Monthly Archives: October 2015

A deviation from the mainstream? Jeremy Corbyn’s foreign policy positions and public opinion

A deviation from the mainstream? Jeremy Corbyn’s foreign policy positions and public opinion
by Ian Sinclair
Open Democracy
13 October 2015

In a recent blog for the Political Studies Association James Strong, a Fellow in Foreign Policy Analysis and International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science, argues:

“A quick perusal of [the new Labour Party leader Jeremy] Corbyn’s track record on foreign and defence policy issues highlights three key areas where his views deviate from the mainstream, over NATO, military intervention and the Trident nuclear weapons system.”

Strong goes on to flesh out his thesis, comparing polling data to Corbyn’s positions on a number of foreign policy questions including the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the 2011 intervention in Libya, the 2013 plan to attack Syria, the bombing of Iraq that started in 2014 and Trident.

As Strong’s argument echoes much of the media coverage of Corbyn, it is worth taking some time to stress test his thesis. Below I highlight a number of serious problems with Strong’s analysis.

Strong chooses to omit any mention of Afghanistan

Shockingly, Strong chooses not to mention the UK’s intervention in Afghanistan in 2001. With Britain’s combat role formally ending in 2014, the war in Afghanistan was one of the longest campaigns in British military history, with over 450 British soldiers dying.

What was the outcome of the UK’s 13-year occupation of Afghanistan? In his 2013 book ‘An Investment in Blood: The True Cost of Britain’s Afghan War’, Frank Ledwidge, a former Naval reserve military intelligence officer who served as a civilian advisor in Helmand, notes 2,600 British troops were wounded in the conflict, and more than 5,000 have been “psychologically injured”. He estimates the cost of the British intervention to be £37 billion, the deployment leading to the destabilisation of most of Helmand province, hundreds of civilian deaths and an increase in the terror threat to the UK. By 2014 the New York Times was quoting Helmandis as saying “the Taliban have never been stronger in the province.”

We can only speculate why Strong chose to omit any reference to Afghanistan, but one wonders if it has anything to do with the fact that Corbyn’s opposition to the war and his belief that British forces should have been withdrawn earlier than 2014 has been broadly in line with public opinion for a number of years.

Strong is selective and disingenuous when it comes to some of the polling evidence

On Trident, Strong argues Corbyn’s position is “not representative of the electorate as a whole” as he “favours nuclear disarmament while his countrymen (including even the Scots) largely do not.” This difference – along with others – is “large, profound and likely to be problematic”, according to Strong.

In support of his assertion Strong cites a January 2015 YouGov poll which shows just 25% of people favour total disarmament, and an Independent article quoting Glasgow University’s Dr Phillips O’Brien as saying there is “no convincing statistical evidence” that the majority of Scots are actually opposed to Trident.

Citing one poll, as Strong does on Trident, is, very obviously, a deeply flawed way to gain an understanding of national public opinion. John Curtice, a Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University who writes about electoral behaviour and researches political and social attitudes, makes the obvious point that the result of a poll “depends a bit on how you word the question”. Indeed, in the same January 2015 BBC article Curtis notes “For the most part, the majority of polls suggest that there is a smallish plurality opposed to the renewal of Trident.”

Surveying 20 opinion polls on Trident in 2013, Nick Ritchie, a Lecturer in International Relations at the University of York, notes the “Polls suggest British opinion may have moved from majority support for replacing Trident to majority support against replacement.” Ritchie further explains that the polling data shows the vast majority of people do not consider Trident to be an important political issue, with “only a small section of the electorate… likely to allow the issue of nuclear weapons to influence their vote in a general election”.

Presuming Curtice and Ritchie are correct, Corbyn reflects the view of most people who give an opinion on Trident, though the issue is not very high on voters priorities in terms of choosing who to vote for. Hardly the “large”, “profound” and “problematic” difference Strong suggests.

