Jeremy Corbyn's long-held views ought to become Labour policy
The Tories are in a mess. The government’s crisis recently deepened when all three major foreign policy ministries became embroiled in scandal.
Michael Fallon was forced to resign as defence secretary amid a mounting crisis over sexual harassment claims affecting a significant number of Tory MPs. His replacement - Gavin Williamson - proved to be a highly controversial and divisive appointment among Tory MPs.
Boris Johnson made a serious mistake relating to a British woman imprisoned in Iran, making reckless and insensitive comments putting her at greater risk. Priti Patel was forced out of her role as international development secretary after revelations that she used a ‘holiday’ to secretly hold a dozen meetings with Israeli officials, with reports that she wanted UK international aid money to be given to the brutal Israeli Defence Force.
All of this was an open goal for Labour. Yet Labour’s response was muted and mixed. Labour front bench politicians proved remarkably reticent about the big political issues raised by these episodes.
This is especially true of Palestine. The Patel scandal was not merely a matter of a Tory minister failing to follow the correct procedures, or of a failure of communication in the government. It drew attention to the grubby relationship between the UK and Israel, characterised by arms deals, business links and near-uncritical support for the Israeli apartheid state.
Labour politicians could have used this as a chance to condemn the Tories’ active support for Israeli apartheid and call for a different approach. This would be consistent with Jeremy Corbyn’s decades-long support for justice for Palestine. But this was made impossible by the pro-Israeli sympathies of key figures in the Opposition.
Emily Thornberry, shadow foreign secretary, made a speech at a dinner celebrating the centenary of the Balfour Declaration (attended by the prime ministers of both Britain and Israel), where she declared Labour’s unstinting loyalty to Israel. A week later, at exactly the moment when Patel was forced from office, Thornberry was in Israel, meeting senior officials as part of a Labour Friends of Israel delegation.
Labour ought to be hitting the Tories hard right now. That requires having a much better - more distinctive, more coherent - foreign policy than at present. Jeremy Corbyn’s own long-held views need to become Labour policy: scrap Trident, withdraw from Nato, cut military spending. And it means standing up to Israel - committing to real support for the Palestinians instead of strengthening alliances with Israeli politicians.
Alex Snowdon is a Counterfire activist in Newcastle. He is active in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Stop the War Coalition and the National Education Union.
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