Tag Archives: Trident

What next for Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party?

What next for Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party?
by Ian Sinclair

Morning Star
7 October 2016

With Corbyn increasing his mandate as Labour leader and securing his position for the foreseeable future, Ian Sinclair asked writers, union members and activists sympathetic to Corbyn about what the Labour leader should do next.

Maya Goodfellow, freelance writer

Jeremy Corbyn is leader of the Labour party. Over a year ago, as the Labour leadership contest lurched into motion, this seemed an unthinkable possibility. Now, after a disastrous coup attempt and a bruising summer of infighting Corbyn has seen off another challenger and increased his mandate.

But we can’t ignore the challenges ahead: distrust on the economy and immigration, an almost complete collapse of the Labour vote in Scotland, rising support for UKIP, and deep internal divisions – these are but a few of the obstacles the Labour party faces.

The next step? To weave a clear narrative that appeals to working class and middle class people alike. That means a slicker media operation; Corbyn needs to engage sound bite politics and use the press to his advantage at a national level. And Labour needs to get into communities at a local level. As well as campaigning on the doorstep, it should be Labour helping to keep open local libraries on the brink of closure and providing support to people hit hardest by cuts by running foodbanks.

Corbyn’s speech to party conference was a marked improvement from his recent performances; he has learnt from unnecessary mistakes that have been made over the past year.

The road ahead is by no means smooth but change is possible.

Anthony Curley, Unite’s Young Member’s Officer

Something Jeremy has in abundance that other politicians can only dream of is that younger voters trust him. He has not been made and moulded by the system that brought us uninspiring career politicians, pushing cuts and eternal austerity onto the less well-off.

When he speaks to my generation he gets a hearing.  He gets that the basic hopes of a secure roof over our heads and not living a hand-to-mouth existence have been taken from young people.  He is the only leader talking about how we need redistribution and reordering of our priorities because as things stand today, young people entering the workplace today will be worse off than their parents.

I have high hopes for the Workplace2020 initiative Labour launched over the summer.  It tells my generation that this is a party serious about leading the fight for decent work, including taking on the Tories itching to use the Brexit vote to further attack our rights and wages.

If there was some comradely advice I would give to Jeremy and his team though it is this – don’t leave it too long to set out your plan to create decent jobs, provide homes and help us with the crippling debts that young people are being burdened with.

Under Ed Miliband, the party left it too late to say what they stood for, what they would deliver for the people.  Voters were simply confused or worse, unexcited.  Don’t make that mistake again, I say.

And Jeremy, the next time you come to Liverpool, my city, bring your cabinet team and the PLP moaners with you. They can meet the people you meet when you’re here, people who see in you a reason to vote because things can be different.

Jeremy was elected to do things differently.  He has inspired my generation.  Labour MPs must not stand in his way.”

John Hilley, commentator and human rights campaigner

Having seen off the Blairite coup, we should be greatly encouraged by Jeremy Corbyn’s resounding re-election, resisting the most concerted establishment onslaught ever seen against a leftist leader. Despite relentless smears, most lamentably from the system-serving Guardian, his grassroots approval shows that, beyond all the media fearmongering, people really are receptive to Corbyn’s sincere socialist politics, and can be won around to policies that truly transcend neoliberal ‘realities’. With Seumas Milne’s guidance, Corbyn has shown he needn’t pander to a hostile media and witch-hunter narrative. He should keep speaking directly to the street, creating new social media platforms that connect and educate.

Corbyn now has to steer consistently leftwards, using the failed coup and his second solid mandate to reject and dismiss the Blairites. The real challenge is not about ‘party unity’ or rescuing moribund Labourism, but constructing a new movement politics. Crucially here, Corbyn needs to embrace the resilient Yes mood in Scotland, Labour (and leftist others) having failed to engage the case for progressive independence. He should also seek a much greener alignment, using (like Naomi Klein) emergency climate change to expose the consequences of corporate capitalism for people and planet. Having been proved correct in refusing to support Britain’s imperialist wars, Corbyn should be similarly positive in upholding bold alternatives to economic militarism and nuclear weaponry.

Beyond failed efforts to pin Brexit on Corbyn, it’s still Tory and ruling class forces that are riven by conflict over Europe. Corbyn has real political space here to harness public alienation and anger over ‘austerity’ (actually a smokescreen term hiding relentless capitalist misery), and a key opportunity to craft a new 1945-type vision of the better society. This would require the rightful re-taking and ownership of public assets, and much more radical checks on the City. Again, any such change depends on imaginative movement building.

There’s nothing to be gained under ‘New Improved Labour’.

Kate Hudson, General Secretary, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

Jeremy has brought public sentiment on nuclear weapons into the mainstream, challenging the dominant media/establishment narrative. His principled position on Trident replacement is fundamental to his huge popularity and why he won – and re-won – the leadership.

His opening up of debate via the Defence Review enables Labour to quit positions that are a hangover from cold war attitudes, and enter into the twenty-first century – what are the security challenges we face and what will address them: think climate change, terrorism, pandemics and cyber warfare. This rethinking now needs to be driven forward. Labour needs modern policies based on contemporary needs and realities.

Some say that Jeremy should drop his anti-nuclear position – that Labour will be more electable if he sticks to an anti-cuts agenda. This attitude does a disservice to Labour. Whether or not Britain has nuclear weapons is a rational question about what is in the best interests of Britain – our security, our economy and industry – as well as a global question, of international security and human survival, not to mention our longstanding legal obligations.