Turning to NATO’s intervention in Libya in 2011 (which Corbyn opposed inside and outside parliament), Strong notes “the public were divided on the prospect of action against the Gaddafi regime”. To support his argument Strong links to an article summarising the results of two polls taken in the very early stages of the conflict: a YouGov poll which found people supported the military action against Libya by 45% to 36%, and a ComRes poll that “found almost the exact opposite ‒ 35% supported the action but 43% opposed it.”

Strong doesn’t mention them but there were other polls taken during this period, such as two polls by the British Election Survey analysed by six political scientists in a 2014 article published by in British Journal of Political and International Relations. The first poll, taken just after hostilities began, found 30 percent of people approved of British involvement “whereas a plurality 44 percent disapproved”. A month later just 23 percent supported the British involvement with 50 percent opposed. Writing for PSA’s Political Insight blog the six specialists noted “the British population… always opposed Libyan intervention.”

However, let’s assume that Strong’s assertion that the public was broadly divided over the Libyan intervention is correct. The problem with his analysis is that it limits itself to taking the temperature of public opinion at one particularly heightened point of the conflict. A serious analysis would surely expand on this because public support for military intervention tends to be highest at the beginning of a conflict when members of the British armed forces are perceived to be in harm’s way, government and media pro-intervention propaganda is at its height and the outcome of the conflict is uncertain.

The key question, then, is surely this: if the pollster had told those being polled that the NATO intervention would go beyond its initial remit and help to illegally overthrow the Libyan government, be a chief cause of ongoing violent chaos in Libya which would destabilise surrounding nations, empower extremists and play a central role in the refugee crisis – all widely accepted by mainstream scholars as consequences of the intervention – would support for the war have increased or decreased? We don’t need to guess. In October 2011 – just after the Libyan leader was killed and Libyan government forces effectively defeated – 49 percent of the public told YouGov it was right to take military action. By February 2015 – when the disastrous impact of the intervention was better known – YouGov found support for the intervention had plummeted to 30 percent, with 33 percent opposed.

The same broadly applies to Afghanistan. Corbyn opposed the attack on Afghanistan from the start – which set him against the broad support the war had with the British public. However, by the later years of the British intervention and immediately after the official British withdrawal a majority of the British public opposed the intervention.

One can therefore make two important conclusions about Corbyn, public opinion and the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. First it is clear the public mood shifted as the public learned more about the conflicts and the negative effect British forces invariably had in each instance. Second, it is clear Corbyn has been an astute analyst in terms of opposing three wars that have had a disastrous effect on the local population, British troops and the wider region, with large sections of the public eventually coming round to his broad position of opposition in each case.

Strong refuses to engage with the likelihood that Corbyn’s election as Labour leader will itself shift public opinion on foreign policy

Simply comparing current public opinion with Corbyn’s publicly stated views on foreign policy, while of some interest, is a simplistic and limited form of analysis. Public opinion shifts constantly and is influenced by various factors, including changing levels of knowledge. Therefore, a more nuanced and mature analysis would highlight the fact that the narrow spectrum of political and media debate in the UK has largely presented the general public with an equally narrow and limited understanding of foreign policy and possible policy options. To take one example, in contrast to the two polls that found the public divided on Libya, fully 98 percent of MPs who voted in the parliamentary debate on the intervention supported the attack. All three of the main political parties supported the intervention. And with the media mapping their spectrum of acceptable opinion and debate to the divisions in parliament, the vast majority of national newspapers also supported the intervention. Anti-war voices and inconvenient facts (such as the attempts to resolve the conflict peacefully that were ignored by NATO and the indiscriminate bombardment of Sirte in the final stages of the conflict), were thus sidelined and did not comprise a significant part of the public debate. The same is broadly the case with Trident. The three main political parties have traditionally supported the retention of some form of Trident and far as I am aware the only national newspaper to support the outright scrapping of Trident is the tiny circulation Morning Star.

