There is a day-long debate in the British House of Commons today on the Cameron government’s motion to send the Royal Air Force to drop bombs in Syria. The Opposition Leader, Jeremy Corbyn has stood against the rush to war, but has backed down from forcing all party members to vote against the Government. Is this a tactic, or is Corbyn on the same slippery slope that Obama took, “progressively” backing away from campaign promises?
Jeremy Barack Corbyn?
It is hard to read Jeremy Corbyn. Chosen by the rank and file to lead the British Labour party in opposition to David Cameron’s Tories, he has made repeated compromises that smack of Obama’s early days. Elected in early September on a principled stand against militarism, against government austerity, for collective action vs. the power of the elite, and a principled foreign policy, he brought in a shadow cabinet with a few left- wingers like John McDonnell, but mostly populated by far less-principled establishment Labour politicians.
Although elected in a very open Labour party general election (purported to have been infiltrated by the Right in hopes of undermining Labour by electing a “nut” like Corbyn), he lacks support from many Labour Members of Parliament (MPs). In contrast with the strong rank and file support, the traditionally Labour-friendly Independent and Guardian newspapers have joined the press chorus predicting his doom at every turning.
Across the board, the press seems to delight in questioning Corbyn’s every stance, and his ability to “control” his party. When McDonnell comically read a passage from Mao’s Little Red Book during Prime Minister’s Questions in Parliament to taunt Cameron, who only last month was cosying up to the Chinese for investment in UK nuclear power, the press universally missed the irony and instead, preferred to focus on the supposed dangers of a Shadow Chancellor familiar with Mao’s writing.
Now Corbyn’s leadership is once again “in question,” at least in the media, because he has “stepped back” from a commitment to force Labour to vote as a block against the Government’s mad scheme to join the scrum in Syria. Has Corbyn lost his nerve… and lost control of his party? Is he about to pull an Obama, who, as newly minted Nobel Peace Prize winner went on to extend the self-destructive wars in Afganistan and Iraq, before intermittent bombing campaigns throughout the Middle East?
Corbyn may be Labour’s Obama, but it seems more likely that he is biding his time, giving the Blair-ite branch of the Party the opportunity to isolate themselves. If Corbyn had insisted on “whipping the vote” on UK intervention in Syria, i.e. forcing Labour MPs to vote en bloc against the Government, then he would have given very convenient cover to the party’s right wing. By being forced to vote against intervention, they would, in fact, be supporting the will of the overwhelming majority of rank and file Labour members who are against this Tory adventure. Now, however, without the threat of the whip, they have to show their hands.
The internal Labour opposition fought tooth and nail over the weekend to keep Corbyn from stating in the Commons debate that the official Party position is against intervention. They may have won that battle, formally, but Corbyn has made Party policy very clear. He seems ready for battle, but not in the way Obama was, i.e. dropping bombs on shadowy criminals in far off deserts, but right in the Commons, against not only the nasties in the Tory Party, but their fellow travelers on the Labour front bench. Corbyn exhibits a calm determination. He claims to be having the time of his life. The forces aligned against him are massive. It is a battle a long time in coming, but for once, hopefully, instead of spilling real blood, it will only be the crocodile tears of Labour war apologists.
Update (12/3/2015): Parliament voted to authorize military strikes against ISIS, generating this remarkable headline and short description from my New York Times news feed:
By STEVEN ERLANGER and STEPHEN CASTLE
The outcome underscored the concerted efforts of Prime Minister David Cameron to restore Britain’s reputation as a serious global actor (emphasis added).
So: the way for a leader “to restore” his country’s “reputation as a serious global actor” is to launch bombing raids against elusive targets, raids that are almost certainly guaranteed to kill innocents. And this wisdom comes from the “liberal” New York Times.
Serious leaders bomb. Unserious ones seek means other than bombing and killing. There you have it, America. All the news that’s fit to print. WJ Astore