How can the £205 billion cost of Trident replacement be best reallocated across society and industry, to help fulfil Jeremy’s social and economic pledges, for a more just and equal society? An urgent step for Labour is setting up a shadow Defence Diversification Agency (DDA). When a Corbyn-led government cancels Trident replacement, the door will be open for hundreds of thousands of new skilled jobs. The workforce needs to be involved in planning and participating in those developments. It’s time to get a shadow DDA up and running. Cancelling Trident replacement is in all our best interests

Will Armston-Sheret, Momentum member who volunteered and then worked for the Jeremy Corbyn for Labour Leader Campaign as Head of Data

Jeremy Corbyn needs to continue to build on the enthusiasm of his leadership campaign by encouraging greater activism and participation in Labour’s grassroots. Only a revitalised, activist party can reach out to the millions who no longer listen to Labour.

The Party is institutionalised, inaccessible and, frankly, undemocratic. How can we realistically expect to build a mass member party, when the membership are treated as fodder, whose only role is to leaflet and identify Labour voters? Leafleting and voter ID are both crucial aspects of political activism, but our members want to do more and are a terribly poorly used asset.

Labour’s structures and practices worked well in the 20th century but are outdated for the 21st. The party makes policies and takes decisions at a level far removed from the ordinary membership. The real power in the party is with a select few in these institutions and the party bureaucracy. We need to change the party.

Jeremy must embark on a process of transforming the party into a genuinely democratic one, reversing the years of democratic disengagement from ward level upwards, by making local parties more accessible and giving members more say over party decisions and policy. Only by doing this will he be able to reinvigorate Labour and empower the huge number who support him. An inspired and empowered mass membership can re-engage Labour with the millions of voters who have stopped listening to us, win elections, and transform society.

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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.

Who is Owen Smith?

Who is Owen Smith?
by Ian Sinclair
Open Democracy
29 July 2016

Labour leadership contender Owen Smith MP has stated he is “going to be just as radical” as Jeremy Corbyn. “Jeremy has been right about so many things”, Smith argued at the launch of his campaign. This pitch to Labour voters has been taken up by the Saving Labour group hoping to dispose Corbyn, with its supporters telling members of the public “there is no real difference… between Owen Smith and Jeremy”.

Is this true? How does this framing of the leadership contest fit with Smith’s actual political record?

Smith has already been criticised for his previous senior positions at Big Pharma corporations. “Smith worked for Amgen as its chief lobbyist in the UK for two years before becoming MP for Pontypridd [in 2010]. Before that he was a lobbyist for US drug firm Pfizer from 2005”, notes the Guardian. “While at Pfizer in 2005 Smith endorsed a Pfizer-backed report offering NHS patients easier access to private-sector healthcare”. According to The Times newspaper Smith stated in a press release “We believe that choice is a good thing and that patients and healthcare professionals should be at the heart of developing the agenda.” For Lisa Nandy MP (“a cracking Labour MP” – Guardian journalist Owen Jones) Smith’s senior role at Pfizer is a good thing because “having seen how a pharmaceutical company and capitalism operates from the inside is probably quite important, to be honest. If you are going to critique it, you need to understand it.”

Responding to questions about his position with Pfizer on the BBC Today Programme, Smith stated “I’ve never advocated the privatisation of the NHS” and “I believe in a 100 percent publicly owned NHS free at the point of use”. Nandy repeated this narrative in her interview with Owen Jones, replying “Yes” when Jones asked her to confirm Smith “wants an entirely publicly run National Health Service – no privatisation?”

In the real world, when Smith unsuccessfully fought the 2006 Blaenau Gwent by-election and he was asked about the involvement of the private sector in the NHS by Wales Online, he replied:

“Where they can bring good ideas, where they can bring valuable services that the NHS is not able to deliver, and where they can work alongside but subservient to the NHS and without diminishing in any respect the public service ethos of the NHS, then I think that’s fine.”

Asked about the controversial Private Finance Initiative (PFI) schemes introduced by the Blair Government, Smith responded: “We’ve had PFI in Wales, we’ve had a hospital built down in Baglan through PFI. If PFI works, then let’s do it.” In the same interview Smith sings the praises of New Labour’s introduction of academy schools, which was strongly opposed by the teaching unions. “I’m not someone, frankly, who gets terribly wound up about some of the ideological nuances”, noted Smith.

In July 2015 Smith abstained on the Government’s Welfare Bill, which the government’s own figures confirmed would push 330,000 children from low-income families further into poverty, with single mothers and ethnic minorities hit particularly hard. Now running for the Labour leadership, Smith told the BBC’s Andrew Marr his vote was a mistake that he now regretted. How sincerely he believes this is brought into question by his appearance on BBC Newsnight in September 2016 when he confirmed his support for the £26,000 benefit cap, saying “We are in favour of an overall reduction in the amount of money we spend on benefits in this country and we are in favour of limits on what individual families can draw down.” In March 2015 the Guardian reported the UK Supreme Court had “found that the effect of the policy [the benefit cap] was not compatible with the government’s obligations under the UN convention on the rights of the child”.

Earlier this month Smith voted to renew the UK’s Trident nuclear weapons. Asked by Marr if he was prepared to “annihilate possibly millions of people” by firing Trident, Smith replied that “You’ve got to be prepared to say yes to that.” But wasn’t he once a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, asked Marr? When did he realise he was wrong? “About 15 years ago”, Smith replied. This doesn’t fit with a June 2006 Daily Mail report, which noted “Yesterday Owen Smith… came out in opposition to the Trident nuclear deterrent”.

Noting Smith entered parliament in 2010, the Guardian’s Zoe Williams argues he cannot be “tarnished by the Blair years and the vote on the Iraq war.” Indeed, though he was a Special Advisor to pro-war Labour Cabinet Minister Paul Murphy in 2003, Smith and his supporters have repeatedly highlighted his opposition to the war. However, interviewing Smith in 2006 Wales Online noted “He didn’t know whether he would have voted against the war”, with Smith arguing “the tradition of the Labour Party and the tradition of left-wing engagement to remove dictators was a noble, valuable tradition, and one that in South Wales, from the Spanish Civil War onwards, we have recognised and played a part in.”