Corbyn’s election as Labour Party leader, if he is given a fair hearing, should significantly widen the debate on foreign policy, bringing long excluded voices, arguments and facts into the public debate. Many of the issues Strong claims Corbyn does not have the support of the public on will now have a strong advocate who has a significant voice in the media. This process occurred during the Labour leadership race itself, with many commentators noticing Corbyn’s candidacy opened up space to discuss issues such as rail nationalisation, whether Blair should face a war crimes trial and the nationalisation of energy – topics unlikely to be have been on the agenda if Corbyn hadn’t received the 35 nominations that allowed him on the ballot.

It is likely a wider debate and a more informed argument will shift public opinion towards Corbyn on many issues. Take Trident. It is likely the public would be less supportive of Trident if they were fully aware of the frightening near misses and many accidents that have occurred over the years. The connection between increased knowledge of foreign policy and what could broadly be termed an anti-war politics is surely confirmed by the fact that as of 2012 the British armed forces employed over 600 people in “communication-related activities” (aka propaganda) with a multi-million pound marketing and communication budget. Commenting on media access in Afghanistan, in 2009 the Guardian’s Luke Harding noted the Ministry of Defence (MoD) “manipulate the parcelling-out of embeds to suit their own ends.” The Sun’s Defence editor concurred: “Downing Street and the Foreign Office are incredibly restrictive about what comes out of Afghanistan.” Harding goes on to explain what this means for public opinion: “We have been constantly told that everything is fluffy and good – and we, and the public, have been lied to.” As a senior British officer told the Sunday Telegraph in 2008 “There is a general policy by the MoD to keep the horror of what’s going on in Afghanistan out of the public domain, and that’s probably for political reasons. If the real truth were known it would have a huge impact on Army recruiting and the Government would come under severe pressure to withdraw the troops.”

Strong’s focus on individual opinion polls on individual issues fails to engage with the longer term trends on public opinion and foreign policy

Since parliament voted against the UK taking military action in Syria in August 2013, there have been a number of reports of senior politicians and military figures deeply concerned about the public’s opposition to military interventions abroad. Speaking about the British armed forces in December 2013, Chief of Defence Staff Sir Nicholas Houghton noted “the purposes to which they have most recently been put has seldom been more deeply questioned. As a nation we have become a touch sceptical about the ability to use force in a beneficial way.” General Sir Peter Wall, the Chief of the General Staff from 2010-14, provided a blunter assessment earlier this year: “Our national appetite for military intervention has been diminished by the experiences of Iraq and Afghanistan. There is a sense of campaign fatigue, which is reflected in low political appetite for the UK to engage to protect our longer term interests.” The former Defence Minister Lord Browne concurs, noting last year “The British public have made it clear that there is very little support for new expeditionary wars of choice”. (As an aside, it’s interesting to compare these quotes from the military’s top brass with Strong’s description of Corbyn as someone “deeply sceptical about the utility of military force as a tool of British foreign policy.”)

Some polling evidence suggests the military and politicians are right to be worried. After reminding respondents of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Mali, a February 2013 ICM poll found 48 percent of people believed “military interventions solve little, create enemies and generally do more harm than good”, while 45 percent believe that “through its armed forces, Britain generally acts as a force for good in the world”. Similarly a June 2013 Opinium poll found 69 percent of people believe that the UK should restrict the military to protecting UK territory and providing humanitarian aid in times of crisis.

Like with Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, the British public’s view of British military intervention abroad – increasingly sceptical and unsupportive – seems to be moving closer to Corbyn’s long-held position.

Strong fails to mention international law and global public opinion

Though it is perhaps outside the parameters of Strong’s blog it is surely unwise to discuss British foreign policy and public opinion in a vacuum. For example, on Iraq and Trident and the recent drone strike in Syria Corbyn strongly supports the idea that Britain should adhere to international law and act with the support of the United Nations. Similarly polling evidence suggests there is broad support amongst the British public for the government to abide by international law and to act with the support of the United Nations. During the run up to the war in Iraq in 2003 polling showed the invasion would be far less popular it did not have the support of the United Nations. So, the key questions are these: would there be more or less support for Trident among the public if it was more widely known that the UK is clearly contravening the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons? Would there be more or less support for the proposed UK bombing of Syria if the media persistently raised questions about whether the intervention was in accordance with international law?

