Tag Archives: Ed Miliband

How Jeremy Corbyn can beat the establishment

How Jeremy Corbyn can beat the establishment
by Ian Sinclair
Peace News blog
11 October 2017

My new Peace News article ‘The biggest fight of our lives’ includes comments from George Lakey, Matt Kennard and Alex Nunns. Due to space considerations I could only include a small portion of the commentary each of them sent me in the article itself. Below are their full comments.

Why is Jeremy Corbyn seen as such a threat to the British establishment?

Matt Kennard, author of The Racket: Corbyn is seen as such a threat to the British elite and establishment because he is a major threat to their interests. They are not stupid. They understand when a political figure and movement endangers their ability to retain domination of the economy and political system. Never in the history of Britain has an anti-imperialist socialist ascended to the position of leading any of the major parties. It’s huge moment in British history – and arguably world history. If he becomes Prime Minister it will be the first core capital country ruled by an anti-imperialist socialist. They have every right to be fearful. Corbyn is the real deal, he can’t be assimilated into the state-capitalist elite’s framework on either end of their spectrum. Because of that they have to turn to unconventional warfare, which we’ve seen over the past two years every day.

The threat Corbyn poses is that he shows that Another World Is Possible. His vision is optimistic about what we can achieve as a species and upends all the useful ideology that has been built up over the neoliberal period that says we have to cut public spending and to eliminate any idea of collectivism. Corbyn has shown that it doesn’t have to be like that, and not only that, but these policies are popular amongst the electorate. He has put to bed for generations the idea that left ideas can’t win elections, the idea they’ve been beating us with ever since 1983 and Michael Foot’s ‘longest suicide note in history’. Now, we find out that actually it was the policies themselves that the Labour right didn’t like, not that they won’t win elections. The 2017 elections changed everything.

Alex Nunns author of The Candidate: Jeremy Corbyn’s Improbable Path to Power: There was a period when Labour under Corbyn was accused of being no more radical than under Ed Miliband, but those criticisms were dispelled by the election manifesto. It’s inconceivable that Miliband would have stood on a promise to renationalise energy, water, railways and the Royal Mail, for example. The difference is shown by the two leaders’ tuition fees proposals. Miliband’s offer to reduce tuition fees by £3,000 to £6,000 was a neat encapsulation of his entire leadership strategy: well-intentioned but timid. Corbyn had a no-nonsense approach: Labour will abolish fees all together.

There’s clearly been a fundamental shift in Labour policy. If you look at the policy papers Corbyn released in the 2015 leadership contest, which were pulled together in a rush by his policy advisor Andrew Fisher, so many of them appear in the 2017 manifesto, also authored by Andrew Fisher. A National Education Service, rent controls, a National Investment Bank—it’s remarkable the extent to which Labour ran a general election on Corbyn’s leadership contest platform. That programme was such an astonishing success in 2015 precisely because it was such a break from Labour under Blair, Brown and Miliband, so I don’t think it’s possible any more to argue that Corbyn offers reheated Milibandism.

Corbyn is seen as such a threat by the establishment because he would mark a historic break with the Thatcherite consensus that has dominated British politics for more than three decades. Extracted from its political context, Labour’s 2017 manifesto could be seen as quite mild compared to historic socialist and social democratic programmes. But politics is all about context, and while the manifesto was not perfect, it represented a bold challenge to the status quo. It unashamedly outlined a vision of a different society based on the principles of collectivism and universalism, after decades of individualism and means-tested entitlements.

Of course what the British establishment fears most about Corbyn is his foreign policy stance, which wasn’t so clearly represented in the manifesto—for example the continuation of Trident was in there because it is Labour Party policy, but it’s obviously not Corbyn’s preference. But I think the British state fears that he means what he says on foreign policy, and if he was prime minister he would have an enormous opportunity to transform Britain’s role in the world. That would meet fierce resistance.

If Corbyn’s Labour Party is elected into government at the next general election, how do you think the British establishment will try to undermine it?

Alex Nunns: In every way possible! We know from history what usually happens when left governments are elected. They face destabilisation from capital, both domestically and internationally, they are subjected to a hysterical press operation to undermine them, they face diplomatic pressure from other countries, and they have to deal with sabotage from the state they have been elected to run. We’ve already seen threats of a military coup against Corbyn.

There is one caveat though: how vociferous these efforts are depends on the circumstances. We don’t know when the next election will be, but it’s possible that the instability of Brexit will present a unique historical opportunity for a radical Labour government. The forces of capital are not onside with the Conservative Party’s version of Brexit. It’s possible to imagine circumstances where tolerating a Corbyn government, at least in the short term, becomes an option for them. It was very interesting in the 2017 general election that business and the state did not intervene in any major way on the side of Theresa May. No doubt that was largely because they all expected a Tory landslide anyway, but what didn’t happen in the election was almost as interesting as what did. There were no doom and gloom threats about a Labour government from big business, there didn’t seem to be an effort to sabotage Labour by the state. Given that even Conservatives now expect Corbyn to win the next election, you’d expect it to be different next time. But Brexit throws a unique variable into the equation.

Matt Kennard: Well, the method of choice in peripheral world economies has been military coups and political assassinations. I’m thinking of people like Allende in Chile or Lumumba in the Congo. I wouldn’t expect that to happen in the UK, but the establishment has never been tested properly in this way for centuries (we never had a revolution in the French sense so the social relations and the aristocracy are literally centuries old).

