Posts tagged ‘uk’

6 April 2011

Remembering colonialism in the UK

Working on representations of colonialism in Germany, I’ve been asked recently what Britain’s perspective on its role in imperialism and colonialism is. Today’s Daily Telegraph presents a clear image of an entirely uncritical, unreflective view of the glory of the British empire. A comment piece berates David Cameron for apologising for the British role in Kashmir.

[I]t is the job of a British prime minister, as Cameron knows all too well, to stand up for his country when abroad. He could have pointed out that we gave Pakistan (and indeed the rest of the world) many splendid bequests: parliamentary democracy, superb irrigation systems, excellent roads, the rule of law, the English language and, last but not least, the game of cricket.

Is that the job of the prime minister? I thought it was a more complex affair of negotiations, diplomacy, etc. (and including something about making business deals). Cameron could have pointed out what “we” “gave” Pakistan, writes the Telegraph. This long “we” includes all of today’s British citizens in the “we” of colonialism. Including the Brits of Pakistani origin? “Gave”: so the most important thing to remember about colonialism is the “giving”, not the “taking” of the globe’s natural resources, the arbitrary splitting of traditional collectives, the silencing of local voices, the millions of dead, and the horrors of the slave trade.

The article has more on slavery in a sweep at Tony Blair’s similar attempts to address the colonial legacy:

In fact, our role in slavery is a very complicated one, and certainly not susceptible to Tony Blair’s school of facile analysis. It is true that private merchants were heavily involved. But Britain was the first country to ban the slave trade, on March 25 1807, and thereafter our navy swept the high seas in search of slave traders. We acted in this highly principled and moral way in defiance of wealthy private interests – it was one of the proudest moments in our history.

“Heavily involved”? So the analogy would be that a thief who sweeps the countryside in search of thieves (without in any way being sanctioned for his/her deeds) is acting in a highly principled and moral way? A rapist who sweeps the cities in search of rapists (without in any way being sanctioned for his/her deeds) is acting in a highly principles and moral way. Etc. etc.

That’s quite a different take from the usual Telegraph take on crime: Once a criminal, always a criminal; tough on crime, etc.

22 September 2010

Cable, critique and capitalism

I suspected the LibDems were a radical choice. Vince Cable, Business Secretary in the UK, has re-introduced the word “capitalism” into public debate. The Guardian writes:

After some dubbed his comments on capitalism “Marxist”, Cable made delegates laugh by addressing them as “comrades”.

He acknowledged to activists that he had caused controversy with both this morning’s coverage and also with other measures he had taken in his four months as business secretary.

He said he had “managed to infuriate bank bosses, acquire a fatwa from the revolutionary guards of the trade unions movement; frighten the Daily Telegraph … and upset very rich people. I must be doing something right.” […]

“Why should good companies be destroyed by short-term investors looking for a speculative killing, while their accomplices in the City make fat fees? Capitalism takes no prisoners and it kills competition where it can, as Adam Smith explained over 200 years ago,” he said to applause.

David Green, in The Daily Telegraph (!), agrees.

…caricature by Christopher Ammentorp from

12 October 2009

Scientists horrified at “flawed” chemical nationality tests

This is the sort of thing you learn preparing a workshop for the “hard sciences”… Chemical tests are to be used in the UK to check if asylum seekers are really from where they say they are.

Basically, it seems that analysing the isotopes of, say, a Bordeaux wine can tell you if it really came from the region its label says or if it’s a fraud. Analysing isotopes can determine where confiscated drugs originate. And now the UK has launched a pilot project to determine where asylum seekers come from – by analysing their isotopes (e.g. through hair, fingernails) and DNA. The problem is, say the scientists, that immigrants travel and move. This sort of analysis can only trace the last few months.

CAMBRIDGE, UNITED KINGDOM—Scientists are greeting with surprise and dismay a project to use DNA and isotope analysis of tissue from asylum seekers to evaluate their nationality and help decide who can enter the United Kingdom. “Horrifying,” “naïve,” and “flawed” are among the adjectives geneticists and isotope specialists have used to describe the “Human Provenance pilot project,” launched quietly in mid-September by the U.K. Border Agency. Their consensus: The project is not scientifically valid–or even sensible. (Sciencemag)

German article. Update: After the outcry, the border agency has pulled back its plans.

29 November 2008

Vladimir Brown?

Mysterious story circulating in the UK today about the arrest of shadow immigration minister Damian Green by counter-terrorism forces. Green has been arrested for attempting to make use of leaked documents, or, more precisely, of “conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office” and “aiding and abetting, counselling or procuring misconduct in a public office”.

The Guardian tells us that:

Green, the shadow immigration minister, was held for nine hours before being released late last night. His Ashford constituency home and office in Kent, his London home, and his office in the House of Commons were all searched. […] The police seized his phone and his computer, giving them access to text messages and emails going back for months and years respectively.

On a side note, very many people have had their computers seized in the name of counter-terrorist operations over the last few years.

Brown responded to the news by saying:

The independence of the police is what should be upheld. I hope that everybody can feel able to uphold both the independence of the police and the statement that no minister was involved.

The Tories have responded to the accusations promptly, providing an equivalential link between Green and – in The Guardian story – Winston Churchill, Charles I, and Gordon Brown himself who all, it is claimed, made use of leaked documents. Over and again, they point to the need in a democracy for politicians to leak andor make use of leaked documents. And Brown is aligned to the most other of others:

The police action followed the arrest 10 days ago of a government whistleblower who allegedly leaked four documents to Green, who then passed them to the press. Cameron was convinced that such a move would have to be approved at top political levels. A Tory source said: “David Cameron is angry. This is Stalinesque.”

Strangely enough, Putin’s Russia has not been mentioned, although much of the same language has been used (Stalinesque, non-democratic, chilling, heavy-handed police operation, terror, and tinpot dictatorship).

More on Green’s arrest at the BBC (Q&A on the case), Times (on the anger at Green’s arrest), and Sky News (reporting on its exclusive interview with Brown). Iain Martin asks in his blog at The Telegraph ‘who the hell do those involved in this decision think they are treating an elected member of parliament in this way?’ (So, one could respond, it’s okay to treat other members of the public in this way?).