So Gerry Conlon died today, and people have been mentioning that Lord Denning wanted him hanged, irrespective of the eventual verdict that he was innocent. And there is of course his finding while presiding over the Court Of Appeal that the Birmingham Six that they should not be allowed to make their case since it was unthinkable – at least in the sense of 'reasons of state mean that it must not be thought about.'
Fun fact. Thirty or more years ago an idealistic Chinese law student, known for widespread ties to radical and democratic circles, was given the job of translating Lord Denning's works and judgements. What effect must it have had on this hopeful young fellow to encounter a distinguished jurist from the home of the mother of parliaments – and the currently fashionable magna carta, no less – who thought it served the public interest for the state to bury its embarrassing mistakes? And one who liked to do so in the character of the 'people's judge', no less.
We lost the chance to find out last week when no-one questioned Li Keqiang, the idealist in question, who decided at some stage against a life of dissent and in favour of rising to the position of China's premier and who visited Britain last week in this capacity.
And what a visit. Chinese premiers, Li among them, like to do urbane and at times it sounded like he'd be more comfortable if we dialed down the flattery a bit. The British are supposed to be a high suzhi people, after all.
The two are not precise equivalents, but in terms of protocol Li is roughly coterminous with George Osborne. Both are number 2 in the government and both are broadly responsible for the economy. When Osborne went to China he got to meet a vice premier slated for retirement in 2017 and, basically, a bunch of guys. Li got the Queen, a meeting with the PM and the sort of care and attention generally given to a very rich uncle, who might be interested in, say, making the city of London a world centre for yuan trading.
The thing is, China would be very interested in doing this anyway. Beijing wants the yuan traded internationally, and where better? Some of the deals announced since Cameron and Co. decided on a love in with Beijing seem distinctly iffy. The thing is though that all the legitimate deals would have gone through since the Chinese side believes it stands to make a handsome profit from them. China may discourage economic ties with countries that it believes have act in a consistently hostile way, but it doesn't cut off its nose to spite its face. This is why the supposed 'deep freeze' Britain was cast into after the PM met the Dalai Lama isn't relevant. Opening London to yuan trading would in itself more than cancelled out that particular gesture. And the supposed deep freeze made no difference at all to Sino-British trade and investment, both of which increased handily in both directions over that time. The behaviour of the British government here is just not fully explicable in economic terms. For some other reason it simply wants to become closer to China. I dunno. Are we seeing a hedge against the US here?
It may be just a matter of how the government rolls. A government so relentlessly cruel to the powerless should be expected as a matter of course to be obsequious to those it believes have more power than it does. At any rate, what we did this week handed Beijing quite a considerable propaganda coup. More importantly, it will be viewed as a new normal from Zhongnanhai's perspective. From now on, any attempt to step back and inject a little dignity into Sino-British affairs will be interpreted as hostility simply on the basis that it is slightly less effusive than what went on before. So a considerable margin of freedom of action in regard to China has been lost in pursuit of a bunch of deals that would have been done anyway.