But there’s other ways to do it. And actually what is happening to Donald Trump in the US is instructive. I despite everything he stands for and worry for the future of humanity while he is president, but it’s still clear that the overt imposition of the deep state into the political life of the US is hugely worrying. If they do this to a far-right oligarch who threatens what the establishment wants, they will do the same, probably worse to a left-wing version who doesn’t accede to bombing the designated enemy of the day.

George Lakey author of Viking Economics: How The Scandinavians Got It Right – And How We Can: They will use whatever tactics and strategies will put us on the defensive, because, as Gandhi never tired of pointing out, going on the defensive is a sure way to lose! If they are smart strategists, they will be flexible and keep trying things that will get progressives to mount the barricades in defence.

Military generals agree with Gandhi about the importance of staying on the offensive. Even folk wisdom has an appropriate saying: “The best defence is an offensive.” So avoid trying to maintain any previously-made gains; instead, go forward to make new gains. Even when Corbyn himself is attacked, an obvious thing for them to do, don’t meet them on their terms but instead borrow the old civil rights expression and “keep your eye on the prize:” escalate your efforts to make new demands and new gains.

How can activists, grassroots groups and concerned citizens support Corbyn’s Labour Party in office?

Alex Nunns: The first 19 months of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership proved one thing above all else—it’s not enough to just elect a leader and think the job is done. Corbyn was leader of a party he did not control. When there was an emergency, such as the coup in 2016 or the general election in 2017, the movement that propelled Corbyn to the fore showed how powerful it was. But in between times, when the action receded to Westminster, there were lulls in the movement and Corbyn struggled as a result. The need for the movement to stay mobilised will be multiplied by a hundred when Corbyn is in government. For this whole project to achieve success, it won’t be enough to have Corbyn as prime minister. He will face resistance. Only the political strength of a movement embedded in society will be able to push him through it. It will have to be on a scale we haven’t seen so far, not even in the general election. This pressure will need to be exerted not only in the Labour Party, but in the broader social movements. How can Corbyn change foreign policy without a powerful anti-war movement? How can he overturn the economic orthodoxy of decades without the anti-austerity movement buttressing him? It has been an exhilarating two years since Corbyn emerged, but the work of campaigners and activists has only just begun.

Matt Kennard: I think it’s clear that just getting out on the streets and talking with people and telling [them] what Corbyn’s Labour is about is powerful. The Momentum mobilisation during the general election was amazing. I door knocked for the first time and I’ll do it a lot more. It’s really important. Also, making sure the Labour Party is democratised in this period is so important. This is our chance to open the party up and make it a mass social movement rather than a plaything for elite liberals who want power. The numbers are on our side which is why the Labour establishment is trying so hard to stop the many efforts to democratise the party and give more power to members. I would give up if I were them, it’s never going to be stopped now, there are too many of us who have been galvanised and involved. Every member vote is won overwhelming now by Corbyn-affiliated candidates. So everyone should join Labour and Momentum. This is a unique historic moment and chance and we have to grab the opportunity.

The other thing is become active on social media. I was initially resistant to social media because I think it plays on some of the worst aspects of human nature, especially narcissism. But the general election proved how important it is now. The Sun and The Daily Mail no longer have the power to sway elections through doing PR for establishment. When they spout lies and nonsense, they will be shamed online, it happens all the time. It’s powerful and we should continue doing it.

George Lakey: What puts us on the offensive, where we can win, is (1) to identify just demands that are in alignment with widely-shared values and can be expressed in common-sense terms. Then (2) to identify a target that can deliver that demand, which might be governmental but could instead be an economic entity like a bank or corporation. Then (3) to launch (or reinforce) a nonviolent direct action campaign that (a) uses a series of escalated actions and (b) attracts a growing series of allies.

A cluster of campaigns around a particular issue becomes a movement. One advantage of a movement is that any particular campaign can succeed or fail in achieving its particular demand but the movement as a whole can nevertheless succeed. Another advantage of a grassroots movement is that it stimulates campaigns around other issues, which in turn can cluster into movements. In the process of all this it’s wise to do intentional leadership development and empowerment at the grassroots, without which the one percent continues to hold too much power no matter how much drama we create with our campaigns.

As the number of movements grows, it becomes possible to create a “movement of movements.” In that stage we become a decisive force on the macro-level and provide openings for Corbyn and other party political leaders to do their part in the arena of state power and, so to speak, “seal the deal.”

Fortunately, we have nearby examples of successful strategy in 1920s and ‘30s Norway and Sweden, especially in their understanding of the role of political parties in making fundamental change. They understood the difference between the tail and the dog. The dog was the animating power of social movements — mobilized grassroots coercive power for change. The tail was the political parties that represented the grassroots in Swedish and Norwegian Parliaments.

The movements’ mobilizations took place mainly through direct action campaigns and cooperatives, both of which remained independent of the parties. The movements strategized independently because they believed that equality, freedom, and shared prosperity could only come from a power shift in society. They saw the political party as the tail of the dog, expressive and useful, but not the same as the animating force, which is the heart and mind of the dog. Jeremy Corbyn’s career has shown how much he understands how fundamental the movements are; the question is whether his new young followers understand that.

