June 2, 2022 Wayne Northey

Thoughts on: The Queen’s jubilee can’t shake the ghosts of empire

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June 3, 2022

image above: People watch planes fly over Buckingham Palace during celebrations marking the Platinum Jubilee of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II in London on June 2. (Dylan Martinez/Reuters)

WN: One can only vehemently hope so!, in response to this line:

Given the unpopularity of her immediate heir, and signs of growing anti-monarchism among young Britons, it may also be one of her country’s last royal jubilees.

The Queen for a lifetime perfectly fits this line from Archbishop Desmond Tutu:

The former apartheid cabinet member Leon Wessels was closer to the mark when he said that they had not wanted to know [about the horrors of White Supremacist Apartheid], for there were those who tried to alert them (No Future Without Forgiveness, p. 269).

The Queen especially loved reviewing “the troops.” She never cared to learn of, let alone apologize for, the massive atrocities of British Empire. In Britain’s Reckoning With Its Imperial Legacy Is Long Overdue, by Jamie Maxwell, May 17, 2022, we read:

Conservatives like to paint a sanitized picture of British imperialism, but the empire was built on murderous exploitation. Modern Britain is finally coming to terms with the crimes on which its global power rested.

The article is a discussion of three recent publications: Uncommon Wealth: Britain and the Aftermath of Empire by Kojo Koram (Hachette UK, 2022), Empireland: How Imperialism Has Shaped Modern Britain by Sanghera Sathnam (Viking, 2021), and How Britain Ends: English Nationalism and the Rebirth of Four Nations by Gavin Esler, (Head of Zeus, 2021). In it we read:

A |s Kojo Koram argues in his excellent, panoramic new book, Uncommon Wealth, and Sathnam Sanghera affirms in his slightly less excellent but still highly engaging Empireland, imperialism wasn’t something Britain did in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries and then casually left behind in the twentieth. To a significant extent, empire built the modern British state, and the legacy of empire runs through every aspect of contemporary British society, from its class system and its immigration regime to its constitution and even its plush, secluded country mansions.

Koram is a legal academic and researcher at the Birkbeck School of Law in London. He argues that, through empire, Britain pioneered early forms of laissez-faire capitalism, outsourcing, and public-private partnerships. The Royal African Company (RAC) is one notable example of this long-standing trend in British political economy.

Founded in 1660 as a mercantile trading body by the Stuart family and the City of London, the RAC mined gold off the west coast of Africa before charting slave ships to Britain’s mushrooming colonial plantations in North America. The company is thought to have transported up to two hundred thousand people across the Atlantic between 1670 and 1730, forty thousand of whom died without ever reaching American shores.

Imperialism wasn’t something Britain did in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries and then casually left behind in the twentieth. Empire built the modern British state.

Koram traces the roots of Britain’s heavily privatized public sector back to these embryonic imperial alliances — alliances that imprinted in Britain’s ruling elite a lasting preference for corporate control of state assets (or for joint corporate-state control of said assets). Serco is a modern-day equivalent of the RAC, he contends.

This multibillion-dollar company administers vast swathes of Britain’s contemporary justice, health, and immigration systems, including Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre in Bedfordshire, a notorious processing and detention plant for asylum applicants. Suitably enough, the company’s CEO is Rupert Soames, the grandson of Winston Churchill and nephew of Lord Edwin Duncan-Sandys, a Conservative politician who served as “Secretary of State for the Colonies” in the early 1960s.

Serco is the latest addition to a “conveyor belt” of corporations that has performed much of Britain’s “colonial heavy lifting” over the centuries, Koram writes. Corporate outsourcing in Britain predates not only Thatcherism, but the “unification of the United Kingdom” as a political entity.

The Global City of London

Koram has a particularly relevant and revealing chapter detailing the relationship between British Overseas Territories (BOTs), the growth of global financial capitalism, and fiscal austerity. BOTs are pseudoautonomous microstates; former UK colonial possessions, like the British Virgin Islands, Bermuda, and the Cayman Islands, that decided, after decolonization in the mid-twentieth century, to maintain the constitutional trappings of Britishness yet jettison key parts of Britain’s economic and financial regulation. By maintaining links to Britain, they can offer high-net-worth investors the stability and confidence of a major economic power anchored by a centuries-old legal system committed to the sanctity of private property.

At the same time, BOTs are subject to none of the “democratic pressures that a large, populous state like the UK might face,” and can freely opt out of Britain’s domestic tax and financial arrangements. This culture of secrecy makes them highly attractive investment locations for the vast oceans of capital that wash around global financial centers like the City of London, itself a bizarre constitutional anomaly — “an offshore island,” with its own police force and regulatory powers, “in the middle of a sprawling metropolitan city.”

Yet the two authors [Kojo Koram, and Sanghera Sathnam] reach near-identical verdicts: the UK is trapped in a kind of colonial feedback loop, unable to fully accept the scale and violence of its imperial experiment but nonetheless condemned to relive its lessons domestically.

