Is an impending Assad victory playing into China’s hands?

The Syrian civil war has now entered its seventh year and appears to be drifting further and further away from a diplomatic resolution. What started out as a wave of protests and calls for reform, has led to one of the bloodiest and most unique civil conflicts in recent times. Alongside its numerous internal belligerents, the war has dragged in the region’s key players (Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia) as well as the majority of the world’s great powers.

Recently the news has been dominated once more by the rift in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) between Russia and the west. But one significant member appears to once more have slipped quietly under the radar of the attention of the belligerents and especially the western media: the People’s Republic of China.

The outrage in the West that met the news that Russia had once more vetoed an attempt to pass a UN resolution after the alleged gas attack in Douma, appears to have covered up the fact that the 8228th meeting of the UNSC not only demonstrated that Russia will likely veto any draft the West put forward (and vice versa), but that China is also content to remain out of the spotlight regarding the Middle East and its almost perpetual state of crisis and instability.

China’s ambassador to the UN, Mr Wu Haitao, made a point of expressing his government’s ‘deep concern’ at the news of a chemical attack; as well as emphasising that the Chinese remained ‘firmly opposed’ to any use of such a weapon and that an ‘impartial investigation’ should be dispatched to the site. Whilst this response may appear to show nothing of note, the bulk of the ambassador’s opening of his address was almost a carbon copy of his speech to the same delegates the previous week (3 days before the attack was alleged to have taken place). In this meeting on the 10th April, China followed up its words by abstaining in a vote for the US-led resolution and voting in favour for the equivalent introduced by Russia.

This is not to say that China is doing the bare minimum of abiding by its obligations as a permanent and founding member of the Security Council. It shows that the priorities of Beijing differ quite significantly to its counterparts not just in the West, but in Moscow as well. With Assad on the offensive, coinciding with the downturn in fortunes for both the western-backed opposition and Islamic State, it would appear that the Chinese are gearing up to rebuild and reshape Syria in a model that compliments their long-term goals for the region. If Syria is to return to peace then someone will have to assist the government in footing the bill for reconstruction; which is predicted to cost anything between $250 billion and an astronomical $1 trillion. The West will likely be unable to provide any substantial assistance given their opposition to Assad; likewise, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states will be looked on with suspicion. The Russians and Iranians will not have the financial clout to match the significant political and military support they have provided. As well as that, their respective economies are struggling under numerous sanctions imposed by the West. China, on the other hand, has the means, and importantly the desire to provide the immense investment and aid that Syria will desperately need. But this is not just a moral mission on China’s part. It is part of an immense Chinese project that covers not only the entire region but spans across several continents. Over the last two decades in particular, China has been steadily expanding its economic sphere of influence to rival that of the US. Massive investment in the impoverished, yet mineral rich, African continent, for example, has been described as a testing ground for investment on an even greater scale. In fact, total trade between China and the African continent topped over $200 billion in 2014.

This is far from coincidental given that in the same year, Premier Xi Jinping announced China’s highly ambitious and controversial ‘Belt and Road’ policy; a plan to recreate the ancient Silk Road, through the exporting of China’s entrepreneurs, corporations, culture and capital. This monumental plan has seen vast investment throughout the countries encompassing the ancient trading corridor from Istanbul to Persia and beyond to Southeast Asia. The strategy has led China to begin covertly forming successful relationships with the Middle East’s biggest traditional rivals.

China has also attempted to juggle strong relationships with both Saudi Arabia and Iran, two countries whose rivalry has led them to be involved in several proxy wars. Iran has always been the traditional pro-Chinese of the two, however Saudi Arabia has recently become one of the largest exporters of oil to China, second only to Russia. Chinese investment has also seen enormous projects further afield: an enormous new trading port in southern Pakistan, a rail link to Europe through Kazakhstan and central Asia, as well as upgrading existing railways in Iran.