I learned from studying Norway and Sweden that if they had relied on Parliament and the electoral process, they would still be waiting for the power shift that in the 1930s enabled them to invent the Nordic model that has out-performed Britain and the U.S. for over 60 years. From the perspective of power, Parliaments negotiate and express change, they don’t make change.

If Jeremy Corbyn is somehow elected Prime Minister, the great temptation in Britain will be to repeat what I call the Obama Syndrome. In the U.S. progressives saw Obama’s election as placing our ally in the White House. What most forgot is that the priority duty of the state’s leader in the U.S. (and UK) is to govern, that is, to hold the state together while managing it. Most progressives fantasized that Obama could instead lead the country into a disruptive period of major change.

I knew that Obama wanted to do so: he’d already acknowledged the correctness of a single payer health plan like Canada’s, and the primacy of avoiding austerity, making peace, and even dealing with climate change. Like the UK, however, the U.S. remains dominated by its one percent no matter who is elected president. Changing that power dynamic cannot happen via the electoral arena, especially when the leader’s party base (the Democrats in the U.S., the Labour Party in the UK) is already owned by the elite.

The way to use an ally in the position of President or Prime Minister is not to fantasize that “they can lead us” but to create the conditions under which they can use their limited power in a one percent-dominated system to tip the balance in struggles between the majority and the one percent.

I knew that Obama would need militant mass movements using direct action to enable him to manoeuvre for major policy changes. Americans were befuddled, however, about which was the dog and which was the tail, and somehow expected Obama to deliver outcomes even though the masses of people were not demanding them through direct action.

The good news if Corbyn is elected is that progressives can do what grassroots movements do best: people power. We can give up one-off protests (rarely worth the time and effort) and organize direct action campaigns with specific demands that can be formulated as common sense and gain wide support, then implement a strategy of escalation in which, to use Dr Martin Luther King’s phrase, a “crisis is created” that forces a response on the state level.

The bad news if Corbyn is elected is the temptation to repeat the Obama Syndrome: an electorate that believes it delivered a “mandate” for change and is disappointed that the valiant leader didn’t somehow “deliver.” A “mandate” is a concept in search of legs; it has no power on its own. Progressive power comes from the collective, disruptive nonviolent action of the people.

One way to use the Corbyn political moment is to allow the freshness that he represents to spread to our own movement actions and organizing methods. For example, progressives could experiment with “taking the pledge” at the outset of each campaign, agreeing never to organize a march or rally.

Why? The pledge empowers the creativity that is too often suppressed at the grassroots. I’ve found that campaigners taking the pledge come up with a marvellous diversity of actions that energize them and motivate others to join them. Their creativity itself breaks through the disempowerment that keeps so many on the sidelines. Nearly 200 different methods of campaigning are on a website, documented in over 1400 campaigns in the Global Nonviolent Action Database (https://nvdatabase.swarthmore.edu/). You need never march or organize a rally again!

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Is Owen Jones right that Jeremy Corbyn has the same policies as Ed Miliband?

Is Owen Jones right that Jeremy Corbyn has the same policies as Ed Miliband?
by Ian Sinclair
29 August 2016

In his now infamous July 2016 blog ‘Questions all Jeremy Corbyn supporters need to answer’, Guardian columnist Owen Jones argued Corbyn’s policies are pretty much the same as those of Ed Miliband’s Labour Party at the time of the May 2015 general election. “It seems as though Ed Miliband presented his policies as less left-wing than they actually were, and now the current leadership presents them as more left-wing than they actually are”, Jones noted. “It’s presentation, style and sentiment that seem to differ most.”

This is a bold claim made by a very influential left-wing commentator. Therefore it is worth seriously considering the claim. With this in mind, I sketch out some key policy differences between Corbyn and Miliband below.

Economy

On the economy, Jones argues though “the Labour leadership now says it’s anti-austerity”, the fiscal rule accepted by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell means his economic policy is similar to that of ex-Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, “including a focus on deficit reduction”. James Meadway, the head of policy for Corbyn’s leadership campaign and former chief economist at the New Economics Foundation, notes Jones “is wrong to claim that John McDonnell is offering Ed Balls’ fiscal policy. He is absolutely not. He is opposed to cuts.” During the 2015 general election campaign Ed Balls “offered up cuts”, Corbyn explained to Jones before Jones wrote his blog. “To be clear, Labour is now an anti-austerity party opposed to the rundown and break-up of our public services”, notes Meadway.

Miliband’s Labour stated it “support[s] the principles behind the negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership Treaty (TTIP)”, though was concerned about a number of issues including “the impact on public services and the Investor to State Dispute Settlement Mechanism”. Miliband’s Labour pledged to “ensure the NHS is protected from the TTIP treaty.” Commenting on Miliband’s position, The Guardian’s Political Correspondent Rowena Mason noted TTIP is “a key issue for many voters on the left” and “it does not look like this will satisfy those who view TTIP as a deal for big corporations and want it to be abandoned entirely.” Corbyn opposes TTIP outright.

NHS

Jones argues Labour under Corbyn “would reverse NHS privatisation: again, Labour at the last election committed to repealing the Health and Social Care Act and regretted the extent of NHS private sector involvement under New Labour.” However, though Labour’s 2015 election manifesto promised to repeal the Coalition Government’s NHS privatisation plans, it also saw a role for existing private firms in the NHS because it pledged to cap profits of private firms on NHS contracts. The manifesto had nothing to say about the hospitals built under the Private Finance Initiative policy instituted by Tony Blair’s Government. Earlier this month Corbyn confirmed a Labour Government led by him would cancel PFI contracts.