BOTs are technically as British as “Sheffield or Swansea,” Koram says, but by channeling the wealth of the global superrich out of the hands of UK legislators, they have starved British public services of tax receipts during a period of sustained fiscal retrenchment. Offshoring is part of the “afterlife of the British Empire,” he writes, and its consequences have been particularly stark for the poorest communities in Britain, which shouldered the burden of spending cuts and Conservative-imposed “efficiency savings” in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.

By maintaining links to Britain, off-shore tax havens can offer high-net-worth investors the stability and confidence of a major economic power committed to the sanctity of private property. Koram’s blend of narrative history and deep theoretical analysis makes Uncommon Wealth a hugely arresting and effective investigation of Britain’s imperial rap sheet. In addition to his engrossing account of the aftereffects of empire, Koram writes movingly about the scuppered hopes of anti- (or post) colonial leaders like Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah and Jamaica’s Michael Manley, political visionaries whose ambitious plans for a new, more democratic global order in the 1960s and ’70s were derailed by the hard pressure of Western strategic and economic interests, applied through institutions like the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

Koram’s decision to trace the link between Britain’s network of offshore tax havens and its spiraling rates of homegrown inequality has recently been spectacularly vindicated. In April of this year, it emerged that Akshata Murty, the billionaire wife of Tory chancellor Rishi Sunak, had avoided paying millions of pounds worth of income tax as a result of her “non-domiciled” status. As Koram explains, the “non-dom” loophole in the British tax code is a direct inheritance from empire, enacted during Britain’s imperial heyday to “allow those who owned lands or businesses in the colonies to live in the UK but avoid paying tax on the wealth they possessed overseas.”

And so on. . .

This website is dedicated to The Gospel as Counter-Narrative to Empire. It is the only path to justice of the kind Amos called for:

But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!Amos 5:24

May the sun definitively set on all vestiges of British and American Empire! Even so come, Lord Jesus. Amen.

excerpts:

Brexit, [Gavin Esler] says, is only the latest and most visceral expression of Britain’s postimperial crisis and decline; a nostalgia-soaked testament to England’s increasingly obsessive belief in its unique national destiny.

Far from possessing the epoch-defining power that Victoria did, Elizabeth and her kin now rule mostly over the realms of kitsch and gossip. They live their lives as bearers of centuries of weighty tradition in a far more banal present. To a gawking public, they are objects of curiosity and even pity. Sometimes, they serve as the subjects of excellent prestige television. More often, they are the source of tawdry tabloid intrigues, from the alleged sexual crimes of Prince Andrew to the House of Windsor’s internal family feuds.

Few Britons look to their royals for visions of grandeur and geopolitical might. Rather, their enduring love for the queen — who, opinion polls show, is undeniably popular — is about something far more cozy. “Celebrating ‘queen and country’ is a way for buttoned-up Britons to celebrate themselves, to wrap themselves in the soft patriotism of Union Jack bunting, as they move past the pain of the pandemic and the endless bickering over Brexit,” wrote my colleague William Booth.

Far from possessing the epoch-defining power that Victoria did, Elizabeth and her kin now rule mostly over the realms of kitsch and gossip. They live their lives as bearers of centuries of weighty tradition in a far more banal present. To a gawking public, they are objects of curiosity and even pity. Sometimes, they serve as the subjects of excellent prestige television. More often, they are the source of tawdry tabloid intrigues, from the alleged sexual crimes of Prince Andrew to the House of Windsor’s internal family feuds.

Uncommon Wealth and Empireland
offer two distinct but complementary accounts of British decline.

“To this day, she has never publicly admitted, let alone apologized, for the oppression, torture, dehumanization and dispossession visited upon people in the colony of Kenya before and after she acceded to the throne,” Patrick Gathara, a Kenyan political commentator, told the Associated Press.

In the same AP story, Jamaican academic Rosalea Hamilton explained her position on wanting to remove the queen as her country’s head of state. “When I think about the queen, I think about a sweet old lady,” she said. “It’s not about her. It’s about her family’s wealth, built on the backs of our ancestors. We’re grappling with the legacies of a past that has been very painful.”

Earlier this year, a trip to Central America and the Caribbean by Prince William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, was marked by protests and scorn. In Jamaica, a letter addressed to the couple and signed by dozens of prominent leaders and intellectuals called for a formal apology from Britain, as well as reparations for its legacy of slavery and colonial exploitation in the region.

“We see no reason to celebrate 70 years of the ascension of your grandmother to the British throne because her leadership, and that of her predecessors, have perpetuated the greatest human rights tragedy in the history of humankind,” read the letter.

Equality, of course, is not exactly a principle that co-exists easily with a hereditary monarchy. Should they feel any disquiet about their political arrangement, most Britons will probably suspend judgment at least for this weekend of revelry and good cheer (though there are some notable exceptions).

Please click on: The Ghosts of Empire

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