Commentary on global affairs and where they may be headed

Posts tagged ‘Labour’

Corbyn’s foreign policy: the radical change?

Forget the media labels “far-left” or “hard-left”, in terms of economic policy is the new Labour leader any more to the left than say George Osborne or Boris Johnson are to the right?

Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-austerity ideas are in many ways quite conventional Keynesian economics not that far removed from those advocated by the Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman.

Where Corbyn holds views that are a more obvious break with both past British governments and his own Labour Party is in foreign policy. In this sense it’s not surprising it was disagreements in this area that led several former shadow ministers to refuse to serve under him.

Barring the three years when Michael Foot led the party in the early 1980s, since 1945 Labour has been led by Atlanticists who see close relations with the US, the possession of nuclear weapons and membership of NATO and the EU as central to Britain’s place in the world.

Corbyn has been compared with Foot, but it’s hard to imagine him making the speech Foot did supporting British military action over the Falklands in 1982. His role in the Stop The War coalition opposing military interventions abroad and his advocacy of withdrawal from NATO makes comparisons with George Lansbury, the pacifist who led the party between 1932 and 1935, more apposite.

And even if he never makes it into government, as Leader of the Opposition his approach to foreign policy matters.

Through parliamentary debates and votes he can have a direct influence on policy as his predecessor Ed Miliband showed when he opted to vote against military action in Syria in 2013.

Also, as the main spokesperson for the UK’s main opposition party his positions on the international issues of the day will influence perceptions of Britain in the world.

The three areas where Corbyn is likely to have influence in the next few years are the main ones in Prime Minister Cameron’s in-tray: the renegotiation of Britain’s EU membership and subsequent referendum; the decision whether or not to replace Britain’s Trident nuclear weapons; and if British forces should join the US-led military action against Islamic State in Syria.

During his leadership campaign, Jeremy Corbyn told journalists he had voted to leave what was then the EEC in the 1975 referendum and he sent out mixed signals about his approach to the next vote, which could be held as early as next year.

But since his victory Corbyn’s position has come under intense scrutiny and he has committed to campaign for Britain to remain a member.

As he laid out in a Financial Times Op Ed, his misgivings about today’s EU are based on its approach to economic policy which he identifies, quite correctly, as dominated by neo-liberal ideas. He wants to see greater protection for social and employment rights and will push Cameron to include these in his renegotiation.

This is counter to the agenda the Prime Minister is currently pursuing. So if Cameron gets most of what he wants in his renegotiation and recommends a ‘’Yes” vote, it could put Labour in a tricky position.

Corbyn’s FT article gives a clue to his likely approach to the vote. He implies Labour would also campaign for a “Yes” while at the same time promising to renegotiate a better deal when they return to power.

If that is the position he takes, it risks not only being a confusing message, but is also likely to be regarded as unrealistic given Britain’s EU partners, having just finished a painful renegotiation with Cameron, will be highly unlikely to agree to an incoming Labour government’s request for yet more special treatment for the UK.

On Syria, Cameron has already announced a drone was used to kill two British citizens fighting with IS who, he said, were a direct threat to the UK, but full-scale air strikes would have to get parliamentary approval.

Here Corbyn will have some sway.

If the government opts to take action, the Labour leader has made clear he will oppose it. The SNP would also vote against. So the result would hinge on how many Labour MPs broke ranks with their leader to back Cameron and how many Tories rebel against the government – in 2013, remember, thirty of his own MPs defied the Prime Minister on Syria. The final tally could depend on how well Corbyn argues the case against action to the House of Commons.

Then there’s the final decision on the replacement of Trident, expected to be made next year.

When Britain opted to replace Polaris with Trident in 1980, Cold War tensions were high following the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan and public opinion was not persuaded by opponents like the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and other activists.

This time public opinion seems more divided and polls where the people are told how much it would cost have shown majorities against replacement.

Cameron almost certainly has the votes in parliament, including some on the Labour side who would defy Corbyn if he whips the vote. But the platform the Labour leader now has to oppose the decision could help increase public opposition by galvanising a wider debate on the utility and affordability of nuclear weapons as well as the benefit Britain gets out of having them and could potentially reap from giving them up.

One other area where Corbyn has strong views is over Israel-Palestine, where he is a long-time critic of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Two years ago, Labour MPs led a symbolic vote in parliament to recognise Palestinian independence and the new leader can be expected to call for Britain to follow fellow EU member Sweden in officially recognising Palestine.

As things stand, it’s unlikely Cameron will take such action given his record of support for Israel, but another Israeli assault on Gaza or widespread unrest in the West Bank leading to violent Israeli repression could change that calculus.

