When my grandfather was a soldier in India, 100 years ago; he said that whenever there was trouble in a village – as there increasingly was as the Raj began to slip in the 1920s -they would send a detachment of troops to march through it to intimidate the villagers – flags flying, band playing, fixed bayonets, loads of shouting from NCOs and “bags of swank”. Gunboat diplomacy worked the same way. Send a battleship with huge guns capable of smashing buildings like eggshells into the principal port of any country not toeing the line of the Pax Britannica and the implied threat was often enough for a peaceful solution; that allowed the everyday violence of colonial exploitation to continue to run smoothly.
On December 1st six military helicopters – three twin engined heavy duty Chinooks at the rear with three lighter dragonfly looking types ahead of them – were circling in London’s airspace just ahead of Trump’s visit; noisily and often enough to be noticeable and noticed. There was something edgy and nervy about it. On December 4th, at the end of it, a low flying olive drab monstrosity of a Hercules transport aircraft cruised with almost impossible slowness over my head while I was leafleting on Wakeman’s Hill – heading, no doubt, for Northolt to pick up his enormous armoured motorcade – those 12 black vehicles that filled the Mall from one end to the other at self important speed. The Sopranos with state power. The last time Donald Trump came, we were similarly buzzed by evil looking Osprey helicopters sending the same message. The boss had come to case the place and inspect his future province – an overt display of a significant shift in power from here to there, that Boris Johnson is conniving at and Jeremy Corbyn is resisting.