As this suggests, even if he did oppose the war in 2003 Smith continues to repeat the delusional framing of the pro-war camp. For example, introducing the topic of Iraq in his campaign launch speech, Smith referred to the UK as “a country that has traditionally, patriotically intervened around the world to help impose and understand our values across the globe.” And again he tried to ride Corbyn’s coattails, noting “Iraq was a terrible mistake. Jeremy has been right about that.” The problem for Smith is this isn’t what Corbyn or the mainstream anti-war movement argue. Let me explain: if I slip on a banana skin – that’s a mistake. If I spill coffee down my shirt – that’s a mistake. If I spend months planning an illegal and aggressive invasion of another country that leads to the deaths of over 500,000 men, women and children and over four million refugees, then that’s a crime, and a massive one at that, as Corbyn implicitly suggested in his response to the publication of the Chilcot Report.

Corbyn, of course, also opposed the 2011 Libyan war – just one of the 2 percent of MPs who did. Smith supported the military intervention which steamrolled over peace initiatives being made by the African Union, enabled ethnic cleansing and the levelling of the city of Sirte, destabilised the country and region, increased the number of terrorist groups operating in Libya and exacerbated the refugee crisis.

Interviewed by the Telegraph in June 2006, Smith argued Tony Blair was a socialist. Asked if he has any policy differences with Blair except for the Iraq War, which he said was a mistake, Smith replied “No, I don’t think so.” The Telegraph’s take on Smith? “About as New Labour as you can get”. The Independent’s take on Smith for their report on the by-election was similarly blunt: “A dyed-in-the wool New Labourite.”

Big Pharma lobbyist? Radical? New Labourite? Socialist? Blairite? Corbynista without Corbyn? Who, exactly, is Owen Smith? Looking at his record of following the prevailing political winds, it seems Owen Smith will be whoever he needs to be for political gain.

*Buzzfeed journalist James Ball recently criticised a Twitter meme based on a similar article I wrote for Open Democracy titled ‘Who Is Angela Eagle?’. Comparing the selected points my article highlights about Eagle’s voting record with her overall voting record, Ball argued “can prove what you like with being selective with voting records”. As I explained to Ball, my article about Eagle – and this article – is about highlighting political differences between the challenger and Corbyn on key issues that may be of interest to Labour voters and the broader general public. It is not a complete record of Smith’s political career, obviously. I would hope readers don’t need me to tell them that Smith is not a moustache-twirling, Disney villain and has, I’m sure, made many positive contributions in his political career.

Who is Angela Eagle?

Who is Angela Eagle?
by Ian Sinclair
Open Democracy
29 June 2016

Interviewed a couple of days ago by Sky News about Jeremy Corbyn’s position as Labour leader, the increasingly impressive journalist Paul Mason explained that corporate-friendly Labour MPs will trigger a leadership election and choose “the leftist person they can” to stand against Corbyn.

It turns out this candidate will likely be former Shadow Business Secretary Angela Eagle, who ITV News reported will challenge Corbyn for the leadership. It is likely that Eagle will be the sole candidate to stand, as the anti-Corbyn section of the Parliamentary Labour Party understand they cannot dilute the non-Corbyn vote like they did in the 2015 Labour leadership campaign.

In the upcoming leadership contest, Eagle and her supporters will no doubt claim she represents Labour members, and poor and vulnerable people. However, as Noam Chomsky wisely noted “It is wise to attend to deeds, not rhetoric” because “deeds commonly tell a different story”.

As Eagle was elected to parliament in 1992, she has an extensive political record that people might want to consider before casting their vote in the Labour leadership election:

  • According to the They Work For You website she has “generally voted for a stricter asylum system”.
  • According to the They Work For You website in January and March 2004 she “voted in favour of university tuition fees increasing from £1125 per year to up to £3000 per year”.
  • She supported the introduction of ID cards.
  • In 2006 she supported the Blair Government’s plan to detain terrorism suspects for up to 90 days without charge.
  • In March 2013 she abstained on the vote about the Coalition Government’s Workfare programme, the scheme in which people on Jobseekers Allowance are forced to carry out unpaid work in order to keep receiving their benefits.
  • In July 2015 she abstained on the vote for the Welfare Bill, which proposed to cut tax credits, reduce the benefit cap to £20,000 (£23,000 in London) and called for £12bn more cuts. According to the government’s own figures, over 300,000 poor children will be pushed further into poverty, with 40,000 more children sinking below the poverty line, as a result of the benefit cap. Child Poverty Action Group noted “the majority of households affected by the benefit cap are lone-parent households and the main victims are children”.
  • She supports the expansion of Heathrow Airport.
  • In March 2003 she voted for the illegal and aggressive invasion of Iraq, which led to the deaths of approximately 500,000 people, according to the latest survey.
  • According to the They Work For You website she has “consistently voted against an investigation into the Iraq war”.
  • She supports the retention of Trident nuclear weapons.
  • In September 2014 she voted in favour of air strikes on Islamic State in Iraq.
  • In December 2015 she voted in favour of air strikes on Islamic State in Syria.

Dangerous omissions and intellectual obfuscation: the ‘left-wing’ case for Trident

Dangerous omissions and intellectual obfuscation: the ‘left-wing’ case for Trident
by Ian Sinclair

Open Democracy
24 May 2016

Jeremy Corbyn’s election as the Leader of the Labour Party has generated a number of articles from left and centre-left writers attempting to steer a course, as they see it, between Corbyn’s support for scrapping Trident on the one hand, and the Tory government’s plans to renew the nuclear weapons system on the other.

In April 2016 Paul Mason, considered by many to be one of the most left-wing journalists working in the mainstream, produced a short video for the Guardian titled ‘The leftwing case for nuclear weapons’. A day later he published an article called ‘A new defence doctrine for Labour’, which fleshed out his thesis. According to Mason, Labour should support the renewal of Trident. And should Scotland vote for independence and to scrap Trident, then Labour should support the movement of the nuclear base from Faslane in Scotland to a location in England.