Conclusions

Though public opinion is often complex, contradictory and constantly changing, we can see Corbyn’s positions on the big foreign policy questions has the support of significant sections of public opinion, and majorities on Iraq and Afghanistan – arguably the two biggest foreign policy questions since 2001. And the evidence suggests Corbyn should be able to increase his level of support with the public if he is successful in opening up the narrow spectrum of what passes for political debate in this country, reframing the conversation to get previously largely ignored voices, arguments and facts into the national conversation.

This is an exciting and uncertain time in British politics. In their engagement with wider politics academics can, like Strong, selectively quote polls, decontextualize, obfuscate and therefore help to shut down honest and informed discussion. Or they can use their expertise and experience in good faith to enlighten the general public and help to inform and widen the national debate on this hugely important subject.

Book review: The Racket. A Rogue Reporter Vs. The Masters of the Universe by Matt Kennard

Book review: The Racket. A Rogue Reporter Vs. The Masters of the Universe by Matt Kennard by Ian Sinclair
Red Pepper
September 2015

Having worked as a reporter at the Financial Times, Matt Kennard left to write this barnstorming expose of the US-led economic, political and military elites that rule the world. “A class war is being fought and the poor are losing”, he notes.

Following Amy Goodman’s dictum that “the role of journalism is to go where the silences are”, Kennard fires off incendiary dispatches from the parts of the world rarely covered by the Western mainstream media. With the secrets uncovered by Wikileaks underpinning the reportage, the book focusses on Turkey’s US-backed ethnic cleaning of the Kurds and US attempts to undermine progressive change in Haiti, Honduras and Bolivia.

Refreshingly, Kennard is unafraid to highlight the inconvenient facts often overlooked by his professional colleagues. “Israel is – by any definition of international law – a rogue, terrorist state”. Elsewhere he explains that in the 1970s the US helped to set up Operation Condor, a South America-wide terror network which targeted those opposing the right-wing dictatorships that were supported by the US. At the highly undemocratic United Nations, since the 1960s the US has used its veto on the Security Council far more than any other nation. NATO designed the 1999 Rambouillet peace talks with Slobodan Milosevic’s Yugoslavia to fail.

Echoing Noam Chomsky, his key intellectual influence, Kennard argues that throughout the West there exists “a well-stocked army of intellectuals whose sole purpose is to make theft and brutality acceptable to the general population”. The media is a central player in this deadly propaganda war. And with power selecting for obedience, Kennard writes that journalists “have to block out the truth of how the world works” if they wish “to flourish in the corporate media”.

Like the best work of John Pilger, George Monbiot and Naomi Klein, The Racket is investigative, passionate journalism with a purpose – to defend the powerless against rapacious power. A hugely important tour de force, it will inform and inspire resistance movements for years to come.

Guardian on the wrong side of history over Corbyn

Guardian on the wrong side of history over Corbyn
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
19 October 2015

Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about Jeremy Corbyn’s landslide election to the Labour Party leadership was that he thrashed the other three candidates despite being opposed by almost the entire national press.

There were two honourable exceptions: the Morning Star and the Daily Record both backed the MP for Islington North.

“Corbyn: Abolish The Army” was one particularly memorable Sun front page, while the Sunday Mirror argued Corbyn was “a throwback to the party’s darkest days when it was as likely to form the government as Elvis was of being found on Pluto.”

In September the Express revealed “the evil monster haunting Jeremy Corbyn’s past.” Apparently Corbyn’s great great grandfather ran a workhouse. The shame! Over at The Times the level-headed Rachel Sylvester compared Corbyn’s imminent victory to when “the Vikings and the Mayans brought about their own extinction.”

