Late last year, alarm bells began to ring for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, after Britain’s new prime minister commissioned a report into the progress of the war.
Fearing a possible decline in UK support for Ukraine, Zelensky offered a heartfelt appeal to Rishi Sunak, in which he pressed “the great liberators” not to step back.
The PM’s predecessor, Boris Johnson, for his own cynical, self-seeking reasons, had been a vocal advocate of providing arms and assistance to Ukraine.
Indeed, the former Tory leader, never one to turn down a good photo opportunity, even visited Zelensky in Kyiv this week, at the Ukrainian premier’s invitation.
“I welcome Boris Johnson, a true friend of Ukraine, to Kyiv,” Zelensky proclaimed on social media. “Boris, thanks for your support!”
With Bulldog Boris no longer resident at Downing Street, however, Zelensky has been keen to underline Britain’s ‘crucial’ role thus far in the Ukraine conflict.
But he needn’t have worried. In actual fact, the changing of guard at Number 10 has made little-to-no difference when it comes to the UK’s stance towards the war.
Under Sunak, there has been a shakeup in style, but not of substance. Most notably, his government has promised that the eye-watering £2.3 billion in military support handed over to Ukraine in 2022 will be matched this year, or even increased.
Delusions of grandeur
The Tories have also suggested that Britain will be ‘leading the charge’ when it comes to sending western battle tanks to Ukraine.
Earlier this month, defence secretary and hawk-in-chief Ben Wallace announced in Parliament that the UK will donate 14 of its Challenger-2 tanks to the Ukrainian war effort. This is to be accompanied by self-propelled howitzers and other military aid, in order to step up Ukraine’s “combat power”.
Delivered with the customary jingoistic pomp, Wallace bellowed about the need to “uphold international law” and restore “sovereignty” in Ukraine.
The Tory defence secretary must have felt rather pleased with himself, thinking of the suffering Ukrainians breathing a collective sigh of relief upon hearing his impassioned speech, as concerns grow of a Russian offensive in the spring.
But not so. In actual fact, nobody paid any attention to the news of the British tank donation – not least the Ukrainian government or security services. Instead, all eyes were on Germany’s decision to send their much-desired Leopard-2 vehicles.
This tokenistic white elephant is a graphic metaphor for the ailing state of British imperialism. All that the UK can offer – in this century’s most important conflict – is second-grade heavy armour, ranking low on Ukraine’s wishlist.
In truth, Britain has been reduced to being a third-rate power; acting as little more than a member of Washington’s chorus on the world stage, ignored by all the important players.
Consequently, the delusions of imperialist grandeur that grip the minds of the reactionary Tory rabble have once again been dashed.
With the USA and Germany committing their Abrams and Leopard-2 tanks, respectively, the lackeys of British imperialism will no doubt have convinced themselves that they have indeed blazed a trail.
In reality, however, the UK is like a petulant child at the dinner table, crying out for attention, demanding to be treated like one of the grown ups. Meanwhile, London has been excluded from all the important discussions, where the adults – Washington and Berlin – have brokered a deal.
Attempting to coax Germany into offering up their Leopards, for example, the Tory government went to great pains to calm Chancellor Olaf Scholtz’s nerves over potential military escalation. “No one is going at it alone,” Wallace assured his European ally.
Nervous of overstepping the mark, however, Downing Street later released a statement saying that it would not dictate to its allies what form of support they send to Ukraine.
Similarly, on a trip to the US, foreign secretary James Cleverly managed to offend his hosts by speaking sterning about the ‘moral imperative’ for the West to send tanks.
Stepping back in line, however, like an obedient poodle that knows it has wronged, the Tory minister grovelled before his master, gushing about the vital role that the US has played in Ukraine.
Britain was “very proud” to be number two in the “pecking order” he affirmed, at a joint press conference with US secretary of state Anthony Blinken. Such is the ‘special relationship’ between the two partners.
And so Britain’s recent diplomatic crusade, in the end, amounted to a lot of noise falling on deaf ears.
The splits in the Tory Party over military aid and spending – in an age of austerity and inflation – are an open secret.
The more ‘moderate’ wing of the Tories are acutely aware of just how badly the UK economy is faring. British capitalism is in a deep crisis. And the war in Ukraine is only making matters worse, driving up the price of energy and other essential goods.
At the same time, the party is still dominated by frothing, flag-waving reactionaries – those howling that Britain must not go soft when it comes to the fight for ‘democracy’. And these rabid creatures must constantly be placated with lashings of red meat.
All the while, the subservient British establishment falls over itself in an effort to appease its boss in Washington.
As these tensions tug at the Tories, it is the working class that continues to suffer, picking up the bill for the ruling class’ imperialist ambitions.
We are told that the cupboard is bare when it comes to paying nurses and teachers. And yet the money is always found when it comes to waging war and defending the interests of western imperialism.
Increased military spending at a time when the NHS is facing a catastrophe, and when ordinary families are struggling to put food on the table, is nothing but a sick joke.
Enemy at home
Ever since the start of the war, the Tories have hoped that the turbulence abroad might provide a useful distraction to their problems back home.
But as ‘Global Britain’ continues to puff up its chest, it is not just the major imperialist powers who are ignoring this pathetic spectacle, but the working class also.
Sending tanks to Ukraine; sabre-rattling with Russia; fanning the flames of war: none of this has been able to cut across the rising class struggle.
Instead, with industrial militancy back on the agenda, the pressure on the Tory government is increasing, with no escape valve in sight.
It remains the task of the left and the labour movement in Britain to focus our fire on the enemy at home: to highlight the hypocrisy and cynicism of our own imperialist ruling class; to kick out these warmongers; and to overthrow the barbaric capitalist system that they represent.