THE US CONTINUES to ratchet up tensions against Iran, alleging it attacked oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, while offering scant evidence in support. The tanker owner directly contradicted the Trump version of events and Japan and European countries reacted with deep scepticism. Iran denied responsibility, but the UK government parroted the White House line, a position Jeremy Corbyn correctly challenged. Meanwhile 1,000 more US troops have been dispatched to an already highly militarised region.
Behind these headlines, however, a more insidious process is at work. Crippling US sanctions with the declared intent of “bringing Iran’s oil exports to zero” are cutting off Iran’s principal source of revenue. These sanctions are also applied to third parties who trade with Iran. Similar sanctions on Venezuela will hit $9 billion of oil exports in 2019, plunging that country further into crisis.
"Comprehensive sanctions…are a form of warfare, a blunt weapon that inevitably punishes innocent citizens,” says Denis Halliday. The former UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator in Iraq resigned over the imposition of sanctions on that country, which he characterised as “genocide”. If Iraq is the model, Iran too may soon be facing a full-scale Anglo-American military assault.
Further US lawlessness was underlined by recent remarks from Secretary of State Pompeo that he would take pre-emptive action to prevent Jeremy Corbyn becoming Prime Minister. On one level, this is the normal imperialist response to any government that might threaten its interests, as US intervention across the global south over the last century confirms. But it also underlines a growing trend in the wing of conservatism associated with Trump that is now openly rejecting democracy. Trump’s shocking admission that he would want to hear dirt on rival presidential candidates from foreign powers is part of that picture.
In Britain, too, conservatism is moving from a more open neo-liberal phase towards authoritarian nationalism, rigging markets to suit the rich and conning voters into supporting a tiny elite via an appeal to an exclusionary national identity. Farage may be the most brazen, but Boris Johnson, looking increasingly likely to be the next Prime Minister, could be just as dangerous.
The next Tory leader - and therefore Prime Minister - will be decided by the party grassroots. A recent survey suggested that just under half of them would like Nigel Farage as their next leader and most would be willing to junk the Northern Ireland peace deal and the union with Scotland to get Brexit. This recklessness makes Johnson a firm favourite.
The Tories will ignore the central fact that the man is contemptible. His use of racist and Islamophobic comments to advance his career, his many character flaws and his incompetence as Foreign Secretary have all been catalogued. But let’s not forget his eight years as London Mayor, when £600 million were slashed from the police budget, £53 million wasted on the Garden Bridge project, £40 million overspent on new buses, £24 million wasted on a cable car to nowhere and £5.2 million on a fantasy airport project - all while council house building was virtually halted and air pollution rocketed.
Tories know that Johnson is unfit for high office, but they will back him because they think he can win votes. Mobilising support for a party so unashamedly committed to privilege is not easy at the moment, so they are taking a page out of the Trump playbook, hoping to mobilise male white rage and any other convenient prejudice.
Some opinion polls favour a Johnson-led Tory Party which perhaps makes an early general election more likely. But Johnson’s strategy is really a reckless gamble: his “Fuck business” outburst last year, in response to corporate opposition to Brexit, underlines the dangers for a party that has always prided itself on its closeness to UK plc - and creates real opportunities for Labour to move onto the offensive.
Jeremy Corbyn has correctly prioritised opposition to a no-deal Brexit, which Johnson’s comments favour, as the main focus of his EU policy. Crashing out of the EU in the autumn means economic havoc, bad for jobs and the environment and much else. Tories may delude themselves about the impact of this, but the public rebellion by a handful of Labour MPs against a Labour motion to allow Parliament to stop a no-deal Brexit was beyond undermining. Local parties need to call them to account, using all means available.
Preparing for the uncertainties of Brexit has been highly lucrative for a few. Last year ministers spent over £1.5 billion - a rise of 60% - on outside consultants, mostly to deal with Britain’s exit from the EU. Britain’s Tories have long been profligate when it comes to helping their corporate friends. Now their lurch towards an intolerant authoritarianism could take them into a terminal phase. After this they have nowhere else to go but, like a cornered animal, are arguably at their most dangerous. We urgently need a general election to put them out of their misery and elect a Labour government to restore hope after the years of destruction.