So why isn’t China throwing its full weight behind Assad? Why doesn’t it also try and bring about a government victory so it can proceed with similar immense new projects? This once again does not fit into Beijing’s long-term foreign policy goals. Russia is looking to be sliding towards a second Cold War with the West and so it is aiming to score one over its rivals with an Assad victory. China in comparison is looking to make more of an impact on Syrian society itself. In an article in the Financial Times in 2017, David Pilling described how the Chinese projects in African countries like Nigeria, Ethiopia and Mozambique had brought about increased opportunities for local communities. Whilst the projects did labour governments with significant debt, there is a ‘begrudging recognition that China has mostly benefitted Africa’. It is likely that China will look to make the same impact in Syria, from rebuilding the ancient cities of Aleppo and Damascus (the latter of which saw the benefits of the ancient Silk Road), to investing in the shattered oil industry. Where Russia and Iran will be hailed as the saviours of law and order by Assad and the Ba’ath party, China will in all likelihood be the true winner in this, the latest episode in the scramble for increased influence in the Middle East.

Labour friends of Israel blame Palestinians for their own deaths

In a tweet put out today, following the murder of over 50 Palestinians in Gaza by the Israeli military, Labour Friends of Israel have blamed the protesters for the violence and casualties.

Israeli casualties and injuries remain at zero as things stand.

The protests on the Gaza strip saw over a thousand injured when Israeli snipers opened fire on unarmed protesters near the border with Israel. Our report on that can be found here.

LFI accuse the protesters of being operatives of Hamas but have reconfirmed their commitment to working towards a 2 state solution.

More follows

Analysis from Iwan Doherty – Editor in Chief 

This is a truly disgraceful tweet from Labour friends of Israel and they should face consequences. The fact that as I now write it hasn’t been deleted is appalling and the group today have embarrassed the Labour Party who otherwise have responded well to this tragedy.

The Israeli myth, that has now been parroted by those who stand against the rights of Palestinians, that the protests are somehow part of a Hamas plot is nonsense. The protesters are unarmed. The Israeli army had plentiful time to prepare for them. These killings are a malicious act on behalf of the Israeli nothing else, and a group like LFI has the chance to say as such and be heard. They missed that chance. Whoever wrote the tweet should have no place in the Labour Party.

LSI should move to condemn Israel for these crimes and apologise for the remarks.

May fails to condemn murder of protesters by Israel

Israeli forces have shot at protesters on the Gaza border killing over 50 and wounding hundreds, Palestinian officials say. Tens of thousands came to protest the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem.

The reaction back home has been mostly mild as the western nations who back Israel generally failed to condemn or act against their ally.

Despite Israel clearly being in the wrong, shooting on unarmed protesters, the Prime Minister has failed to condemn the mass killings at the Israeli border.

In a statement, Theresa May stated

“We are concerned by the reports of violence and loss of life in Gaza. We urge calm and restraint to avoid actions destructive to peace efforts. The UK remains firmly committed to a two-state solution with Jerusalem as a shared capital.”

Concern is as much as the PM could manage. Concern, not outrage, to a systematic, barbaric and clearly unnecessary killing of protesters. No mention that the violence was entirely one-sided and that Israel was the guilty party. Only a small statement in resistance to Trump’s mesmerisingly stupid act of placing the US embassy in Jerusalem.

The Labour  Party, in contrast, remains a shining light of hope against the forces of oppression in Palestine. In a statement the Shadow Foreign secretary Emily  Thornberry stated

We condemn unreservedly the Israeli government for their brutal, lethal and utterly unjustified actions on the Gaza border, and our thoughts are with all those Palestinians in Gaza whose loved ones have been killed or injured as a result. These actions are made all the worse because they come not as the result of a disproportionate over-reaction to one day’s protests, but as the culmination of six weeks of an apparently systemic and deliberate policy of killing and maiming unarmed protestors and bystanders who pose no threat to the forces at the Gaza border, many of them shot in the back, many of them shot hundreds of metres from the border, and many of them children.

This remains the difference between the two parties. Labour seem committed to limiting the power of oppressive regimes whilst the Tory Party sit ideally by.

It is time for this nation to stand up to Israel and condemn the nation’s crimes, especially now Trump has blundered in. This must begin with the Prime Minister and the government.

 

Israel commits act of hypocrisy and terror in murder of over 50 protesters

“Hamas seeks to massacre innocent men, women, and children.’ Israeli army statement, 13 May 2018. One day later, over 50 killed and thousands injured by the Israeli army.

