Labour 'rebels' show their true colours by refusing to stop supporting Saudi bombing of Yemen argues Lindsey German
The lie repeatedly advanced when politicians make calls for war is that they are doing so in order to advance humanitarian aims. This week’s vote in parliament in which Jeremy Corbyn’s motion on Saudi Arabia was defeated by an alliance of Tories voting for and right wing labour MPs abstaining, blows this argument out of the water. The motion called for withdrawal of support for Saudi Arabia until a UN investigation could say whether the bombing campaign had breached international law. The motion was defeated by 90 votes while over 100 Labour MPs did not vote. It doesn’t take a maths expert to see that had they voted the motion would have been carried and an important blow struck in support of the Yemenis suffering so much in this war.
Saudi Arabia is engaged in a bombing war on a catastrophic scale in Yemen, with, like in Syria, thousands killed, millions displaced and hospitals and schools bombed. It could not be pursuing this war without the sales of arms from the US and UK, and without the massive logistical and political support it receives from those countries.
Yet MPs voted to maintain those links and do nothing to sanction Saudi Arabia or to alleviate this humanitarian disaster. While Russia’s bombing in Syria is rightly met with condemnation for its brutality towards civilians, far less is heard of this war, which is supported to the hilt by the British government.
The vote this week would have seen the government defeated, given the scale of outrage against Saudi Arabia which exists, and which even finds its pale reflection in parliament, were it not for one thing – the abstention of so many Labour MPs. They do so no doubt in part to defy Jeremy Corbyn and the overwhelming majority of Labour members who have elected him twice. But they do it for another reason as well – the Blairite wing of Labour is a central element of the war party.
It made a huge error back in 2003 when voting for war in Iraq, but it can’t give up the habit, despite all the evidence of catastrophe. So the old, familiar faces were notable by their absence or abstention on Wednesday night; John Woodcock, Kevin Barron, John Mann, Jamie Reed, Ivan Lewis, Ian Austin, Anne Clwyd, Tom Watson and Stephen Kinnock. And Nia Griffiths the shadow Defence minister abstained too, which begs the question how she can claim to represent the Shadow Cabinet policy here.
The true colours of these Labour ‘rebels’ were shown by the fact that a number of them criticised shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry during the debate. They clearly agree with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson whose basic argument is that if we weren’t selling them arms someone else would!
The cynical and cruel abstention shows exactly the priorities of these people; to promote military solutions, to back every government foreign policy initiative and to accept that the interests of the arms companies and their customers are also the interests of ordinary people.
They are not. We have nothing to gain from the wars and bloodshed now engulfing so much of the Middle East. But there is also something more sinister going on here. There is a renewed drive to war taking place. The deployment of a larger than expected number British troops as part of the Nato operations in the Baltic states, and the dispatch of more British aircraft to Romania, represent a ratcheting up of conflict with Russia. Couple this with the demand for no fly zones in Syria, and we are looking at further conflicts – conflicts in which Saudi Arabia is absolutely centrally involved.
The abstaining MPs highlighted how seriously they take these questions and how determined they are to promote imperial wars and interventions. No one should be fooled that they have other motivations in mind.
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’.
More articles from this author
- The battle is on: and the left can’t win in Labour - weekly briefing
- The movement that can dump Trump – weekly briefing
- The good, the bad and the ugly – weekly briefing
- The looming danger of a US-China military confrontation
- Boris Johnson, statues and staying in the streets
- Black Lives Matter, the sixties and socialist organisation - video
- A turning point against racism – weekly briefing