Now that the din over the Oxford Union's hasty and unilateral decision to cancel President Rajapaksa's speech has subsided it might be appropriate to turn to a tangentially-related issue-only because it displays British duplicity once more.
Perhaps because the Oxford Union issue, if one might call it that, took media centre stage a WikiLeaks cable that should have turned the spotlight on the shenanigans on the now defunct Labour government in the UK received only partial attention. The Guardian newspaper in the UK published one of the WikiLeaks cables with the headline “David Miliband focused on Sri Lankan war ‘to win votes’. While this may have come as a surprise to some in Sri Lanka and elsewhere it was certainly no surprise to this newspaper.
When I was writing to this newspaper from London I had oft times said that the British Labour government’s lachrymose interventions on behalf of the Sri Lankan Tamils were more out of concern for Labour’s own political survival than out of any genuine consideration for the wellbeing of the expatriate Tamil community. This I have stated time and time again since the beginning of this century in my writings to the Sunday Times and to other media.
One did not need to have a doctorate from Oxbridge to discern the fraud that was being perpetrated on the Tamil people by those in the UK government whose so-called humanitarian concern was so palpably false.
This is not to say that some on the government side did not feel genuinely aggrieved at what they perceived as an abuse of human rights. But the vast majority of them who were quick to shoot from the lip on behalf of the Tamil community had been conditioned by a series of Goebbelsian spins that had portrayed the Sri Lankan Tamils as the hapless victims of a brutish government totally ignoring the numerous atrocities committed by the LTTE and its fighting units and suicide cadres on innocent civilians including members of the Tamil community.
The Guardian’s diplomatic editor Julian Borger wrote that the “ diplomatic campaign by former foreign secretary David Miliband to champion aid and human rights during the Sri Lankan humanitarian crisis last year was largely driven by domestic political calculations, according to a Foreign Office official.” The leaked cable by Richard Mills, a political officer at the US embassy in London quotes the official Tim Waite of the Sri Lanka desk as explaining Miliband’s intense focus on the plight of the country’s Tamils in terms of UK electoral geography.
“Waite said that much of (Her Majesty’s government) and ministerial attention to Sri Lanka is due to the ‘very vocal’ Tamil diaspora in the UK numbering over 300,000 who have been protesting in front of Parliament since April 6,” wrote Mills. Obviously Mills had taken up this issue because the Tamil demonstrations outside Parliament had been going on for some time without the Labour government doing anything to disperse the boisterous crowd that had disrupted normal life in that part of Westminster and was turning increasingly into a matter of public concern.
Quoting Tim Waite once again, Mills said that “with the UK elections on the horizon and many Tamils living in Labour constituencies with slim majorities, the government is paying particular attention to Sri Lanka with Miliband recently remarking to Waite that he was spending 60% of his time at the moment on Sri Lanka.” This surely exposes the cynicism of Labour government politics of the day, trying to use Sri Lanka as a cause and ignoring the tragedy of Iraq which was essentially of Anglo-American making.
What Tim Waite said in May last year, I had said in several pieces written to this newspaper over the years. One began to suspect that the Tony Blair-led Labour government was in trouble from the time it misled the British Parliament into voting in support of the invasion of Iraq. While over a million British people demonstrated against the war on Iraq the Labour government ignored the entreaties of its people, invaded a sovereign country on the pretext that it was a threat to British interests.
From that disastrous moment in British politics when the government literally lied to its people saying that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction (WMD) that could be deployed in 45 minutes, Labour’s political fortunes began to ebb and flow. The Parliamentary vote to decide whether to join the US in attacking Iraq saw 139 Labour MPs oppose Prime Minister Blair’s policy of support to the Bush administration. In the general election that followed in May 2005, Labour’s majority in Parliament dropped radically from 167 in June 2001 to 66, a clear sign that the honeymoon of the Blair years was over. It is against this background that I wrote from London that Labour was on the wane and that it is playing up to the Tamil community especially in Labour marginal seats, in order to cling on to the Tamil vote.
There came a time when MPs such as Gareth Thomas who held a marginal seat in Harrow and who was a minister in the Department for International Development (DfID) would address such insignificant groups as the Pungodativu Welfare Association of Harrow. When some of his provocative and unsubstantiated remarks were reported in a local community paper, I e-mailed Gareth Thomas asking whether he had been correctly reported and if so to answer some questions I posed. However much I tried to elicit some answers Thomas kept dodging with non sequitur that would make the Sinhala saying “koheda yanne malle pol” seem intellectually incisive. Gareth Thomas’ attempts to curry favour with the Tamil community in Harrow was replicated by other Labour MPs who felt decidedly vulnerable as Labour’s political fortunes declined as shown then by several opinion polls.
All the antics of Labour MPs such as Keith Vaz in Parliament, raising the war in Sri Lanka at every conceivable moment was unfortunately interpreted by the Tamil community as the British government’s genuine concern for the Tamils. That along with the fact that the Labour government which passed the Terrorism Act 2000 and banned the LTTE as a terrorist organization allowed the Tigers and their supporters to openly flout those very laws as the Blair administration looked away emboldened the hardcore Tamils to even more provocative actions. The events at Hyde Park when even a large cut-out of Prabhakaran was plainly put up and kept on public display showed that the British Government was quite prepared to humiliate itself and its laws purely to gain some votes.
As many saw it then the British government permitted its own laws to be violated because it had caught a tiger by the tail and did not know how to let go without adverse electoral consequences. It was tragic to witness over the years how Britain’s political hypocrisy was systematically exposed. Though it claimed to fight terror by sending troops to Afghanistan and Iraq it was letting an organization that it had banned as terrorist to dictate the course of events on its own soil.
In the event not all the bending over backwards to placate the Tamil hardcore including Miliband’s presence at the inaugural meeting of the Global Tamil Forum, could save the Labour Party from electoral defeat and the subsequent humiliation. It appears that a protest is going to be lodged with the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office for allowing the LTTE flag with the Tiger symbol to be publicly displayed at the time President Rajapaksa visited the UK. This I am afraid would be another exercise in futility. Many times the Sri Lanka High Commission has protested against the public use of the LTTE flag. A fat lot of good that has done.
When the British wish to turn a blind eye on issues it finds embarrassing or glad to forget, it would make even the heroic Nelson seem a man with 20-20 vision.