Similarly, in October 2015 Jonathan Leader Maynard, a Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Oxford and a Research Associate of the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict, published a piece on the New Statesman website arguing for a consideration of the many options other than full replacement of Trident or complete disarmament. His proposal? Britain should “possess as limited and low-cost a nuclear deterrent as possible, for the exceptionally unlikely scenarios when it could be needed in the medium-term.”

Stop the War Coalition’s Lindsey German wrote a good, quick response to Mason, noting how his “left wing case for nuclear weapons” is actually “no different from the right wing case for nuclear weapons.” However, there are a number of very serious problems with both Mason’s and Maynard’s articles, problems which are common in other commentaries on the topic, so I think are worth highlighting and considering.

Language problems

In her influential 1987 journal article ‘Sex and Death in the Rational World of Defense Intellectuals’, Carol Cohn explored how the language used to discuss nuclear weapons is laden with unspoken, often subtle ideological and propagandistic framing. After spending considerable time speaking with and observing experts (almost all men) in the field, Cohen “was gripped by the extraordinary language used to discuss nuclear war. What hit me first was the elaborate use of abstraction and euphemism, of words so bland that they never forced the speaker or enabled the listener to touch the realities of nuclear holocaust that lay behind the words.”

Mason and Maynard are both guilty of using bland and deliberately misleading military and government-derived definitions and terminology, with both authors unwittingly defining and discussing the topic in particularly establishment and military-friendly ways. I suspect both authors would be horrified by this suggestion, so let me provide examples of the hidden assumptions and framing in their arguments.

Defence?

Both Maynard and Mason our happy to unquestionably and uncritically refer to Trident as part of the UK’s “defence policy”. “Defence” is, of course, a deeply political, deeply problematic descriptor for UK military policy that critical writers and thinkers have tried to draw attention to and unpack. It was, after all the Ministry of War before it was given a PR makeover and renamed the Ministry of Defence. Indeed, after the aggressive and deadly invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan – interventions described by Maynard as part of “defence spending” – surely only the most brainwashed would continue to refer to the UK’s “defence policy” without breaking into fits of laughter?

The extreme centre

Maynard describes unilateral disarmament, like full replacement, as an “extreme option”, before noting “unilateral complete disarmament” is “just as dangerous” as fully replacing Trident. Mason doesn’t make such explicit statements about scrapping Trident but like Maynard’s article his piece is implicitly trying to steer a course to what he sees as the middle ground – which includes the retention of nuclear weapons – between the left and right of the Labour Party. Orwell would be impressed. “War policy” becomes the much more benign “defence policy”. Reducing the ability of the UK’s armed forces to commit genocide is “extreme” rather than an urgent rationale, humane and moral task. Adhering to international law (see below) is “extreme” while retaining a reduced nuclear weapons capability is the sensible, right thing to do. The problem with framing one’s argument in terms of the mythical centre ground is that it ignores the global context which shows it is those who support retaining nuclear weapons that are extreme, unusual and in the minority: currently just nine nations possess nuclear weapons, which means over 180 nations on earth do not have nuclear weapons.

National Security

Both Mason and Maynard uncritically invoke the highly-loaded, and again, highly-contested term “national security” in their defences of the retention of nuclear weapons. Do all sections of society equally gain from notions of “national security”? Who makes the decisions regarding “national security”? By what actions is it achieved? One key use of the term is obviously as propaganda – deployed to close down awkward questions such as these. Even if one were to accept the term at face value, there is little evidence to suggest nuclear weapons positively influences national security.

Mason makes the extraordinary claim that “a government prepared to make significant inroads into the power and wealth of the elite needs to demonstrate it can safeguard national security.” Back in the real world, anyone who has been awake and sentient since 2001 will have noticed that successive UK (and US) governments have consistently carried out actions that have predictably endangered the lives of British people at home and abroad. As Noam Chomsky has observed, the dirty little secret of “national security policy” is that “security is at most a marginal concern of security planners”.

Independent?

Maynard begins his piece by referring in passing to “Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent”.  Interestingly, James Strong, a fellow International Relations Lecturer with a PhD from the University of Oxford, is also happy to refer to the UK’s “independent nuclear deterrent”. Unfortunately for our Oxford graduates, this is simply not true. In July 2014 the Guardian’s Defence and Security specialist (see, the Guardian is at it too) penned an article titled ‘UK’s nuclear deterrent entirely dependent on the US – crossparty report’. Quoting a new report from the independent all-party Trident Commission, Richard Norton-Taylor explained the life expectancy of Trident could be measured in months without the cooperation of the US. “Not only are Britain’s Trident missiles in a common pool shared with the US and maintained in Kings Bay, Georgia”, he explains, “its nuclear warheads are designed and maintained at the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston with the help of US know-how, as recently declassified documents on the UK-US Mutual Defence Agreement confirmed.”

In 2015 the former 2nd Division commander Major General Patrick Cordingley noted the US “control everything about our nuclear deterrent, we can’t fire it without them… we could simply not press the button and fire one ourselves, we just can’t do it, I promise you.” This is echoed by Ted Seay, a senior policy consultant at the London-based British American Security Information Council (BASIC), who spent three years as part of the US Mission to NATO, who has also noted “It would also be unthinkable for the UK to launch a strike outside of NATO… to say that you could launch a unilateral attack over the heads of NATO and Washington might be theoretically true, but practically speaking it’s rubbish.”

A deterrent?

Of course, “deterrence” itself – repeatedly referred to by Mason and Manyard – is another example of terminology that is far from neutral or descriptive but rather ideologically loaded in support of nuclear weapons culture. First, it suggests a defensive posture. Indeed, Maynard’s examples suggest he is only able to consider British nuclear policy as defensive in nature, discussing how nations such as Argentina or “an ISIS-like entity” could attempt “to elicit considerable concessions out of Britain on our vital interests”. The problem with this framing is that, like virtually every war throughout history, most nuclear arsenals and weapons systems are publicly justified as defensive. But with much of history showing that the words uttered by established power are generally meant to disguise its actions, what I’d like to politely suggest is maybe highly educated, privileged and influential members of the elite should have developed a sufficiently critical mind to not blindly repeat the underlying assumptions behind government’s framing of an issue. In reality the UK threatened to use nuclear weapons during the war on Iraq in 2003 – that is it has carried out, in the words of activist and author Milan Rai, nuclear terrorism. So far from deterring a threat to the UK’s “national security”, in this instance Trident was used to discourage another government from resisting the US and UK’s aggressive invasion of their nation. Second, the theory of deterrence is based on the assumption that all antagonists are rational actors. What, then, to make of Maynard’s baffling argument that Trident should be retained  in case “a really ghastly regime, perhaps an ISIS-like entity that gains statehood and then acquires nuclear weapons”? In an inversion of most observers understanding of the uselessness of Trident in the face of terrorism, Maynard maintains this entity “might be more prone to launch them directly against the UK or our allies if the certainty of deterrent is not present.”

The improbable nuclear apocalypse?

Maynard argues “nuclear apocalypse” is a “science fiction improbability”. He would do well to read the 2014 Chatham House report ‘Too Close for Comfort: Cases of Near Nuclear Use and Options for Policy’ before making such foolish statements. “The decades since 1945 have been punctuated by a series of disturbing close calls”, the report’s authors note, highlighting 13 instances when nuclear weapons were perilously close to being used. “The probability of inadvertent nuclear use… is higher than had been widely considered”, they conclude. Eric Schlosser, author of the 2013 book ‘Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety’, summarised the story of just how close the world came to a nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis:

“On October 27 1962, off the coast of Cuba, when American forces dropped practice depth charges to force a Soviet submarine to the surface, two of the three officers in charge of the sub voted to respond by firing nuclear weapons. They mistakenly believed the submarine was under attack. Vasili Arkhipov, the second-in-command, refused to authorise the use of nuclear weapons, and the vote to do so had to be unanimous. Arkhipov’s refusal prevented the world’s first nuclear war.”

None of these frightening close calls are mentioned by Mason or Maynard in their support for the retention of nuclear weapons. Why?

International Law

Neither Mason nor Maynard deem international law important enough to mention, let alone discuss. This seems especially odd when one remembers Maynard is a Research Associate of the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict. [my emphasis added]

Neither mentions the fact that Britain is a signatory to the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which states “each of the parties to the treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.” According to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament this requirement under Article VI was strengthened at the 2000 NPT Review Conference, with the addition of the commitment by the nuclear weapons states to “an unequivocal undertaking to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals.” According to seven International Law specialists writing to the Guardian in 2006, the replacement of Trident would constitute a material breach of the NPT. A 2005 legal opinion produced by Rabinder Singh QC and Professor Christine Chinkin agrees, as does Kofi Annan, who noted as the United Nations Secretary-General in 2006 that “All of the NPT nuclear-weapon States are modernizing their nuclear arsenals or their delivery systems. They should not imagine that this will be accepted as compatible with the NPT.”

And should the UK ever threaten to use or actually use a nuclear weapon – that is, commit genocide (again, a word strangely absent from Mason’s and Maynard’s articles) – the International Court of Justice concluded in 1996 that this “would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, and in particular the principles and roles of humanitarian law.” This judgement is based on the 1977 Geneva Convention Protocol which states “the civilian population shall not be the object of attack” and bans “methods or means of warfare which are intended, or may be expected, to cause widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment.”

Increasing proliferation

Finally, both authors do not mention the effect and influence that nations possessing nuclear weapons have on other nations. As Professor Mary Kaldor noted last year during an London School of Economics public event on Jeremy Corbyn’s foreign policy the UK’s continued ownership of nuclear weapons “legitimises a sort of discourse in which power depends on destruction capacity. And what that means is that obviously there is a reason for other countries to acquire nuclear weapons. Sooner or later some mad person might get them. So the only thing our having nuclear weapons does is to say to people ‘having a nuclear weapon makes you important’. And then everybody else wants to have the same.” In short, there is a direct link between the retention of Trident and the likelihood of further proliferation of nuclear weapons around the world, as the Director of Medact pointed out in 2006.

The elusive informed national debate

Writing in the Guardian in 2013 Schlosser argued “Britain has never had a full, vigorous debate about its nuclear weapons, based on the facts.” Chockful of crucial omissions, obfuscation and ideologically loaded language, Mason’s and Maynard’s articles do not get us any closer to this much needed informed national discussion. Indeed, by uncritically repeating all of the dubious terms and definitions above, the authors are effectively helping to normalise the politically questionable definitions and terms that help to provide linguistic support for the retention of Trident.

More broadly, at the same time they unwittingly reveal uncomfortable truths about their own establishment and military-friendly mindsets, the authors also inadvertently raise awkward questions about the intellectual standards and rigour of the supposedly top university in the country and our so-called quality media. To paraphrase Will Hunting, the numerous errors, slips and omissions that Mason and Maynard make are so basic and obvious that they could be easily found, understood and bettered by anyone willing to spend £1.50 in late charges at their local public library.

Stella Creasy: beyond wishful thinking

Stella Creasy: beyond wishful thinking
by Ian Sinclair
22 December 2015

Stella Creasy. Labour MP for Walthamstow since 2010. She’s brilliant, isn’t she?

Her important work leading prominent campaigns against payday loan lenders and misogynist online abuse has had the liberal media and many activists and progressives falling head over heels in love with her. “In a field populated by career politicians guided by self-interest, Creasy is a rare thing: a woman of conviction”, enthused the Observer’s Elizabeth Day in 2012. “Creasy’s concern for her constituents goes beyond clever public relations or mere political rhetoric.” A year later the Guardian’s Esther Addley was singing her praises for making “one of the most striking and effective parliamentary debuts in recent times”. The Labour List website selected her as MP of the Year in 2012. Spectator magazine named her Campaigner of the Year in 2011. ConservativeHome has called her “Labour’s most interesting member of parliament.” Catherine Mayer, Time magazine’s Europe Editor, called her “Labour’s leader in waiting”. Creasy is “seriously clever but not… lacking in human understanding”, noted Meyer. “She’s engaged but not doctrinaire or tribal.”

Compare this gushing coverage to the following political record:

  • In March 2013 Creasy abstained on the vote about the Coalition Government’s Workfare programme, the scheme in which people on Jobseekers Allowance are forced to carry out unpaid work in order to keep receiving their benefits.
  • In July 2015 Creasy abstained on the vote for the Welfare Bill, which will cut tax credits, reduce the benefit cap to £20,000 (£23,000 in London) and called for £12bn more cuts. According to a leaked government memo, 40,000 more children will sink below the poverty line as a result of the benefit cap. Child Poverty Action Group noted “the majority of households affected by the benefit cap are lone-parent households and the main victims are children”.
  • In March 2011 Creasy voted in favour of NATO intervention in Libya, a chief cause of the ongoing violent chaos in the country which has destabilised surrounding nations, empowered extremists and played a central role in the refugee crisis.
  • In December 2015 Creasy voted with the Tory Government to authorise the UK bombing of Syria, tweeting just before the vote “Hilary benn’s speech has persuaded me that fascism must be defeated.”
  • In January 2015 Creasy voted to renew the UK’s Trident nuclear weapons system.
  • Creasy, according to the Guardian, was one of a group of Labour MPs who “grew exasperated by [Ed] Miliband’s leadership and quietly identified [Blairite candidate Liz] Kendall… as having leadership potential”.
  • Creasy backed Blairite candidate David Miliband in the 2010 Labour leadership race.

What these inconvenient facts show is Creasy is very clearly on the right of the Labour Party – a Blairite, basically – when it comes to many domestic and international political questions. She has failed to oppose Tory Government policies that will push more children and poor women into poverty, she has supported a highly interventionist foreign policy that will likely led to more violence and civilian deaths, and she has supported the most right-wing leaders in Labour leadership contests.

So, what’s going on here? How can Creasy be lauded by activists, progressives and the liberal media with the voting record and political actions set out above? To get a flavour of this support, witness the extreme deference of Feminist campaigner Karen Ingala Smith’s reaction to Creasy backing UK airstrikes in Syria (an action, let’s not forget, that will likely kill women and children and increase the terror threat to the UK): “I didn’t agree with your choice of vote re Syria but I respect that you made the decision that you felt was best. I also appreciate that you’ll be more informed about this issue that [sic] me… I’m grateful to have you as MP and would proudly stand beside you in solidarity.”

Is Creasy’s positive image among many people who identify as “Left-wing” simply down to ignorance of her actual politics? Have they been fooled by her benign sounding official title of “Labour & Co-operative MP”? She is certainly a good communicator and comes across as a genuinely sincere, human person. Perhaps this has blinded people to the reality of her voting record?

I wonder too if Creasy’s popularity is down to what Owen Jones describes in his book Chavs as the Left’s “shift away from class politics towards identity politics over the last 30 years.” In support of his argument Jones cites a search conducted of the academic resource MLA International Bibliography from 1991 to 2000. “There were 13,820 results for ‘women’, 4,539 for ‘gender’, 1,862 for ‘race’, 710 for ‘postcolonial’ – and just 136 for ‘working class’.” I suspect for many of Creasy’s supporters Feminism is their primary concern – and Creasy has certainly done great, essential work on defending women’s rights. But are people confusing Creasy’s Feminist activist with a wider radical outlook, when the two do not necessarily go together – and certainly don’t with Creasy.

And do we need to expand our understanding of what Feminist analysis and activism look like? Responding to the Guardian’s endorsement of Yvette Cooper in the Labour leadership contest because “a female leader would be a plus in itself”, Selma James and Nina Lopez noted that as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Cooper abolished income support and extended Labour’s work-capability assessment for sick and disabled people. “The money that recognised unwaged caring work, and enabled mothers to leave violent men, and disabled people to live independent lives is now gone or under threat”, explained James and Lopez. “Better men against sexist austerity than women for it.”

To be clear, this is not just about Creasy but the propensity of a certain section of liberal and leftist opinion to be taken in by slick PR, meaningless platitudes, impressive rhetoric and media hype – see Barack Obama circa 2008, Tony Blair in 1997, 2010 Nick Clegg and Hilary Benn’s Syria speech earlier this month. It seems to me that meaningful progressive change in society will only come when we bypass this kind of media-driven wishful thinking and will be built upon an accurate understanding of the political reality we wish to change. And the unfortunate truth is Stella Creasy has some very ugly politics indeed.

Context? Who needs context! James Strong, Jeremy Corbyn and public opinion

Context? Who needs context! James Strong, Jeremy Corbyn and public opinion
by Ian Sinclair
Political Studies Association blog
5 November 2015

On 23 September 2015 James Strong wrote a blog titled ‘Jeremy Corbyn’s views on British defence policy lie far outside the mainstream’. I replied to this blog on 15 October 2015. Strong has now replied to my response.

I have a number of criticisms of Strong’s response, which I’ll go through below. However, the key part of this blog is the last part which focusses on what I consider to be the most productive and worthwhile aspect of this debate – trying to move the conversation beyond the basic poll data to look at the context – the hugely unequal power relations and propaganda – that are central to any discussion of Jeremy Corbyn’s foreign policy positions and public opinion.