Education

Jones doesn’t mention any education policies. Miliband promised to reduce university tuition fees to £6,000 per year. The 2015 Labour manifesto did not mention the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) scrapped by the Coalition Government. Corbyn has promised to abolish tuition fees completely, reintroduce student maintenance grants and reinstate the EMA.

Transport

Jones says Corbyn’s plans to renationalise the railways “beefs up Labour’s pledge under Miliband’s leadership.” In actual fact the 2015 Labour manifesto only promised to “reform our transport system in order to provide more public control and put the public interest first.” If all this seems a little vague that’s because it is: “We will review the franchising process as a priority to put in place a new system… a new National Rail body will oversee and plan for the railways and give rail users a greater say in how trains operate. We will legislate so that a public sector operator is allowed to take on lines and challenge the private train operating companies on a level playing field.” This is not renationalisation.

Royal Mail

Jones doesn’t mention the Royal Mail. Miliband’s Labour promised to “safeguard the public interest in the [now privatised] Royal Mail, supporting the creation of a staff-led trust for the employee share, and keeping the remaining 30 per cent in public ownership.” In contrast, Corbyn proposes to renationalise the Royal Mail.

Welfare

Jones doesn’t mention welfare policy. Corbyn explained to Jones before his blog was published that Miliband’s Labour used “appalling language on the DWP [Department for Work and Pensions], on welfare systems”. Corbyn is presumably referring to comments made by Rachel Reeves, the shadow work and pensions secretary under Miliband, about how “We are not the party of people on benefits. We don’t want to be seen, and we’re not, the party to represent those who are out of work… Labour are a party of working people, formed for and by working people.” When she was first appointed by Miliband in 2013, Reeves said Labour would be tougher than the Tories on benefits. Similarly, a briefing from Labour’s welfare spokesman under Miliband led to the Daily Mail headline ‘Now Ed Miliband gets tough with onslaught against “evil” of benefits scroungers’. Corbyn voted against the Welfare Bill in July 2015 and is strongly opposed to benefits cuts.

Immigration

Jones doesn’t mention anything to do with immigration. During the 2015 General Election campaign Labour produced their UKIP-pandering ‘controls on immigration’ mugs, while Reeves announced Labour would extend the period for which EU migrants are prevented from claiming out-of-work benefits from three months to two years. “The plans take Labour further than proposals so far announced by the Conservatives,” The Guardian noted at the time. Corbyn has long been a defender of migrant rights.

Trident

Jones doesn’t mention Trident. Labour under Miliband supported the renewal of the Trident nuclear weapons system. Corbyn opposes the UK owning or using Weapons of Mass Destruction and is attempting to change Labour Party policy on this.

Foreign Policy

Jones asserts “Corbyn opposed the Iraq war; so did Miliband. The Labour leadership’s policy was to vote against the bombing of Syria, as it was under Miliband.” This is a particularly disingenuous argument from Jones. First, because he chooses to omit several significant foreign policy votes and positions – the 2011 NATO intervention in Libya, the 2014 vote on the UK bombing Islamic State in Iraq and the British occupation of Afghanistan. All were supported by Miliband and opposed by Corbyn.

Second, Jones’s summary of Miliband’s position on Iraq in 2003 and Syria in 2013 (both opposed by Corbyn) is incomplete at best. In 2003 Miliband was teaching in the United States. Apparently he contacted people, including Gordon Brown, to try to persuade them to oppose the war. Speaking at the Labour leader hustings in 2010 Ed Balls labelled Miliband’s claim to be anti-war as “ridiculous” noting that Miliband “did not tell people” he was against the war. Even if Miliband privately lobbied Labour politicians, this misses a key point, as I’ve argued previously:

“There were numerous opportunities for Miliband to make a public stand against the impending war – which arguably would have had a far greater impact than his supposed behind the scenes advice – including speaking at the biggest protest in British history. That Miliband, at best, opposed the war in private strongly suggests to me that he was thinking more about his future political career than the welfare of Iraqis or the British soldiers being sent to fight in Iraq.”

In contrast, Corbyn was a key figure in the anti-war movement, speaking at hundreds of anti-war meetings and rallies. On the Syria vote, the parliamentary record shows the Labour motion tabled by Miliband was very similar to the defeated Government motion, a fact that did not go unnoticed by the more experienced foreign affairs experts in the Commons. “I can find no difference of substance or principle anywhere in the two offerings”, explained Sir Menzies Campbell, the former Foreign Affairs spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats. Likewise, ex-Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind noted “virtually all” of Labour’s list of requirements for supporting military action “appear in the Government’s own motion.” In addition, Miliband stated that he would support military action against Syria without a United Nations Security Council Resolution – essentially agreeing with the Government again.

Jones versus reality

After considering the information above, one can only argue Corbyn’s policies are the same as the austerity-lite policies of Labour under Miliband if one chooses to ignore large swathes of policy areas or is ignorant of Corbyn’s and Miliband’s actual policy positions. That the analysis of Jones – a huge and influential left-wing voice in the mainstream media – is so pitiful and shallow is extremely concerning, and very damning, indeed.

