The US embassy is withdrawing from its central London fortress. If only America would quit other parts of the world it occupies.
Grosvenor Square is about to be liberated. Tidings that the US embassy is moving to an unspecified five-acre location in south London may be good news for local residents (some of whom were renting rooms for a proper view of the rioting in 1968), but bad news for the unhealthier sections of the north London left. Till now, we could all meet happily in central London. A long march to south London is far less enticing, unless the San Francisco model of demonstrating on bikes becomes fashionable here as well.
Of course, we could be spared all this if the United States simply decided to stop bombing and occupying different parts of the world. Apart from anything else, they can’t afford it any more, which also appears to be the reason for the move from Grosvenor Square. The city is owed £4m in rates – which might be the sale price of the building in these troubled times.
When it finally happens, Grosvenor Square veterans, particularly of the great demonstrations of 1968 calling for Victory to the NLF, should make sure there is a properly organized wake with proper music, etc. They should be sent off in style. Old memories must not be obliterated. This could happen if the fortress in the Square is sold off as apartments. Much better if the Imperial War Museum borrowed a few million from one of the Gulf states and purchased it as an adjunct devoted exclusively to US wars. The loan could be written off as a bad debt and Peter Mandelson, back in the cabinet, might help out here.
A worry remains. Why south London? Surely, it would make much more sense to ask the British to dissolve the Foreign Office, abolish the post of foreign secretary (each new incumbent worse than the one before) and offer the King Charles Street building to the United States as their Embassy. The advantages to both sides are obvious. It could be on a 50-year basis since, by that time, a party might have emerged in England that needed a Foreign Office.
It would certainly make it easier for some of us to have both the US ambassador and the prime minister within striking distance of protesting crowds that assemble in Trafalgar Square.
TARIQ ALI has given many fiery speeches down the years in front of the soon-to-be abandoned US Embassy in Grosvenor Square. His latest book is The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power.