Those posters still haunt me. ‘Wanted for Murder’, they proclaimed in heavy type above a stony-faced Margaret Thatcher. It was 1981; I was 10 years old. Young men were starving themselves to death 70 miles away from my sleepy hometown in north Dublin. There were black flags everywhere; I was fascinated by how they would proliferate but also a little frightened.
I trace my loathing of the Conservative Party back to that spring and summer 29 years ago. Although I never supported the IRA, Thatcher’s withdrawal of political status from its prisoners and her indifference to the ensuing hunger strikes in Long Kesh convinced me at an early age that the Tories were a heartless bunch.
Strictly speaking, the May 6 general election in the UK is none of my business, considering that I hail from the Irish Republic. Yet as Britain has interfered so brazenly in the affairs of innumerable other lands, I feel an innate entitlement to express a preference for who should and should not take up residence in Downing Street. For the next month, I’ll be hoping that the baton of power won’t be handed over from a repugnant Labour government to the even more repugnant Conservatives.
My distrust of the Tories has grown considerably by monitoring the activities of the party’s MEPs. David Cameron’s ill-advised decision to enter a formal alliance with anti-Semites and homophobes in the European Parliament has rightly generated much outrage in the blogosphere. Far less attention has been paid, unfortunately, to the regressive positions taken by his Euro representatives on a range of issues.
Whenever an effort is made to temper the increasingly raw capitalist orientation of EU policies by giving employees some basic rights, the Tories act as a proxy for the continent’s most unreasonable bosses.
Frequently, they employ spurious arguments to justify the unjustifiable. Marina Yannakoudakis, a London MEP, is currently leading a campaign against a plan to extend the EU-wide minimum maternity leave from 14 to 20 weeks. Giving mothers a longer period of paid leave would “reduce a woman’s right to choose”, she has said.
Her frankly absurd arguments echo those made by the Tories in 2008 when they fought unsuccessfully to ensure that Britain wouldn’t have to sign up to an EU law stating that nobody should have to slave away for more than 48 hours per week.
On that occasion, the Tories claimed that Britain’s exemption from the working time directive was beneficial for employees as it made them free to choose their own hours. (Interestingly, Gordon Brown also sought to maintain the UK’s opt-out but most Labour MEPs voted in favour of its removal).
There may not be many politicians in Europe more cravenly obsequious towards the US than Brown and Tony Blair but veteran Tory MEP Timothy Kirkhope is one. Whereas a majority in the European Parliament recently opposed a secretive transatlantic deal enabling the American authorities to snoop on our bank transactions, Kirkhope has happily swallowed assurances from Washington that our privacy and civil liberties will be respected.
That guarantees from such a malign force in world affairs as the US State Department should never be taken at face value does not appear to have occurred to him.
Given how the political grouping to which Conservative MEPs belong is led by the notorious Jew-hater Michal Kaminski, it might seem ironic that Charles Tannock, the Tories’ foreign policy spokesman in Brussels, is an inveterate supporter of Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians.
In practice, however, the Israeli establishment has been willing to court anyone unscrupulous enough to defend its addiction to war. It is instructive that the first senior diplomat received by the European Conservatives and Reformists after the group’s inception last year was Israel’s EU envoy Ran Curiel.
Meanwhile, Tannock’s compassion for the plight of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier captured by Hamas in Gaza, is at odds with his approval of Israel’s use of white phosphorous and other abominable weapons against Gaza’s civilians.
After 13 years of being cheated on by New Labour, I can’t blame any voter who thinks a change is necessary. If David Cameron becomes prime minister, it will surely be a change for the worse.
First published by The Samosa (www.thesamosa.co.uk)