All told, if the new Labour leader can broaden the appeal of his views on Britain’s role in the world among his parliamentary colleagues and the public, he could have an unexpected influence on UK foreign policy.

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May 7th 2015: another step on the road to Scottish independence?

Last September’s Scottish independence referendum was meant to give a definitive answer to the Scottish Question.

At least that was the hope of opponents of an independent Scotland.

If anyone needed proof, the campaign for the UK general election has shown that was a false hope with the Scottish National Party set to become the third largest party at Westminster and hold the balance of power there.

Not only that, but the way the main UK parties have fought the campaign in Scotland and the possible outcomes of the election will edge the country further on down the road to independence.

Over the past few weeks, the Conservatives have portrayed the SNP – and by implication their voters – as thieves in order to try to appeal to English resentment of their supposed subsidy of Scotland.

As for Labour, in order to blunt Tory accusations that a Prime Mininster Miliband would be in the SNP’s pocket, it says it would not do any deals with the Nationalists even if they do hold the balance at Westminister.

Insulting people or implying their votes can be disregarded if they are cast for the ‘wrong’ party is likely to alienate even many who voted “No” last autumn.

With next Thursday’s election highly unlikely to yield any party an overall majority, its messy aftermath will also bolster the factors making Scotland’s eventual independence more likely, whoever ends up in Downing St – be it Ed Miliband or David Cameron.

If Labour emerge as the largest party – the bookies’ current favourite scernario – it will almost certainly need the support of SNP MPs to survive in office.

So far Mr Miliband has ruled out any deals, largely to try neutralise Conservative accusations that he would be a hostage to the Scottish Nationalists.

He has rejected offers to join forces to keep David Cameron out of Downing Street from SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon, who has proved a formidable campaigner and debater and – given she is an incumbent First Minister – has impressed by increasing her already considerable personal popularity ratings.

But if the choice lies between taking office and making concessions to the SNP, will Ed Miliband really risk passing on the opportunity to be Prime Minister and give Mr Cameron a chance to form a government?

Some commentators have argued SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon, has weakened her leverage over Labour by ruling out supporting David Cameron.

However, if Mr Miliband refused any concessions, he would risk losing even more support in Scotland and he knows that to have a hope of winning a majority at Westminster ever again his party needs to win back its former voters there – especially in its old heartland in and around Glasgow.

As Scotland’s biggest city Glasgow – and its surrounding towns – has been the key to the tilt towards independence and the SNP’s current popularity there should not come as a surprise to anyone who knows anything about Scottish politics.

The Party has gradually been eroding Labour’s hold on the city for many years and last September it was one of the few areas where a majority voted for independence.

Many Labour voters were disgusted their party joined with the Conservatives to oppose independence and are in no mood to forgive so they have moved over to the SNP, which not only advocates independence, but is also a left of centre party opposing cuts to health and welfare spending – seemingly more sincerely than Labour.

This fundamental shift in the political landscape could take on the proportions of continental drift if a large cohort of SNP MPs is returned to Westminster and the main parties refuse to talk to them.

It is very possible Scottish voters would conclude that despite the plans to give greater powers to the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood, their votes are looked on as worth less than those of people in the rest of the UK.

So how does this help moves to independence given Ms Sturgeon has said this election is not about getting a mandate for a second referendum?

One course would be to continue the momentum set since 1999 of the gradual accretion of more powers for the Scottish Parliament which – according to proposals agreed by all parties after the referendum – is about to gain more say over tax and spending.

If Holyrood were to end up with de facto control over all domestic affairs and show it could manage just fine, it would take away a lot of the risk that deterred many from opting for independence last September.

At that point, the SNP could turn to the Scottish people and say: “we run our own affairs anyway, so why not take the next step and become formally independent?” It is this approach I suspect has been the SNP’s long-term strategy all along.

The other possible route to independence could open up if the Conservatives are in a position to form another coalition or minority government and it is not Ed Miliband moving into No 10, but David Cameron staying put.

This means there will be a referendum on whether the UK should leave the EU in 2017 – or even sooner if Mr Cameron has to do a deal with UKIP to stay in power.

If the result of this vote were to be to leave, but a majority of Scots had elected to stay in, the SNP is likely to argue that justifies another referendum on Scottish independence.

Nicola Sturgeon has already called on the other parties to agree that any decision to leave the EU would need to be endorsed by a majority in all four constituent nations of the UK. The Conservatives are not likely to agree to that, but would also find it hard to oppose another vote on independence if a majority of Scots had opted to stay in the EU.

Scotland has been the bright spot in a generally dull election campaign, but the result is going to be another thing altogether – we are in for a fascinating ride over the next few weeks.

The deals and decisions made – and not made – are very likely to carry us closer to the dissolution of the UK.

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