Travel along the A45 as it cuts through the western suburbs of Coventry and you’ll see a Jaguar car dealership. This is located on the site of the former Matrix Churchill factory, which manufactured machine tools that were sold with the knowledge of Britain’s Tory government led by John Major, to the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein. It was one of the contributory factors that led to the downfall of Major’s government. At the time that the Tories lost the 1997 general election, the former factory was derelict with the site being used for paintball games and car boot sales; appropriate I thought at the time: pretend warfare and dodgy dealing.
As John Pilger detailed in Hidden Agendas, the armaments industry was one of the few British industrial successes during the 1980’s at a time when other manufacturing industries were in decline. Its support depended on access to government; and the government convincing the electorate, via compliant media, that it was necessary for ‘competitiveness’, ‘prosperity’ and so on. Attached was with the usual caveat that if ‘we’, the British, didn’t sell these armaments to various repugnant regimes around the world that the French would do so instead; which is true and will continue to be regardless of whom the French elect as president, but it is a morally vacant excuse nonetheless.
During her visit last week to the loose cannon in the White House, Theresa May stated that Britain and the US will never again invade sovereign foreign countries; something which sounds too good to be true, particularly with May claiming to speak on behalf of the US. But such invasions are unpopular because of the number of flag-draped coffins that end up being brought home, usually of young men from areas where there are little other career opportunities besides joining the army. The ideal for such wars is to do them by proxy, as the US did using the Islamic Mujahadeen in Afghanistan, with some sterling assistance from our own British SAS.
With that in mind and the need to develop trade deals, with or without Brexit, Theresa May met Turkey’s Islamist president to agree an armaments deal. This is perfect as Turkey being a member of NATO can fulfill by proxy the belligerence of any British government policy in the Middle East and BAE Systems benefits from the contracts. So Theresa may be turning into Maggie after all. However we just have to conveniently overlook Erdogan’s human rights record, related to which is his wish to eradicate secularism in favour of Islam. Theresa should have worn a patriotic headscarf for the occasion. Be warned what will come from this. Besides the morally repugnant arms deal in itself, prepare for the Tories to clamp down on criticism of Erdogan, his government and Islam in general. Also, be aware that post-Brexit, employers will seek to acquire cheap disposable migrant labour from Turkey rather than Poland.
On a domestic political level, May has made her first serious foreign policy mistake, for which she should be electorally punished, but won’t be due to the uselessness of the parliamentary opposition. Her claim that Turkey is one of the UK’s ‘oldest friends’ is fantastical to say the least. A century ago Turkey was allied to Germany and T. E. Lawrence led an Arab army to drive the Ottoman Turks out of Palestine, the legacy of which is one of the root causes of the enduring conflict there. More recently the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, a Commonwealth country with British military bases, in 1974 was hardly the act of a friendly nation, even though the Greek / Turkish division was exacerbated by British rule, which kept the communities divided.
One final and very important issue is that 43 years on from joining the EEC, Britain needs to repair its relationships with Australia and New Zealand, whose populations felt rightly aggrieved at the time that Britain had betrayed them by joining a trading organisation which imposed import tariffs on their goods. In Pilger’s book he devotes a chapter to Anzac Day, which is symbolically important for all Australians and New Zealanders, as it commemorates when more than a thousand of their young men landed on the Gallipoli peninsula to be cut-down by Turks dug into the cliff-face. We know who our oldest allies are and it certainly isn’t the Turks. If our oldest allies feel betrayed once more they are certainly entitled to. There is only one way back from this, May should resign or be got rid of and the arms deal with Turkey should be scrapped, but neither will happen.
Arming the World, from Hidden Agendas, pp 115 – 152, Vintage 1998 (paperback edition 1999). Anzac Day, pp 249 – 280, from the same book.
Footnote to First Paragraph:
Coincidentally, John Butcher, the Tory MP in whose Coventry South West constituency the factory was situated – and who had worked for the Department of Trade, hence must have had some knowledge of Matrix Churchill’s business – lost his job when the constituency was abolished, the Tories effectively gerrymandering themselves out of a parliamentary seat.