Jet fighters flying over Libya. Photo: Flickr/ Metziker Jet fighters flying over Libya. Photo: Flickr/ Metziker

The imperialist chickens keep on coming home to roost, observes Alastair Stephens in this article republished from the current Counterfire paper

Only 13 MPs – including Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Caroline Lucas voted in 2011 – against British military action in Libya. They – along with the rest of the anti-war movement –  proved yet again to have been conclusively correct in opposing Britain and US military interventions in that region.

Don’t just take our word for it. It was the Tory dominated Foreign Affairs Committee in Parliament that condemned David Cameron for the disaster that has befallen that country. It accused him of pursuing “an opportunistic policy of regime change” – something which they failed to mention is illegal under international law.

The result was “political and economic collapse, inter-militia and inter-tribal warfare, humanitarian and migrant crises, widespread human rights violations, the spread of Gaddafi regime weapons across the region and the growth of ISIS in North Africa.”

It concluded that “former Prime Minister David Cameron was ultimately responsible for the failure to develop a coherent Libya strategy”. Rarely are such damning words said by the establishment by one of their own.

The 557 MPs who voted for this benighted policy should be hanging their heads in shame. It’s not as if there wasn’t form following the debacles bloody in Afghanistan and Iraq. Nor was it a mistake that everyone made, the anti-war movement warned against and campaigned to stop another repeat of those failures.

Particularly shamefaced should be the more than 200 Labour MPs who voted for war in Libya led by then leader Ed Miliband who ran for the top job on the basis that unlike his brother he was unsoiled by the Iraq quagmire.

Some are still shameless, the right’s stalking horse against Corbyn – Angela Eagle – within days of launching her failed leadership bid, defended her support for the intervention in Libya. She also it might be noted voted repeatedly against investigating the Iraq war.


Only last year 66 Labour MPs, including then members of the Shadow Cabinet, voted with the Tories for the bombing of Syria. The star amongst these ‘bombers-for-peace’ was Hilary Benn who made a ridiculous speech, over which the establishment gushed praise, in which amongst other things he summoned up the memory the International Brigades, but he Labour Party’s leadership was no great fan of them at the time.

That Benn was not sacked there and then only meant he was able to plot away on the front bench until he finally being dismissed for organising the chicken coup. This was ultimately defeated, but he saved the Tories form a general election they might well have lost in the midst of their Brexit chaos.

The Labour party’s backing for these recent wars is not a blip for the party has since its establishment supported practically every war this country has been involved in (the only notable exception being Suez). The party also firmly blocked the continuation of the British MP, and it was under Labour that the country first acquired nuclear weapons.

This is because the party has also been wedded to the idea of reform via the state, and never pushing for anything that our rulers haven’t been willing to give. The result has been reforms which have been often been half hearted and which left the establishment as firmly in control as they were before. 

The ruling class’s price for allowing domestic reform has always been Labour’s loyal backing of the state’s imperial posturing.

But all the bombs and aircraft carriers and submarines have not arrested the country’s economic decline. In fact in perpetuating by its imperial delusions it has accelerated it whilst competitors unencumbered by imperial delusions have outpaced the British economy.


The model which both parties subscribed to for so long is broken and is seen to be by all. The economy has stagnated for years whilst all the last decade and a half of humanitarian interventions and nation building has just left failed states across the world.

The public mood has long since turned against the warmongers. Blair is quite rightly the most hated man in British politics, the living embodiment of everything that seems wrong with both Labour and the country.

It was this mood which did so much to propel Corbyn to the leadership of the party.

Millions who now look to him for a different politics. Compromising with a Labour right whose hands are still bloody from Afghanistan, Iraq and  Libya would be to betray them. Just such a deal destroyed the Italian left in 2006, a disaster it has never since recovered from, the vacuum it left being filled by the demagogue Beppe Grillo.

A historic opportunity exists for Labour to break with Blair’s his rotten record and a foreign policy based on belligerence and the backing of despots and dictators. This is not fringe politics, this what the people want. Corbyn must seize the chance.

Alastair Stephens

Alastair Stephens has been a socialist his whole adult life and has been active in Unison and the TGWU. He studied Russian at Portsmouth, Middle East Politics at SOAS and writes regularly for the Counterfire website.

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