This is not a post about Gaza or the number of Palestinians killed. If it was, it would surely be an example of unwarranted focus on Israel in which case it would be an antisemitic post. So this is not a post about Gaza or the number of Palestinians killed. Michael Rosen

The Oxford Dictionary definition of terrorism is, “The use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims”.

The Israeli government definition of terrorism would be, “The use of peaceable words and actions, especially by civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.”
It has now reached the level of absurdity when, before criticising Israel, we must prove that we are not anti-semitic. But let’s do it.
My father was one of the first Allied doctors to enter Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. The photos he made there, and later showed me of the skeletal prisoners, scarred my young mind. It was those haunting pictures that led me to a lifetime of anti-fascism.
At 16 I had my first contact with anti-semites. One Saturday morning, thugs from the British Movement, forerunners of the National Front, and shouting “You bloody Yids” beat me up in Bromley High Street for selling Peace News. I discovered the headquarters of the Zionist Federation, told them what had happened and they gave me Star of David badges. The following Saturday I, and a fellow pacifist wore these badges proudly and were beaten up again.
As a member of the Anti-Nazi League in the 70s, I helped set up a support and defence group in North West London for Asian shopkeepers attacked by the National Front. Need I go on?
To anyone who would accuse me of being anti-semitic, I bring as my defence witnesses three prominent Jews. The first is Albert Einstein who said, “The (Israeli) state idea is not according to my heart. I cannot understand why it is needed … I believe it is bad.” 
Primo Levi was a survivor of Auschwitz. He said, “Everyone has their Jews and for the Israelis they are the Palestinians”.
My third witness would be Marek Edelman, last surviving leader of the 1943 Warsaw uprising. He wrote a letter in support of the Palestine resistance, comparing them to ZOB, the Jewish fighters in Warsaw. He opened that letter of support with, “Commanders of the Palestine military, paramilitary and partisan operations – to all the soldiers of the Palestine fighting organisations.”
Myself and my three distinguished witnesses would today be defined as anti-semitic by those who continue with their blind faith in Israel, right or wrong.
For definition of ‘terrorism’, I will stick with the Oxford Dictionary.

Over 50 Palestinians killed by Israel whilst protesting against US embassy

Israeli forces have shot at protesters on the Gaza border killing over 50 and wounding hundreds, Palestinian officials say. Tens of thousands came to protest the opening of a US embassy in Jerusalem. Casualties included a 14 yr old boy.

Palestinians see the opening of the embassy as a violation of agreements that determine Palestine controls the east part of the city.

Trump’s announcement in December ignited 6 weeks of protests, and during these protests, Israeli forces shot and killed dozens of Palestinian protesters and injured over 1,700 people. Israel has shot at protesters regularly in the last 6 weeks as Palestinians have been involved in the ‘great march of return’.

The weekly protests are in the run up to Nakba, which is on Tuesday 15th, a commemoration of the events following the foundation of the Israeli state where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were displaced by Israeli settlers and forced to flee their homes.

Hamas stated that it would not stop citizens from heading towards the perimeter fence but says it supports peaceful ideals advocated by civilian leaders.

Israel has attempted to portray this as a terrorist ploy by Hamas and a spokesman labelled the protesters “murderous rioters” despite the fact no Israeli has been injured since protests started on the 30th March.

More follows

Analysis from Iwan Doherty- Editor in Chief

The fact the US and the Trump administration has now fully backed Israel seems to have only emboldened the Israeli regime. The move by the President seems to have put peace in the region far out of sight and has resulted in the murder of dozens of Palestinian citizens. The fact our nation stands idly by when a so-called ally murders innocent civilians is a disgrace and it truly brings into question of the morality of our foreign policy.

To continue backing Israel after such actions is more than morally questionable. The fact that the Israeli government accuse the protesters as being murderous is not only wrong it is tragically ironic.

Americans are mostly oblivious to the death and destruction their president has helped to cause and this move highlights Trump’s inability to understand the complexity of geopolitics.

