Tom Arms’ World Review

Editor’s Note: This was submitted on 9th September but held back because of the death of the Queen.

Queen Elizabeth II

One of my other hats is leader of the local cub scout group. As such, an important part of my job is explaining the cub scout promise to incoming cubs. The second line was, until this week, “to uphold scout values and honour the Queen.” Now it will be “honour the King.”

But regardless, of the gender of Britain’s monarch, my explanation of the importance of that line will be the same. It is that the monarch is the physical repository of a thousand years of British history, tradition and laws. Many of these laws and traditions have spread all around the world and, by and large, have influenced it for the better. I tell my cubs that they are not pledging an allegiance to a person so much as to the unwritten constitution which the monarch represents. I believe this to be true. I wouldn’t tell my cubs so if I thought otherwise.

BUT Queen Elizabeth II was different. She did more than act as a constitutional repository. She did so in a way that demonstrated a selflessness and devotion to duty which set an example for every person in the United Kingdom and for hundreds of millions in the Commonwealth and beyond. She was working up until two days before her death. Queen Elizabeth II was loved and respected around the globe because she loved. Her reign was a link between Euro-centric imperial world with only 50 members in the United Nations to one with 193. Her first Prime Minister was a hero of the Boer War. Her last was seven years old when the Falklands Task Force set sail.

Viewed from the rose-tinted perspective of 70 years of hindsight, the world seemed a secure and certain place when Elizabeth Windsor was crowned Queen. But it was only seven years after the end of World War Two. Rationing was still in force. Britain was staggering under the burden of a huge war debt and an empire it could ill afford. Today it is recovering from the cost of a pandemic and facing mounting bills brought on by the withdrawal from the EU and a war in Ukraine. Since the time of Victoria the role of the British monarch has been to stand aloof from politics. To play the role of the rock of constancy in a sea of constantly shifting tides. Queen Elizabeth II played her part magnificently and has the established the template for King Charles III.

Ukraine

Volodomyr Zelensky and his generals have fooled me. More importantly, they have fooled Vladimir Putin and his generals. Everyone knew that the Ukrainians were planning a counter-offensive, if only to prove to their Western backers that they were worth the military aid and economic sacrifices. The riverside city of Kherson in Southeast Ukraine was expected to the main target of the counter-offensive. Ukrainian forces controlled or destroyed the main bridges across the Dnieper River. Putin rushed troops to the city and built up his forces in Crimea to the immediate south. But Zelensky’s men decided instead to focus their counter-offensive in the northeastern sector of Ukraine and the city of Kharkiv. In a single day the Ukrainians managed to break through Russian lines and regain several towns and villages in the Kharkiv region and 400 square kilometres of territory.

The Russians have grudgingly admitted the Ukrainian success.  While the Ukrainians were advancing US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was visiting Kyiv to announce another $2 billion in US aid. So far Washington has contributed $15.2 billion to Ukraine. Meanwhile, the British Ministry of Defence has reported that 15,000 Russian soldiers have died in Putin’s “special military operation.” That is the same as the official Moscow death toll for the Soviet Union’s ten-year war in Afghanistan (although the recognised unofficial figure is nearer 50,000).

Russia

The Ukraine-Russia grain deal brokered by the UN and Turkey is in trouble. This week Vladimir Putin announced at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok that he wants to renegotiate the terms because the Europeans were acting like “colonial powers” and grabbing the bulk of the grain allowed to leave Ukrainian ports, leaving only three percent of the grain for developing world markets. The claim is a transparent attempt by the Russian leader to distort non-existent statistics to win developing countries support for his war and diplomatically isolate the US and Europe who are backing Ukraine.

According to the UN, Putin is, not to put too fine a point on it, lying. Thirty percent of the grain is going direct to developing countries. Twenty percent is going to Turkey, but a large proportion of the Turkish grain is being trans-shipped to Middle Eastern countries such as Lebanon and Syria, albeit with a middleman’s fee to Turkey. Spain, which is receiving 15 percent of the grain, is performing a similar role in West Africa. Other big importers are China and Italy at seven percent each. Most of the rest is going to developing world countries. But there is still not enough grain leaving Ukraine and Russia. The UN estimates that 49 million people could be pushed into famine this year because of the Ukraine War. There will be more if Putin is allowed to throw another spanner into the works.

Italy

In just about a fortnight, Italians will troop to the polls to elect a new government. All the bookies are betting on a right-wing coalition led by the 45-year-old leader of the fast-rising Brothers of Italy, Georgi Meloni. Just four years ago her party polled only four percent of the vote. Now it has 25 percent and Meloni’s coalition with Silvia Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigrant Northern League totals roughly 49 percent of the vote. The opposition Left Alliance can only muster 29 percent.

Ms Meloni’s Brothers of Italy has been branded by most pundits as a “post-fascist” party, a label which she has been trying to play down while at the same time appealing to her strongly conservative base. She started off pro-Putin, anti-EU and not so keen on NATO. But since the Russian invasion of Ukraine she has denounced Putin, and declared her support for the alliance and watered down her opposition to the EU. However, the Brothers of Italy still want to renegotiate the terms of their EU loan, express admiration for Hungary’s Viktor Orban and America’s Donald Trump, oppose gay rights and want the Italian navy to order boatloads of immigrants back to Africa.

 

* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and the author of “The Encyclopedia of the Cold War” and the recently published “America Made in Britain” that has sold out in the US after six weeks but is still available in the UK.

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3 Comments

  • nigel hunter 21st Sep '22 - 2:24pm

    As far as migrants are concerned (which could also alleviate the right wing parties ascendance) they will always come until the countries they come from have the conditions to improve their lifestyles inplace.Cutting overseas aid was purely an election strategy to maintain the divisions for votes.

  • Steve Trevethan 21st Sep '22 - 3:29pm

    “Rationing was still in force” Is an incomplete expression. The complete and more accurate expression is, “Rationing by need was still in force”.
    Then there were no starving children. Now we have rationing by price and around 30% of ourchildren are starving.
    How do we justify an alleged price of £6 Billion on a funeral instead of organising so that we have no children starving?

  • George Thomas 21st Sep '22 - 9:10pm

    Queen Elizabeth performed the role probably better than anyone has or could – she was truly someone to be admired.

    I’m not a fan of “national mourning” has been used to stifle pollical discourse at a time it was most needed, or to sure up support for continuing monarchy as status quo when those having different view were ushered away by police, or those raising concern that their loved ones died following interaction with our police were tutted at because someone “more important” had died. One can find a reflection in seeing headlines of 250,000 queue up to pass the Queen when they also walked past memorial to 200,000 dead due to covid or the 16 hours wait they had when others are waiting 16 hours for an ambulance. Many of these issues are political and Queen Elizabeth II managed to stay apolitical, but the British way (“keep calm and carry on” etc.) which she was repository of has been used to keep us on a patriotic path when perhaps we shouldn’t be. We owe more to those waiting 16 hours for health treatment than we do those waiting 16 hours to pay their respect – it’s what Queen Elizabeth II would have wanted.

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