At the other end of the British media spectrum, the Guardian ran what former British Ambassador Craig Murray accurately described as a “panic-driven hysterical hate-fest campaign against Corbyn.”

The Guardian backed Yvette Cooper, a candidate who voted for the illegal, aggressive war in Iraq in 2003 and the disastrous Libyan intervention in 2011, and supported Trident, austerity, benefit cuts and a stricter asylum system.

Throughout the leadership campaign it continuously ran front pages highlighting the increasingly hysterical concerns of former Labour “heavyweights,” including Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Peter Mandelson, Peter Hain and David Miliband.

Writing about the contest a few days after Corbyn made it onto the ballot, the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee dismissed Corbyn as “a 1983 man” and “a relic.” Voting for Corbyn “is ignoring the electorate,” Toynbee argued.

Jonathan Freedland, the Guardian’s opinion editor, was deeply sceptical about the rising support for Jez: “The unkind reading of this is to suggest that support for Corbynism, especially among the young, is a form of narcissism.” Not to be outdone, the Guardian columnist Martin Kettle dismissed Corbyn’s “programme of prelapsarian socialist purity,” while Michael White, the Guardian’s assistant editor, sneered: “Did Jeremy Corbyn used to wear open-toed sandals around Westminster in hot weather? Does he still?”

Slowly losing her grip on reality, G2 columnist Suzanne Moore told readers she didn’t support Corbyn because she has an “innate political distrust of asceticism.” After linking approvingly to an article setting out Alistair Campbell’s problems with Corbyn, Moore expanded her thesis: “Where is the vision of socialism that involves the sharing of life’s joys as well as life’s hardships? Where is the left that argued that nothing is too good for ordinary people — be it clothes, buildings, music.”

After Corbyn was elected by a landslide, Moore was back with more wisdom: “Who is advising him? Ex-devotees of Russell Brand?” she opined. “Corbyn and his acolytes may worship Chomsky and bang on about the evil mainstream media, they may actually believe that everything bad emanates from the US, they may go to Cuba and not notice that it’s a police state full of sex workers, but they are going to have to get with the programme.”

To quote the comedian Mark Thomas: “Trees died for this shit!”

There were, I should point out, honourable exceptions to this “Get Corbyn” campaign at the Guardian. Owen Jones, Seumas Milne and George Monbiot all wrote supportive articles, though they were swamped by the nonsensical anti-Corbyn screeds. Amazingly, in a response to readers’ complaints that the paper was biased against Corbyn, the Guardian’s readers’ editor had the brass neck to write: “Tallies of positive and negative pieces are a dangerous measure, as the Guardian should not be a fanzine for any side.”

So why was nearly the entire British press and commentariat opposed to the candidate whose positions on military interventions and public ownership, to name just two issues, were supported by a majority of the public?

Very obviously the ownership structure of the British press has a significant influence on a paper’s politics. “Essentially I think that what happens is that newspaper proprietors/owners … will appoint an editor and that will be informed possibly by their world view or what they want,” Dominic Lawson, the former editor of the Sunday Telegraph, explained in 2007.

Of course, that editor will then hire senior journalists and managers, who, in turn, hire junior members of staff. And these newbies will rise through the ranks by getting the approval of the senior journalists and managers, who were hired by the editor, who… you get the picture.

The people who end up working in the media today are overwhelmingly from very privileged backgrounds, with Sutton Trust research finding over half of the top journalists were privately educated. Incredibly the study found 37 percent of the top journalists who went to university graduated from just one institution — Oxford.

This similarity in background likely produces deeply held, unconscious shared assumptions about the world — how it works, what is possible, who is a credible source, who should be in charge and who should necessarily be excluded from decision-making.

“If you want a career in corporate journalism you have to accept certain things,” the former Financial Times journalist Matt Kennard explained at an event to launch his new book The Racket earlier this year. “The default position in our media — which is what they call ‘unbiased’ — is to support corporate power and US militarism.” Having spent his political life opposing these destructive entities, Corbyn was never going to be a favourite of the mainstream media.

