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.

The latter is more important. The president’s job was important but real power in Iran lies with the Supreme National Security Council which is headed by the Supreme Leader. The political structure is similar to that of the old Soviet Union or Communist China. There are elections, but the candidates are all from one party – or in Iran’s case, religion.

All the elected officials and their government departments are supervised by appointed religious councils in much the same way as the communist party controls the different departments of state. In Iran there is an added twist in that the Supreme Leader and the National Security Council also have total control over nuclear issues, the military and foreign affairs.

Elections are only important as a litmus test of public opinion. The names on the ballot papers are not the critical issue as they have already been approved. What is important is the number of people who vote. A good turnout is good news for the regime. A low turnout is bad news. The only means that Iranians have to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with the government is to refuse to vote.

Back in the 1970s and 80s the regime was young, popular and not the Shah. It enjoyed voter turnouts of around 70 percent, a figure which would delight any Western democratic leader. But the numbers have been dramatically dropping in recent years. In 2016 the figure for the parliament election was a still significant 60 percent. In 2020 it dropped to 42 percent. Officials said they would climb back up again in elections this March. They dropped to 41 percent. Raisi won with only a 48 percent turnout.

Mexico

After next Sunday Mexico will have its first woman president. That is guaranteed because the two main contenders are women.

The favourite is Claudia Sheinbaum, the hand-picked successor of popular populist Anders Manuel Lopez Obrador leader of the Morena Pary. With a week to go, she is 24 points ahead of her nearest rival – businesswoman and coalition candidate Xochitl Galvez.

The elections are important because the Mexican-American relationship is having an increasing impact on world affairs. It affects migration, the illicit drug trade and world economic issues. If Sheinbaum wins with the majority that she is expected to secure than she will have considerable latitude to either crackdown or cooperate with her super power neighbour to the north.

Because she has been handpicked by President Obrador the most likely scenario will be more of the same.

On immigration that means cooperation. During the Biden Administration, it has involved the Mexican National Guard in arresting migrants from central and South American travelling north through Mexico to the United States. It has also meant accepting without question migrants returned by the US authorities to Mexico.

The drug trade and the Mexican drug cartels are a sore point. The US wants the Mexican government to do more to crack down on the cartels, especially as related to fentanyl. Obrador says that the best way to stop the flow of drugs is to end the demand by American drug users. He is particularly opposed to agents from the US Drug Enforcement Agency operating on Mexican soil.

Mexican-American trade is booming. This is because of punitive US tariffs on Chinese goods. Chinese firms that exported from China have moved operations to Mexico as have foreign companies that had export-led production based in China. Mexico – not China – is now America’s biggest trading partner. This could lead to increased pressure on American companies in Mexico to “re-shore” to America. Or it could, Mexicans hope, make Mexico “too big to fail.”

Of course, the scenarios could dramatically change if the Mexican elections are followed by a Donald Trump victory in November. Trump was not popular south of the border during his first administration. The likelihood is that he will be more unpopular if given a second chance. He has spoken about sending US troops in Mexico to stop immigrants and the drug trade. In the past, he has pressed American companies to leave Mexico and has threatened to send 11 million immigrants—mainly Mexicans—to the countries of their birth.

Booting millions of Mexicans out of the US would have a huge detrimental impact on the Mexican economy. The Mexican-American community is estimated to remit $63.3 billion back home every year.

Both Sheinbaum (if she is elected) and Trump (if he is elected) should remember that every border has two sides and each side has a story.

* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and author of “The Encyclopaedia of the Cold War” and “America Made in Britain". To subscribe to his email alerts on world affairs click here.

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9 Comments

  • With the latest offering from CCHQ – supposed national service – we are witnessing the death throes of this Conservative administration.
    It’s Rwanda policy is a mere gimmick to mask its own failure to secure the Kent Coast . This is on top of the £0.5 Billion+ given to France to help in that respect…With immigration running at record levels – unsustainable in the long term , the Tories have failed spectacularly on its promises back in GE19 . Ironically Rwanda despite its record, is one of the better governed African countries – on a continent plagued by bad governance . As the saying goes incumbent govts lose elections & this one is no exception. I see no great affection for the opposition parties or the uninspiring policies they’ve so far outlined.

