RISHI SUNAK, reportedly the richest Member of Parliament in the United Kingdom, was elected Prime Minister on October 25. DR REEDERWAAN CRAAYENSTEIN assesses what impact his election will have on the poor in the UK and, based on his pro-Zionist pronouncements, prospects for justice for Palestinians.
While Rishi Sunak definitely looks Asian – despite the fancy clothes, slick hair and facials – he really lives in a different world. He has admitted that he has no poor friends. He thus has no clue about the lives of the majority of Asians, Caribbean, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Africans and other poor communities in the United Kingdom.
In the UK his victory brings into focus the empty posturing of the Labour Party on defending and advocating for black people. Which political party is the natural home for black and brown people in the UK, is how the question would be phrased.
Both the Conservatives and Labour rely on black people for virtue signalling but both use the black professional managerial class to betray the interests of 14 million poor people of whom 50% of black, brown, Muslim, Asian, Latin American and Caribbean are found. The professional, managerial class amongst black people have become maladjusted to injustice. Being black and prepared to look the other way can be a career-defining proclivity
In 160 constituencies, black people are the swing vote who can determine who becomes a member of parliament. How do they look at Sunak the Prime Minister? They likely look at Sunak as one of theirs even if he is their class enemy. We know what Conservative Party members thought of him the first time around, even though he ticks all the boxes except on ethnicity.
Meanwhile, there is not one black person in the Labour Party, who believes in socialism, who is likely to become Prime Minister on a Labour Party ticket.
Sunak is ideologically organic to the Tories. He is as right wing politically and economically as one could get. He was rewarded within that hated system of capitalism and social conservatism which have brought the world on the brink of extinction with nuclear war just a mistake away, irreversible climate-change a decade or so away and fragile democracies (including the UK that has had three Prime Ministers in under eight weeks).
The task for black people and the working class in general is to build a movement of civil disobedience and one that will put 14 million poor people at the centre of our institutional imagination. That is a world where the many have the chance to live a full and free life. In such a movement Sunak will be on the opposing side. In his world the activists for a world where all lives matter will be deemed enemies of the state.
Liz Truss – his predecessor – failed because she was clumsy. Her implementation was ill considered. Sunak might just be cleverer and more competent. But Sunak is a neoliberal economic and financial extremist. He was caught on camera saying that as Chancellor of the Exchequer he changed the rules so that money would be taken from poor areas to be spent on rich areas. For him the state is a buffer not between the market and those who cannot afford to participate; no, Sunak believes that the state is there to protect the rich against the rest.
This is the ‘Obama moment’ for the UK. And like Barack Obama, Sunak will be a Prime Minister for the few and not the many. As with Obama, holding Sunak to account might be controversial. Those black people who criticised Obama were isolated in America. On breaking international law, Obama was in a league of his own. Domestically, with respect to housing, education, healthcare, employment, public transport, criminal justice Obama did not do much for poor and black people at all. He did a lot for Wall Street. In fact, he saved Wall Street when he bailed out the financial services but refused to support homeowners who could not pay their mortgages. Not one Wall Street executive who broke the law and caused the global financial crash – for which the support is still extended – went to jail. Jamal, Letitia and Ramon who sell drugs on the street corner end up serving decades in the prison-industrial complex. Not one Wall Street executive went to jail. Not one. This is the world in which Sunak operates.
If one starts with the proposition that the life of a baby in Gaza is as precious as the life of a baby in Tel Aviv and vice versa then one has to be concerned about Sunak’s position on the Israel-Palestine issue for which the UK bears a unique responsibility.
Sunak subscribes to the idea of an undivided Jerusalem as the historic capital of Israel. Now that is not merely a political judgement. It is a radical position in opposition to international law. And the UK is a permanent member of the UN Security Council with a political responsibility to ensure that countries comply with international law.
He also campaigned to relocate the UK Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. If that were to happen then it would be a violation of international law. It might also formally end the two-state solution to end the conflict.
The UK was the country that for 200 years transported over three million slaves in a triangular journey from ports in the UK (Liverpool, London, Bristol) to west Africa to sell goods and weapons in return for captured slaves to take to the Americas. Eleven thousand journeys. It would not be wrong to say that slavery in the Caribbean was the precondition for the industrialisation of Britain and its status as a global power. Every six days on average a ship would leave a UK port with 250 to 300 slaves. When slavery ended the UK paid the slave owners reparations. The government borrowed that money and took almost 200 years to repay the loan. The last instalments were paid in 2015, from 1834. Slaves received no compensation at all; not even an apology.
Sunak says nothing about slavery. Everywhere in the UK there are signs of slavery. Not a word. But he does agree that the UK should build a Holocaust Memorial on the Victoria Embankment Gardens. Surely, the Holocaust was a catastrophic instance of man’s inhumanity to man. And we are not comparing and ranking atrocities. However, the role of the UK in the Holocaust does not compare to its dominant role in slavery. Yet, Sunak says nothing, does nothing and plans not to do anything about slavery and its material, financial, institutional, spiritual and moral legacy. He does not promote the education of slavery and the racism that followed the first generations of immigrants from the Commonwealth to the UK after World War II. However, he supports the construction of a Holocaust Memorial, a key demand of the pro-Israel lobby in the UK.
He sees Israel as a beacon of hope and considers the four leading human rights organisations that independently found Israel to be an Apartheid state to be factually wrong. Now this is not a disagreement on facts. This is a right wing position that is consistent with a preparedness to ignore international covenants, conventions and law, international human rights law and humanitarian law. In terms of the Apartheid Convention 1968 and the Rome Statute 1998 Israel is an Apartheid state. Sunak cannot recognise this fact because that would mean that he has to argue to Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), call for the arrest of perpetrators of crimes against humanity in Israel and work to put an end to the Israel-Palestine conflict. He is not prepared to do that.
Dr Muhammad Rederwaan Craayenstein is an activist from Qibla. Based in the UK, he works with grassroots organisations locally and internationally.