High Time for Honesty

Here is the transcript of a short opinion piece that I recorded for Ben Chambers’ Sixteen Million Rising March 2019 show. It can be found in SMR Episode 30, starting at 2 hours 41 minutes.


We have made a real dog’s dinner of Brexit. One reason is that we – or most of us – have allowed the habitual contempt for honesty to emerge as an acceptable behaviour amongst our leading politicians. For three years we have let them get away with downright lies and hiding the truth.

The only way to escape from this mess – this crisis – is to pressure both May and Corbyn to OWN UP TO THE TRUTH.

The plain truth – and they know it – is that there is no Brexit plan – hard or soft – that can offer anything like the benefits of the arrangements that we now have with our European neighbours. They also know that, if they follow any Brexit path, this means at least another 3 years of political turmoil, division and uncertainty.

Their obstinate pursuit of agendas that they themselves now know to be self-harming to the country is down-right deceitful. Their behaviour, including their withholding from public scrutiny of government forecasts of the dire impact of different Brexit outcomes, is an abdication of their responsibility to act with honesty and transparency in the national interest.

Each day that they continue this charade, they are inflicting irreversible harm on the economy – on our livelihoods – and their antics are diminishing Britain’s international standing.

Both May and Corbyn can genuinely claim that they have done everything within their power to find a Brexit solution that would be good for British people.

We must now call on them to stop fooling themselves and us.  As soon as they both have the guts and humility to OWN UP TO THE TRUTH that they have failed to find an acceptable solution, the crisis into which they have thrown us will quietly fizzle out.

And we will treat them with respect for coming clean.



Categorised as General

Ignorance Inspired Brexit Nostalgia

Here is a short but direct comment on the ways in which proponents of Brexit have sought to portray Britain’s relationship with its former colonies. It has been written by Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram whose name celebrates the leaders of the independence moveeme4nt in Ghana and Kenya.

As the possible implications of Britain’s self-imposed ‘no-deal’ exit from the European Union loom larger, a new round of imperial nostalgia has come alive.
After turning its back on the Commonwealth since the Thatcherite 1980s, some British Conservative Party leaders are seeking to revive colonial connections in increasingly desperate efforts to avoid self-inflicted marginalization following divorce from its European Union neighbours across the Channel.
Imperial nostalgia
Part of the new Brexit induced neo-imperial mythology is that its colonies did not provide any significant economic benefit to Britain itself. Instead, it is suggested that colonial administrations were run at great cost to Britain itself.
The empire, it is even claimed, was long maintained due to a benevolent imperial sense of responsibility. To revive patron-client relations neglected with the turn to Europe in the 1980s, the new mantra is that British rule helped ‘develop’ the empire.
As the sun never set on Britain’s far flung empire, acquired by diverse means for different reasons at various points in time, few generalizations are appropriate. Nevertheless, there is already significant research indicating otherwise for many colonies, but India, of course, was the jewel in the crown.
Empire strikes back
Former Indian foreign minister Shashi Tharoor has debunked many imperial apologetic claims, including those made by former Oxford and Harvard historian Niall Ferguson. Probably the most prominent, Ferguson famously insisted decades ago that countries progressed thanks to imperialism in an influential TV series and coffee table book sponsored by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Empire.
Malaysian Sultan Nazrin Shah’s Oxford University Press book has underscored the crucial contribution of colonial Malayan commodity exports in the first four decades of the 20th century, while other scholarship has shown that post-war British recovery depended crucially on the export earnings’ contribution of its Southeast Asian colony.
Less well known is Utsa Patnaik’s painstaking work on nearly two centuries of tax and trade data. She estimates that Britain ‘drained’ nearly US$45 trillion from the Indian subcontinent between 1765 and 1938, equivalent to 17 times the United Kingdom’s current gross domestic product.
Colonial surplus
After the English East India Company (EIC) gained control of and monopolized Indian external trade, EIC traders ‘bought’ Indian goods with tax revenue collected from them. After the British crown displaced the EIC in 1847, its monopoly broke down, and traders had to pay London in gold to get rupees to pay Indian producers.
Under imperial monetary arrangements, the colonies’ export earnings were considered British, and hence booked as a deficit in their own ‘national’ accounts despite their often large trade surpluses with the rest of the world until the Great Depression.
Thus, the empire has been depicted by imperial apologists as liabilities to Britain, with India having to borrow from Britain to finance its own imports. Thus, India remained in debt to and thus ‘bonded’ by debt to Britain.
Not surprisingly, two centuries of British rule did not raise Indian per capita income significantly. In fact, income fell by half in the last half of the 19th century while average life expectancy dropped by a fifth between 1870 and 1920! Infamously, tens of millions died due to avoidable famines induced by colonial policy decisions, including the two Bengal famines.
Slavery too
Britain used such fraudulent gains for many purposes, including further colonial expansion, first in Asia and later in Africa. Taxpayers in the colonies thus paid not only for the administration of their own exploitation, but also for imperial expansion elsewhere, including Britain’s wars.
Early accumulation for Britain’s Industrial Revolution depended significantly on such colonial arrangements. Imperial tribute financed the expansion of colonialism and investments abroad, including the European settler colonies.
Not unlike Eduardo Galeano’s magnum opus, Open Veins of Latin America, Walter Rodney’s 1972 classic, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa showed how slavery and other imperial economic policies transformed, exploited and brutalized Africa.
In The Empire Pays Back, Robert Beckford estimated that Britain should pay a whopping £7.5 trillion in reparations for its role in the transatlantic slave trade, breaking it down as follows: £4 trillion in unpaid wages, £2.5 trillion for unjust enrichment and £1 trillion for pain and suffering.
Britain has made no apology for slavery or colonialism, as it has done for the Irish potato famine. There has been no public acknowledgement of how wealth extracted through imperialism made possible the finance, investment, manufacturing, trade and prosperity of modern Britain.
With Brexit imminent, a renewed narrative and discourse of imperial nostalgia has emerged, articulated, inter alia, in terms of a return to the Commonwealth, long abandoned by Maggie Thatcher. Hence, well over half of those surveyed in UK actually believe that British imperialism was beneficial to the colonies.
This belief is not only clearly self-deluding, but also obscures Britain’s neo-colonial scramble for energy and mineral resources, enhanced role as tax haven for opportunistic finance, as well as its continued global imperial leadership, albeit only in a fading, supporting role to the US as part of its ‘special relationship’.
Anis Chowdhury, Adjunct Professor at Western Sydney University & University of New South Wales (Australia), held senior United Nations positions in New York and Bangkok.
Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was Assistant Director-General for Economic and Social Development, Food and Agriculture Organization, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.
Categorised as General