The Tories – having decided Corbyn really is going to win the Labour leadership – and more than a few Labour folk are going for Corbyn not on economic policy but on foreign policy. It was odd to hear even Gordon Brown giving up on an economic critique of Corbynomics to implicitly (for God’s sake) criticise Corbyn on the grounds of what ‘folk abroad’ will think if Corbyn becomes Labour leader. I think this approach extends from the realisation that it’s very hard to criticise Corbynomics without sounding pro-austerity, and economics in any case is too full of pseudo-scientific crap to sound authentic when you get too technical. “How many ‘experts’, including Brown, spotted the implications of subprime mortgages? None? So shut tf up and let’s see if something else works,” is how many people see things.

Corbyn’s been around national politics for 33 years and, unlike all 3 of his opponents, has had plenty to say about ‘abroad’ over that time. So his opponents are trying to demonise him by any means. It’s a last-ditch effort which is coming across as, frankly, pathetic.

So what of Corbyn’s connections with Hamas over the years? It was FCO policy to liaise with Hamas ages ago. Plenty of Israeli officials think they need better links, and here’s Tony Blair sensibly meeting the leader of Hamas last week. And Corbyn’s alleged position on Gaddafi? It surely isn’t necessary to mention all the folk involved in semi-normalising Gaddafi’s status, before, you know, the stuff, is it?

So where next? What, Corbyn thinks the EU might not have played a good hand on Russia? But surely the EU has made a terrible mess backing extreme right-wingers in the Ukraine and generally making mischief around Russia’s sensitive parts, such as Sevastopol? Surely there’s at least an intelligent argument to be made there? And Trident? “What the bloody hell is it for” (Field Marshall Lord Carver)? Plenty of former generals think it’s a waste of money – it isn’t truly regarded as a defence issue anyway, but rather one of high politics. Here’s former UK Defence Secretary Des Browne asking important questions. Surely it’s time Labour at least made a serious stab  at anwering Carver’s question beyond fudging about how ‘we might have to nuke a few million folk without the consent of the United States one day’ and ‘jobs building nuclear submarines are a fine thing for Barrow-in-Furness’. I mean, just how morally bankrupt is that last argument, especially? Oh, yeah, and in case anyone hadn’t noticed, Venezuela’s Chavez is dead and the US is making up with Cuba and Iran. As is the UK.

In a few nutty cases, even Northern Ireland – which is not actually abroad yet, but what the heck – has been brought into the mix. Here’s The Telegraph’s shlock, topped (do excuse the pun) with a picture of the man himself meeting Gerry Adams at the house of Commons in 1995. But wait: hadn’t Adams been a member of the house of Commons for 15 years by then? And wasn’t he elected again to the UK parliament couple of years later? I’m pretty sure he was, you know, because I remember being one of three people standing on the otherwise empty terrace shortly after being elected there, watching the armed cops look out to the river for terrorists. The two folk beside me were Gerry Adams and Martin McGuiness.

In the early 90s, I did a tour of Northern Ireland as a serviceman and one of my duties was meeting local Sinn Fein politicians and other republican activists on everyday matters such as schools. Some of the people I liaised with, and occasionally met socially, lived in a little village called Greysteel, just outside Derry – I passed through the village daily. A few weeks after I left the province, ‘loyalist’ UDA gunmen kicked in the door of the local pub there – The Rising Sun – and opened fire on the mainly Roman Catholic clientele, killing seven. The killings were seen as reprisal for the Shankill Road bombing shortly beforehand, and that period marked panic amongst terrible people on both sides that a political solution was coming. And so it was. The Downing Street Declaration, John Major’s greatest success as prime minster, came two months later and a ceasefire the next year. When Tony Blair followed on, leading, after much blood and tears, to peace in Northern Ireland, many people felt that years of politicians of all shades engaging with the republican movement had paid off. When I met Deputy First Minister Martin McGuiness and First Minister Peter Robinson in 2010 during a (very) brief stint as Shadow Minister for Northern Ireland, it certainly felt like it.

