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Tom Arms’ World Review

United Kingdom

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is gambling on British xenophobia to return him to Downing Street. Or at the very least limit the damage to his troubled and divided ruling Conservative Party.

Of course, there are other factors he is throwing into the electoral mix. The lowering of inflation, the threat of China and the Ukraine War being a few of the political ingredients he is hoping will counter 14 years of Conservative austerity, corruption and misrule.

But playing on the average British voter’s deep-seated fear and mistrust of foreigners is one of the few issues the prime minister can control. And at the same time claim that the opposition Labour Party will not or cannot control.

Immigration played a major role in the Brexit vote. It should not have. But it did and being tough on it proved to be a vote winner. The average Briton dislikes foreigners, especially when they speak differently, pray differently, dress differently and eat different foods. They are perceived as a threat to British culture.

The “small boats people” – as they are known – are in their own xenophobic category. Not because there are a lot of them (29,347 in 2023), but because they are visible. They are shown on the nightly news and British Coast Guard vessels are sent to rescue them and long-faced quayside crowds watch them land.

Rishi Sunak’s policy of shipping them off to Rwanda as soon as their feet touched British soil has been one of his government’s top priorities. It was blocked by the UK Supreme Court because under British law people cannot be deported to unsafe countries. So the Sunak government passed a law which said parliament had the right to declare a country safe and to overrule the courts if they ruled otherwise.

With the legislation in place, Sunak pledged that the first refugees would be Rwandan-bound “within weeks.” That was another untruth. More legal challenges – and possibly industrial action by civil servants – are planned and would have delayed the Rwandan flights for several more months.

Calling the election for the 4th of July has turned the Rwanda Policy into an election issue. Vote for me, says Sunak, and  we will air freight the refugees to Rwanda. Vote for Labour and the Rwanda policy is lost.

Iran

The death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi provides Iran’s political elite with a massive opportunity. They won’t take it.

Elections to replace President Raisi have to be held within 50 days of his death. The candidates for the job are chosen by religious leaders on Iran’s Supreme National Security Council. They could dramatically change their country by opening up the nomination list to reformers.

This would mean that 85-year-old Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini would be willing to risk the country taking a different course from the hardline anti-Western, anti-Israeli, heavily Islamic direction that he has pursued. This would be a major break with all past and present policies.

Ebrahim Raisi was more or less hand-picked for the presidential job by Khameini because of his impeccable hardline Islamic revolutionary credentials. His nickname was “Butcher of Tehran” and it was well-deserved. According to Human Rights Watch, during five months in 1988, Raisi ordered the execution of between 2,800 and 5,000 political prisoners.

Raisi was the favourite to succeed the ageing and ailing Ayatollah Khameini. So his death creates a dual problem for the regime – finding a replacement for the presidency and the supreme leadership.

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Tom Arms’ World Review – 29 August

Afghanistan

As Kabul descends into chaos it is becoming painfully clear that this is largely due to poor political leadership in the West. America – Trump and Biden – bear the lion’s share of the blame. Trump for laying the groundwork and Biden for failing to jettison Trump’s work and the serious miscalculation that the government of Ashraf Ghani could hold back the Taliban tide.

But the Europeans also have to accept a big share of the blame, especially British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The British were the lead European partner in Afghanistan. They have (or had) the second largest NATO military force and have a historic involvement in the country. President Biden made it clear back in April that he would withdraw US troops by 9/11 at the latest. Boris did nothing. It was not until the Taliban was banging on the gates of Kabul that he started trying to organise European NATO to persuade Biden to remain in Afghanistan or, at the very least, substantially delay US withdrawal. Even then something may have been salvaged if Boris had not been leading the charge. As one former senior diplomat said: “He has virtually zero credibility with the Biden Administration and every EU capital. He is regarded as lazy, untrustworthy and a political lightweight.”

Western diplomats are fleeing Afghanistan in droves. In fact, most of their embassies now stand empty. But that is not the case with the Russians. Their diplomats are operating at full tilt strengthening relations with the Taliban with whom they have been quietly working for several years. Taliban leaders have been in and out of Moscow since for some time, and at one point the Trump Administration was accusing the Russians of supplying the Afghan Islamic rebels with weaponry. The charge was successfully denied. But the change of regime has been warmly and publicly welcomed by the Russians who maintain that the Taliban victory will bring peace and prosperity to the streets of Kabul and hills and valleys of rural Afghanistan.

Part of the reason for the Russian diplomatic offensive in Afghanistan is to fill the political vacuum left by the West and exploit America’s humiliation and discomfort. But there are also practical considerations. Russia retains wide-ranging economic and military interests in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia. It is concerned that instability, Jihadism and a rogue Taliban will destabilise the other Asian stans and encourage Chechen rebels. They are also concerned that a failed state in Afghanistan will result in an increase in the drug trade with Russia. Moscow still has painful memories of their nine-year war in Afghanistan, but practical politics have won the day.

The UK

More signs that Brexit is beginning to bite. It has taken longer than expected, but the reality factor is replacing the fear factor. As predicted by Remainers, it is the lack of EU immigrant workers which is causing the current problem, especially in the agricultural and trucking industries. The two sectors rely on what is classified as unskilled labour to harvest the crops and move those products to supermarket shelves while still fresh. Unskilled jobs have been traditionally filled by immigrants, mainly because they are dirty, physically exhausting, and low-paid and involve long hours. British workers don’t want them. The result is that the number of lorry drivers is down by 20 percent and agricultural workers by at least 25 percent. Supermarkets are seriously worried about empty shelves.

The response of British Home Secretary Priti Patel is “pay more money and hire British workers.” There are several problems with this diktat. First of all, there is already a general labour shortage caused partly by Brexit and partly by Covid. Next, although, agricultural work and truck driving are classed as unskilled, that is a labour fallacy. Anyone who has spent a day picking strawberries or trying to drive a heavy goods vehicle will testify to the fact. So recruiting indigenous Brits will involve a training period. Which means a delay. Then there is the impact that such a move will have on inflation. Increasing the salaries of 320,000 lorry drivers and 176,000 agricultural workers will have a significant impact on wage inflation. It will also substantially increase the cost of products across the entire range of commerce as transport costs are added to the retail price. Already supermarket chains are paying drivers bonuses of up to 25 percent to move goods to shelves before they spoil. Unable to compete with the private sector will be the public sector, which means, for instance, that local councils face the prospect of a shortage of drivers of dust carts to collect rubbish.

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Argentina, Mexico liberalise drug laws

In Mexico:

The Mexican government has enacted a law decriminalising the possession of small amounts of drugs, including cocaine and heroin.

Mexican prosecutors say the move does not amount to legalisation.

They say it is designed to prevent corrupt police from seeking bribes from small-time drug users, and to encourage addicts to seek treatment. (BBC)

In Argentina:

Argentina’s Supreme Court on Tuesday decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use, tossing out tough provincial drug laws whose penalties it deemed unconstitutional.

The high court ruling protects “the privacy of adults who are responsible for their own conduct,” according to a court statement.

It

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