Jeremy Corbyn: Britain’s Obama?


Stuart Lyle

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:

British Jets Hit ISIS in Syria After Parliament Authorizes Strikes


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 

12 thoughts on “Jeremy Corbyn: Britain’s Obama?

  1. The UK has to be seen as standing with France after the Paris attacks, meaning (sadly) a predictably bellicose response. Calls for pursuing a less militarized approach are politically perilous. So Corbyn has to play his cards right. If he’s too critical of military action, he runs the risk of being condemned as pusillanimous — another Neville Chamberlain — or even as disloyal.

    From my three years in England (under PM John Major), I recall a conservative streak that rivaled that of the USA. Conservative mostly in foreign policy, I’d add. A distrust of Europe (hence the maintenance of the British pound), and of course the vestiges of a superior attitude toward the rest of the world. The British may have lost an empire, but they haven’t fully lost their imperiousness.

    Broadly speaking, I think the Labour Party speaks to British attitudes toward social fairness (of a sort), e.g. socialized medicine, education, and so on. The Tories are more aligned with British attitudes toward outsiders, who must be kept in line while being civilized. Or killed when they resist. Think James Bond.

    In the current post-Paris climate, the Tories have the advantage.

    • “… “post-[ ]*, post-[ ]*, post-[ ]* … etc., etc., etc., ad nauseum, ad infinitum ..,

      Note * [ ] = “fill in the blank”

      Pardon me, but I object to assigning some sort of putative historical significance to yet another tedious — and transient — two-day news headline about yet another terrorist incident in the so-called, self-centered “West,” when every day, week, month, and year now, the so-called and self-centered “West” perpetrates horrendous death, maiming, and homelessness on foreign peoples who have done nothing to deserve such monumentally criminal aggression. If I may put the same thoughts in a slightly different, but related, way” the word “current” preceding the prefix “post-” has about as much currency — i.e., value — as the latest headline about the currently favorite film ingenue’s prominent breasts and/posterior. We have heard it all before, and we will hear it all again shortly.

      So what?

      • I recommend the Republic of Ireland! Seriously. You wouldn’t have to move very far, and you’d be in a country that, per capita, probably leads or is close to leading the world in the humanitarian aid–as opposed to troops and military hardware–they export to the rest of the globe. Why, I’d be there right now myself if I had the money to relocate.

      • Hello! I only just saw this – I haven’t used WordPress very much up until now. I get overwhelmed by all the ways and forums to blog/message etc. Yes – I love the Republic of Ireland – and lived there for 2 years! The winters…bbbrrrr…not for the faint-hearted!

  2. Please permit me to excerpt, slightly rephrase, and take cordial issue with the following concept ;

    “… battle, … in the way [of] Obama … i.e. dropping bombs on shadowy criminals in far off deserts.”

    Since President Obama knows little and cares less about the identities of his victims (foreign or domestic), their alleged “criminality” — unlike his own — remains undemonstrated. Therefore, I suggest that the single word “shadows” will do nicely for the nebulous targets against which President Obama wages pointless, reckless, ruinous “battle.” As I wrote in my poem Congenital Stockholm Syndrome (Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2011):

    “… The little brown men that he’s murdered
    In homes far away from our land
    Bring profits obscene to his backers
    Who give him the back of their hand.

    Obama seeks praise from the vicious
    Republicans, no matter what.
    He suffers, apparently, nothing
    So much as his need to kiss butt.”

    I don’t know enough about British politics to say whether or not Jeremy Corbyn suffers from the same internalized intimidation vis-a-vis the Tories as does Barak Obama in respect to the Republican neocons who infest his administration. Still, if the British Labor Party contains the same sort of Tony Blair faction as the U.S. Corporate Democratic Party has right-wing Clintonites, then I’d pretty much consign Jeremy Corbyn to the whipped and beaten Barak Obama type of faux “liberal.” As former U.S. President Bill Clinton once boasted: “I have always defended President George W. Bush against the Left on Iraq.” So, if the British Labor Party contains a significant number of “liberals” like Bill Clinton or Barak Obama, I would not put much faith in its chances of steering England away from America’s disastrous economic and foreign policies.

  3. In vain, I doth fear, I cast a prayer upon the breezes that Mr. Corbyn should turn out closer to the Eugene V. Debs end of the spectrum than the Obama end. Yes, we have seen this movie far too many times. When the excrement hits the fan, liberals cringe and get in line with the war makers. Thus did most of Europe’s supposed Socialists vigorously wave their own ruling classes’ (i.e. “nation’s”) flags as soon as World War One broke out. Looks like the UK’s Socialists are well housebroken indeed. These poseurs offer no real hope whatsoever for the working class. But this isn’t a new development. Pete Townshend and other socially conscious British rockers were onto them decades ago, penning ballads of cynicism toward their domestic politics like “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”

    • My reply to the optimistic Pete Townsend and the Who:

      “…remarkable, considering how long the war lasted and how intensely it was reported and commented upon, that there are really not very many lessons from our experience in Vietnam that can be usefully applied elsewhere …” — Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in a 1975 memo to President Gerald Ford (quoted by Andrew Bacevich in Washington Rules)

      In other words:

