to follow George W Bush into Iraq.
The tragedy of Blair serves as a much-needed reminder of the folly behind our country’s fanatical pursuit of a special relationship. On a personal level, it has almost certainly cost Blair a place in the made-up heaven he claims to believe in. As a nation, it cost us 179 sons and daughters, £10bn, eroded what little moral standing we had on the international stage and increased the risk of terrorism. What did we get in return? The knowledge that our former prime minister would always be wealthy after his loyal servitude, and the honour of our current Prime Minister being ‘first in line’ to pay homage to the most overtly grotesque American President in modern times.
Which brings us nicely on to…
Theresa May’s political Hajj – what we learned about the latest chapter of the special relationship
This was an important moment in Theresa May’s career as unelected Prime Minister. By all accounts this possibly difficult encounter – with a President whose mere inauguration sparked a global protest of millions of people – went quite well. And by “all accounts” I mean the Prime Minister’s press office and all media outlets that repeated these claims.
To be fair, Trump was charming by his usual standards, and the fact that he didn’t (publicly, at least) molest our Prime Minster is a huge win. Another success hailed by the May camp was Trump’s commitment to NATO. Which he demonstrated by making absolutely no mention of a commitment to NATO. May’s bonus prize came on the topic of torture, where despite still thinking torture was a great idea, Trump said he would defer to his defence secretary, “MAD DOG” Mattis, on whether to make it official policy. Presumably it’s exactly this sort of good behaviour that earned him his invitation of a “full English” state visit to the UK. Providing Trump with further opportunity to prove his worth by not (publicly, at least) molesting the Queen.
This is a sad and strange way of measuring the success of a state visit between supposedly equal partners. Many people were disappointed with May for not raising the concerns held by millions of her own citizens about the President’s overt misogyny or racism. To be fair, May made it clear before the visit that she wouldn’t be raising the issue of misogyny. To her, the mere fact that she has her very own vagina is a strong enough statement. Perhaps it was. If only her vagina was Muslim.
In all seriousness, the lack of spine demonstrated by May throughout this entire trip was as pathetic as it was unsurprising. However, what did surprise even many of the members of her own party, was what happened the day after she left Trump. Her complete silence on the issue of the inhumane ban on all refugees, as well as Muslims from seven countries, showed that her interpretation of the special relationship is so extreme that she is no longer able to even pay lip service to basic human values. In stark contrast, we witnessed Merkel remind Trump of his nation’s obligations under the Geneva Convention on Refugees.
We knew before she flew out to America that the special relationship would be well and truly back on the table. We now see exactly how special it really is.
“Opposites attract” – but so do right wing governments that share the same values
With a far-right administration in the White House headed by a megalomaniac with a purported desire to accelerate nuclear weapon expansion, the implications of May’s pursuit of this extreme version of the special relationship are as unpredictable as they are scary. To even begin to fully appreciate what this may mean for the UK, it is important to first comprehend the real nature of our own government.
Theresa May might not be as crass or as obviously offensive as Trump but she shares many similarities, and she and her party represent the same kind of nasty politics that has propelled him to success. After a quick examination of May’s record a number of things become apparent: she doesn’t like immigrants; she definitely doesn’t like refugees; she doesn’t like human rights; and she doesn’t like public health care. Remind you of anyone? Furthermore, over the past seven years, her Conservative party has implemented unprecedentedly brutal cuts that have disproportionately punished poor women and the disabled.
After the result of the EU referendum our newly unelected Prime Minister Theresa May had the choice of adopting a conciliatory tone with our European partners whilst pursuing an amicable departure from the EU. From her refusal to guarantee protection for EU nationals living and working in the UK, to her threats to turn our country into a giant tax haven off the coast of France, May has demonstrated a lack of decency and respect for our European counterparts. Perhaps inspired by Trump, she has bet her career on the importance of appeasing the now buoyant far right of her party.
Most Conservative voters would claim to be abhorred by the prospect of UKIP being in charge of our nation. But by fanning the flames of a perverse immigration debate and appropriating UKIP’s rhetoric and ideology, our unelected Prime Minister has laid darkness where there once may have been at least some daylight between the Conservatives and the party in which Nigel Farage belongs. This is short sighted populist politics and no good can come of it. It has damaged our reputation and isolated us at a time when we should be doing our best to cooperate with the international community.
With the prospect of a unilateral trade deal with an isolated and weakened UK, Trump has good reason to believe there’s a lot more than ‘pussy’ up for grabs. The NHS, workers’ rights, and the sovereignty of our courts to rule against American corporations that may damage our environment or harm our citizens are but a few examples. As for what wars or other adventures he may drag us into? It’s anyone’s guess.
So now what? Keep an eye on Trump but our real fight is here at home
If you agree with even half of what has been said in this article – which you should, I’m generally right about most things – don’t just “like” and share with your friends (although, definitely do that). At the point in which I write this, 1.5 million people have signed a petition to prevent Trump’s visit to the UK and tens of thousands of people have already descended on Downing Street in protest at our government’s cowardice. There is also another, sure to be larger protest, to take place outside the US embassy this Saturday. People are right to be appalled and we should all protest.
But remember, Trump is more than just a theatrical American villain on the news that we love to hate. He is the product of a system that exploits the fears of the poor and disenfranchised, for the interest of the rich and powerful. That same system exists here and has done so for a long time. Take a good look at the society we live in – from the thousands of working poor dependent on food banks to survive, to a strangled NHS, I’m sure you’ll find many things that will appal you.