• 14 Oct - 20 Oct, 2017
  • Shahed Sadullah
  • London Eye

Britain is going through its season of party conferences and if one had thought that the great bard of Stratford upon Avon had exactly these conferences in mind when he wrote his bit about ‘full of sound and fury signifying nothing’, one could be easily forgiven. There is much talk about ‘good conferences’ and ‘bad conferences’ but come this time next week, and they are all forgotten. Very rarely is some policy that is visibly good for the public at large enacted as a result of what goes on at these elaborate shows of chest thumping nothingness.

But for foreign secretary Boris Johnson, the council has brought him trouble as it was almost sure to have done. As foreign secretary he had to make a speech of at least half an hour and Boris would not be Boris if he could speak for half an hour without saying something outlandish. Sure to form, he did not let anyone down.

While he made many resounding calls to memories of Britain’s glory and rounded up with the trumpeting cry of ‘let the lion roar’, he also, in a pointless aside, said that the Libyan city of Sirte would be the next Dubai once it had ‘cleared the dead bodies away’. Given Sirte’s tragic history, where Daesh had lined streets and alleyways with improvised explosive devises (IEDs) before its withdrawal, where bombs were strapped even to the bodies of dead children which would explode as soon as the bodies were moved, it was not a particularly intelligent image to raise. That said, it would be foolish in the extreme to expect anything even remotely intelligent from Boris who is the closest that this great country has come to producing an heir to the late comedy king, Sir Norman Wisdom.

But many British MPs from both sides of the political divide, up to their neck in Brexit problems, were in no mood for Boris’ misplaced Falstaffian humour; they have called for him to be sacked, but the Prime Minister Theresa May is about as likely to hear that as she is to be named as the replacement for Ben Stokes for the Ashes series this winter. Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Liam Fox, all secretaries of state in Mrs May’s wobbly government, are the ones absolutely sure to keep their places in her cabinet as these were the leading Brexiters and they have to be around if Brexit turns out to be the fiasco all signs point towards. In fact, should Mrs May fall by the way before the completion of her term – and again all signs point towards exactly such a gory Margaret Thatcher like end – Johnson is being seen as the most likely successor.

It is impossible to explain this in any terms which do not include the word lunacy. It is said that the former Roman Emperor Claudius chose Nero as his successor because he felt that all the poison in the Roman system needed to be drained out before the empire could be rebuilt on more sustainable lines and one wonders if some similar hope of the phoenix arising out of the ashes is at work here too. The imagination boggles at the thought of Boris Johnson at Number 10, Downing Street and although British politics has descended to depths that a few years ago were unimaginable, this would take some beating.

But all is not lost. While British politicians may be in the process of mangling Britain’s image, there are some British institutions who have not lost their heads even in these heady times and are willing to show that the values for which this country acquired the epithet, ‘Great’ are not completely dead and buried.

Thus, the Council of the City of Oxford has decided that it will strip Aung San Suu Kyi of the Freedom of the City. The honour was bestowed upon her in 1997 when she was under arrest. It will be recalled that she was an undergraduate at Oxford where she also met the Englishman she decided to marry, a fact in large part responsible for her much elevated status in the western press and media, and one that ultimately led to her being given the Nobel Prize.

Oxford City council voted for the motion which said that it was no longer appropriate to celebrate her given her response to the Rohingya crisis. Council leader Bob Price was quoted as saying that this was an unprecedented step – and yet, the vote was unanimous. The decision to take back the award came after the Oxford College where Aung San Suu Kyi studied, St Hugh’s, decided to remove her portrait from its main entrance.

Meanwhile Unison, the UK’s second largest trade union, announced recently that it would suspend Suu Kyi’s honorary membership, urging her to do more about the Rohingyas, as Bristol University, the alma mater of Jemima Goldsmith, also said it would review the honorary degree it had awarded to her. The student union of the London School of Economics has also announced that it will be stripping her of her honorary presidency, all of which proves that good sense, although badly battered and clinging on to life only through a respirator, is not completely dead in England. •