The gaffe-ridden Tories have in recent weeks excelled themselves. As well as the embarrassing U-turn over the pre-article 50 Brexit debate in parliament, Theresa May has been forced to back track on Amber Rudd’s fascistic attempts to force businesses to document foreign workers while simultaneously diverting attention away from Jeremy Hunt – the man responsible for the the hemorrhaging of British workers from the NHS – and his hypocritical suggestion that the service should replace foreign doctors with British ones.
And while all that mess was being dealt with, May’s extraordinary decision to hand Boris ‘The Buffoon’ Johnson the position of foreign Secretary, continued to prove worthy of the ridicule it initiated. His reputation for ignominious behaviour – including writing an offensive poem about the Turkish president having sex with a goat, describing Barack Obama as “part Kenyan” with an “ancestral dislike of Britain” and comparing Hillary Clinton’s appearance to that of a “sadistic nurse in a mental hospital” – has been cemented by the recent blunders of describing Africa as a country (instead of a continent), and misspelling Colombia in a tweet to Nobel Peace Prize winner, Juan Manuel Santos.
So with these recent blunders in mind, you’d think that some thought would go into finding an appropriate person to deal with a problem as serious, and as delicate as Saudi Arabia’s bombing of a funeral gathering in the Yemeni capital Sanaa; an attack that killed 140 people and injured hundreds of others. A person who could successfully and diplomatically address our much condemned involvement in selling billions of pounds worth of weapons to a country accused of using those weapons on civilian targets. A person known for their sensitivity, and their ability to de-escalate volatile situations…
Enter Tobias Ellwood, MP for Bournemouth East, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Minister charged with holding sensitive talks with Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel Jubair, as well as the Yemeni president and the UN Special Envoy for Yemen.
You may have heard of Tobias Ellwood before. He’s the MP who escalated tensions in his constituency by branding Liverpudlian landlords taking over the tenancy of Bournemouth pubs ‘criminals.’ He’s the MP who was warned by police that he’d be arrested if he carried out his threat to climb scaffolding outside the Houses of Parliament and remove an anti-war protester. And in 2011, this reasonable and grounded politician stated that Conservative party rebel Mark Pritchard, should be “given a good hiding behind the bike shed” for forcing Tory MPs to vote on banning animals from performing in circuses.
Still not ringing any bells?
Well maybe you’ve heard of him in relation to MPs pay and expenses? He’s the politician who lives with his solicitor wife in a £700,000 converted barn in a Dorset village while his expenses pay for a London flat, yet claimed in a letter to the Commons and Expenses watchdog, IPSA, that he has to “watch the pennies” as his £90,000 salary was so low – an excuse he perhaps thought would help justify his refusal to pay back an expenses debt he owed them.
Indiscriminate air strikes from Saudi Arabia, using billions of pounds worth of weapons supplied by the UK, have left thousands dead, and millions on the brink of starvation in a country already noted for being the poorest in the Arabian peninsula. Oxfam have stated that air strikes in Yemen have forced over 3.1 million people to flee their homes, killed over 6,700 people and injured over 33,000 since March 2015. 21.1 million people are in need of life-saving aid which accounts for over 80% of the population, and the country is on the brink of famine.
So is Tobias Ellwood really a suitable choice to send to an area of such suffering? Is he the best, or most appropriate person to conduct delicate and sensitive discussions in volatile situations? Or is this appointment just another in a long line of inappropriate and dangerous decisions from a government that is either incapable of designating the right person for the job, or unable to do so due to the unsuitability of candidates available within the Conservative Party?
Perhaps closer to the truth is the argument the people living in such dire conditions in Yemen are just inconsequential to a government with both a notoriously blasé attitude to human rights, and a hypocritical record of attributing blame for the world’s ills to all and sundry while taking no responsibility for the consequences of its policies.
The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) has argued that the indiscriminate nature of airstrikes by Saudi Arabia in Yemen means that there is a significant chance that any weapons sold there are being used for human rights abuses, making them illegal under British and European arms export laws. The UN has also identified ‘widespread and systematic targeting of civilians’ including the bombing of hospitals, schools, and weddings which has resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent men, women and children. Yet since David Cameron came to office, we have licensed arms exports worth £6.8bn, a figure that includes £2.8bn on aircraft, munitions and other weaponry since the bombing of Yemen began in 2015.
Despite these findings, and two parliamentary select committees agreeing that all sales of weapons from the UK to Saudi Arabia should be suspended until an independent inquiry into alleged breaches of international law in Yemen has been carried out, Crispin Blunt, the Conservative chairman of the foreign affairs select committee, not only blocked any inquiry, claiming the legitimacy of arms sales to Saudi Arabia should be left for a court to decide, but manipulated a committee meeting on the issue by walking out and ensuring there were not enough MPs to form a quorum.
But the government is being taken to court, and CAAT have been given permission to proceed with a judicial review. While we wait for that lengthy, expensive and morally unnecessary process to be concluded, the government continues to put money before people, further destabilising an already volatile region and knowingly colluding in the deaths of thousands of civilians. And sending such an inappropriate representative to negotiate this increasingly unstable situation just adds further insult to an already desperate country.
Donations to Oxfam’s ‘Crisis In Yemen’ campaign can be made here: https://donate.oxfam.org.uk/emergency/yemen