Corbyn’s internationalism eroded

News & SocietyPolitics

  • Author George Tsolakis
  • Published April 21, 2021
  • Word count 577

The former Labour leader's popular views on foreign policy have been side-lined and significantly eroded by the party's new leadership. Peace and anti-war campaigners must unite in opposition to this.

Under Jeremy Corbyn's leadership in the 2017 and 2019 general elections, Labour's position on foreign policy stemmed from the notion of ending the 'bomb first, talk later' approach and aimed at putting human rights and international law before “humanitarian” military interventions, by truly prioritising the security of people. From 2015 to 2020 with Corbyn at the wheel, the Opposition posed a real threat to Britain’s warmongering, establishment foreign policy.

The current Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, campaigned to (in many respects) retain the party's foreign policy positions adopted under his predecessor. During his leadership campaign, Starmer had pledged, "No more illegal wars. Introduce a Prevention of Military Intervention Act and put human rights at the heart of foreign policy. Review all UK arms sales and make us a force for international peace and justice." He did therefore have some inclination towards Corbyn's policies and was in fact against the Iraq war which he called unlawful, back in March 2003.

However, in an attempt to be seem as more "electable" and "attractive" to non-traditional Labour voters, Starmer is quietly abandoning what he previously stood for. Since becoming leader, Sir Keir has distanced himself from Corbyn's foreign policy views by appointing war hawks John Healey and Wayne David as Shadow Secretary of State for Defence and Shadow Minister of State for the MENA, respectively. Both Healey and David have a long track record of consistently voting for the Iraq war and against investigations into it, as well as almost always voting for the use of UK military forces in operations overseas.

In terms of putting "human rights at the heart of foreign policy", Keir Starmer has clearly not kept his promise. He ordered Labour MPs not to oppose the Tories’ Overseas Operations Bill – a piece of legislation which effectively makes it legal for British troops to use torture against their opponents. Starmer then also sacked three members of the Shadow Cabinet – Nadia Whittome, Beth Winter and Olivia Blake – for breaking the party whip by voting against the bill.

In addition, Starmer has backtracked on Labour’s policy towards Kashmir by refusing to support the right to self-determination for the Kashmiri people. The Labour leader has also refused to support the party's previous policy of sanctions against Israel if they break international law by annexing more occupied Palestinian territories.

To add insult to injury, in a speech Starmer gave to the Fabian Society in January, he iterated Labour's support of re-establishing the unconditional Atlanticism policy of the party, something Corbyn had challenged. What struck me the most was the fact that there was absolutely no mention of the ongoing wars and instability in the Middle-East and North Africa, which have their roots in the Atlanticist interventions of the West. Starmer failed to mention any pressing issues because he seeks to re-build a "special relationship" with the US and current president Joe Biden.

If Starmer's leadership simply means a return to Blair's 'New Labour' policies of unconditionally supporting the dangerous imperialist policies of the US, that would be disastrous for the party. Peace and anti-war campaigners have a role to play in advocating for everything that Labour stood for under Corbyn. 'Stop the War' does remain the most popular political campaign amongst Labour Party members and is definitely a group to build mass mobilisation around.

Young international peace, anti-war and justice campaigner.

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