What would a Jeremy Corbyn foreign policy mean for Labour?

Labour members should reflect on the legacy of Attlee and our humanitarian interventionist traditions

Kosovo ncr

NATO intervention in Kosovo helped put an end to ethnic cleansing

Jeremy Corbyn and I serve together on the Executive Committee of the British Group of the Inter Parliamentary Union. Although I do not share his one sided view of Middle East policy, his friendship with Hamas and Hezbollah, or his rose tinted attitude to the government of Venezuela, there are issues on which we do agree, including support for women’s rights, LGBT rights and opposition to the death penalty.

We were both Labour candidates in the General Election of 1983. Jeremy was elected to Parliament for the safe inner London constituency of Islington North and began his 32 years as a rebellious left-wing backbencher. I was the defeated candidate in the outer London suburban of Ilford North.

Despite the civil war within the party following our 1979 defeat, the 1981 Special Conference and the SDP split, there was a great deal of enthusiasm in 1983 among the party rank and file.

Although we did limited canvassing, in Ilford North we had enthusiastic crowds around our campaign street stalls, big contingents on the huge CND marches and anti-Cruse missile protests encircling Greenham Common. Thousands came to our Labour rallies during the campaign to hear Michael Foot, deputy leader Denis Healey and others.

My election material was firmly in line with party policy as set out in the campaign document, The New Hope for Britain, which had hurriedly been agreed as the election manifesto by an exhausted NEC. Labour would withdraw from the European Economic Community (without a referendum), unilaterally scrap Trident and remove all US nuclear weapons and bases – whilst staying in NATO.

Although I privately knew I would not win it came as a great disappointment to many activists when we suffered a terrible defeat. Labour’s vote dropped by 8,345. The Conservative majority went up from 7,195 to 11,201. With just 10,841 votes, I only just kept second place over an SDP candidate who had done almost no campaigning. Worse still, marginal neighbouring Ilford South remained firmly in Conservative hands.

Jeremy Corbyn has made clear in numerous speeches and articles over the years that he remains committed to the policies on which he was first elected and on which Labour was resoundingly defeated in 1983. Indeed, he would go further: Labour has always, even in our brief unilateralist period, been pro-NATO, but Jeremy has consistently opposed NATO membership.

He recently said that Poland should not have been allowed to join NATO. He says its expansion to other democratic ex-Warsaw Pact countries was a mistake. He blames the USA and NATO rather than Putin’s imperialistic Russia for the crisis in Ukraine.

Labour has been here before. At the 1935 Party conference the great transport union leader Ernest Bevin denounced the pacifist George Lansbury over his opposition to possible League of Nations military action against Italian imperialism in Abyssinia. Lansbury resigned and eventually the Parliamentary Party elected Major Clement Attlee as interim Leader.

It was under prime minister Attlee and foreign secretary Bevin that the 1945 Labour government, in co-operation with the United States, played a decisive role in creating the institutions of the modern era, including the United Nations and NATO. It also ensured that Britain had its own independent nuclear deterrent. Britain also played a vital role supporting the United Nations forces in the Korean War.

Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters have made much of his opposition to the Iraq War and military action in Syria. But Jeremy also opposed the UN-authorised interventions in Afghanistan and Libya, and action to stop Slobodan Milosevic’s ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. Labour members should reflect on the legacy of Attlee and our patriotic, internationalist and humanitarian interventionist traditions.

Although Jeremy Corbyn was personally successful in 1983, many other Labour candidates were not. If Jeremy becomes Labour leader next month his anti-nuclear, anti-NATO, anti-American, anti-interventionist and Eurosceptic message will be welcomed by some in this country and by some abroad. But it is unlikely to be welcomed by Kurdish and other anti Da’esh forces in Iraq, by anti-Assad democrats in Syria, by democratic Central European NATO states like Poland, or by Ukrainians.

Above all, though, it will be resoundingly rejected by the British people, and lead Labour in 2020 to an even worse defeat than we collectively suffered in 1983.

Mike Gapes has been Labour and Co-operative Member of Parliament for Ilford South since 1992. He is a member and former chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee

59 Responses to “What would a Jeremy Corbyn foreign policy mean for Labour?”

  1. Pixel Junky

    I do sense a strong agenda to ridicule him. Then again that is classic. Use media to ridicule, or satanize and marginalize those who do not fall in line.

    However,on the question of Iraq and Kosovo, he is absolutely correct. And anyone with a brain can gather as much. There are always huge financial interests, beginning with a long process of misinformation and
    desinformation, and ending in bogus “righteous” military aggressions, at
    the cost of thousands of lives over generations to come. It is truly a
    sad world we live in. I do hope people start questioning what is
    happening around the world, and more importantly, why.

  2. EndAusterityNow

    Written by Gapes whos a secret tory. He knows it and we know it ven if hes in bed with the americans. He should cross the floor

  3. KsenyaM

    We had ‘rapprochement’ with Russia, and we had the Russia-Nato Council. The cold war was long over. ‘we’ wanted to trade while Russia had an oil boom so we ignored Georgia in 2008 and the Obama administration even offered a ‘reset’ button after than.
    Beleiving the Russio-Ukrainian war is because Russia is ‘being surrounded’ shows very little attention to what Putin’s Russia has been doing and saying for some considerable years (he’s been in for 15 but the big change was 2011/12)

  4. KsenyaM

    “until NATO began deliberately meddling in them while refusing to admit Russia as a member”

    There was Nato-Russia council that had been working well and there has been suggestions from Nato countries that Russia should join Nato – it is Russia, since Putin, that has rejected them
    “Russia doesn’t join alliances, it creates them”
    Since the latest threats, including nuclear, even Sweden is considering joining Nato.
    The idea that the Russio-Ukrainian war is due to Nato meddling shows huge ignorance of Russia’s direction under Putin.

  5. wilson sadler

    We in UK are free of what the uk establishment dishes out in foreign policy to peoples outside of our legal system. Our law protects us from the established state, but this protection is not extended to citizens of foreign states .
    The UK Meddling to the detriment in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Libya and Russia. CHANGE this madness, try a little empathy.
    The establishment must profit from all this uk disruption, who else.
    This foreign policy has not emanated from those watching eastenders and coronation street.
    It would be illegal for the UK government to do here what they do far away,
    650 of our finest represent the 65 million citizens. Each promises to do their best for their constituents. These bold 650 are the only legal defence we have against the established state
    This LabCon hard foreign policy of the last 30 years (150) has not been of any benefit to the great majority of constituents.
    The Refugees created by uk policy have a moral right to be here.
    NOW we need a friendly human foreign policy for the Future. Like from Now.
    Jeremy is the only hope, but there are many Pro War MPs in Parliament now and on the front benches, who thought it a good idea to go to another war in 2003.
    They will be the reactionists defending their trenches with the establishment behind them.
    Jeremy look out, they do not want a human peace

  6. Otto von Bismarck

    The Korean War was certainly worthy of being fought at the time, and the history of the Korean Peninsula since certainly validates our involvement. Imagine if Kim Jong Un were now in charge of all Korea?

    As for Ukraine, I actually agree with you and Corbyn. It’s clear as day that the current conflict was caused by the EU and the United States. Ukraine has always been divided between the pro-Europe West and the pro-Russian East. Post Cold War therefore the country was always meant to be a neutral buffer state, albeit a Russian leaning one. It was always going to be unacceptable to Moscow for Ukraine to sign any kind of association agreement with the EU, and it was unacceptable in the pro-Russian Eastern Ukraine too. The overthrow of Yanukovych, which the CIA almost definitely had a hand in, and his replacement with a barely legitimate mob government was how they got the agreement through. Unsurprisingly, that resulted in pro-Russian rebellion in the East and Putin moving troops into Crimea. A brilliant propaganda victory for the EU/US of course, as it enables them to portray Putin as the aggressor.

    Military intervention purely within someone else’s own country almost never works. You can’t just intervene in a country’s internal business in such a way and expect everything to work out. Occupying a country usually turns into a hugely expensive nightmare, and you have to stay there for decades in order to make it work (As we’ve seen with the Americans pulling out too early and leaving a vacuum for IS.). It doesn’t even work as a deterrent to others, as you’re so up to your kneck in it that they know you don’t have the resources or political will to do it again.

    Lastly, I think Corbyn is naive if he thinks he can starve IS of weapons. The Middle East has more guns than any other region on Earth, and even so IS have been well supplied by the provisions and stocks left behind by a retreating Iraqi army. Sending ground troops against IS would actually be a good example of where a military intervention is justified, were it not for the fact that Syria is a total clusterf***. The fight would be much more like the 1st Gulf War than another Iraq.

  7. Otto von Bismarck

    Pulling out of NATO is a bit like waking up one morning, divorcing your wife of 30+ years and selling the house. It’s a massive step into the unknown. NATO has been the bedrock of British security policy since WWII; leaving it would severely damage us among our allies and rupture the collective security of Europe. A bloody foolish thing to do when you have an expansionist Russia looming.

    Tony Blair’s record was terrible, but what Corbyn is proposing could leave us open to invasion. The long term effects of leaving NATO would be catastrophic. Sure, we face no immediate threats currently, but who knows what we might face in the future?

    It is impossible, under FPTP, to have a one party state. If a party starts to hog the centre ground at the expense of its core vote, then that is how you get phenomenons like UKIP or Corbynmania, or to a lesser extent the Greens. No party can stay in the centre ground across multiple elections and not lose the tribes of voters on its fringes. Cameron tried to, since 2005, and it left him with a UKIP problem which almost cost him the 2015 election. Luckily, Miliband tacked soft left and Cameron was able to win over enough of the centrist vote to stay in power.

    I’m sorry, but the country has been moving to the right over the last 30 years. Support for nationalisation of much of the economy, higher welfare, pulling out of NATO or abolishing nuclear weapons has gone right down. The only way people readily drop the consensus politics within a short space of time is if there’s some kind of economic disaster, like in Greece.

    Baring any kind of economic collapse, Corbyn will not win in 2020 with a traditional hard left platform. Labour will go below 200 seats, Corbyn’s politics are just too far from the centre ground.

  8. Cassius

    Enough with the lies. The ethnic cleansing in Kosovo started when the NATO bombing started. The bombing only created the environment in which the enthinc cleansing would be possible. Not only did NATO not stop any cleansing when they occupied Kosovo Serbs were cleansed out of Kosovo, and those who remained there were forced to live in ghettos. Corbyn is right to oppose military action. In the last 25 years after western military action the situation was only worse.

  9. Colm McGinn

    Yes. It’s a fraud. You subscribe to a fraud.

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