You can’t be neutral on a moving train

Strong begins by attempting to subtly undermine my argument by intimating my broadly pro-Corbyn politics have clouded my judgement, leading me to conflate “whether Corbyn’s views are a) right, b) representative and c) likely to shift the mainstream towards his position.” As I think it is the content of one’s argument that should be central to discussions, I won’t respond to this other than to say we are all, of course, biased. As the American historian Howard Zinn was fond of repeating, “You can’t be neutral on a moving train. The world is already moving in certain directions – many of them are horrifying. Children are going hungry, people are dying in wars. To be neutral in such a situation is to collaborate with what is going on.” Indeed, by referring to Trident as an “independent nuclear deterrent” (it’s not, as Corbyn knows), not putting scare quotes around or the words “so-called” before the phrase “war on terrorism”, stating the 2001 attack on Afghanistan was supported by the United Nations Security Council (this is highly debatable – see below) and defining mainstream opinion as mainstream parliamentary opinion (see below), Strong inadvertently highlights his own establishment-friendly sympathies.

Criticising a straw-man

By basing his arguments on ‘my’ assertion that “Corbyn’s views on foreign policy issues are representative of the electorate as a whole” Strong is attempting to knock down something of a straw man. This sentence is not mine, but written by the one of the editors at Open Democracy – presumably to entice readers to read my article. My actual conclusion was more nuanced: “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.” My point was to highlight where Corbyn did reflect public opinion – on the two biggest and most intensely felt foreign policy issues of recent times – and also to consider why he may not on other issues. (I should say Strong is correct to point out I misrepresented John Curtice’s quote about public opinion and Trident as being about the UK, when it was about Scotland. This was a mistake and I’ve added a comment at the bottom of my original article correcting this).

Confusion over what constitutes mainstream opinion

Strong seems to be confused about what constitutes ‘mainstream opinion’. For example, he argues “I thought the whole point of Jeremy Corbyn’s candidacy for Labour Party leader was that he is not mainstream.” I can’t speak for everyone who supported Corbyn, or his campaign team, but Strong’s description doesn’t fit with the debates that I was aware of and wrote about myself. Corbyn supporters commonly had a more nuanced, reality-based understanding than Strong. Far from not being mainstream, many people supporting Corbyn’s leadership bid understood that many of Corbyn’s positions had large scale support amongst the general public but not in the mainstream media or in Westminster. The mainstream media’s ignorance of this paradox was likely one of the reasons why many commentators were shocked when Corbyn started to pick up significant levels of support in the contest.

This explanation goes some way to responding to Strong’s belief that I contradict myself because my point that “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” sits in opposition to my belief Corbyn represents mainstream opinion on key issues. Strong: “Corbyn can’t simultaneously represent the mainstream and the marginalised.” To be clear, Corbyn and many of his views have been marginalised for a long time. At the same time his positions on issues like Iraq, Afghanistan and to a lesser extent Libya and Trident, have received large scale public support despite being marginalised by the media and parliamentary politics. This is the key point – and a hopeful one at that, because a widening of the national debate may well increase support for Corbyn’s broad positions.

Strong himself falls into the trap of defining mainstream opinion as mainstream parliamentary opinion when he argues that because Corbyn “was amongst just 2% of MPs who voted against no-fly zones in Libya” it was not “a mainstream stance at the time.” Defining what is mainstream opinion by what is happening in parliament is, of course, a very Westminster-focussed, elitist view of British politics based on the very sweet – but largely evidence-free – assumption that parliament accurately reflects public opinion. In reality, Corbyn’s opposition to the Libyan war was broadly in line with a significant section of the public, according to polls Strong quotes, and a plurality of those who gave an opinion, according to a larger analysis of polling data by six political scientists.

Repeating the British Government’s narrative

It’s not central to the debate but Strong’s straightforward and unquestioning statement that that 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and NATO’s 2011 intervention in Libya “had UN Security Council approval” sound like it was lifted from a Ministry of Defence press release. The legality of both interventions is highly dubious.

On Afghanistan, a briefing paper from the House of Commons Library notes “The military campaign in Afghanistan was not specifically mandated by the UN – there was no specific Security Council Resolution authorising the invasion – but was widely (although not universally) perceived to be a legitimate form of self-defence under the UN Charter.” The paper goes on to explain “The USA might conceivably have gained specific legal support from the Security Council for its action in Afghanistan, but in the end did not seek such a Resolution”. The BBC confirms this reading in an online history of the conflict, noting “while it deplored the [9/11] attacks, the UNSC [United Nations Security Council] did not authorise a military campaign.”

Marjorie Cohn, Professor of Law at California’s Thomas Jefferson School of Law and a former president of the US National Lawyers Guild, described the invasion as “a patently illegal use of armed force.” Cohn argued the bombing was not a legitimate form of self-defence under Article 51 for two reasons. First, “the attacks in New York and Washington D.C. were criminal attacks, not ‘armed attacks’ by another state.” Second, “there was not an imminent threat of an armed attack on the US after September 11, or the US would not have waited three weeks before initiating its bombing campaign.” Michael Mandel, Professor of Law at Osgoode Hall Law School, is in agreement on the latter point, arguing “the right of unilateral self-defence does not include the right to retaliate once an attack has stopped.”

Even if one were to agree the West’s attack was legitimate under Article 51, the House of Commons Library paper notes proportionality is central to the use of force in self-defence. “It may not be considered proportionate to produce the same amount of damage” as the initial attack, the paper notes. Writing in November 2001, Brian Foley, Professor of Law at Florida Coastal School of Law, maintained “these attacks on Afghanistan most likely do not stand up as proportional to the threat of terrorism on US soil.” This is because, as Professor Marc Herold from the University of Hampshire found by studying press reports and eyewitness accounts, more Afghan civilians were likely killed during ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ than died on 9/11.

