I am convinced he would have thought twice about extending the Royal Air Force’s strikes from Iraq into Syria, but I am even more convinced that he would shape any response to ISIS in the terms of this philosophy that he expounded in 1950:
“Foreign policy is a thing you have to bring down to its essence as it applies to an individual. It is something that is great and big: it is common sense and humanity as it applies to my affairs and to yours, because it is somebody and somebody’s kindred that are being persecuted and punished and tortured, and they are defenceless. That is a fact.”
I mention Bevin for two reasons, he is more in tune with those who vote Labour today than is Jeremy Corbyn and he was in very much the same position in his own day. He also persuaded the Labour Leader of his time, considered to be the one with whom Corbyn has the most in common, to resign as Leader of the Labour Party.
He addressed George Lansbury thus:
“You are placing … the movement in an absolutely wrong position by hawking your conscience round from body to body asking to be told what to do with it.”
They say history repeats itself, first as tragedy then as farce. Is Corbyn now setting the stage for a farce? Bevin ended the tragedy of the early 1930s thus:
“(George) Lansbury has been going about dressed in saint’s clothing for years waiting for martyrdom. I set fire to the faggots.”
Lansbury’s successor was Major Clement Attlee.
I am ever more certain that Corbyn does not look at how policy, foreign or domestic, applies to an individual. He thinks in terms of abstracts.
Corbyn recently said, “How dare Cameron’s Conservatives pretend that they speak for Britain.” I assume that this was an attempt to challenge any suggestion that Corbyn, personally, is unpatriotic. Corbyn went on to remark:
“We stand for this country’s greatest traditions: the suffragettes and the trade unions … the Britain of Mary Wollstonecraft, Shelley, Alan Turing and the Beatles … and perhaps our finest Olympian – and a Somalian refugee – Mo Farah … an Arsenal fan of course.
And for the working people of this country who fought fascism … built the welfare state … and turned this land into an industrial powerhouse.
The real patriots.”
Setting aside the fact that Corbyn’s idiosyncratic list is one requiring many footnotes, he succeeds in making his definition of patriotism an exclusive one. He divides when he should be seeking to unite, even in the margins of quite a lengthy, rambling speech. Please, Seumas Milne, I beg of you, get Jeremy Corbyn enrolled on some public speaking and presentational skills courses, pronto! And fire his speechwriters whilst you are it!
Corbyn could not, it seems, bring himself around to put the case, the extremely credible case, that, without the support of Major Attlee and Arthur Greenwood in May 1940, Winston Churchill might well have been forced to sue for terms with Hitler by the leaders of the rump of the Conservative Party, Neville Chamberlain and Lord Halifax. Churchill, supported by Attlee as his Deputy Prime Minister, went on to lead a coalition of all the political parties, represented in the House of Commons. Any other Leader of the Labour Party, except seemingly Corbyn, may cite the history of the darkest days of 1940 to show just how patriotic the Labour Party is when it really matters. One in the eye, surely, for Tories like Cameron? Tories, who have much more in common with a Halifax than a Churchill, but not one in the eye for many a Conservative voter who would, I am sure, recognise the contribution that Labour made, alongside their chosen party, in defeating Nazism. There is no Left or Right in a foxhole.
On 2 September 1939, Neville Chamberlain spoke in a Commons debate and said, in effect, that he was not declaring war on Germany immediately for having invaded Poland. This non declaration greatly angered Leo Amery, a Conservative Member of Parliament present in the House at that moment, and was felt by many present to be out of touch with the temper of the British people. As Labour Party Leader Clement Attlee was absent, Arthur Greenwood stood up in his place and announced that he was speaking for Labour. Amery called out to him across the floor, “Speak for England!” —which carried the undeniable implication that Chamberlain was not. England then meant the United Kingdom.
Corbyn now has the chance to speak for the UK (and not just Islington Man and Woman), to craft a compromise that would put him at the head of the Labour Party and allow him to create a (temporary) coalition within the House of Commons to defeat David Cameron’s plan to extend the Royal Air Force’s strikes from Iraq into Syria. He must, however, do more than merely oppose the Government. He must stop adopting the persona of a rather irritated headmaster of a third rate prep school, who, a few months off retirement, is wearily having to correct, once more, the homework of the school dunce. He might start by arguing that extending the RAF’s operations into Syria would be a diminution of force, a weakening of its efforts in Iraq, and that its schwerpunkt, its main effort, should remain Iraq and Iraq alone.
Corbyn must also accept that he is not only the Leader of the Labour Party, but the Leader of the Opposition, a role which requires him to make alliances across party lines, if he is to be effective. He must articulate an alternative course of action around which his party may unite and which will attract the support of the other opposition parties and those members of the Conservative Party, who are doubtful of the arguments presented to date by David Cameron. Corbyn must accept the fact that until now he has managed to do what Miliband never did, make Cameron look statesmanlike!
If Corbyn needs any advice about how to build a consensus on a single issue then he need look no further than Labour’s leadership in the House of Lords, but of course the party there is headed by a woman and Jeremy shares David’s disease, when it comes to women. If he needs advice about what might constitute an effective considered amendment to that being put down by Cameron then he should consult with, not lecture, his colleagues in the Shadow Cabinet and Parliamentary Labour Party. He should speak with the leaders of the other opposition parties, including Nicola Sturgeon; experienced statesmen like Lord Ashdown; foreign affairs and defence experts and last, but not least, representatives of the victims of ISIS.
Corbyn must not think, for one moment, that his 50:50, Phone a Friend and/or Ask the Audience approach is anything, but an abrogation of his responsibilities as the leader of the Labour Party, his own 21st Century take on Lansbury’s “hawking” his “conscience round from body to body asking to be told what to do with it.”