Ed Miliband and Labour: Russell Brand versus Eduardo Galeano

Ed Miliband and Labour: Russell Brand versus Eduardo Galeano
by Ian Sinclair
6 May 2015

To paraphrase the Artist Taxi Driver, after 312 episodes of critiquing mainstream media and politics on The Trews, publishing a book titled Revolution and fronting a film called The Emperor’s New Clothes, the comedian and activist Russell Brand has decided… to urge people to vote Labour at the General Election on Thursday.

Brand’s argument rests on two key points. First, he believes the “danger of the Conservative Party” requires “decisive action” – voting for the Labour Party. Second, Brand noted that Labour leader Ed Miliband said he welcomes pressure from the general public.

The former argument echoes the aged-old call for voting for the lesser evil. With the exception of Brighton Pavilion (where the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas is standing), Brand, like Owen Jones, urges everyone else in England and Wales to vote Labour. Though I don’t agree, I understand the ‘lesser evil’ argument, of course. However, it is important to note there are varying degrees of tactical voting to get the Tories out. For example, George Monbiot argues people should vote for a party that inspires them – such as the Greens – except in the 16 constituencies in which a strong Green swing away from Labour could hand the seat to the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats.

But it is Brand’s argument about Miliband that interests and baffles me most:

“One thing I agree very sincerely with Ed on is that politics doesn’t rain down on us, it comes from below… movements putting pressure on governments. We don’t know what the limitations of a Labour Administration are going to be but we have just heard the leader of the Labour Party saying that he welcomes and wants pressure from below… what I heard Ed Miliband say is ‘If we speak, he will listen’…. what’s important is this bloke will be in parliament and I think this bloke will listen to us.”

Compare and contrast this gullible wishful thinking with the late Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano’s power sceptical dictum: “In general, the words uttered by power are not meant to express its actions but to disguise them.” That’s right, you heard it here first: sometimes those in power don’t tell the truth. They might, shock horror, be trying to deceive the population.

Interestingly, Miliband’s view on social and political change closely follows public statements the current President of the United States has made:

“I believe change does not happen from the top down. It happens from the bottom up. Dr. King understood that. It was those women who were willing to walk instead of ride the bus, union workers who are willing to take on violence and intimidation to get the right to organize. It was women who decided, ‘I’m as smart as my husband. I’d better get the right to vote.’ Them arguing, mobilizing, agitating, and ultimately forcing elected officials to be accountable. I think that’s the key.”

Yet Brand, like an increasing number of people, is largely immune to the skillful oratory of Barack Obama, even asking Miliband rhetorically in his original interview “We all got excited about Barack Obama. What happened?”

However, when it comes to Ed Miliband and the Labour Party Brand throws any critical thinking out the window. With this in mind it is worth recalling Miliband’s actions on some issues that are of concern to millions of people across Britain, issues that campaigners have been pressing the Labour Party – trying to apply “pressure from below” in Miliband’s parlance – to act the right, humane way on.

  • In January 2015 Miliband voted for the Government’s Charter for Budget Responsibility, which included plans to slash public spending by a further £30 billion.
  • In November 2014 The Guardian reported “The Labour front bench has accepted over £600,000 of research help from the multinational accountancy company PricewaterhouseCoopers to help form policy on tax, business and welfare… The support to shadow ministers including Ed Balls, Chuka Umunna and Tristram Hunt comes after the Guardian revealed PwC’s role in establishing potentially favourable tax structures for hundreds of companies around the world – including many British businesses – in Luxembourg.”
  • In March 2014 Miliband supported a national cap on benefit spending which limited each household to a maximum of £26,000 in benefits, a policy Save the Children said would push 345,000 children into poverty in four years.
  • In March 2013 Miliband abstained from a parliamentary vote on a bill that would prevent 250,000 “exploited” jobseekers from receiving £130m in rebates.
  • Miliband backed the 13-year war in Afghanistan, the disastrous 2011 intervention in Libya and the on-going bombing of ISIS in Iraq.
  • Miliband supports the retention of Trident nuclear weapons, which the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament estimates will cost around £100 billion over its 40 year lifetime.

On these issues Miliband did not welcome, listen to or act on pressure from below. Rather he ignored the voices of protest and concern.

As Brand has been influenced by Noam Chomsky, let’s leave the American dissident thinker with the final word. Speaking about Obama in 2009 Chomsky reiterated Galeano’s truism, explaining “It is wise to attend to deeds, not rhetoric” because “deeds commonly tell a different story.”

Just how anti-war is Ed Miliband?

Just how anti-war is Ed Miliband?
by Ian Sinclair
Open Democracy
10 April 2015

Challenged by Jeremy Paxman on whether he was “tough enough” to be Prime Minister on the Sky News/Channel 4 programme ‘Cameron & Miliband Live’, Labour leader Ed Miliband replied:

“In the summer of 2013 this government proposed [military] action in Syria, the bombing of Syria, right? I was called into a room by David Cameron and Nick Clegg because President Obama had been on the phone, The Leader of the Free World, right? I listened to what they said and over those days I made up my mind and we said ‘No’, right?” 

Miliband has also repeatedly pointed out that he opposed the 2003 Iraq War. Desperate to shore up the Labour vote, Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee has been only too happy to confirm Miliband “rejected the Iraq war”.