Israel’s actions should be condemned by the international community but with the US backing Israel fiercely it would be difficult to enact sanctions, despite the fact Israel shows little regard for the human rights of Palestinians.

Photos courtesy of Mohammed Yasin 

Please, No Gold Laurels for Trump

Trump address

The pursuit of peace was struck a fatal blow by the stealthy outsider success of Trump’s presidential bid, for both in policy and proverb he has been more invested in victories than in ceasefire. As analysts have observed, he has a self-consciously belligerent managerial style, playing the hard-talking boss. His manner has raised tensions and feelings of alienation and hostility on the world stage. The Republican Party’s nomination of his name to the Nobel Committee as a contender for Peace laureate should be seen as a narrow, self-serving PR exercise.

Their cover rationale is his purported role in a recent successful peace summit between the precariously coexisting states of North and South Korea. It is however a disservice to give him credit for their historic exchange of gestures of earnest goodwill and solidarity. The peace summit was facilitated largely by the collective hard-work of East Asian actors and political institutions.

Giving Trump singular praise and adulation for a cooperative event is an extension of the logic of US statecraft. Statecraft found on doctrines of the nation’s ‘exceptionalism’, and its unique virtue (or lack thereof.) How are we meant to believe a man who views life and the world like its a non-zero-sum game is the reason for Korean détente? More credibly it seems to be the result of their zero sum negotiations, Trump out of the way, far removed from the action.

Since his inauguration, a cavalry of failed, incompetent foreign policies have thundered in, rivaled only by the legacy of Bush’s political ignorance. They have profoundly destabalized international affairs, not only due to his presidential style, but equally by over-promoting shrewd hawks with vindictive vendettas against the Middle East.

Perhaps most seriously, peace in Palestine is indefinitely postponed in the aftermath of an outrageously narrow, self-serving decision to move the US embassy to Israel. Can unconditional support of Israeli power really be the answer? It certainly seems to be when money and Iran is the question.

Furthermore, Trump has decidedly refused a diplomatic approach to diplomacy and international cooperation, ignoring at best and seething at worst in retaliation to requests to remove derogatory and racial rhetoric in references in his delegations to other countries, namely referring to vibrant LEDC’s as “shit-holes.”

In a perhaps refreshing, but decidedly dangerous aberrance from Presidential rigmarole, Trump prefers shouting about policy to other politicians on Twitter when he has a public memorandum to make. This is dangerous, firstly because the pace at which events on Twitter and interpretations of them grow is far faster than in politics away from Twitter. Secondly, making sensitive data available to adversaries is a strategic own goal. He promotes extremely short-term thinking in which he thinks only as far ahead as his next tweet.

The Nobel Prize is explicitly sanctioned to reward consistency in excellence in a field. Trump has been in Politics and diplomacy for all of two years. The Peace Prize winners are megaphones for the oppressed and not the powerful.

The President befriends Israeli and Saudi executioners; it is clear he is not truly pals with peace. By all means give him credit for preventing a Clinton orchestrated bloodbath. Clinton is an arch-hawk of the DC faction which premeditates war as a glorious vanity project. Trump while belligerent is not a conscious war ideologue. But please, no gold laurels for the man demonising minorities and stirring up heinous violence against the Mexican under-ground railroad.

Co-operatives are the key for an economy for the many

In the 2017 general election, The Labour Party put forward a vision for a different Britain. Corbyn’s vision of classic social democracy after years of Neo-Liberal governance has been extremely well received. When polled on policies alone the vast majority of Brits support the Labour Party’s vision.

However, it relies on using the state to bend corporations into a shape that can be used to help the people. Instead of looking to make corporations cuddly, we should look to replace them with a socialist alternative. The progressive movement should put its faith in co-operatives, and work to encourage their growth.

In the age of Neo-Liberalism on both sides of the Atlantic, left-wing parties gave up on helping those who needed them and instead angled themselves as the lesser of two evils. In the US this resulted in a corrupt corporate Democratic Party, and in the UK it was Blair and New Labour. With the defeat of state socialism in the Cold War and the seeming triumph of markets, the left seemed to run out of ideas. They certainly ran out of bold ones. Co-operatives should be there next bold idea.

