Deeply regrettable

By John Nash at Country Squire Magazine.

At the end of November, the BBC, our nation’s very own 5th column and bastion of national self-hatred, announced with glee that “Jamaica is considering whether to seek compensation from a wealthy Conservative MP for his family’s historical role in slavery” – a role from 400 years ago.

For those who have been hiding incommunicado in a covid bunker for some time and thus unaware, the treasure hunt called “Black Lives Matter” has given birth to a new form of the game called “reparations lotto” in which greedy black people who have never been slaves try to sue rich white people who have never owned any.

According to the BBC’s ovary-waving, token-studded irrelevance, Jamaica’s interest was apparently “stimulated by reports in the UK press”, a stimulation that is hardly needed and not surprising – in 2020 and 2021, the Guardian published a couple of weaselly articles that included the following tiny gems of journalistic rabbit-droppings:

“Richard Grosvenor Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax, the Conservative MP for South Dorset,…lives in the palatial Grade I-listed Charborough House…Gilded life…extremely wealthy… Drax fortune…But for all his wealth and power, there is a dark shadow hanging over Richard Drax… his family’s historical links with slavery in the plantations of the West Indies”.

Richard Drax quite properly says his family’s historical role in the slave trade was “deeply, deeply regrettable”. I am sure it is now, but not at the time. Quite overlooked is the fact that his brave, pioneering ancestors cleared some Barbados jungle in the 1620’s and experimented with growing and processing sugar, a pretty impressive feat of enterprise back then, around the time of the Mayflower sailing, and thirty years before Britain defeated the Spanish in the area.

Showing all the wisdom of any modern tank-chaser, Martyn Day of Leigh Day, the lawyers who pursued baseless claims against British troops in Iraq, reportedly said of the claim, “the case against Mr Drax is undoubtedly a tough one”. Well understated, Martyn old son – there is the little matter of  ex post facto criminalisation to consider and Article 7 of the European Convention on Human Rights that says:

“No one shall be held guilty of any criminal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a criminal offence under national or international law at the time when it was committed”.

Still, that won’t put a pack of hungry legal beagles off if a defendant has a huge pile of wonga that smells like pedigree chump. In today’s world, blame easily trumps that old fashioned concept called truth every time and, as it says in the Bible or somewhere, “Where there’s blame there’s a claim”. A nod is as good as a blink to a blind horse and blame is much easier to invent than truth.  Nod, nod, wink, wink, say no more.

It got me thinking.

First, Africans have been selling their neighbours as slaves since before recorded history – so slavery was more or less normal around the world at that time, even for Africans. When the penny dropped that slaves were, in fact, people and not just “things”, Britain became the world leader in attempting to banish slavery and we used our navy to persuade many other countries to follow – in fact, Britain spent such a huge amount on paying compensation to slave owners to free slaves, we only finished paying it all off in 2015. You read that right – 2015.  Not that we get much thanks, mind.

These slavery compensation claims tend to overlook the fact that the slaves carted off to the Caribbean were actually kidnapped and sold as property by other Africans to the traders in a continuation of centuries of trade. It was Africans who took away their freedom. Slavers were mere accessories after the fact. Whole series of kingdoms such as the Ashanti Kingdom existed in a permanent state of warfare in order to generate enough “prisoners of war” to sell to the slave traders and as many slaves were sent north across the Sahara and west across the Indian Ocean as were sent to the Americas, so good luck suing the Egyptians or Saudis as well. In truth, without British prohibition enforcement, Africans would still be selling each other in their equatorial Garden of Eden, a subject I will finger in a moment.

May I also suggest that, if restitution is imperative, you give the West Indies back to the Arawak people, the original indigenous owners.  There are still plenty of their descendants living around the northern parts of South America and a DNA test will establish entitlement.

People of African slave descent shouldn’t really point at historical UK. They should better start with today’s current problem – according to the Global Slavery Index, at least 40 million people are still slaves these days, and (oops) modern slavery is worst in Africa, followed by the Asia and the Pacific region. Just saying…..

I’ll bet the 40 million modern slaves don’t get to join in the annual United Nations’ International Day for Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition on August 23rd every year. Like most UN undertakings, the celebration is a tad premature, in their case.

So, Jamaicans, if you want to start mining compensation somewhere, why not start with Africa? Take my advice and phone your lawyer now – just don’t mention the batteries in your phone, using cobalt, a mineral largely mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where it is estimated that around 35,000 children are working in mines to extract cobalt. You see, a human rights activist involved in a legal case on behalf of those young African slaves, in Africa, had to flee the country for fear of death. It seems when the lawsuits go the other way, Africans can sometimes be a little edgy.

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