On Libya, the UN Security Council may have approved military action to set up the No-Fly Zones. However, as Strong knows full well, the intervention quickly moved beyond this initial remit, with NATO playing a key role in overthrowing the Libyan Government and killing the Libyan leader. Richard Falk, Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton and former United Nations special rapporteur on Palestinian human rights, described NATO’s key role in regime change in Libya as “mission creep on steroids”. Just over a week into the bombing campaign the Guardian was reporting that “legal experts” – Philippe Sands QC, Professor of International Law at University College London, and Professor Nicholas Grief, Director of Legal Studies at the University of Kent – were concerned “the international coalition may have overstepped what was agreed by the UN resolution sanctioning military action”.

I don’t think it is too much to ask for an International Relations scholar at one of the top universities in the UK to mention the deep grey areas and dodgy politics surrounding the legality of both of these conflicts when he is writing about the legality of these conflicts. That Strong doesn’t feel the need to raise critical questions is telling in itself, of course.

Finally, many readers will no doubt be dumbfounded by Strong’s astonishingly naïve, Alistair Campbell circa 2003-style assertion that “Britain’s armed forces cannot act without a ruling from the Attorney-General that there is at least a ‘reasonable’ legal case for using force. Every time Britain uses force abroad, in other words, a group of experienced international lawyers have concluded there are good legal grounds for doing so.” This is like reading a textbook about the theory of British Government. Back in the real world, those who followed the race to war in 2003 may well point to the almost certain political pressure successfully applied to the Attorney General – not mentioned by Strong, of course – and simply ask “So what?” Again, Strong fails to provide any of the desperately needed political context that is essential if one is to understand the issue at hand. No mention, of course, that the Foreign Office’s Deputy Chief Legal Advisor quit in protest at the Attorney General’s position on legality in 2003, referring to the invasion as “an unlawful use of force on such a scale amounts to the crime of aggression”. Or the fact the Foreign Office’s Chief Legal Advisor also thought the invasion was illegal.

Towards a more productive and useful understanding of Jeremy Corbyn’s foreign policy and public opinion

As I said in my original reply “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.”

As Strong ignored this and simply provided a more detailed comparison between Corbyn’s views and public opinion, I’m going to try one more time to push the discussion into this more productive and worthwhile area.

Strong’s analysis is particularly limited as it treats the issue as happening in a social, economic and political vacuum, providing very little context. There is certainly no discussion of the establishment-friendly media mediating news and opinion to the public. And no mention that Western governments spend millions of pounds and considerable time and energy producing propaganda to influence public opinion. One wonders how far Strong would take this very unacademic aversion to context and understanding. For example, a January 2003 PIPA/KN poll found that 68 percent of Americans expressed the belief that Iraq played an important role in 9/11. Three years later a Harris Interactive poll similarly found half of Americans believed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when the US invaded in 2003. Predictably there was a close correlation between misperceptions about the Iraq War and support for the war. These were and continue to be staggering results that immediately bring to mind a number of questions. Not for Strong, who would presumably simply tell us a politician who understood there were no WMDs in Iraq and that Iraq had no connection to 9/11 was out of touch with public opinion. End of story. In contrast a person interested in making the world a better place might ask a number of questions: “Why are a large number of Americans ignorant of the basic facts?” “Has the media played a role in engendering this ignorance?” “What is the government’s role?” And even “Perhaps I should be helping Americans understand what is going on?”

This is an extreme example, of course, but there are similar issues at play in the UK. For example, a 2013 survey conducted by ComRes found 74 per cent of Britons estimated that less than 50,000 Iraqi combatants and civilians had died as a consequence of the Iraq War. Amazingly, 59 per cent of respondents estimated that less than 10,000 Iraqis had died because of the war. Only 6 per cent of the poll’s respondents correctly estimated the death toll to be over 500,000 Iraqis. What lies behind this mass ignorance? Writing about the Glasgow University Media Group’s research into UK media coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict back in 2004, Professor Greg Philo noted “Television news is the main source of information on the Israel-Palestine conflict for about 80% of the population. Yet the quality of what they see and hear is so confused and partial that it is impossible to have a sensible public debate about the reasons for the conflict or how it might be resolved.” According to Philo “The gaps in public knowledge closely parallel those in the news”.

I’m not suggesting the general public are unthinking dolts pulled this way and that by competing arguments. But I am suggesting the media, academics and political parties play a key role in informing and shaping the national debate on foreign policy. And very obviously Corbyn’s positions are not presented to the public on a level playing field which allows each citizen to carefully consider all of the facts and arguments from a wide-range of competing opinions. Rather Corbyn, or anyone with his politics, will be opposed by the largely pro-military, pro-NATO, pro-‘special relationship’, pro-Trident establishment who own large sections of the media and who fund political parties. National journalists are overwhelmingly and increasingly from very privileged backgrounds, with Sutton Trust research finding over half of the top journalists were privately educated. The study found 37 percent of the top journalists who went to university graduated from just one institution — Oxford. The dominance of this middle-class, privately schooled, Oxbridge elite is also evident in the legal profession, the civil service, the armed forces, politics and academia. And as I recently noted in another article, this common 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.” Opposed to classism, private schools and inequality in addition to aggressive Western foreign policy Corbyn is unlikely to receive support from those who run Britain. (Of course, detailed research and analysis may well find that large numbers of well informed, level-headed people simply disagree with Corbyn).

Rather than obsessively focus on poll data, surely a moral and enquiring mind would choose to think and write about the politics, vastly unequal power relations and propaganda that lie behind and have an important influence on pubic opinion? And with nuclear weapons a continued threat to the existence of humanity and over 500,000 Iraqi people dead because of UK-US actions in Iraq it seems to me that academics, with their privileged position, education and expertise have a special responsibility to move beyond such a narrow focus and start looking at the cause of things when it comes to these urgent life and death issues.

An edited version of this blog was first published on Open Democracy on 5 November 2015.