Thursday 29 August 2013

Jeux Sans Frontiers

There once was a great country called Britain and although the ‘great’ was added to distinguish the island containing England, Scotland and Wales from Brittany on the continent, in view of its former world be-striding position as a huge empire, many of its citizens and admirers took the great to be a compliment. Certainly when I was growing up, nobody ever took the time to disabuse me of this notion and it seems many today still believe that ‘Great’ is who we are, not where we are. It’s part of the problem.

Where once we needed a strong and efficient military to project firepower around the globe in support of our own colonial interests now, after a succession of world wars, trade wars and cringe-worthy appeasements of foreign powers our armed forces are stretched beyond what would normally be considered a joke. Nineteenth century cartoons often portrayed other foreign powers as a native dugout sent against a British Man o’ War. This is how the Royal Navy now, realistically, compares against the US Fleets (plural).

We no longer have an empire, but surely we still have a little bit of dignity? Enough, perhaps, to recognise that if we did end up going into Syria it would be, once again, as a flea on the USA’s back. Belligerent John Bull is no longer the towering world figure he once was – he is a little old retired fella in his tool shed, wanting more than anything else to be left alone to do quiet things. As Britain’s talent deserts our shores in droves, to be more than replaced by new colonists there will soon be nobody left to demand bloody action in foreign fields. Some ask if we even have enough firepower to repel a foreign invasion. No need. Look around you; it is a fait accompli.

All of which is why I am relieved that it seems we are not, for now, about to plunge into a prolonged and unaffordable conflict with Syria and its indeterminate allies. I am glad to see the climb-down from a David Cameron champing at the bit for his Tony Blair ‘legacy’ moment. And also a little bit annoyed at Labour’s prevarication throughout yesterday, playing party politics when several national interests were at stake and worse, threatening a simple abstention if they couldn’t get what they wanted – that’s like taking the ball away instead of playing the game. For a while, what was right for the people of Syria seemed the least important thing.

It’s good to see a decision in accord with (though almost certainly not because of) a decisive majority of UK citizens against action. But if clear evidence of the origin of chemical weapons had been, or is later found, I doubt very much that the democratic will of the people would hold much sway. Successive British Prime Ministers, including Mrs Thatcher, have too much been in thrall to the USA. Indeed it is this relationship that has hampered, probably more than others, our ability to get to grips with a priority far more important to our interests than Syria – Europe and our place inside or outside its cloying embrace.

So, I say “Phew”, for the moment. But there is another, far worse, outcome from all of this; one that has been overlooked in all the shouting and jostling. While politicians have been playing games with other nations' affairs has nobody considered the dread implication that possibly the worst thing about the whole Syria affair is that Diane Abbot will not now have to carry out her threat to resign?

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