The Speech that Keir Starmer did not Make.

With Boris Johnson visiting Saudi Arabia, in an attempt to get more oil pumped, just a day after the execution of 81 prisoners by the Bin Salman regime, this is the speech that Keir Starmer could have made but did not.

While he made a general point…“going cap in hand from dictator to dictator is not an energy strategy”, he stopped well short of calling for Johnson’s trip to be called off,and steered well away from any demand for a shift in policy on Yemen remarking instead, “Obviously there’s a real energy crisis in terms of the cost at the moment, so anything that brings the cost down now is a step in the right direction, whatever it is.” (my emphasis).

In this dark hour, our thoughts, our solidarity, and our resolve are with the people of Yemen.

They have been cast into a war, not through fault of their own. But because Mohamed Bin Salman knows that no people will choose to live under his bandit rule unless forced to at the barrel of a gun.

The consequences of Bin Salman’s war have been horrendous and tragic for the Yemeni people but also for the Saudi people, who have been plunged into chaos by a violent elite who have stolen their wealth, stolen their chance of democracy, and stolen their future.

And we must prepare ourselves for difficulties here. We will see economic pain, as we free ourselves from dependence on Saudi Oil, and clean our institutions from money stolen from the Arab peoples.

But the British public have always been willing to make sacrifice to defend democracy on our continent. And we will again.

Saudi Arabia’s neighbours and every other democracy that lives in the shadow of autocratic power are watching their worst nightmare unfold.

All those who believe in democracy over dictatorship, the rule of law over the reign of terror, in freedom over the jackboot of tyranny, must unite and take a stand and ensure Bin Salman fails.

We must make a clean break with the failed approach to handling Bin Salman, which after the intervention into Yemen started in 2015 – has been complicit in more than 20,000 bombing raids on Houthi territory, indiscriminately bombing civilians and hospitals, schools and other infrastructure, killed over 377,000 people, with one child under five dying every nine minutes, displaced millions more, led directly to a cholera epidemic with over a million people infected and much of the country on the brink of famine, with the United Nations describing Yemen as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, and turned a blind eye to the arrests of anyone who publicly opposes him, symbolised by the murder of Jamal Kashoggi – and has fed his belief that the benefits of aggression outweigh the cost. We must finally show him he is wrong.

That means doing all we can to help Yemen defend herself -urgently withdrawing the military support that we and our NATO allies provide Bin Salman, and the hardest possible sanctions must be taken against his regime. It must be isolated. Its finances frozen. It’s ability to function crippled. We should even withdraw the after sales services provided by BAE systems for the missiles and aircraft they have so lucratively sold.

And there are changes we must make here in the UK. For too long our country has been a safe-haven for the money that Bin Salman and his fellow bandits stole from the people of the Arabian peninsula. It must end now.

And this must be a turning point in our history, we must look back and say what this terrible day was actually when Bin Salman doomed himself to defeat.

He seeks division, so we must stay united. He hopes for inaction, so we must take a stand. He believes that we are too corrupted to do the right thing, so we must prove him wrong.

I believe we can. But only if we stand together.

Very few words have had to be changed from Starmer’s televised speech at the beginning of the Ukraine invasion – mostly personal names and places. If he were genuinely concerned at projecting “a liberal international order in defence of human rights” we should expect to hear a speech like this directed at UK and US allies and calling for an end to UK complicity in their war crimes.

But we don’t.

Could it be the direct involvement of RAF pilots training Saudi Airmen, or the Royal Navy personnel seconded to the Saudi fleet, and all that money made by UK built munitions that have blown up Yemeni civilians in large numbers, that explains the reticence?

Signs of Spring?

I can’t help thinking that if Keir Starmer were a groundhog, he’d be the sort that always saw a shadow. There appear to be no limits to caution. We are living through the beginnings of the breakdown of human civilisation – the pandemic is not an aberration, the environment is unravelling and the old normal is gone, not in temporary abeyance, gone – and- faced with a government that is as venal as it is incompetent – all he can dredge up as a vision of a way forward in his big reset speech on Thursday is Business, Bonds and Britain. The reporting on this is back to the old parliamentary gamesmanship of it being a bad idea for an opposition to come up with a good idea in case the government adopts it. Which is an odd way to think. If you have a good idea, wouldn’t you want the government of the day to adopt it, rather than squirrel it away on the off chance that it will be you that gets to implement it four years too late? Of course, this presupposes that any idea that will be presented is within a range narrow enough to be promoted by either potential governing Party; which is where we are now. And why the venom directed at the previous Labour leadership was so over the top and unrelenting; because its ideas went beyond that narrow range and made it possible to imagine that the way things have been don’t have to be the way things will always be – world without end, forever and ever, Amen. As they say on middle management courses, “Always do what you always did, and you’ll always get what you always got”.

Outside the Chemists – one of the places I go to to socialise these days – there is a sudden, powerful smell of blossom. It is unseasonably warm in the way that is becoming expected. Looking round to see where it is coming from I spot a single daffodil and I become disproportionately happy.

The Eastern European saxophone bloke outside Morrisons is playing his usual variety of disconnected riffs; mixing up echoes of Glen Miller’s American Patrol with a snatch of Klezmer, a bit of bebop from Charlie Parker with the odd standalone note like a mournful car horn. Its like Elena Ferrante’s notion of Frantumaglia – that life and our minds are a whirl of fragments that don’t make sense but echo things that do – and seems the perfect accompaniment to the street scene on the Edgware Road – busy, but fragmented, everyone doing variations on the same things, but now more self consciously socially fragmented and keeping a wary distance from each other; which – now that that alienation is conscious – makes even the most reticent of us talk to each other more at times, at the check out, at the disinfection station.