We’re all aware of the problems caused by corporations. Allowing economic power to be in the hands of so few men has caused poverty, war, and greed to spread among society. However, we should not underestimate the power of the markets either. The solution therefore would seem to be a market system, where workers have democratic control of their companies and their products.

Co-operatives are simply companies run democratically by the workers or members. Workers elect their board of directors, instead of it being appointed by shareholders, who manage the company. The profit made by the company is kept by the workers.

Co-operatives should replace corporations, not just because of the problems corporate power causes, but also due to the fact they are a more efficient way of doing business. The advantages to the workers and the nation’s economy as a whole are truly vast.

Research done by Leeds University Business School on labour-managed firms concluded that giving workers direct stake creates a more efficient business model. The study concluded stating ‘worker cooperatives are more productive than conventional businesses, with staff working ‘better and smarter’ and production organized more efficiently.’

The superior efficiency of co-operatives is most easily seen by looking at the Employee Ownership Index (EOI). The EOI compares the share price of worker-managed companies with those on the FTSE companies. Since 1992, the worker-owned companies have outperformed corporations by an average of 10% a year.

As well as being more efficient, they are also more resilient than corporations, having a much higher survival rate than corporations. 10% of co-ops will fail in the first year. In comparison, 70% of corporations will fail. After 5 years in business, 90% of co-ops are still in operation, in comparison to 5% of businesses. Studies show that co-operatives are a far more sustainable way of doing business.

As well as being good for entrepreneurs, they are also good for the wider economy in a crisis. During a recession, the economy entering a decline is the main issue. As the economy slows businesses lay people off, which cuts out consumers, which cuts spending, which means more businesses lay people off. However in a recession, co-operatives do not ship jobs like corporations. 3.5 million people were made unemployed in Spain in the recession that followed the 2008 financial crisis. In Basque region, the largest co-operative in the world, Mondragon, fired zero workers as a result of the recession. They simply moved their workers around and lowered their profits. Studies in Uruguay have shown similar resilience against recessions. Co-ops are more willing to adjust wages rather than fire workers, and this allows them to keep workers on. This isn’t just good for the workers at co-ops, it’s good for the businesses where the workers buy things. It is the ideal business model in a recession. In a nation with a large co-operative sector, recessions may be much shallower and much shorter due to their ability to retain workers.

It is also worth noting that co-ops also means jobs don’t disappear abroad. In the age of globalisation, many people are worried about outsourcing. Jobs will not flee overseas if employees control the board. One could argue that co-operatives are a real answer to the wave of anti-globalist feelings that have swept western society. 

Another big advantage with co-operatives is they don’t avoid tax. Unlike corporations, who choose to hide their profits offshore, co-operatives are very good at paying the proper tax rate. In Germany, for every €1 billion in assets, co-operative banks pay €2.5 million in taxes. This is compared to big private banks who only pay €0.5 million.

Co-operatives generally have a much fairer pay system. In the average FTSE company, the pay scale ratio between the top and the bottom is 1:129. At Mondragon it is only as high as 1:8. This creates motivation to work hard and get promoted. It also means that unlike in some major corporations, employees are not left on food stamps whilst directors make millions. The average income per worker at a co-op, when compared to an equivalent corporation, is higher.

For a socialist, the true appeal of co-operatives is worker liberation. Finally the masses having a say in how our economy is run. In the current capitalist system, the fact that 1% of the population owns 2/3rds of all the shares creates a rigged game. It allows small numbers of people to control not only economics but politics as well, creating a system where they remain rich at the cost of the rest of us. Democratic controls at work will help the majority of people become better off, and will take back control not just of our jobs, but our society as a whole.

In small groups around the world, this is already occurring. The Basque country, Cleveland, and at home in Preston, have all used co-operatives to enhance their economy. Co-operatives brought £200 million to the Preston economy when their council established schemes to encourage their growth. It’s time we brought encouraging co-operatives to the forefront of the progressive agenda.

These ideas are popular. 76% of the public believe large employers should be required to share profits with staff. All in all, we have a business model that is more efficient, more sustainable, more resilient, pay more taxes, pays its workers more, and gives citizens real control of the economy.

