Jeremy Corbyn's wide-ranging speech on the threat of global war is a lesson to us all
Jeremy Corbyn’s speech on 12 May on defence and foreign policy was one that you could never have heard from either a Tory or a Blairite politician. He spelt out in the clearest terms what his philosophy was, why he had spent a lifetime opposing military interventions and nuclear weapons, why this was not a denial of human rights but actually support for the human right to live in peace and not be threatened by bombing. The speech and his answers to questions showed a person who has spent a lifetime supporting campaigns for national liberation, against war, in defence of refugees and against injustice.
His knowledge and experience in this area already puts him head and shoulders above most MPs of any party – something that in any half rational society would be seen as an asset, but here is regarded as a sideshow beside what are deemed by the press to be the key questions: would he order a first strike, would he support drone assassination of ISIS leaders, are there really no wars that he would support?
Instead, Corbyn made clear in his speech the seriousness of these questions and why they should not be used as soundbites or cheap political points.
I am often asked if as prime minister I would order the use of nuclear weapons. It’s an extraordinary question when you think about it: would you order the indiscriminate killing of millions of people? Would you risk such extensive contamination of the planet that no life could exist across large parts of the world? It would mean world leaders had already triggered a spiral of catastrophe for humankind.
It is refreshing to hear a potential Prime Minister say this, and to know that he is doing so against a wave of right wing jingoism about his supposed ‘pacifism’. What passes for debate on foreign policy in this country is for the most part a disgrace. It consists of demands to go to war with an almost routine regularity, as Corbyn said this morning, a brief period of supposedly glorious flag waving, followed by near silence about their effects on the people who suffer death, displacement and injury. Worse, those victims of war who become refugees are treated to scapegoating and discrimination, fanned by the same press which has been so keen on the wars in the first place.
These successive wars have been going on during the past four elections, but have never been seriously dealt with. Now we have a chance to debate and discuss what exactly they have achieved, and why the Tories and their friend Trump are so keen on future wars.
Is this likely? I read the article by the BBC defence correspondent on its website after the speech, and these words jumped out at me: ‘He was more critical of the Trump administration than he was of Russia or China…by stressing the role of the UN Security Council he appeared to give Russia and China a veto over any UK decision to use force.’
I know that the BBC has become an annexe of the Tory press office over the elections, but really. This line is a direct echo of the right wing, who seem to regard the UN and international law as inconvenient bastions of liberalism which must be ignored in favour of unilateral intervention.
So expect the press to ignore or distort the many issues that Jeremy Corbyn raised today. But also expect a more serious attempt to deal with these issues than from any other Labour leader previously. We have a straight choice: if you want more war, then Theresa May is your woman. Today, Jeremy Corbyn put a very different alternative forward.
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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