January 23, 2024 - 4:00pm

The long shadow of Rotherham hangs heavy over British politics. Yesterday the Daily Mail reported that Qari Abdul Rauf and Adil Khan, convicted ringleaders of the Rochdale grooming gang, are still living at their homes in the UK nine years after their deportation was ordered. One of Khan’s victims — whom he impregnated at 13 — recently came face-to-face with him in an Asda, unaware he had been released from prison after serving around half of his eight-year sentence.

This is a rare case in Britain. Their deportation hasn’t been stopped by the constant court appeals on increasingly spurious grounds of the defendants’ human rights, but because Pakistan is refusing to allow them to return.

What power does the UK have to force Pakistan to take them? It appears, at first glance, rather a lot: Pakistan is “the top bilateral recipient of UK aid”, receiving over £1 billion since 2009. Pakistan also received nearly $300m in remittances from the UK last year.

Foreign aid is often cited as essential to the UK’s much-vaunted “soft power”. But Pakistan’s refusal raises questions: if this amount of aid cannot convince Pakistan — a formal ally — to allow us to deport dual nationals, how much use is soft power to the national interest?

Tellingly, the concept of soft power originated with a former Clinton administration official, Joseph Nye, who defined it as a tool for mobilising a nation’s moral and cultural assets so that they can be leveraged to support ongoing foreign policy goals. It is a co-optive rather than coercive process. “If a state can make its power seem legitimate in the eyes of others, it will encounter less resistance to its wishes,” Nye wrote. “If its culture and ideology are attractive, others will more willingly follow.”

Britain is supposedly ranked second globally for soft power. Yet it does not seem to serve us well. Britain gave over £50m to Colombia last year, none of which was spent on fighting the drug cartels that plague the country — or on preventing them spreading to London. The UK also spent £47m in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but not a penny went towards preventing the country’s slide towards war with another huge beneficiary of UK taxpayer money, Rwanda, which would seriously hamper the Government’s flagship immigration policy. Then there’s the £46m that the Government lavished on nuclear-armed space power India last year, despite the strong possibility that Modi’s government sanctioned an assassination in Canada after UK Sikhs received similar threats.   

One of the many problems with soft power is that it can only ever remain soft: the moment it is used for coercion, it becomes hard power. But Britain’s hard power is fast eroding — the Royal Navy will soon have to decommission two ships in order to free up enough sailors to man two of its new frigates. By 2026, the size of the British Army will have dropped 40% from 2010.

Soft power is at best a luxury of questionable value, an idea created by and for the world’s dominant cultural, military and financial nation at the height of its hegemony. America could afford to spend resources on an idea still waiting for proof of concept, but Britain is no longer that strength which in old days moved earth and heaven. We cannot afford to admire soft power only in its idleness.