Journalist Owen Jones. Photo: Wikipedia Journalist Owen Jones. Photo: Wikipedia

Owen Jones is wrong to compare Corbyn’s foreign policy to that of Ed Miliband, writes Lindsey German

There are some who don’t seem to be able to distinguish Jeremy Corbyn’s policies from those of his predecessor as Labour leader, Ed Miliband. Not clear why this should be difficult: the austerity policies, the anti immigration mug, the acceptance of market ideology, albeit of a ‘gentler’ kind? But there should be one area at least where there can be little doubt about the differences. Which is why it’s surprising to see Owen Jones, in his rather peremptory list of questions for Jeremy Corbyn supporters to answer, trying to assert that Miliband and Corbyn share the same foreign policy.

Both opposed the Iraq war. Both opposed the bombing of Syria back in 2013. Well maybe, but let’s look at this a little more closely.

Ed Miliband was not in parliament in 2003 so didn’t have to vote for or against the war. Maybe, as he says, he genuinely did oppose it. But at a time when an estimated 30 million around the world marched in a positive statement against the war, including 2 million in this country, there isn’t a record of him having done so. Jeremy Corbyn, on the other hand, spoke at the first meeting of the Stop the War Coalition in 2001, was instantly critical of the September 2002 dossier with its WMD claims, and helped lead the parliamentary opposition to the war in March 2003.

Opposition to the war on terror is part of his DNA. It follows from decades of opposing militarism and wars. Corbyn has never been afraid to be unpopular in speaking up for dozens of causes where he has found himself on the wrong side of British imperialism. He isn’t an MP who would say he might not have voted for war, he wasn’t convinced about war, that if he knew then what he knew now he wouldn’t have voted for war. Millions knew then or at least we predicted what we know now. We expected MPs to listen to us not follow blindly behind Tony Blair, and Jeremy Corbyn was one of the most consistent in leading this anti war opposition.

What of Syria? Miliband’s leadership opposed the bombing of Syria in 2013 almost in spite of itself. It had no principled objection to such Bombing but thought it might be the wrong tactic unless more safeguards were met. On the night, the vote narrowly went against Cameron, who was forced to abandon any such plan, as was Obama only days later. Miliband was almost apologetic about all this, and determined not to make the same mistake again when he supported the British Bombing of Iraq only a year later. He has also backed the bombing of Libya in 2011.

A pattern is kind of emerging here. Corbyn opposed all these foreign policy interventions, arguing that they would all produce disastrous results. Miliband supported half of them, defeated the government by chance in one and sat out the greatest disaster, the Iraq war.

Politicians in modern times have convinced themselves that wars are popular, and that people forget them quickly if they go wrong. Iraq proved them wrong. We are now told only someone who didn’t vote for the Iraq war can lead Labour. Owen Smith is a convenient figure because he didn’t have the chance to vote for it (although the person he advised did). The truth is that a major reason for Corbyn’s immense popularity among the members is that he opposed these wars, not on opportunist reasons but because he objected to them on principle. It’s called leadership.  

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’.

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