However, before everyone starts labelling ‘Red Ed’ as anti-war, it’s worth taking some time to consider his positions on recent British foreign policy.

2014: The bombing of ISIS in Iraq

After he had unironically referred to Barack Obama as “The Leader of the Free World” on the Sky News/Channel Four programme, Miliband went on to explain he did not want to “repeat the mistakes of the 2003 Iraq War when Labour was in power, which was a rush to war without knowing what your strategy is and without being clear about what the consequences would be.”

Given these – apparently sincerely held – concerns, one would presume Miliband would be opposed to, or at least very sceptical of, the on-going US-led airstrikes on Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq. However, he fully supported the airstrikes in the House of Commons in September 2014 – and continues to do so as far as I am aware.

He supported the war for a number of reasons. “Iraq is a democratic state. It is a government that we would want to support”, he said. As I’ve argued elsewhere this statement conceals the deeply authoritarian and undemocratic nature of the present Iraqi government, and the West’s role in helping to create it.

Miliband also referred positively to the regional support the proposed airstrikes had from Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Side-stepping the question of whether being in a coalition with the most fundamentalist nation on earth is a good thing, it is important to remember Saudi Arabia and Qatar have played an important role in the rise of ISIS.

In September 2014 the Director of the FBI told Congress the US-led airstrikes were increasing support for ISIS. Similarly, the former head of counterterrorism at MI6 has warned the airstrikes could “increase the risk” of terrorist attacks in the West. In terms of the military action itself, President Obama recently said the war against ISIS is likely to take up to three years, with the US Defence Secretarysuggesting this was probably an underestimate. And what of the democratic Iraqi Government Miliband was so keen to protect?

In February 2015 Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report arguing the widespread abuses perpetrated by the government-enabled Shia militias could well be war crimes, while an October 2014 HRW commentary noted the “relentless arson and pillaging” carried out by Shia militias in Iraq have displaced over 7,000 families in recent months.

After recently visiting Iraq, award-winning US journalist Matthieu Aikins explained that “Iraq has become a militia state”. With US arms sent to the Iraqi government ending up in the hands of Shia militias the “US risks helping to perpetrate the same violence and state corruption that led to ISIS’s stunning rise last year”, he noted.

2013: The proposed US-led bombing of Syria

Miliband told Paxman he had stood up to the Prime Minister and “The Leader of the Free World” over Syria in September 2013. The normally questioning Labour backbencher Michael Meacher MP declared Miliband’s actions on Syria will be “recognised as an act of courage and statesmanship that shows his mettle as a leader.”

The reality is a little less heroic than Miliband and Meacher would have us believe.

A read of the parliamentary debate about the proposed military action shows the Labour motion was very similar to the defeated Government motion, a fact not lost on some of the more experienced foreign affairs experts in the House of Commons. “I can find no difference of substance or principle anywhere in the two offerings”, said Sir Menzies Campbell, the former Foreign Affairs spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats. Likewise, former Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind noted “virtually all” of Labour’s list of requirements for supporting military action “appear in the Government’s own motion.”

Moreover, in the parliamentary debate Miliband explained he would support military action against Syria without a United Nations Security Council Resolution – essentially agreeing with the Government again. As Jonathan Steele, the Guardian’s former Chief Correspondent, noted “Cameron and Miliband used dubious legal grounds to try to justify bypassing a veto in the UN Security Council by saying western military strikes were needed to protect Syrians.” Does Miliband’s self-serving position on the UN remind you of any other Labour leader?

2011: The NATO intervention in Libya

Along with the vast majority of British newspapers and 557 MPs, Miliband supported the NATO intervention in Libya, supposedly carried out to stop a massacre of civilians in Benghazi. Accepting the government’s – highly questionable – narrative of the crisis, Miliband cited his parents’ experience of the Holocaust in the House of Commons debate.

The NATO intervention arguably escalated the violence and elongated the conflict, plunging the country into a militia-dominated Hobbesian nightmare. Fast-forward four years and, as I have argued elsewhere, Libya is a chaotic mess:

“In November 2014 Amnesty International warned that ‘lawless militias and armed groups on all sides of the conflict in western Libya are carrying out rampant human rights abuses, including war crimes.’ The same month the UN refugee agency reported that nearly 400,000 Libyans had been displaced by the ongoing violence, while the Associated Press noted the Libyan city of Darna had become the first city outside of Syria and Iraq to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State group.”

With this reality in mind, again it is worth reminding ourselves of Ed Miliband’s supposedly sincere concerns about Iraq in 2003: “a rush to war without knowing what your strategy is and without being clear about what the consequences would be.”

2003: The US-UK invasion of Iraq

In attempt to disassociate himself with New Labour’s 2003 illegal, aggressive attack on Iraq, Miliband has repeatedly boasted he was opposed to the invasion. Miliband was in the US in the run-up to the war, teaching at Harvard. However, he has said “I did tell people at the time that asked me that I was against the war.” Ed Miliband’s biographer Mehdi Hasan claims that Miliband Jr rang Gordon Brown from the United States to try and persuade the then Chancellor of the Exchequer to resist the push to war.

