With a no-fly zone established and British aircraft among those bombing Libya, we once again have a government smearing themselves with the war paint of humanitarianism. For David Cameron this granted him the moment he has no doubt been hungry for, when on the day after the Security Council vote he stood in the Commons and give a speech that will lazily be referred to for years to come as his “Churchill” moment.
The purpose of the mission, he told the Scottish Tory conference later that day, was “to end the violence, protect civilians and allow the people of Libya to determine their own future, free from the brutality inflicted by the Gaddafi regime.” It is a brutality no doubt, but as the list of arms exports licensed to Libya over the last eight years reveal, brutality is extremely valuable when commodified. Since the rapprochement with the country following their 2003 decision to no longer develop weapons of mass destruction that climaxed in Tony Blair’s 2005 visit to Gaddafi, deals worth many millions and too numerous to mention have been signed, all available for dissection at the Foreign Office website. The increase in licensing of exports following Blair’s visit is stark, from a meagre £500,000 in 2004 to a £41 million deal in 2005. Nor were these “non-violent” weapons: heavy machine guns, components for tanks, APCs and turrets were shipped to Gaddafi’s regime alongside thermal imaging equipment, gun mountings, radios and fire control systems.
At the same time, Shell signed a deal worth £550 million to explore oil fields off the coast of Libya. Blair’s part of the bargain was not only arming the regime, but also deporting dissident refugees in Britain back to Libya where they faced torture and even death. In 2007, he helped ensure contracts worth £350 million in return for the release of the Lockerbie bomber, famously embrace in Tripoli by the man who ordered the bombing; BP also pushed for the prisoner transfer agreement to go ahead, because it feared delay would negatively affect offshore drilling deals with Gaddafi’s regime. Nor have the Coalition done anything to reverse this. The prisoner transfer accounts for the massive increase in arms deals in 2010, larger than every other year since 2003 put together with £213.2 worth of licenses granted for the first three quarters alone, two of which occurred on Cameron’s watch. Of this £3.2 million was small arms ammunition, used over the last few months to tear Libyans apart across the country. Sniper rifles were also sold; on the day after Cameron’s speeches about protecting civilians, pro-Gaddafi snipers were shooting “whoever they see”.
Neither Labour nor the Coalition can claim that they truly believed Gaddafi had reformed. As leaked US embassy cables reveal, these huge deals took place even though in 2008 the government refused a Libyan request for an export license to deliver 130,000 Kalashnikovs from Ukraine via British company York Guns, denying the license because they were concerned “that the intention may be to re-export the weapons, particularly to armed rebel factions backed by Khartoum and/or Ndjamena in the Chad/Sudan conflict”. As the cable noted, “the fact that York Guns and GOL (Government of Libya) officials have been vague about the intended end-use of the 130,000 Kalashnikov rifles raises…questions about the extent to which Libya is still involved in supplying military materiel to parties involved in the Chad/Sudan conflict.” Despite this suspicion, multi-million pound deals have gone on regardless.
The cables also reveal the extent of corruption that remains within the Libyan economy, with Gaddafi and his children siphoning money wherever it is made, including using the National Oil Corporation, through which any foreign company hoping to exploit Libyan oil must deal, “as a personal bank”. In 2008 the head of the NOC sought to resign, fearing for his life, after Gaddafi’s son Muatassim demanded $1.2 billion in either cash or oil shipments so that he could set up his own private “military/security unit”. Oil money flows not to the Libyan people, but to the Gaddafi family and their allies, and from there to those military units most loyal to the regime, effectively the private armies of Gaddafi and his sons.
It is this murky world that Tony Blair and his two successors propped up. Blair mentioned none of this when he wrote an article in The Times on the weekend the bombing began, in which he referred to “our duty to help people in the Middle East” achieve democracy and human rights. As Cameron said in response to Gaddafi’s declaration of a non-existent ceasefire, actions speak louder than words. His own actions when he toured the Middle East hawking weapons to corrupt and bloodthirsty autocracies reveal that he truly is the “heir to Blair”. With the UK and US now openly talking about arming the rebels, we have to seriously question whether or not those arms will go to the rag-tag guerrillas dressed in football shirts who launched the revolution from the back of pick-up trucks, or the suited and uniformed ex-Gaddafi insiders and former officers whose intentions are not clear and who will no doubt have no problem with maintaining the flow of oil and guns, in a Libya divided by and locked in civil war if needs must. Given their dedicated and lucrative support of Gaddafi as recently as six months ago, can we really trust our government’s claim to humanitarianism?
Grassroots posters giving an alternative take on the general election
Hundreds of people surrounded the fences this weekend. Hera Lorandos spoke to women who have suffered inside.
Laying out the case for Labour's leadership of a Progressive Alliance, Jeremy Gilbert argues that far from posing a threat to the Left, the Progressive Alliance offers a golden opportunity to end Tory rule and build a 21st century government committed to social justice
The Greens have stood down in Brighton Kemptown to clear the way for Labour, and the Lib Dems won’t stand in Brighton’s other seat, Green-held Pavilion. Davy Jones, who would have been the Green candidate in Kemptown, says this shows the way forward
The snap general election represents a unique opportunity to defeat this terrible government. We believe that visual artists have a crucial role to play!
Drax is the UK's biggest source of CO2 emissions – and we're paying for it, writes Almuth Ernsting
For the past 3 years, Barby Asante and members of London-based artists' collective, sorryyoufeeluncomfortable, have been responding directly to the vision of James Baldwin. Ahead of the nationwide release of a new film about the American activist and author, they reflect on the enduring relevance of Baldwin in Britain today.
Housing campaigners' gains in Bristol are spurring on a national movement to build a renters' union, writes Stuart Melvin
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports
On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.
Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns
The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections
In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines
Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.
West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective
How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences
The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally
Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill