Sunak meets Zelenskyy in Switzerland, June 2024. Photo: Flickr/Simon Walker Sunak meets Zelenskyy in Switzerland, June 2024. Photo: Flickr/Simon Walker

Lindsey German examines the conjunction of mainstream democracy and imperialism

The latest video from Palestine shows an injured man strapped to the bonnet to a jeep as Israeli soldiers drive it through in the West Bank town of Jenin, in a supposed ‘counter-terrorist operation’. The Israelis have responded to the film going viral by saying ‘The conduct of the forces in the video of the incident does not conform to the values of the IDF.’ Unfortunately that’s not true.

Every day in Gaza, and increasingly in the West Bank, war crimes are being committed by that same IDF. Palestinians are dehumanised, civilians are facing starvation and daily danger of death and injury. But you wouldn’t know any of this if you listened to the election discussions and reporting going on right now in Britain. The media barely challenges the main parties on their shocking support for Israeli genocide. 

Yet this is an issue which millions of people in Britain care about, and where a clear majority disagree with the policies of both government and opposition. But it is deemed illegitimate by the politicians not least because they know how isolated they are on this.

It is even more true about the Ukraine war. Much as we might hate Nigel Farage, he was pointing out a fact: that one reason for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was because of relentless EU and Nato expansion (and you now can’t have one without the other) eastwards. That doesn’t justify the invasion, or Putin’s repression, or Farage’s nationalistic and racist politics. But it does give a partial explanation about why the war happened.

Whatever your views on the war – and as I have written many times, I fully oppose the invasion, but also oppose Nato’s proxy war and the huge surge of arms to Ukraine – surely it is a legitimate subject for debate in an election. This is especially so given that both parties are committed to increasing arms spending and full backing for the Ukraine war. But instead, Farage’s comments were met with a collective outburst of horror that anyone could repeat ‘Putin talking points’.

Unless you assume that if Putin says the sun is shining it must be raining, then it cannot be true that anyone who makes a similar factual statement to Putin is lying or a dupe of Russian propaganda. Instead, no criticism of Ukraine is permissible. But in many ways it is a more dangerous situation than even the Middle East, precisely because it is moving ever closer to direct war between Nato powers and Russia, and with that the near certain use of nuclear weapons.

Majority opinion in Britain supports the war in Ukraine, but it is by no means overwhelming. Around a quarter of those polled want a peace settlement, but their views are rarely reflected in any public debate. Across Europe there are different positions, but in Italy, Greece and Hungary a majority favour a settlement rather than continuing war.

A Starmer government will be as militaristic and flag waving as any Tory, fearful of looking shy of war and confrontation. While shadow ministers plead that they can’t wave a magic wand to scrap the two child benefit cap, there will be no such qualms about finding more money to spend on weapons and war.

Under a Starmer government Gaza will still be a major issue. Not only that, if Netanyahu visits Britain, will he be potentially subject to arrest for war crimes, and what will the human rights lawyer do about it? But there will also be crucial questions over Ukraine, which now has permission to use western supplied missiles on Russian military targets. Ukraine cannot win this war, but the potential for much greater deaths on both sides and for escalation bringing in other countries directly is there for all to see. 

France’s Macron has already raised sending troops to Ukraine and the calls for this may grow as Ukraine finds it ever harder to conscript because of the real threats of death and injury. Meanwhile Europe’s far right, like Farage, is increasingly raising opposition to the war and gaining support. The left cannot allow itself to be tied to the warmongering liberals in supporting more arms at the expense of public services.

That’s why Ukraine and Gaza, and Lebanon which is increasingly threatened by Israel, have to be on the ballot for July 4th.

The contradictions of Labour’s success

The story this election is of Tory collapse as Rishi Sunak staggers to the finish line, which gives Labour a very big majority. But it is obvious that ‘neither of the above’ is a widespread sentiment, as smaller parties vie for disaffected votes. Reform is predicted to get two MPs, Farage and Lee Anderson, who will use their positions to spout their racist ideas. But there are also spaces to the left in varying degrees.

The Greens will almost certainly win Bristol Central and are talking about winning two Tory held seats in rural areas, as well as their existing Brighton seat. While I have many reservations about their politics, and they are particularly bad on Nato and Ukraine, they can be pressured from the left and will raise opposition to Starmer. So too will the left independents – obviously Jeremy Corbyn but also others who might be able to overcome the major disadvantages of the two party first past the post system (although we shouldn’t underestimate the difficulties here).

The Welsh nationalists Plaid Cymru also hope to win one or two more seats, and the SNP although down on the last election may maintain a fair number of seats. All are to the left of Labour on key issues.

We are likely to see a Labour landslide on the smallest ever proportion of the vote for a winning party – probably smaller than Jeremy Corbyn’s in 2017. That will itself create a rapid series of political crises, not least renewed demands for proportional representation. Starmer’s brutal treatment of the left may come back to haunt him in the coming months, as he has lost so many activists and so much political capital. That may be why he said last week that Jeremy Corbyn would have made a better prime minister than Boris Johnson.

No mainstream politician is talking about how they are going to fix the huge problems of British society: child poverty, low pay, an untenable housing crisis, the NHS in tatters. They will be incapable of dealing with them at parliamentary level so political discontent will grow. The right is organising – after the election the left has to build opposition to Labourism and acceptance of neoliberalism on a much wider scale if it is going to present answers to the crisis.

This week: I will be speaking at a north London Counterfire meeting on Tuesday and will be joined by the local independent candidate, Nandita Lal, who is standing against David Lammy. I will be also helping to organise anti-war campaigners to support Jeremy Corbyn, and hopefully others such as Andrew Feinstein, Leanne Mohamad and Michael Lavalette in Preston. Get in contact if you can join us. And at the weekend I will be on a canal boat, trying to also pay attention to the election.

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Lindsey German

As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.

Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.