The folks in Britain contemplating an economic situation that appears to be going downhull fast could at least celebrate the fact that, according to today’s Guardian, the economy in Basra is booming. That was the message from the outgoing UK Commander, the splendidly-named Major General Barney White-Spunner.
It appears that property prices have doubled since March, restaurants are opening up and oil-rich Kuwaitis are beginning to move in.
It’s no doubt considerable comfort to the locals if the security situation is improving – though some interviewed by the Guardian challenge this, and elsewhere in the paper Richard Norton-Taylor argues that the British military should be wary of taking the credit – but it’s the measure of prosperity that seems to me to be so striking. The things the Major-General are essentially privatised pleasures, and closely echo the language that New Labour politicians in Britain use to identify a “thriving community” – more cafes and restaurants, a dynamic housing market (not that there’s been much of that lately).
It’s a take on prosperity that I find hard to accept. I still cannot understand why a rapid increase in the price of that most basic commodity, a roof over one’s head, can be taken as a sign of well-being; the reality is that those in need are excluded. And why is a “thriving community” never defined in terms of the collective things – schools, libraries, allotments, public space? In the chaos of post-invasion Iraq, surely the most important aspiration of the population is security – the dissenting voices in the Guardian piece surely imply that. Why, then, if the Major-General has a good story to tell, does he find it necessary to resort to the language of consumer frippery?