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By Morak Babajide-Alabi
It’s been a roller coaster of events in the United Kingdom in the past two or three weeks. We have been regaled with “drama episodes”, from the ridiculous to the shocking and life-changing happenings that one could not have imagined. It is been walking and reading from “Paradise Papers” to Hollywood sex assaults-themed bestsellers.
We were happy though that BREXIT, which had dominated the news for a better part of the year, disappeared from radar for a while. We were relieved of the burden of seeing David Davis, BREXIT Secretary; contradict himself and his principal Theresa May, the Prime Minister, on policy issues.
For about two weeks, Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission President took a break from his lead acting role in the “blockbuster” called BREXIT negotiations. We heaved a sigh of relief (again) that we were not visually “assaulted” by his constant complaints and whining that Britain was not making the exit negotiations easy for member countries. Nor did we have to listen to him denying that Prime Minister May had “begged” him for help in settling the BREXIT bill.
It is strange that discussions about the Autumn Budget are not taking place yet. Traditionally the budget would have been the focal point for everyone right now. Unfortunately, other pressing events have overshadowed the proper evaluation of what Britons should expect of the budget. It is a few days left for Phillip Hammond, the Chancellor of the Exchequer to “catwalk” Downing Street (probably for the last time), as customary, raise the red box, with “forced smile” and proceed to the House of Commons to unveil “goodies” that will take the masses to “Paradise”.
The ritualistic presentation is pretty much a review of government’s economic policies, and also proposals for changes to taxations in the country. Usually, by now, the major points of the budget would have been all over the press to gauge public opinions. We would have been asking questions about how proposed tax changes would affect the cost of cigarettes, cigars, wines or beer. We would have analysed how much help first-time property buyers should expect from the government, or how personal allowances would affect take-home wages.
Historically, the opposition Labour Party would have been all “over the place” with ideas of an alternative budget that could benefit the common men and women more. The office of the Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, has been eerily silent, probably still putting finishing touches to its budget proposals. This is understandable, as the opposition is part of the drama playing out in the country.
In spite of expectations, we have been forced to take trips to read Paradise Papers (or Paradise Lost) and the revelations that the royal family, among others, have found a way to beat the high tax regimes in the country. It was disclosed that the queen, invested a huge sum of her money in a Cayman Island’s Fund that has been promoting one of UK’s most exploitative business enterprises – Bright House. Likewise, Prince Charles was also alleged to have made investments in a Bermuda company owned by one of his friends. All these have no direct benefits to the UK.
Many of us who had thought the royal family members were secretive in their dealings had to do a retake when it became public knowledge that the politically inexperienced Preti Patel had been “holing” up with the Israelis. It was (and still) unfathomable what, she, as the International Development Secretary had in mind for these actions and the secret rendezvous.
Last week Wednesday, from far away East Africa, Patel was summoned back to the UK. It was alleged the Prime Minister got angry after discovering that there was more than one meeting with the Israelis that Patel had not disclosed. On arrival in the UK, Patel jumped before she could be pushed, effectively putting to an end her yet to mature political career. At the back of all these are suggestions in political circles that there are more to Patel’s moves that need an explanation from the government.
The government is not keen to explain anything. It has so many things on the plate to handle at this time. Keeping an eye on the ‘rogue’ Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is a full-time job for May. Last week Johnson’s diplomatic gaffe put the life of a British citizen arrested while on holiday in Iran at risk when he erroneously claimed she was teaching journalism. Although he had apologised, the Iranians are justifying the accusation of spying against Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe by Johnson’s error.
The Prime Minister is under pressure to fire Johnson, but that is not likely to happen soon. May has suffered enough losses in the past two weeks to think of issuing a P45 to Johnson. Apart from Patel, we recollect that Michael Fallon quit his post as the Secretary of State for Defence. He was alleged to have inappropriately touched a woman’s knee. We don’t know more than this but according to him, his behaviour towards ladies had “fallen short” previously, and “the culture has changed over the years. What might have been acceptable 10, 15 years ago is clearly not acceptable now”.
Unlike Fallon, Damian Green, the first secretary of state/deputy prime minister, is fighting allegation of sexual harassments rather than resign. Green has vehemently denied the charges against him and the allegation that porn materials were found on his computer during a police investigation some years ago. There are other top Tories mentioned in this sexual harassment saga that will take more than denials to get them back to political reckoning.
The Labour party also has its long list of sexual offenders. The caliber of individuals involved from both parties has, once again, brought to the fore, the need for mental evaluation of these political leaders.
There have been lots of casualties in the drama of the past weeks, but none as big as the loss of Carl Sargeant, the sacked Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children in the Labour Party-led Welsh government. He was reported to have taken his own life on Tuesday after allegations of “unwanted attention, inappropriate touching or groping”.
Sargeant was a popular politician in the Welsh National Assembly, but he did not wait for a majority vote on the allegations before he took his own life. Surprisingly his tragic decision has denied him the opportunity of defending himself against this allegations and ultimately clearing his names. Now, an eternal shadow is cast on his name, and there is no one to clear this for him.
Some of his supporters are suggesting that he took the suicide route because he had no idea of what he was accused of. I think this was not a good reason not to allow justice take its course.
For the UK, the past few weeks have been testy. And for an embattled Prime Minister, the question is being asked of how long she will manage to hold together her ragtag army of ministers. No one can guess what will happen next, but a lot will definitely happen soon that will alter the course of British politics.
As published in the Sunday Vanguard of 12th November, 2017