Search This Blog

Thursday, 29 June 2017

The Descent of Ascension as a Symptom of Britain's Decline

Ascension Island was indispensable to the Falklands War in 1982: without that airbase the islands could not have been supplied. Subsequently, until recent weeks, regular RAF flights from the UK to Stanley have stopped off at the Ascension airstrip: which has given the locals a regular access to the UK for themselves and for supplies. That has had to stop: the islanders must now travel several days by ship to South Africa to get a commercial flight to Britain. Sick people are in a deep quandary and it is impossible urgently to secure any medical supplies.

The reason for this is Osbornian austerity: the cuts that have so disastrously undermined every aspect of social and public services in the UK and its dependencies. Under a longstanding agreement, the Americans have use of the Ascension airstrip; in return for which, they maintain it. The cuts in UK defence spending [even before the Queen Elizabeth is fully manned or armed] mean that the RAF has had to dispense with the planes that have formed the 'airbridge' between Brize Norton and Stanley, via Ascension. The planes that are now available are unsuitable for the increasingly ropey surface of the airstrip on Ascension, which the Americans do not plan to upgrade for a couple of years. Thus an important point of communications, which has been militarily vital since at least the Second World War, is left to fester along with with council tower blocks, decaying schools, under-equipped hospitals and all the other increasingly conspicuous evidences of the failure of the state.

Ascension island is a long way off, so it is almost completely out of mind to the British public: which suits their government very well. The Tories [aided and abetted by the LibDems for their first five years in office] have painted themselves - and the country - into a corner where many options are cut off, and will remain so until the inevitable decision is taken to open up the stop-cocks of state spending. Then the catching-up will be begun, with remote islands in the South Atlantic very low down the list of priorities.

But hereby hangs another tale. The UK government, after a century of pleading, did build an airport on the larger island of St Helena: and located it in a place where the prevailing winds make it next to impossible for the sort of 'planes that could use the airport to do so. So one dead duck and one white elephant have been provided on the UK's major possessions in the mid-south-Atlantic. Thus the bureaucracy and the supine politicians whom they manipulate have embarrassed the nation, at significant cost in the case of St Helena and at the opportunity-cost of surrendering essential access to Ascension. Between crass incompetence and cretinous austerity Britain has created a total cock-up.

But why should anyone really take notice? The answer is very clear. Today the Chinese president drops in on Hong Kong, to mark the twentieth anniversary of the surrender that Mrs Thatcher left it to John Major and Chris Patten to complete, the abandonment of any chance to secure the then-colony's independence. Hong Kong is inexorably being wound in to the hegemonic block that China wants to consolidate. Meanwhile, China is building islands islands in the South China Sea to provide military bases and evidence on the map that a huge area is 'Chinese home waters'. Those claims are contested, and will increasingly be a source of friction with neighbouring countries and the USA.

Meanwhile, Britain is frittering away the residue of a great empire: in the island territories all around the world that could be developed [as the Chinese are developing theirs] into strategically significant points of focus. If Britain would just invest the necessary few billions of pounds the islands from Ascension to Pitcairn to South Georgia would restore a global presence as the contest to control the resources that are accessible in and under the oceans becomes increasingly important. The UK has given up or wasted most of its assets. It should quickly undertake a rational audit of what we have, and what can be done with it by an enterprising nation.

No comments:

Post a Comment