If Britain’s prime minister David Cameron wants to invoke memories of the late Margaret Thatcher – then good luck to him.
With only weeks to go to the British national election and the re-election of a Conservative-led government in doubt after five years of brutal economic austerity, Cameron made the bizarre announcement last week that Britain is going to fund «free market reforms» and «good governance» in eastern European countries. The move invited comparisons with Cold War era British premier Margaret Thatcher who at the end of the 1980s launched a similar programme to assist former Soviet Bloc countries adopt «free market reforms».
The late Margaret Thatcher may have reigned a quarter of a century ago, but she is still widely despised by large sections of the British electorate owing to her ruthless promotion of rightwing pro-business policies that gutted public services and accelerated the gap between rich and poor – a legacy that Britain is still grappling with. Thrice-elected Thatcher never won an election with an outright majority in Britain. Her «successes» can thus be ascribed more to a weakness in Britain’s opposition Labour party, which failed to galvanise popular protests with a convincing alternative to «Thatcherism». Indeed, the Labour party ended up capitulating to Thatcher’s neoliberalism under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and it still does under the current leader Ed Miliband.
So, Cameron’s latest wheeze on «democracy promotion» in eastern Europe in the shadow of his predecessor is in danger of reminding British voters of his party’s anti-democratic legacy at home, by the mere mention of Thatcher’s name. That reminder could likely backlash on Cameron by turning off even more voters in the forthcoming May 7 elections.
And if Cameron is trying to resuscitate a national pride in «Great Britain» as an international player, then that gambit does not carry much credibility either. Cameron’s so-called Good Governance Fund is being targeted at Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Bosnia Herzegovina and Serbia. The funds involved are a modest £20 million ($30m). British officials claim that the project is to help the transition to democracy, or as the Conservative-supporting Daily Telegraph puts it: «to help former communist states come in from the cold and resist the Putin regime».
Spread over five or six states, £20 million is peanuts if we are to accept the official British purpose of promoting economic and political reforms in banking, energy and policing, and «rooting out cronyism».
Nevertheless, the symbolism of Cameron’s government finding new money to throw at foreign countries while his own population is suffering from record levels of poverty and food insecurity will also smack of absurd priorities. It is reckoned that some 13 million Britons out of a total 64 million population are languishing in chronic poverty. That poverty is a result of Cameron pursuing Thatcherite neoliberal policies that indulge City of London financiers and a rich minority at the expense of the wider public.
The more telling aspect of British funds to eastern Europe is that it is overtly political and aimed explicitly with an anti-Russian agenda. Never mind about alleged «economic reforms», the real purpose was admitted by Cameron as «countering Russian intimidation».
It is a sign of how much diplomatic relations have deteriorated when Cameron and his officials explicitly cite Russian aggression, intimidation and propaganda as the basis for the British Treasury mustering £20 million for overseas «aid». Thatcher was an arch Cold Warrior who rode shotgun with American President Ronald Reagan in his denunciation of the «evil Soviet empire». However, at least the Iron Lady retained fairly cordial relations with then Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev and her funding of reforms in former Soviet countries was constrained in its rhetoric as promoting «free markets» – not in terms of attacking Russian leaders or Moscow, as the Cameron government is wont to do.
«UK expertise can play a crucial role in bringing about the reforms needed to build lasting stability in the region, especially in the face of Russian intimidation, and it is right that we step up our efforts alongside international partners,» was how Cameron’s explained his latest initiative.
The Daily Telegraph quoted London officials further: «When they [eastern European countries] are facing some intimidation from Russia, we should be standing alongside them with concrete help.»
This is in keeping with the British government’s assessment last week that attributes Russia as a new global threat to Britain. The continual accusations of Russian aggression made by Britain and the highly personalised attacks on Vladimir Putin are baseless and wildly inflammatory. Even at the height of the Cold War, it is hard to imagine such a torrent of invective being directed at Moscow.
Another telling aspect of Cameron’s «pro-democracy» funds in eastern Europe is that they are directed at «civic society» and «promoting accurate news media». This gets to the nub of what Cameron’s «good governance funds» are all about. A fund of £20 million is hardly likely to make much impression on institutional reforms, as primarily claimed by London. But the money could go a long way in propping up «think tanks», journalists and bloggers who are, in return, expected to influence public discourse and in particular promote a political agenda in target countries favouring Western interests.
It is significant that £5 million of the British funding has already been disbursed to Ukraine under the control of the Western-backed Kiev regime. It is also significant that Cameron’s list of beneficiary countries is the same list cited earlier this year by US Secretary of John Kerry. Kerry told Congress that he wants over $630 million to «counter Russian propaganda» in Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and the Balkan states. The top US diplomat railed against Russian media outlets such as RT for «distorting» political events.
Evidently, Washington and London are concerned that their anti-Russian propaganda, masquerading as Western news, is not having quite the impact on public opinion that is intended. Alternative, real news out of Ukraine and on the Anglo-American belligerence towards Russia in eastern Europe is having a corrective, countervailing influence. That corrective is debilitating Washington and London’s policy of incitement against Moscow and demonising Vladimir Putin in particular.
David Cameron’s wheeze of «promoting democracy» with an underwhelming £20 million fund has all the hallmarks of what it is: a has-been Western power trying its best to destabilise foreign countries on the cheap. It’s a cheap stunt that will likely backfire on Cameron as he faces the beleaguered British electorate on May 7.