Winnie Mandela: The revisionist history of racism in South Africa

As tens of thousands of South Africans packed into Soweto’s Orlando stadium to sing the praises of their fallen ‘Comrade Winnie’, the crowd was treated to a service rich in political sloganeering. With the leadership of her former husband’s party, the African National Congress, headlining the triumphalist proceedings, a casual observer would be forgiven for thinking that the ANC were genuine in their mourning of the loss of the party’s symbolic first-lady. However, the high note on which the relationship between the ANC and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela ended on Saturday masks four-decades of conflict between the ‘Mother of South Africa’ and the nation’s founding party.

Much like Nelson and Winnie Mandela’s marriage, seemingly irreconcilable differences split Mrs. Mandela from the ANC and drove the two sides apart despite their shared connection in bringing about the post-apartheid South African state. However, with the death of Mrs Mandela, the ANC has seized the opportunity to revise the historical narrative as to her standing within the party and capitalise on the public outpouring of sympathy following her death.

As is common following the death of prominent figures, friends and foes alike have sought to associate themselves with the legacy of Mrs. Mandela. In death, divisions are often bridged unilaterally by surviving parties, as memorialisation and politically opportunistic revisionism go hand in hand with remembrance. The commemoration of Mrs. Mandela has been no different as the ANC used the occasion of her funeral to amend the relationship between the party and ‘Mama Africa’ within the nation’s popular consciousness.

The fractious divide between Mrs. Mandela and the ANC began during the 1980s and continued up until her death. With Nelson Mandela imprisoned, and most of his ANC party in exile, Mrs. Mandela positioned herself as the defacto leader of the anti-apartheid movement. Presiding over a violent militia known as the ‘Mandela United Football Club’, Mrs. Mandela reportedly endorsed the necklacing – the burning of people alive with petrol-soaked tyres – as an appropriate response to apartheid state collaborators and police informants. Ostensibly operating as her security detail, the Mandela United Football Club reportedly engaged in a campaign of kidnap, torture, murder, and assassination, which led the ANC government in exile to publically rebuke Mrs. Mandela after she refused to heed Nelson Mandela’s instructions to stand down.

According to testimony by her own bodyguards during the 1997 Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) proceedings, she directly ordered at least fifteen deaths, and stood by her declaration that ‘with our boxes of matches and our necklaces we shall liberate this country.’ The most infamous of Mrs. Mandela’s alleged atrocities was the murder of 15-year-old Stompie Seipei, who was stabbed to death after being accused of being a police informant. She was later acquitted of the murder after one key witness was abducted and transferred to Zambia, and another, a doctor who was due to testify that he examined Seipei at Mrs. Mandela’s home shortly before his execution, turned up dead. As a result of her connection to the Football Club death-squad outlined in the TRC’s 1998 final report, and the many charges of political and financial corruption subsequently brought against her over the following two decades, the ANC increasingly sought to distance itself from Mrs. Mandela.

While revelations of an organised plan by the apartheid era security forces to discredit Mrs. Mandala by exaggerating stories of her violence, which included the coordination of an officer named Paul Erasmus with both the British government and Vanity Fairmagazine, had somewhat softened opinion towards her within the ANC ranks, she was still regarded with derision by the party during its preparations for Nelson Mandela’s funeral in 2013. However, with her passing, both the ANC and Stompie Seipei’s mother appear to be comfortable to pardon her actions. Citing a desire for reconciliation, Joyce Seipei revealed that Mrs. Mandela had asked for her forgiveness and that she had agreed to the request in the name of God. According to Mrs. Seipei, Mrs. Mandela had worked to make amends by giving the family money to pay for the remaining Seipei children’s schooling and had even re-furnished the family home. While Mrs. Seipei said her much-publicised attendance at Mrs Mandela’s funeral was motivated by reconciliation, the ANC’s prominent role in the memorial seems to be driven primarily by political opportunism.

Calling Mrs. Mandela’s life one of compassion, and casting her as the nation’s conscience, ANC leader and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa sought to entice her young, largely female left-wing following into the ANC fold. Similar to the revisionism witnessed globally following the death of her husband, the ANC has used her death to retrospectively rewrite history and place themselves within the warm glow of her remembrance.

