Thu | Jul 18, 2024

Amina Taylor | Badenoch’s demeaning attempt to silence reparations talk

Published:Saturday | May 25, 2024 | 12:06 AM
Amina Taylor
Amina Taylor

Colonialism and the slave trade were, at best, minor factors in Britain’s prosperity and may have been net loss makers, this according to newly published ‘research’ from right-wing think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA).

Before I unpack why the math wasn’t ‘mathing’ on this risible attempt to reframe history, let me say we recognise political gaslighting when we see it. This new paper is a clumsy attempt at a rebuttal to those who have been using the actual data and statistics associated with slavery and colonialism to demand a new conversation about reparations and restorative justice.

The big kicker is, this piece wasn’t just published and allowed to die in academic obscurity as it so thoroughly deserved; instead, it’s the profile and job description of its biggest cheerleader that’s particularly problematic.

Enter Olukemi Olufunto Kemi’ Badenoch, secretary of state for the Department for Business and Minister for Women and Equalities. Yes. The flag-bearer of the Conservative Party’s new team leading the fightback of the anti-woke brigade in the ‘culture wars’. It seems Badenoch has a few things in common with my old favourite, Suella Braverman; not least a grasping attempt to appease the most base element of their party’s support base in the hopes they’ll be a future Tory leader.

In her tribute to the IEA piece, Badenoch gushingly opines:

This paper by Kristian Niemietz shows it was British ingenuity and industry, unleashed by free markets and liberal institutions, that powered the Industrial Revolution and our modern economy. It is these factors that we should focus on, rather than blaming the West and colonialism for economic difficulties and holding back growth with misguided policies.”

She goes even further:

This clear-headed analysis from the IEA is a welcome counterweight to simplistic narratives that exaggerate the significance of empire and slavery to Britain’s economic development. The paper argues persuasively that colonialism played a minor role in Britain’s economy, and may have actually been a net negative after accounting for military and administrative costs – a reminder that state overreach is always an expensive endeavour.

POLITICALLY MOTIVATED REVISIONISM

It’s difficult to know where to start with dismantling an argument that is so fundamentally flawed as to invite derision. I apologise in advance to all GCSE students who will recognise the utter obvious nature of what I’m about to say, but it seems the honourable minister was not in class on the day they touched on this topic.

The think tank behind the ‘research’ wants to push literature on Britain’s history with enslaved people and the subsequent period of colonialism which continues to evolve in more subtle ways, in a new direction. Allow me to paraphrase: ‘Yeah, we might have done everything we’re on record as having done, but we didn’t make that much. And actually lost money with all the costs of this enslavement business, so just drop all this ‘we’re the bad guys’ talk.’

I hope this is being seen for what it is, a special kind of politically motivated revisionism that speaks to the heart of a particularly pernicious agenda that sets out to undermine any sense of accountability and acknowledgement on the part of the UK.

Seeking to airbrush the benefits to Britain’s economy of the transatlantic trade in human cargo, and then later of the products literally crafted with the blood, sweat and tears of those forced into working without compensation or personal agency, belies belief.

One only has to look to Europe’s largest slave port at the time–Liverpool – to see the direct impact of the growth and the turbocharging of the Industrial Revolution that propelled Britain’s textiles industry with cotton from the colonies at its very heart.

If that feels all too abstract, we don’t have to go further than the City of London, where the Bank of England provided capital to shipping merchants in order to aid their businesses. With these long sea journeys an expensive affair, and the propensity of both human and other cargo to be lost en route, Lloyd’s of London became one of the first firms to literally offer insurance, making the process a smoother one for those wanting to protect their profits.

Fire insurance to protect against businessmen losing their sugar refineries, which had a habit of burning down, was another ‘perk’ offered to those whose margins depended on ensuring the transatlantic trade continued. And we know where there was British trade, the powerful British navy sailed the same watery routes to provide protection.

Their presence at the height of British colonialism, where a quarter of the world was under the Union Jack made the transition to colonialism that much smoother. It’s pretty hard to stop the exploitation of your country and assert dominance when the most powerful naval crew was pitched up at your port and refusing to take ‘no’ for an answer.

DEMEANS THE OFFICE

I don’t expect the honourable minister to steer a different path. After all, she has form in this anti-woke crusade. Badenoch is the same minister who is urging businesses to leave politics out of their dealing. Translation: How dare you attempt to be ethical and advocate for anything other than making the most of money?

While in office, Badenoch berated the National Trust, accusing it of being ‘anti-white’ after the venerated organisation ran a campaign, urging more ‘global majority citizens’ to use their facilities, especially their nature walks. One would think the minister for women and equalities would want to do everything she could to make sure underserved groups are more represented in every facet of British life. Spoiler alert; she doesn’t.

There is no shortage of research material relating to Britain’s rule in the transatlantic trade of enslaved people. There are literally tonnes of primary sources that point to the profitability of this and the incredible leg-up it gave Britain in the world. These are indisputable facts. No amount of revisionism and selective data mining will change that.

I have no truck with any organisation choosing to publish what they please and have the rigour of their research tested by scholars or anyone with an axe to grind. Where the buck should, and must, stop is a senior minister in the ruling government giving credence and a veneer of respectability to this political poppycock. Badenoch’s blessing of this ideologically motivated tripe falls surely outside her ministerial purview and demeans the office she serves. Olukemi, do better.

Amina Taylor is a journalist and broadcaster. She is the former editor of Pride magazine and works as producer, presenter and correspondent with Press TV in London.