Corbyn needs to understand and seek to address the genuine concerns and positions being taken up by MPs, like Chuka Umunna. Umunna has said he would vote on his conscience whatever the leadership decides and is minded to vote in favour of the government’s plans:
“My own personal view is that where are our national security is threatened it would be wrong simply to leave it to others to deal with it. We can’t ignore the barbarity of this death cult, who throw gay people off buildings, systematically rape women, [and] carry out mass executions. Now, do I think that military action – and by the way I am minded to support military intervention, but we have yet to see the wording of the motion – is going to resolve this conflict? Of course not. Do I think it is the only solution? Of course not. But what I do think it can do in the interim is … start to dismantle what Isil are doing.”
Corbyn may be paralysed by Iraq, but others genuinely fear that inaction may have worse consequences than action. No one, I am sure, wants to see any reruns of what happened in, for example, Rwanda. Yes, the deaths there were on a massive scale and one hopes unrepeatable, but then how often before has the human race said that? Moreover, one preventable death is one too many and to misquote Harold Wilson, to the murdered man or woman, murder is 100%.
Corbyn runs the risk of not just portraying the Labour Party, under his leadership, as unpatriotic, but as a national socialist party. A party for whom troubling issues in faraway countries, of which we know little and care less, are best left to media columnists, those with views of disturbing certainty, and the echo chambers of the Internet. Such an isolationist policy is similar to that advocated by Farage. The Labour Party of Bevin was, as is today’s, an internationalist socialist party. Bevin spoke for the many not the few and, especially the working classes when he said, “I’m not going to have my people treated like this!” The people of whom he was speaking at that moment? They were the Jews and trades unionists being persecuted by the Nazis.
Corbyn’s indulgence of the (self appointed) fascists of Momentum (aka New, New Labour’s Sturmabteilung or Thought Police) and their bully boy tactics provides unwanted echoes of the 1930s and is a sure fire recipe for splitting the support that brought him to power. Momentum’s bend your conscience to our way of thinking or face deselection approach is not endearing itself to many who voted for Corbyn as Leader of the Labour Party. People, who I am convinced, believe in freedom of conscience, even for elected politicians.
Will Momentum, the militant wing of the Stop the War Coalition, soon don (ethically sourced) oatmeal coloured hair shirts in order to police Labour Party meetings? Many of them are not Labour Party members and would fall foul of its rules, if they tried to join the party today, but will that obstacle be removed in the coming months as dissatisfaction with Corbyn’s leadership increases and he feels ever more besieged?
Corbyn’s “sudden consultation with party members” is one “for which there is no constitutional basis in the party, and anyway is so haphazardly organised that it cannot be a reliable test of party opinion,” and it “also looks like an effort to ally the leader with the party rank and file against MPs.” In fact, Corbyn’s poll was “statistical junk”. Yet another example of Corbyn adopting an exclusive, not an inclusive approach which is unlikely to be sustainable in the medium to long term.
Corbyn won the leadership of the Labour Party not a General Election in September 2015. He was elected leader of the Labour Party with 251,485 votes out of the 422,664 cast. The turnout was 76.3% and the total number of eligible voters was 554,272. The party’s national poll ratings are currently around 27%. They are heading towards parity with the polling figures for the Scottish Labour Party, currently at 25%. The Labour Party received 9,347,304 votes on May 7th 2015. Jeremy Corbyn’s 251,485 equates to 2.7% of the voters represented by the Labour Party as a whole.
“A mooted emergency meeting of the national executive, asserting that the terms of the Labour conference motion on Syria have not been met, would also portray him as the party democrat fighting his out of touch MPs.” A viewpoint that may be undermined when people wise up to what Corbyn means when he talks about indicative online polling. Such polls will not result in binding resolutions and may well be ignored, if they produce results which do not accord with the views held by the person who put the poll in the field.
Corbyn is considered to be doing badly or very badly by 13% of those who voted for him as leader and 1% are unsure about him. A 14% drop in support in about 3 months that equates to a decline in support from 59.5% to 51.2%. Does Corbyn really want to be remembered as the Leader of the Labour Party, who ruled, not led the party, with the help of Ken Livingstone, George Galloway and Diane Abbot and the support of intimidatory tactics deployed by Momentum? One might think that Momentum, going on current form, see themselves as the descendants of Mosley’s boot boys.
Chamberlain’s Government fell at the end of the Norway Debate in May 1940. Amery spoke in that debate, “This is what Cromwell said to the Long Parliament when he thought it was no longer fit to conduct the affairs of the nation. You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go.”
Corbyn may face that injunction, possibly from the trades unions, if he does not stop following a Bushite line. Remember if you are not with us then you must be against us? The Labour Party is a broad church and rarely has less than three strands of opinion on any issue. And you may not call yourself a socialist, if unable to start a disagreement about ideology, with yourself, in an empty room!
Oh, and, if you are unfamiliar with the biography of Ernie Bevin, he was a British statesman, trades union leader, and Labour politician. He co-founded and served as General Secretary of the powerful Transport and General Workers’ Union from 1922 to 1940 and as Minister of Labour in the war-time coalition government. He succeeded in maximising the British labour supply, for both the armed services and domestic industrial production, with a minimum of strikes and disruption.
Bevin’s most important role came as Foreign Secretary in the post-war Labour Government, 1945 to 1951. He gained American financial support, strongly opposed Communism, and aided in the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Bevin’s tenure also saw the end of the Mandate of Palestine and the creation of the State of Israel. Bevin was arguably the greatest British Foreign Secretary of the 20th Century. He was, to quote his own words, “A turn up in a million” and he never forgot “it is somebody and somebody’s kindred that are being persecuted and punished and tortured, and they are defenceless. That is a fact.”
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