War games and Westminster
26th Sep ‘17 www.bbc.co.uk/news Top Stories: ‘The Labour leader says it’s right to be carrying out “war games” planning for government.’
The UK’s Leader of the Opposition deemed it fit to condone the use of the term ‘war games’ to describe Labour’s political strategy. I’ll make it clear that in this article I’m not commenting directly on the content of Jeremy Corbyn’s announcement but how it shows us the somewhat petty nature of what politics has become. For while the politicians play in Parliament real ‘war games’ continue to wage outside their bubble. The political agenda seems to focus on the name-calling and power-struggles that litter our news coverage, and Corbyn’s speech at the Labour Party Conference on the 27th was yet more rhetoric about how brilliant Labour is and how they will definitely beat the Tories given another election. The ongoing squabbling about Brexit also featured in his speech, but again it served as a way of making digs at the Tories rather than treating the all too real world problems we’re facing.
A stark example of such problems is the violence which broke out in the Rakhine State of Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) on the 25th August leading to more than 400,000 refugees entering neighbouring Bangladesh. These refugees are Rohingya Muslims who over recent weeks have become subject to increased mob beatings, killings, and village burnings at the hands of the military on the basis of religious and ethnic prejudice and intolerance. The UN’s Human Rights Chief described the situation as a ‘textbook example of ethnic cleansing’ despite the futile attempts by Myanmar’s military to maintain that they are only targeting Rohingya militants. And still the British Government has not done much to make a difference.
An example that the UK should perhaps feel more responsibility over is Hurricane Irma, which was estimated to have affected almost 1.2 million people including those from British Overseas territories in the Caribbean Islands. The category 5 hurricane hit Turks and Caicos and the British Virgin Islands - among others - in early September where it caused utter devastation and the British Government’s response was heavily criticised, indeed a lot of the support they sent was only sent after they were criticised.
Troops from the Royal Navy and Marines were deployed and arrived within the first few days of the crisis but the response was half-hearted in comparison to the parallel French and Dutch attempts. The Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon promised that the UK was ‘determined to [provide] as much help as possible’ but a few extra planes and the HMS Ocean (which finally arrived September 22nd) were the Government’s only follow-up acts, perhaps simply as a show of care. For many it seemed too little too late, and indeed in a letter to their respective Secretaries, Tom Tugendhat the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee and Stephen Twigg the Chairman of the International Development Committee stated that the devastation has ‘seen many responses tested, and some found wanting.’
If our politics is meant to be about principal we cannot forget about the situations of people just a plane ride away. Merely weeks after a disaster occurs, our media moves on to some other state of affairs and the victims suffer in silence. The sad stories of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar are not actually as sudden as they seem to us in the public. Médecins Sans Frontières have reported that the recent refugees join ‘hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who fled across the border during episodes of violence in previous years’. However the sadder fact is that it took an episode of ‘ethnic cleansing’ for such violence to make it onto the political agenda and it only stayed there for the period of about a week before the agenda descended once again into backstabbing and Brexit. In our increasingly connected world if we want to achieve more authentic, authoritative governance politicians need to work globally for long-term solutions - not play ‘war games’ in Parliament. It’s only by working past political rhetoric, refusing to let humanitarian crises lie on our collective conscience, and treating all of humanity as our own nation that we can achieve this.