Labour should cut its ties with the illiberal Henry Jackson Society


Margaret BeckettEver since the Iraq war, and to a lesser extent prior to it, popular perception has had it that humanitarian intervention is a cause célèbre of the right rather than the left.

One might even go so far as to say that, until the 2008 financial crisis hit and reignited the squabble between Keynesians and austerity hawks, the single biggest area of disagreement between left and right was on foreign policy.

“Hawks”, “neocons” and “imperialists” were invariably of the right whereas “doves”, “peaceniks” and “stoppers” were, with a few exceptions, on the left.

As with most attempts at compartmentalising political ideologies there were of course glaring exceptions. While many on the left were instinctively uneasy at the concept of George W Bush’s “war on terror”, others conceded that, to paraphrase American author Peter Beinart, liberal principles could be threatened by forces other than western conservatism.

In other words, totalitarianism – whether in its Islamist or secular guise – required a firm, and where appropriate, military response.

When it was first created in 2005, the London-based Henry Jackson Society (HJS) appeared to offer a base for those on the centre-left and right who believed in a variant of “muscular liberalism”. Much like the senator after whom it was named, the HJS sought to fuse a concern for social justice at home with a hardline approach to totalitarianism and autocracy abroad.

As a result the organisation attracted broad parliamentary support, including 11 Labour MPs, who continue to sit on the organisation’s advisory council to this day.

In February, Labour’s shadow secretary for defence, Jim Murphy, even gave a speech on policy at an event organised by the HJS.

According to those who’ve worked behind the scenes at the HJS, however, in recent years the organisation has degenerated into something that is anything but liberal.

The associate director of the HJS is Douglas Murray, a columnist for the Spectator and Standpoint, who joined the organisation in April 2011. In March, Murray wrote an article following the release of the results of the 2011 census in which he bemoaned the fact that in “23 of London’s 33 boroughs ‘white Britons’ are now in a minority”.

It wasn’t so much integration that Murray wanted to talk about, however, but skin colour:

“We long ago reached the point where the only thing white Britons can do is to remain silent about the change in their country. Ignored for a generation, they are expected to get on, silently but happily, with abolishing themselves, accepting the knocks and respecting the loss of their country. ‘Get over it. It’s nothing new. You’re terrible. You’re nothing’.”

In 2009 Murray also described Robert Spencer, the leader of a group calling itself “Stop the Islamization of America (SIOA)”, as a “very brilliant scholar and writer”.

A number of years before Murray saw fit to praise this “brilliant scholar”, the latter wrote that there was “no distinction in the American Muslim community between peaceful Muslims and jihadists”.

And just to keep you up to date, this week Murray effectively endorsed Ukip in an article for the Wall Street Journal.

The spirit of intolerance at the HJS appears also to extend to those who have taken issue with Murray’s rhetoric.

Marko Attila Hoare, a former senior member of the Henry Jackson Society who left the organisation in 2012, told me that his opposition to Murray’s anti-Muslim and anti-immigration views saw him driven out of the organisation.

“It rapidly became clear that Murray had not tamed his politics, and that actually they were becoming the politics of the whole organisation,” Hoare told me.

Murray’s boss, HJS executive director Alan Mendoza, has form too. In March of this year he claimed that the increasing European Muslim population was to blame for Europe’s “anti-Israel feelings”, adding that the voices of Muslims “are heard well above the average Europeans”.

Eleven Labour MPs are still associated with this organisation. How, one wonders, do the views of the Henry Jackson Society sit with one-nation Labour?

I wrote to all 11 Labour MPs with my concerns about the Henry Jackson Society but none were available for comment.

This piece was originally published at Comment is Free.

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