      Let’s Already Do It Again

      Let’s already do it again
      Let’s write with no ink in the pen
      On the paper no trace of the egg on our face
      Let’s already do it again

      Let’s start on our very next loss
      With a coin and some dice and a toss
      Let’s forget this here game where we’ve come up so lame
      The next time around we’ll be boss

      Let’s hurry to do it again
      With the chorus still shouting “Amen!”
      Before we can think of the fact that we stink
      Let’s pour on the perfume and then…

      Let’s you and him get in a fight
      Then we’ll get involved for a night
      Helping out here and there, we’ll of course gladly share
      What was yours that we’ve “earned” with our might

      The brass needs a billet or two
      And some soldiers in order to screw
      A few jumbo jets and they’ve got no regrets
      Not with CNN asking their view

      They “can do,” you see, though they can’t
      Rhetorically venting their rant
      They talk a good show then the battle they slow
      Making “long time” the footprint they plant

      A “journey,” they say, not a “race”
      Attempting to save naked face
      In four* years and more, they’ve produced a “long war”
      Of their “victory” — no sign or trace

      Let’s unlearn our history now
      And not ask about why or how
      While still sort of numb and sufficiently dumb
      Let’s not any learning allow

      We failed in Vietnam before
      Despite all the blood, guts, and gore
      Yet no fortune’s vast for our leadership caste
      To squander on warbucks galore

      A syndrome we need to construct
      To conceal the true fact that we’re fucked
      Our governing group has just stepped in the poop
      Now they’ve got to deny that they’ve sucked

      We need war to prop up the few
      Who really have nothing to do
      Their lack of a skill means that others must kill
      To produce all the “metrics” they skew

      The Worst and the Dullest, they paint
      Every failure with their smell and taint
      In a rut or a groove, they have set out to prove
      What Tweedledee said “isn’t” ain’t

      We’ve got the worst leadership team:
      A truly mad, nightmarish scream
      But screwing the pooch while a backside they smooch
      To them seems like just a wet dream

      Wherever they came from, who knows?
      Incompetence in them just grows
      They get us bombed stiff then they jump off a cliff
      Demonstrating what already shows

      We just hung a man in Iraq
      Once gone, though, we can’t get him back
      Now without any rope, down the slippery slope
      Our excuses get ever more slack

      They talk of a “spike” and a “surge”
      All to cover a fear and an urge
      They’ve shot our last wad, now they’ve left it to “GAWD”
      To figure out where next to splurge

      They’ve had all the time that they need
      To knock off the bullshit and screed
      With their flat learning curve, they’ve one hell of a nerve
      To demand more sick bodies to bleed

      This ain’t good and it’s got to stop
      Whatever they try at they flop
      If left at the helm they’ll just wreck the whole realm
      In planting their dragon’s teeth crop

      So let us dismiss these vile men
      Now mainly less rooster than hen
      Before they can blow what at sundown they crow:
      “Let’s already do it again!”

      Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2007

      Note * — the “four years” in 2007 has now stretched into fourteen years with no end in sight as of 2015. As George Orwell wrote in 1984: “All that mattered was that war should exist.” How easily the fooling still remains. The Parliament of Airstrip One — i.e., England — has just voted, I understand, to increase from six to eight the number of British planes bombing Syria without either the invitation of the Syrian government or a mandate from the United Nations — as required by international law and ratified treaties. Oh, how “exceptional” those vaunted Western “values.”

      • Wow, I’d never even seen that quote from ‘Henry the K’! It’s really an aspect of imperial hubris: “Hey, we killed and maimed and poisoned a few million people and were militarily defeated nevertheless…but by gawd, we didn’t learn a damned thing!” Americans are so arrogantly proud to be ignorant! (Though Kissinger, of course, is supposedly a brilliant individual, a shining star of the elite.) And the ignorant and bigoted have a new champion now in the person of Donald Trump. In the wake of the event in San Bernardino, CA we can expect him to ride a new wave of popularity. And you know, he just may be the perfect leader to take this country down into the crapper for keeps. I just don’t relish at all still being a citizen of this country if he ascends to the White House. Perhaps I can take up a collection to fund my emigration? Just a thought…

  4. Wonder what Corbyn would say to a comparison with Obama? His answer might tell a lot.

    During the House of Commons debate over whether to join the bombing of Syria Corbyn made several points worth mention. He questioned the efficacy of bombing in the first place, pointing to the bombing-created messes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, & Syria. Corbyn suggested that the death, destruction, and suffering (noting lost homes & refugees) caused by bombing was counterproductive towards a needed diplomatic-political solution. The importance of figuring out how to cut off ISIL funding (partly oil revenue) and the transfer of weapons was stressed.

    I don’t know who this guy is any more than I knew Obama. But at least he doesn’t give me the creeps like that Cameron guy.

    • Per CNN (take with appropriate grains of salt) the UK fighter-bombers immediately targeted “Daish” crude oil assets! Had the price of crude not slumped about 67% from its peak of a few summers ago I don’t think this would be done! Oil is so “cheap” now (though the impact of its combustion is anything but cheap for our ecosphere) the Western powers don’t mind blowing it up. Strange times we are indeed dwelling in.

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