Speaking at the Labour leader hustings in 2010 Ed Balls labelled Miliband’s claim to be anti-war as “ridiculous” noting that Miiband “did not tell people” he was against the war. Speaking at the same hustings, Former Foreign Secretary David Miliband made a rare honest statement: “Diane Abbott [who was also standing to be Labour leader] is the only candidate that can say she was against the war at the time, and if that is the sole criterion, she is in a different position to every other candidate. She did not just think she was against it, she said she was against it, and she marched against it.”

And this is the key point. There were numerous opportunities for Miliband to make a public stand against the impending war – which arguably would have had a far greater impact than his supposed behind the scenes advice – including speaking at the biggest protest in British history. That Miliband, at best, opposed the war in private strongly suggests to me that he was thinking more about his future political career than the welfare of Iraqis or the British soldiers being sent to fight in Iraq.

And we should not forget that Miliband voted against an official inquiry into the Iraq War being set up on four occasions.

2001-14: The invasion and occupation of Afghanistan

Though it’s difficult to find out Miliband’s position on Afghanistan prior to him becoming Labour leader in 2010, his record of support for the bloody and deeply unpopular British occupation since then has been clear. “I want you to know that our mission in Afghanistan is not a matter of party politics”, he told British troops when he visited Afghanistan in 2011. “It is about what is right for our country. A more stable Afghanistan will lead to a more safe Britain… above all I want you to know you have our support, our respect and our admiration for what you are doing for our country.”

Compare this pro-military guff to the brutal reality of the British occupation. “In practice, we ended up killing a lot of people, destroying lots of bazaars and mosques. We absolutely knew it was not what we were there to do, and would not be helpful”, explained  General David Richards, the former Chief of the Defence Staff, about what went wrong in Afghanistan. Mike Martin, a former British Army Officer, notes that in summer 2006 British forces dropped 18,000 pounds of explosives on the town of Now Zad alone, “flattening the bazaar” and killing civilians. This “injudicious use of firepower was reminiscent of Soviet military operations” and “made funding and recruitment non-issues” for the Afghan insurgency, Martin explains.

Unsurprisingly, these actions have not led to stability. Far from it. Former British military intelligence officer Frank Ledwidge: “Britain’s efforts have resulted in the ‘stabilization’ (i.e. the temporary pacification) of 3 of the 14 districts that make up the province of Helmand – just one of 34 provinces in a country with a population that is half that of the UK. In terms of overall political significance, this might be the equivalent of three large market towns in rural Lincolnshire. Before the British burst onto the scene, Helmand was ‘stable’, in the sense there was almost no Taliban presence and little prospect of any.”

As for the British occupation of Afghanistan making “a more safe Britain”, it is likely the opposite is true. In the words of Anatol Lieven, a professor in the War Studies Department of King’s College London: “What we can surely say is that UK policy has been an absolute disaster in the perception of the Muslim population and has produced a significantly increased terror threat.” The justification given for the murderous attack on British soldier Lee Rigby suggest Lieven’s analysis is correct.

Trident

Miliband supports the renewal of Trident, which is estimated to cost the UK over 80 billion over the next 100 years, with a lower-cost deterrent. “I’m not in favour of unilateral disarmament”, he explained in January 2015.

And the rest

In addition to the big set piece interventions set out above, it is important to note Miliband’s lack of criticism of other parts of British foreign policy that either has already had, or will likely have, serious, deleterious consequences: the UK training of Syrian rebels; the UK training of Ukrainian Government forces; the UK support for the Saudi Arabian attack on Yemen; the UK’s support for the Bahrain Government’s deadly crackdown on pro-democracy protests; the on-going diplomatic and military support the UK gives to Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf monarchies; Obama’s drone wars.

Conclusion

What all these examples show is that far from being anti-war Miliband has repeatedly supported wars of choice, often with dubious legal and moral justifications (Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq 2014), most of which have turned out to be a disaster for the country he claimed to be protecting and the wider world (Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq 2014). Like the deeply unpopular Tony Blair, Miliband has publicly stated he would support military action without a UN Security Council resolution. When he did oppose military action this was either done in private, thus minimising the danger to his future political career (Iraq 2003), or has been presented as a clear, moral stand, when in actual fact his position was difficult to distinguish from the government’s own position – and based on ignoring the will of the United Nations (Syria).

If this is how Miliband acts in opposition, what can we expect from him as Prime Minister when he is likely to be under intense American and domestic pressure (from a combination of the armed forces, the intelligence services, the press, his own cabinet, his own party, the opposition party) and is keen to show he is “tough enough”?

It is clear the fight against the UK’s aggressive foreign policy will have to continue after the election, whether it is David Cameron or Ed Miliband sitting in 10 Downing Street.

“We are supporting a democratic state”: Propaganda and the new Iraq War

“We are supporting a democratic state”: Propaganda and the new Iraq War
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
24 October 2014

We are in the middle of a propaganda war and you are the target.

To gain public support for bombing Iraq the Government has deployed a range of persuasive strategies, stretching from the extremely crude to the dangerously subtle. First the obvious ones. On Thursday 25 September – the day before the parliamentary vote to authorise the bombing campaign – police carried out a number of so-called anti-terrorist raids arresting nine people, including the well-known preacher Anjem Choudary. On the same day, news broke that the Iraqi Government had ‘credible’ intelligence Islamic State militants planned to launch attacks on the subway systems in Paris and New York City. Both scares, of course, have now been forgotten, though one can’t help think they served their purpose.

