by Rob Marchant
Once upon a time, the Labour party was an outward-looking, internationalist party which believed in solidarity with peoples across the globe. We have surely seldom been farther from that position than we are right now.
Tomorrow, Jeremy Corbyn will get up to speak at the annual dinner of the organisation which, until three months ago, he chaired. It is, of course, the Stop the War Coalition.
While it was founded in 2001 as a broad-based response to proposed British action in Afghanistan, pulling in a number of mainstream politicians at the time, it was later predictably taken over by the far left and has since wandered so far as to be practically off the political map.
Normal though it may be for the party leader to speak at a wide number of party fringes at annual conference, for example, it is not so normal to speak at an organisation whose affiliations and political positions are so widely criticised, not just by opposing parties but by a good number of his own MPs.
Take, for example, Tristram Hunt’s comment last weekend, that the organisation was “disreputable”. This was no idle criticism, by the way: the Stoppers have recently had to pull two different pieces from their phenomenally ill-edited website, expressing views which are at the very least damaging to it (and by extension Corbyn and the Labour Party), and which many would find abhorrent.
The first, on Nov 15 after the Paris attacks, read “Paris reaps whirlwind of western support for extremist violence in Middle East”. In other words, it was the French’s fault for trying to stop ISIS. It was, as Mary Creagh MP pointed out, “a masterclass in woolly thinking, reflexive anti-Americanism and victim blaming”.
The second, on Dec 4, praised the “internationalism and solidarity” of – you’ve guessed it – ISIS, the same genocidal death cult. Luckily, on both occasions, screenshots and web caches were saved before they were deleted.
But this is not the first time the Stoppers have pulled pieces: last year I wrote about a similar example of a similarly ghastly text, accusing Western governments of creating “a false story of a massive Yazidi crisis”. False, of course, until incontrovertible evidence emerged of mass killing, raping and abduction of Yazidis.
The Stoppers inevitably hide behind the fact they are a collective, with individual contributors, whose views do not represent those of the organisation, and so on and so forth. This “cell division” always serves the far left well in terms of abdicating responsibility for any outcry when their members say unpardonable things. As they invariably do.
Now, their members are clearly varied and some are still decent. For example, there are understandable overlaps between the Greens, who many see as a group of well-meaning eco-liberals. But it is also true that they are a strictly minority party and, like most minority parties, have poorly-developed disciplinary procedures to ensure that party representatives do not bring it into disrepute. In other words, like UKIP or Respect, it’s a lot more likely to contain nut-cases.
All the more extraordinary, then, to find that that minority party’s only MP, Caroline Lucas, quit Stop the War, quite reasonably citing her differences with it on policy. In other words, she was embarrassed by them. In contrast, the leader of the Labour Party, in speaking to his fellow Stoppers on Friday, clearly shows no such qualms.
In short, as former MP Tom Harris pointed out, the Greens are now officially “more sensible and moderate than us”. Lord help us.
But why is all this damaging? It is not so much that Corbyn’s admission that he couldn’t think of circumstances when he would support British intervention anywhere, ever, rankles with much of the British public (although it clearly does: we are not a nation of pacifists).
It is that his continued association – irrespective of being its chair or not – with the Stoppers means associating our great party with an organisation which could be at best described as nutty and at worst as apologists for some of the greatest fascists of our age: Putin, Assad, and even ISIS. And it also points up what the world already knows: that Corbyn is only tempering his words because of his new position: his real views coincide entirely with those of the organisation he used to chair.
But could it be getting even worse since he handed over? Quite probably. We might note that the replacement of Labour’s Corbyn as chair by Andrew Murray, chief of staff for Unite leader Len McCluskey and one of the last surviving members of the Communist Party of Britain, does not exactly bode well for the direction of the organisation.
As chair, Corbyn may have been a mere backbencher on the far left of his party, but at least it was a mainstream party. Politically, Murray cuts a practically lone figure, with precious little pressure to keep the organisation on any kind of straight and narrow. Oh, and he’s rather keen on Stalin (yes, the mass-murderer), as Oliver Kamm notes here, as well as a big fan of North Korea. Another patron, Kamal Majid, is a founder member of the Stalin Society.
That is the kind of organisation we are talking about, with which the Labour Party leadership now freely associates.
In an otherwise somewhat depressing couple of weeks for Labour’s moderates, there was at least one ray of sunshine: Hilary Benn’s unforgettable speech in the Syria debate to remind us what the history of the party’s foreign policy is really about.
It is not about pacifism. Apart from Lansbury’s brief tenure as leader in the 30s, it never was. And neither, noting the Stoppers remarkable slowness in criticising military action by non-Western powers, was it ever about their strange pseudo-pacifism, only protesting action by the West.
It is about internationalism. It is about Ernie Bevin’s foreign policy “to take a ticket at Victoria station and go anywhere I damn well please”. It is about the party who helped found the United Nations and which was happy for Britain to stand alone against the Nazis in World War Two, risking everything to defend its way of life. And which also stood against the USSR, when it turned against the West.
We should remember that on Friday, when our leader stands up with the Stalinists.
Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour Party manager who blogs at The Centre Left