  • I was fortunate to miss National Service by six months back in 1960. I was thankful knowing about what I did about my Dad’s experiences in WW2 and the long term damage it caused him.

    This latest wheeze from Sunak and co deserves to be laughed out of court and treated as a desperate meaningless election gimmick.

    The reality back in the forties and fifties after basic training was that conscripts were allocated to one of the armed forces to serve. These National Service conscripts served in a variety of roles across the Armed Forces. As well as serving at home, Servicemen were posted to one of Britain’s many garrisons around the world which often meant the conscripts saw active service. They were expected to fight. Between 1947 and 1963, a total of 395 National Servicemen were killed in active service. More than three times that number were seriously wounded. Many experienced things they will never forget including bullying, violence and exaggerated examples of the hierarchical class system.

    Conscription played a part in destroying the old Liberal Party in WW1…… it should be anathema to every liberal thinking person.

  • Thanks for another top article Tom. You mention the importance of the money Mexicans send home to the Mexican economy, is there any way of working out what benefit there is to the US economy of this under the radar work force?

  • Martin you write that immigration at record levels is unsustainable at current rates. I’m concerned that with shortages in the workforce in the care, health and other sectors, added to an aging population we’re going to need immigrants or the house of cards will collapse.
    Once upon a time I saw some figures around the number of people working compared to those in receipt of the state pension at the time it was introduced compared to then, this must have been around 20 years ago. I’ve never been able to find those figures again, but they showed what everyone knows, that being that there are fewer people working than in receipt of the pension now than there was when the pension was introduced. Of course its great that people are living longer, or were, but we need a sufficiently large workforce to pay don’t we? We also need a sufficiently large workforce to support people properly as they start to suffer from the long-term conditions that people inevitably get as they age.

  • Yusuf….Adding a city the size of Bristol to the population every year is just not sustainable..

  • @Tom I really appreciate the informative articles you write. But I don’t think it’s at all correct to claim that the average Briton dislikes foreigners. Rather, many people (including myself) can see that rate at which the population is increasing (due mainly to immigration) has been putting an impossible strain on our communities and infrastructure etc., and therefore believe that, unfortunate though it is, that rate urgently needs to be reduced. To my mind, conflating that viewpoint with a dislike of foreigners amounts to at best a misunderstanding of and at worst a slur on millions of people. (Of course there are a small minority who do actually dislike foreigners).

    @Yusuf If you deliberately bring in people to do healthcare etc., what happens when those people grow old or ill and need care themselves? Who’s going to build the houses and hospitals etc. that they need? And what happens to the (often, poorer) countries that invested scarce resources in training those people only to see their skills effectively stolen by the UK? Surely it’s better to sort out the structural issues in our economy that are causing the shortages in the first place?

  • Yusuf Osman 2nd Jun '24 - 8:34am

    Sorry Martin and Simon that it has taken so long for me to come back to this. The problems of housing and lack of investment in public services go back way beyond the increase in migration from around 2000 so I find it hard to believe that migration is the primary cause. Our own aging population, allied to a declining birth rate are the main structural problems and the only way to deal with both is to have migration. Of course I might lack in imagination so miss other solutions.
    Simon raises a good point around draining skills from other countries. I suppose the only positive is that those countries tend to have larger and younger populations and so can train more. I realise as I’m typing that, it isn’t a great answer. Perhaps there’s more we can do to support those countries to train more staff?
    The other side of that is that people choose to move for various reasons and it is very hard to stop them. That’s why I find the whole debate around migration slightly frustrating. Right wing politicians promise to reduce it, when they must know their ability to control it is extremely limited.

  • Nonconformistradical 2nd Jun '24 - 8:50am

    “The problems of housing and lack of investment in public services go back way beyond the increase in migration from around 2000 so I find it hard to believe that migration is the primary cause. Our own aging population, allied to a declining birth rate are the main structural problems….”
    Also perhaps the tendency of people to live in smaller household numbers so needing more dwellings (which might not be appropriate capacities)?

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