Like the ‘Heathrow terrorist plot’ in the run up to the 2003 Iraq War, the recent headline-grabbing announcements likely elicited deep scepticism in many people. However, the Government is also employing far more insidious and successful propaganda, much of which has seeped into and framed the media-driven narrative of the war. One such propaganda meme is the argument we are acting at the request of a “sovereign state” (David Cameron) and/or “democratic state” (Ed Miliband). This has been repeated ad nauseam by those backing the bombing with very little push back.

While this sound bite-sized justification may technically be true and therefore provides cover under international law, it’s worth considering what it misses out.

First, it conceals the deeply authoritarian and undemocratic nature of the present Iraqi Government and the West’s role in helping to create it. Writing in The Guardian in June, Professor Toby Dodge, an Iraq specialist at the London School of Economics, noted Iraq’s former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki “first came to power in April 2006 in a deal brokered by the then British foreign secretary, Jack Straw, and the American secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice.” This, according to Dodge, “was an Anglo-American attempt to create a facade of democracy in the midst of a vicious post-invasion civil war.” Dodge went onto explain that though Maliki lost the 2010 election the US “backed the continuation of Maliki’s rule… in the name of predictability and order.” Echoing the sub-title of Dodge’s 2013 book on Iraq – ‘From war to a new authoritarianism’ – David Wearing, a researcher on the Middle East at SOAS, notes “Maliki set about concentrating power – particularly power over armed forces, internal security forces and Shia militias – in his hands, and governing on a narrow sectarian basis, eliciting some frustration from Washington but still, ultimately, enjoying its support”. In 2013 Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions index ranked Iraq 171st out of 177 countries. The whole Iraqi system, argues award-winning Iraqi journalist Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, is “rotten to the core. Every single soldier is appointed after paying a bribe. Every military officer is appointed after paying a bribe.”

And before we go further, let’s not forget the double standards of the UK government. “It is hypocritical for Mr Cameron to pretend that US and UK intervention are in support of democratic, accountable and inclusive governments when he is in a coalition with the last theocratic absolute monarchies on earth”, argues the veteran Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn about the UK allying itself with the Gulf states.

Cameron and Miliband’s justification also ignores the recent aggressive and criminal military actions of the Iraqi Government – armed throughout by the United States.

In May 2014 Human Rights Watch reported the Iraqi Government was dropping “barrel bombs on residential neighbourhoods of Fallujah and surrounding areas” and had “repeatedly struck Fallujah General Hospital with mortar shells and other munitions”. According to the report “the recurring strikes on the main hospital, including with direct fire weapons, strongly suggest that Iraqi forces have targeted it, which would constitute a serious violation of the laws of war”. In June 2014 HRW noted the Iraqi Government had carried out indiscriminate air strikes in other cities too – Beiji, Mosul, Tikrit and al-Sherqat – killing at least 75 civilians. Speaking about the Iraqi Government in 2013, Dodge noted “torture is endemic.”

Of course, Maliki was forced out of office in September 2014 but many Iraq observers hold little hope in his successor. Cockburn: “It is doubtful if much has changed since Mr Maliki was replaced by the more personable Haider al-Abadi, whose government is still dominated by Shia religious parties.” David Cameron’s “stated belief that he is supporting the creation of a government that is inclusive of Sunni, Shia, Kurds and Christians” is “a pipe dream”, Cockburn argues.

For example, though Al-Abadi publicly called a halt to the bombing of civilian areas, HRW’s Iraq Researcher Erin Evers told me the bombing has continued. More broadly, the Financial Times recently explained Shia militias have grown “stronger, bolder and more politically influential” since al-Abadi became Prime Minister. Maliki himself is now Iraq’s Vice-President. Evers recently reported that Shia militias under the control of the former Iraqi Prime Minister are currently laying siege to Latifiyya, a town just south of Baghdad. The militias have carried out summary executions and bulldozed Sunni areas causing “a broader humanitarian crisis” with many women and children unable to access food or desalinated water. Wearing is one of the few UK analysts to take seriously the threat from the Shia militias: “If Shia troops wade into Sunni towns and cities with the USAF and the RAF effectively providing cover, or at least having softened up their targets beforehand, the West won’t be preventing another Rwanda, it will be enabling one.”

Unsurprisingly then, though Sunnis living in Mosul and Raqqa do not like Islamic State, Cockburn explains “they are even more frightened of resurgent Iraqi or Syrian armies accompanied by murderous pro-government militias subduing their areas with the assistance of allied air strikes.”

All this leads to another criticism of the simplistic ‘we are acting to support a democratic government’ propaganda meme – that by refusing to engage with the reality of the present Iraqi state, it ignores a key reason for the rise of Islamic State and the responsibility of the West.

Writing in the latest edition of Survival, the journal of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Dodge argues the Islamic State’s advance across northern Iraq “was the direct result of the contemporary flaws with the political system set up after the regime change of 2003.” Or as Lakhdar Brahimi, the former UN special envoy to Syria, recently noted, the Islamic State was “originally and still is mainly an Iraqi phenomenon. And that is a direct result of the invasion of Iraq in 2003”.

Ian Sinclair is the author of The March That Shook Blair: An Oral History of 15 February 2003, published by Peace News Press. He Tweets @IanJSinclair