Richard Burgon and Jeremy Corbyn with Stop the War banner Richard Burgon and Jeremy Corbyn with Stop the War banner. Photo: Shabbir Lakha

Starmer is cosying up to the warmongers while the Prime Minister is risking a catastrophic war in Ukraine to deflect attention from his domestic political problems, argues Sean Ledwith

Anybody who thinks Keir Starmer would be a preferable alternative to Johnson or Truss for dealing with the volatile situation in Ukraine is in for a big disappointment.

The Labour Leader is determined to reassure the US and Nato that the UK will remain a blindly obedient member of the Western alliance if he should ever become PM.

Shamefully, the Labour Leader has traduced the Stop the War Coalition for giving “succour to authoritarian leaders who directly threaten democracies”.

In response, Stop the War’s Andrew Murray said,

“Keir Starmer ignores Nato’s actual role over the last 25 years. It is those who supported intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan and Libya who have shown solidarity with the aggressor. Stop the War called those conflicts right when many Labour MPs did not. Keir Starmer would do better to support the French and German governments in the search for a diplomatic solution.”

Starmer delivered this attack on the anti-war movement while becoming the first Labour leader for over ten years to visit Nato HQ in Brussels and matching Boris Johnson in terms of cold war sabre-rattling.

In an interview with The Times, he spells out the change of direction in foreign policy the party has taken since he replaced Jeremy Corbyn. The Labour Leader takes pride in the slavishly pro-Washington heritage of the party and even applauds the current Defence Secretary for supposedly standing up to Moscow:

“The message is that we are firm and united in our support for Nato, that we are reasserting Labour’s history and tradition — the Bevin tradition — of the Labour Party, and making it very, very clear that we don’t just see that as part of our history and tradition. It’s part of our values, as relevant today as it’s ever been. He’s certainly acted in the spirit of cross-party unity on this…I’m absolutely convinced that among the tools in the Russian armoury is divide, divide, divide. The more they sow division, either between us and our allies or within the country, then only Russia benefits from that.”

Falling into line

Starmer’s crass flag-hugging of recent months has obviously encouraged him to fall dutifully into line with the warmongers in Washington, Brussels and London. Nobody should expect him to question the rhetorical charge to war launched by the Tories or to identify relentless eastward expansion by Nato as the root of this precarious stand-off.

Nato leaders are engaged in a dangerous brinkmanship with Russia to reconstruct the dented legitimacy of their outdated organisation in the wake of last year’s humiliating exit from Afghanistan.

In stark and necessary contrast, Starmer’s predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn, addressed a Stop the War rally on Thursday evening in a plea for sanity and an end to the unhinged battle cries of Johnson and Truss.

Johnson’s dangerous game

Boris Johnson’s craven desire to cling onto power knows no bounds and even includes stoking up the tension on the Ukraine border if he thinks it will help. On Thursday Johnson was posturing at Nato HQ in a desperate and transparent attempt to deflect attention from the seemingly endless revelations about his lockdown-busting antics over the past couple of years.

Standing alongside Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg, the Prime Minister could not restrain himself from indulging in doom-laden Russophobic rhetoric about conflict and war that he cynically calculates will drive awkward pictures of him standing next to an uncorked bottle of champagne at one of his Downing Street shindigs off the front pages. Johnson warns us:

“This is probably the most dangerous moment. I would say that in the course of the next few days, in what is the biggest security crisis that Europe has faced for decades and we’ve got to get it right….I know that in the Kremlin and across Russia they must be wondering whether it is really sensible to expend the blood of Russian soldiers in a war that I think would be catastrophic.”

Arch opportunist

Johnson is right to the extent that it is incredibly dangerous for Europe to have a blundering and reckless gambler like him at the helm of a nuclear-armed state during a period of heightened diplomatic tension. The arch opportunist of modern British politics has not missed any ploy in his effort to shift the agenda away from both his appalling conduct during the Covid crisis and his venal slander about Keir Starmer and Jimmy Savile.

Apart from his blood-curdling bombast, Johnson has dispatched almost an extra thousand British troops to a Nato battlegroup in Estonia, 350 Royal Marines to Poland, RAF Typhoons to Romania and two battleships to the Eastern Mediterranean. Johnson’s pathetic Churchill-tribute act could not be worse timed as the US similarly ramps up the confrontational rhetoric and military build-up in Eastern Europe.

Black or Baltic Sea?

If the spectacle of Johnson grandstanding on the global stage amid superpower tension was not ominous enough, we also have the equally terrifying sight of his hare-brained Foreign Secretary Liz Truss in Moscow, berating her Russian counterpart in unhelpfully antagonistic tones. The fact that we currently have a person heading the Foreign Office who is unaware of the difference between the Black and Baltic Seas does not inspire confidence the current crisis will be resolved neatly.

It is easy to sympathise with the Russian foreign minister who described his meeting with Truss as “a bit like talking to a deaf person. It’s like they’re listening to us, but not hearing.”

Like her boss, Truss is calibrating the personal political advantage to be gained at home by being seen by gung-ho Tory backbenchers to talk tough to the Russians; in her case the opportunity to replace Johnson in the still feasible event of his imminent political demise.

Johnson’s attempt to distract from the deepening hole he finds himself in domestically, and Starmer’s attempt to signal his return to Blairism and being a safe pair of hands for the establishment are being done at the risk of global security and with complete disregard for the people of Ukraine who are urging calm. It should be of no doubt for any socialist that the main enemy is at home and that we must focus our efforts on stopping the warmongers in Westminster.

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Sean Ledwith

Sean Ledwith is a Counterfire member and Lecturer in History at York College, where he is also UCU branch negotiator. Sean is also a regular contributor to Marx and Philosophy Review of Books and Culture Matters