Mark Thomas finds America on the side of the angels

I am surprised to find myself saying this, but in the case of Burma the neo-cons might just be on th

We expect politicians to say preposterous things: it's part of the pay-off for having them. They get into office, promptly ignore us and then berate us for not being interested in them. On the upside, we can always rely on them to utter something so ridiculous, it makes David Icke appear statesmanlike. Charles Clarke, for example, said he hoped to have abolished antisocial behaviour by 2010. For anyone interested in joining this vital debate, I'm spending New Year's Eve 2010 on Clarke's doorstep. As the midnight chimes usher in 2011, I'll be shouting "Wanker" through

his letter box. At present, this is on the cusp of the

legal definition of terrorist activity; God knows how it will be regarded by 2011. So if you want to join me, please bring body armour and three months' worth of reading material with you.

Despite believing we should never underestimate new Labour's reactionary capabilities, I am surprised to hear myself saying that "new Labour is losing ground to the Tories on international human rights", and "UK foreign policy should follow America's lead". Just saying these words sounds wrong, in the same way as choosing to play a Gary Glitter song does (though that doesn't rule out Blair walking on to "I'm the Leader of the Gang (I Am)" at the next party conference). But, in the case of Burma, the neo-cons might just be on the side of the angels.

On 20 September came the publication of a report commissioned by Vaclav Havel (former president of the Czech Republic, dissident and Velvet Underground fan - so not too bad a chap) and Bishop Desmond Tutu (Nobel Peace Prizewinner, anti-apartheid activist and easily the best dancer the clergy has ever put forward - again, not too bad a chap).

The report, compiled by the international law firm DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary, is called Threat to the Peace: a call for the UN Security Council to act in Burma. The report lists the abuses and horrors of the Burmese military regime and compares Burma's record with those of other countries that have come before the UN Security Council. Burma's case is unique, in that it ticks every single one of the boxes for international action. Let's run through them:

1) Overthrow of a democratic government - the National League for Democracy, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, won elections in 1990 with more than 80 per cent of the vote but has never been allowed to take office.

2) Factional conflict - the "protracted and violent oppression of ethnic groups in Burma".

3) Widespread human-rights violations - use of forced labour and child soldiers; destruction of 2,700 villages since 1996; frequent raping of women from ethnic minorities by government troops.

4) Outflow of refugees - almost 700,000 refugees have come out of Burma in recent years.

5) Drug protection and drug trafficking - it's the Afghanistan of the Far East. Nuff said.

Burma surely qualifies as a candidate for international action, even before you also consider that its military budget is between 30 and 50 per cent of total annual spending - this despite World Health Organisation rankings for public healthcare that place Burma 190th in a field of 191 countries.

It is important to say that this is not a call for military intervention. I know the Americans are backing the demand to bring Burma before the Security Council, but they have not invaded every country that has been the target of Council action (it just feels like that sometimes). The call is for the international community to focus diplomatic pressure on Burma.

Yet the British government is not following America's lead on this, nor is it supporting the call to put Burma before the UN Security Council. At the most inopportune moment, Jack Straw and Tony Blair have developed a sense of independence. This means George Bush is now in a position to defend the UK/US alliance on the grounds that it enables him to curb some of Blair's reactionary excesses.

The Conservative MP John Bercow, joint chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Democracy in Burma, knows what should be done: "It is time the UN Security Council denounced this bunch of sadistic thugs . . . It should demand that the government of Burma stop abusing its own citizens, release all political prisoners and set out an agreed timetable for the transition to democracy. Failing this, the UN should apply rigorous, targeted economic sanctions to squeeze the junta until it bursts." A Tory said that!

Roger Lyons, a patron of the Burma Campaign, said: "This is the worst position the UK government could put itself in . . .

The Tories and America have outflanked Labour on this issue."

No doubt Foreign Office mandarins will mutter about the British way of making protests in private, but where has this got us? The newly appointed Foreign Office desk officer for Burma was due to visit the country a few months ago but, according to Lyons, he wasn't given a visa. "This is an unprecedented slap in the face for the UK government," he said.

I might not expect much from politicians, but you would have thought, at a time when the Tories and the US are outflanking Blair, that he would do the right thing - if only as an act of self-preservation.

This article first appeared in the 10 October 2005 issue of the New Statesman, A very corporate loss of nerve