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Mark Loveday: Prezza's holiday was an insult

Mark Mark Loveday, a barrister in England and Grenada and Cabinet Member for Strategy at the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, laments the decline of British influence in the Carribean.

At the top of a winding street in St George’s, capital of the Spice Isle of Grenada, sits the old parliament building and High Court. The building is a metaphor for what was so cynical and wrong about John Prescott’s farewell “tour” of the Caribbean. John Prescott didn't come to Grenada. He spent his time up north in Barbados, where Tony Blair stays with Cliff Richard and Posh and Becks sun themselves at the Sandy Lane Hotel. Barbados is very New Labour. Grenada very definitely is not. We are at the other end of the Caribbean. A lot closer to Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela than George Bush’s USA.

Down here in Grenada, the old parliament chamber and court room are full of rubble. The roof is off. The MPs’ seats and the High Court bench stick out sadly from under the old roof tiles. The parliamentary system was, like the building itself, carefully constructed by the British. The roof tiles, like the common law legal system and the parliamentary democracy were ideas inspired by Britain and built by the local community. When the ships docked at the wharves of the prettiest town in the whole of the Caribbean, they brought with them not only the roof tiles as ballast. They brought value systems which struck a resonance as being fair and decent. Hurricane Ivan in 2004 put paid to the structure of the building. Arguably, the failure to deal with the pro-Soviet coup or to back the US/Caribbean restoration of democracy here in 1983 damaged British influence in the same way. However, John Prescott’s government hasn’t learnt the lessons, and it has frankly done nothing to stop the moral drift in our foreign policy over the past 10 years.

When I went to visit a government minister in St George’s last week, the entrance to the Ministry had large posters thanking US government agencies for their help in rebuilding the schools badly damaged by Hurricane Ivan. The 100,000 Grenadans are proud people, and they don’t want handouts. But they know they need to bring in skilled contractors from outside after the storm damaged 90% of buildings on the island. And the help has not come from John Prescott or Tony Blair. The US gave help with reconstructing schools and other public buildings and of course the work is therefore not being done by Taylor Woodrow or Balfour Beatty. The spanking new cricket stadium for the recent Cricket World Cup was, believe it or not, built by the Chinese. I repeat, the Chinese. I have nothing against Chinese technology or skills, but what on earth do they know about cricket? The answer is, I’m afraid, rather more than John Prescott or Tony Blair or Overseas Development Minister Hillary Benn.

The fact is that the message has gone out throughout the Caribbean that the British don’t really care. We send some tourists, but apart from that we have subsided back into a pre-Falklands reputation as a faded ex-power which is a very, very long way away both geographically and politically.

This isn’t just sentimentality. A cynic would say that when you need the support of sovereign countries at the United Nations, you look first to your oldest friends. They should be votes in the bag.

However, this government doesn’t treat the Spice Island or its neighbours as our oldest friends. When we talk about whaling in international forums, we forget the dependence of small island states on the fishing industry. Then there is the diplomatic representation. The six sovereign nations of the Eastern Caribbean, with whom we have such long and deep cultural ties, have only a single British High Commissioner between them. The High Commission here is at the side of a Dutch insurance company and the nearest UK diplomat lives (you guessed it) in Barbados.

Worst of all, when a friend suffers badly and loses its homes and its schools, you are usually the first in line to help. And there is no evidence whatsoever that Britain has helped Grenada with the consequences of Ivan. The money of course goes to Iraq, the Balkans and Afghanistan and elsewhere, despite the fact that the whole of St George’s could probably be rebuilt from scratch for the cost of keeping our troops in Basra for a day. John Prescott wouldn’t be told any of this today because he’s hundreds of miles away in Barbados playing croquet at Sandy Lane. Sending him here, weeks before he surrenders what little power he ever had, is frankly an insult.

And why is the parliament and court building a metaphor? Because, three years after the British-built edifice was all but destroyed, the building is finally to be restored and re-occupied by the MPs and the High Court judges. The cost of restoring this modest building is probably about the same as the cost of flying Mr Prescott and his entourage for his holiday in Barbados. However, they have found someone else to help. The architects with the requisite skills for restoring historic buildings such as St George’s parliament and court have been found in Cuba. The embodiment of ideals of justice and democracy given to this country by Westminster will be now be restored not by John Prescott but by Fidel Castro.


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