The ANC’s gesture of posthumous reconciliation toward an individual it had publicly denounced in the past is not unlike the campaign undertaken by elements of British society following the death of her husband in 2013. However, in stark contrast to the cross-party outpouring of tributes after the death of Nelson Mandela, there has been a noticeable quit emanating from sections of British political society in regard to the passing of his wife. The reluctance of the British right to join the ANC in revising its attitude toward Mrs. Mandela beg questions as to the role of political gain and the issue of race in the collective remembrance of historical figures.

The tributes to Nelson Mandela led by then Prime Minister David Cameron in 2013 and echoed by Ed Miliband, Tony Benn, and Nick Clegg gave the impression that Mandela had always been a figure that transcended politics and race within the United Kingdom. However, for the Conservative Party, and its then leader David Cameron, this was far from the case. In the 1980s, as a cascade of international sanctions were levied against South Africa’s apartheid government, Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher refused to follow suit, declaring her support for the apartheid regime and denouncing Mandela and his ANC party as terrorists. Owing in part to her husband Denis’ business interests in South Africa, as well as her perennial distaste for left-wing politics, Thatcher’s vociferous admonition of Mandela inspired a radical resistance to the anti-apartheid movement by the British right. The Federation of Conservative Students, led by now Speaker of the Commons John Bercow, distributed material that included a call to ‘Hang Nelson Mandela’. Bullingdon Club member and future Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron was amongst Bercow’s FCS ranks that actively campaigned to hang ‘all ANC terrorists’, and baited the party by referring to them as butchers.

With Cameron’s about-face concerning Nelson Mandela, which culminated in his calling Mandela a hero in 2013 while ordering Number Ten’s flag to fly at half-mast a sign of respect, a two-decade-long campaign of historical revisionism undertaken by the British right concerning Mandela’s memory was book-ended. Those who had demanded Mandela’s execution now praised the Nobel Peace Prize winner as having been a ‘great light’ in the world, and the triumphant narrative of Mandela as the globally celebrated father of the post-apartheid Rainbow Nation was entrenched within the historical record.

However, unlike in 2013, tributes to the life of Mrs. Mandela from prominent Britons seem to be coming almost exclusively from members of its Afro-Caribbean community. British-educated Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu featured prominently at Mrs. Mandela’s funeral, and Labour MPs David Lammy and Diane Abbott called Mrs. Mandela a ‘voice for the voiceless’ and a ‘heroine’ respectively. Apart from a glowing tribute by African-born Labour Peer Lord Hain, and a now-deleted tweet by Labour MP Naz Shaw, which included Mrs. Mandela’s infamous quote about ‘necklacing’ being the avenue to national liberation, the bulk of high-profile British condolences have been delivered by celebrities such as Naomi Campbell and Idris Elba.

With the pressing issues facing Britain at present it makes sense that the passing of Mrs. Mandela is not a top political consideration. However, the apparent lack of interest in using Mrs. Mandela’s death as an opportunity to leverage political advantage by the current Conservative government reveals an undercurrent of racial and ideological division that had supposedly been closed with the death of her husband.

It is clear that unlike in 2013, the British right does not view joining in the wave of revisionism and spirit of reconciliation sweeping across South Africa to be politically advantageous. The disparity in their response to the death of Mrs. Mandela as compared to her husband calls into question the authenticity of the praise they heaped on the latter following his death. Furthermore, it suggests that political division along racial lines is not an issue consigned to history, buried in the past along with South African apartheid and the man who defeated it, but rather one that endures in contemporary Britain.

The politics of remembrance and the use of memorialisation in revising historical narratives for political gain reveal subtle insights into societies and their power structures. That the ANC views reconciling itself with the legacy of Mrs. Mandela as advantageous demonstrates that the party believes catering to her base of young female supporters to be worth putting aside its previous misgivings about her actions. Alternatively, that British Conservatives do not see the opportunity to memorialise Mrs. Mandela as being able to generate a commensurate return in the form political capital suggests that their ideological backpedalling in regard to revising their stance on Nelson Mandela’s legacy was inspired by nothing more than political pragmatism.