Guardian journalists would be horrified by the idea but it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the Guardian’s role has been a deeply undemocratic, conservative one, desperately attempting to maintain “politics as usual” in the face of Corbyn’s challenge to our unfair and unequal political status quo.

But we shouldn’t be too hard on the journalists I’ve mentioned above. It is clear there has been a generational shift over the last few months, with many journalists fading into irrelevance, unable to make sense of or understand the Corbyn surge and the new political reality. Luckily other, smarter thinkers have taken their place — people like Novara Media’s Aaron Bastini, the staff at Open Democracy, Maya Goodfellow from Labour List and, at the Guardian, Zoe Williams and Owen Jones.

With the Guardian and the rest of the media unable or unwilling to adequately reflect progressive left-wing opinion in Britain, it is essential the left focuses on building up a vibrant and popular alternative media. This means supporting and working with existing non-corporate publications such as the Morning Star and also helping to build new, often online, attempts to crack the mainstream, such as Media Lens and Novara Media, which is currently holding a funding drive.

Just as Corbyn’s leadership team will have to think outside the box of Westminster politics if they are to succeed, so too must the left when it comes to the media. Discussions about the media need to be central to Momentum, the new social movement set up to support the policies Corbyn campaigned on. And the left needs to think and dream long-term — beyond 2020 and, yes, beyond Corbyn.

Jeremy Corbyn and the peace movement

Jeremy Corbyn and the peace movement
by Ian Sinclair
Peace News
October-November 2015

As the Guardian noted, Jeremy Corbyn’s landslide victory in the Labour leadership contest on 12 September contest was ‘one of the most stunning electoral upsets of postwar politics.’ Billed at 200/1 by bookmakers when he entered the race in June, the Islington North MP won 59 percent of the vote, giving him ‘the biggest party mandate for any political leader in UK political history’, according to the Guardian’s Chief Political Correspondent.

What makes Corbyn’s victory so extraordinary is he trounced the three other candidates despite the whole of the media and political establishment – including the Guardian, which backed Yvette Cooper MP – mobilizing in opposition to his growing popularity.

Importantly, many of Corbyn’s political positions and interests are closely aligned with Peace News and its readers. He has been a passionate supporter of nonviolent protest and nonviolent solutions to conflict. As a Vice-Chair of CND he opposes Trident nuclear weapons and NATO. Currently the Chair of Stop the War Coalition, he has opposed all Britain’s recent major wars – the Falklands, the 1991 Gulf War, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq in 2003, Libya and Syria in 2013. A patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign he is a long-time critic of Israel’s occupation of Palestine. He has opposed the Government’s austerity programme that has been battering the poorest and most vulnerable members of society since 2010. He is a long-term supporter of anti-racism campaigns and the environmental movement – he opposes the expansion of Heathrow – and animal rights (he is a vegetarian).

It is likely that even in opposition a Corbyn-led Labour Party will open up space for many of these issues to be debated on the national stage – something peace activists will be able to take advantage of. Indeed, even before he was elected leader, Corbyn’s meteoric campaign was already influencing government policy, with the Guardian reporting that Prime Minister David Cameron would abandon plans to extend UK airstrikes to Syria if Corbyn was elected as leader.

Though many media commentators have dismissed Corbyn as a hard-left 1980s throwback who has no chance of winning a general election, some senior political figures are taking his rise more seriously. In an overlooked interview with the Huffington Post former Conservative Party Chancellor Ken Clarke warned: ‘Don’t underestimate Jeremy Corbyn… It’s not certain he will lose an election… If you have another recession or if the Conservative government becomes very unpopular, he could win.’ Likewise, the media onslaught against Corbyn itself strongly suggests significant sections of the establishment see him as a real threat to their interests.