A few years ago I chaired a group which organised a trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo to monitor elections there. Jeremy Corbyn came along. He’s been out there since and I’ve worked alongside him quite a bit on matters pertaining to Africa. As a dyed-in-the-wool Blairite, I’ve found him nothing other than wholly motivated by the will to help people in the developing world, yet also absolutely pragmatic and practical on matters of foreign policy and international development. He’s a fan of decent NGOs, but not uncritically so, and is very much up for doing what it takes to encourage better business practice to improve the lot of the world’s poorest. I don’t doubt that he may have to tack somewhat on some issues as they relate to the US – that’s politics, and he won’t lack pragmatism. And I think he’s got his line on Tony Blair and the ICC wrong so far.  But, at root, seeking to demonise Jeremy Corbyn on the basis of his genuine concern for the world’s poorest and most at-risk over the years is a mug’s game.

One Tory columnist whom I can’t be bothered mentioning has written that Corbyn won’t be able to be briefed as HM Opposition leader by the government on foreign policy issues because he’d give all our secrets away. If I were on the Corbyn campaign team leadership, I’d photocopy that piece and fire it around as widely as I could. That kind of old-hat Tory sneering (there are many, many Tories who are a long way from being sneerers) is guaranteed to help Corbyn on his way.

By the way, no-one knows anything. No-one saw Corbyn coming and no-one has any idea if he can become prime minister. That’s why the Tories are changing tack. Labour folk might want to consider that.









8 Responses to Attacking Corbyn on ‘abroad’ is just plain daft
  1. I’m a Labour party member who’d have backed Alan Johnson in 2010 if he’d stood. I’ve no wish to go back to the 80s but looking for a creative social democratic programme which can attract support beyond Labour’s natural base. Apart from foreign affairs Jeremy has policy interests that no other Labour leadership contender even bothers to cover: farming, high street retail, engineering for eg. It was his foreign policy which I thought would be a problem but arguing for a system of collective European security which even Ireland, Sweden and Finland can embrace to replace the moribund NATO is not a hard sell. Neither is cancelling a weapons system with a firing system that may one day be controlled by President Trump.

    • Thanks for this, Ian. I think the difficulty for Labour is that the party has always been aware of the need to counter its CND/peace image of 1980s (when a lot of folk had fought in ‘good’ wars and so wouldn’t embrace those messages) so it’s gone the other way by being more conservative on Defence et al that a lot of Tories. The points you make are perfectly good examples of areas where the party needs to take a more intelligent view – maybe it doesn’t always need to change its position, but never being prepared to consdier new circs looks v unadaptive.

  2. Finally, a fair minded piece on this issue. Corbyn, agree or disagree, deserves scrutiny but the flailing around by the media recently hasn’t been good to watch

    • Thanks, Alex. We’ll see what happens when he becomes leader but I think foreign policy will be the least of his worries.

      • I think his main weaknesses on foreign policy are ISIS and the Falklands (I don’t really understand his position on the Falklands tbh). The first could be neutralised because a lot of people in this country have war fatigue after everything since 2001. The second hopefully won’t be an issue because Argentina has its own issues to be dealing with. The only other thing is the EU, but that very much depends on too many variables (What deal does Cameron try to sell? Does the Tory party fight over it? Do Labour? How are Eurozone economies doing relative to ours in 2020?) to know if the EU referendum will work in Corbyn and Labour’s favour or not.

        • Yes, the EU represents the most serious danger to JC. If he took a ‘No’ view it could lead to a No vote across the UK and that could be bad for UK. In that event, though, Labour would have been on the winning side in something the country had decided democratically. Cameron’s position is quite a good one, though, and I think JC will cobble together something similar. I think his position on Falkands would become close to his position on NI and Scot – i.e. “I’d prefer x personally, but it’s up to the locals”. No-one cares that much in the UK, though, tbh. There isn’t going to be another war just yet.


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