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Issue # 1409      6 May 2009

Culture & Life

Britain, the banks and nuclear deterrence

This week’s column comprises items from Britain, once the world centre of capitalism (a position it still holds in the eyes of the Citizens’ Electoral Council, a body most famous these days for its outright hostility to the concept of global warming which the CEC bizarrely calls a form of genocide).

But whether the bankers of the City of London are responsible for the financial ills of the world is very much a moot point: I think the blame can be shared out among all the institutions of imperialism, not least the financial institutions of Wall Street. Nevertheless, most people have an innate grasp of the fact that banks generally have played a big part in creating the current crisis.

So, when some enterprising journalist asked Ken Livingston, the former left-wing Mayor of London, what he thought should be done to resolve the crisis, Ken replied unhesitatingly: “Shoot one banker every week until it gets better!”

I don’t know if it would work, but I suspect it would be popular.

Meanwhile, the financial crisis has seen retail sales fall as people cut back on buying non-essentials, saving their money for when times get even worse. Government stimulus packages notwithstanding, most retail store staff are biting their nails waiting for some signs that the “the economy is turning the corner”.

On the other hand, Britain’s retailers catering for the super-rich seem to be doing better than ever before. Kraken Opus in Covent Garden, a shop that sells coffee table books full of arty pictures by the world’s great photographers at prices ranging from £3,000 to £20,000 is reportedly facing “unprecedented demand” and is planning to expand.

And not long before, Zilli’s, a menswear shop in Bond Street selling chinchilla coats for £8,000, finished 2008 with its best two months trading since it opened over twenty years ago.

Which merely demonstrates something that as been remarked on before: that although many people are doing it tough in this period, the members of the ruling class have more money than they know what to do with.

Which in fact probably is the reason why a poll conducted by the Fabian Society (the well-meaning but non-revolutionary socialists that George Bernard Shaw was prominent in) found that two thirds of the people in Britain would like to see the tax rates for the rich returned to what they were before Thatcher cut them so generously.

Seventy percent of people also said they would like to see ordinary workers sitting on the remuneration committees vetting executives’ pay. The poll also showed that bankers (those people again) are now seen as second only to footballers as being overpaid.

Meanwhile, some former British military bigwigs had harsh things to say about the efficacy of the country’s exceedingly expensive and aging Trident submarine fleet (nuclear-powered subs armed with nuclear missiles).

Field Marshal Lord Bramall, former head of Britain’s armed forces, backed up by two senior generals, earlier this year in a letter to The Times (the only proper way to do these things) described the £20 million being spent to replace the Trident fleet as “a waste of money” and the Trident fleet itself as “completely useless”. The military types said the money would be better spent on conventional weapons.

It is well known among peace activists of course, that military-industrial lobbyists favour big ticket items like nuclear subs and aircraft carriers and the very latest super-dooper fighter planes because the profit margin for defence contractors is so much greater with items like that. They can swallow up billions with very little to show for the money.

Lord Bramall pointed out in his letter: “Nuclear weapons have shown themselves to be completely useless as a deterrent to the threats and scale of violence we currently face or are likely to face, particularly international terrorism.”

Showing that he is well aware of the role the Trident program really plays in Britain, Lord Bramall wrote: “Our independent deterrent has become virtually irrelevant except in the context of domestic politics.”

While on the subject of terrorism, did you see where, earlier this year, Britain’s Foreign Secretary, David Milibrand labelled the concept of a “war on terror” as a mistake that may have done “more harm than good”? Considering that the “war on terror” was never anything more than a Bush White House cloak for US imperialism’s repression at home and resource wars abroad, Milibrand’s comment is what the Yanks call a “no brainer”.

Its significance lies in the fact that he said it all. It emphasises the fact that the interests of US imperialism and the European imperialist powers like France and Germany (and Britain) do not necessarily coincide. The latter have their own fish to fry, and are only willing to let US imperialism lead them around by the nose while they think it is in their economic and strategic interest.

Milibrand criticised the lumping of terrorist groups together and the drawing of “battle lines as a simple binary struggle between moderates and extremists, or good and evil.

“The idea of a ‘war on terror’ gave the impression of a unified, transnational enemy, embodied by the figure of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. The reality is that the motivations and identities of terrorist groups are disparate.”

One doesn’t need a poll to know that a very large number of people in Britain do not like their country playing “deputy sheriff” to the US in Europe the way Johnny Howard had Australia playing it in the Pacific. Apparently Milibrand knows it too.

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