This anti-Corbyn campaign will escalate sharply now he has been elected leader. Concerted opposition to Corbyn will not only come from the media and the Tories, but also from large numbers of Labour MPs who do not share Corbyn’s politics. And if Corbyn cannot be brought to heel by the British establishment, then it is likely international finance, multinational corporations and US-UK ‘defence’ interests keen to protect the so-called Special Relationship will work to undermine his leadership.

Considering this hostile political landscape, if Corbyn’s leadership is to achieve any significant progressive change it will require what former US presidential hopeful John Edwards called an ‘epic fight’ with the entrenched ruling class. It is therefore essential the movement the Corbyn leadership campaign has engendered – the Morning Star reported that 50,000 people attended his campaign events, with 16,000 volunteering – is massively expanded and activated to become the largest mass mobilisation in British history. Activist and Journalist Owen Jones has argued for a mass registration drive to reach the 33 percent of adults who didn’t vote in the last General Election to greatly expand the electorate.

Peace activists should mobilise in support of Corbyn for a number of reasons.

First, a mass grassroots movement is the best – arguably only – defence against the unrelenting attacks that will be made against Corybn.

Second, Corbyn’s leadership is opposed by large sections of the parliamentary Labour Party, some of which will likely try to overthrow him. Popular pressure on Labour MPs will reduce the space they have to operate and discourage any attempts to plot against Corbyn.

Third, a mass movement is essential to apply pressure on Corbyn’s leadership team itself – to make sure it implements the policies that Corbyn campaigned and won on. For example, during his campaign he seemed to backtrack on his previous calls for Britain to leave NATO. Likewise, in early September the Telegraph quoted Corbyn’s closest advisors as saying they planned to put the issue of Trident renewal on the “back-burner” to avoid a fatal split in the party.

Finally, a mass movement is needed to apply pressure to push Corbyn’s Labour Party to support more radical, necessary policies. On climate change Corbyn’s pledge to create one million new climate jobs is welcome (see PN 2584-2585). Less welcome was his announcement, reported by the Newcastle-based Chronicle, that he wanted to re-open coal mines to burn so-called clean coal (an idea derided by most environmentalists). More broadly the Green Party’s Rupert Read recently noted that a Corbyn-led Labour Party is still ‘an unreconstructed pro-growth party.’ This will need to change if the UK is going to play its part in combatting catastrophic climate change. Ideas popular among radical activists such as a Land Value Tax, Citizen’s Income and drug policy reform should all be raised during the policy debate that will happen under Corbyn’s leadership.

The writer Dan Hind and broad-based organizations including Compass, the Green Party and Open Democracy are also calling for Corbyn to support a Constitutional Convention that could consider reforming the UK’s archaic voting system (to introduce proportional representation?), the House of Lords and look at the future of the monarchy and further devolution. Corbyn himself will gain considerable strength if he makes alliances, including electoral alliances, with the SNP, Greens, Plaid Cmyru, NGOs and grassroots activists, coalescing around the Constitutional Convention and issues such as those mentioned above.

The size, power and tactical intelligence of this mass movement will likely be the deciding factor in whether Corbyn survives as leader, the extent to which he holds firm on his political positions, his Labour Party’s level of influence on British politics in opposition, and his chances of being elected as Prime Minister. As the US historian Howard Zinn wrote during the 2008 US Presidential Election ‘Even when there is a “better” candidate, that difference will not mean anything unless the power of the people asserts itself in ways that the occupant of the White House will find it dangerous to ignore.’

Corbyn’s election as Labour leader is a huge opportunity for the peace movement. And a huge responsibility too. His leadership likely represents what Peace News’s Gabriel Carlyle calls ‘a special time in British politics: a brief window of opportunity’ – a short period of time when temporarily discombobulated power relations mean significant victories can be won. The establishment, of course, will try to shut down or curb Corbyn’s relatively radical agenda as quickly as possible. If they succeed they will do everything they can to make sure such a surge of democracy never happens again. These extraordinary times, then, could be the only chance to push for and win significant change for the foreseeable future. Is the peace movement up to the challenge?