by Rob Marchant
A country with a population half that of Britain is currently collapsing. Its president was defeated in the country’s parliamentary elections last December and, in the true style of demagogic leaders the world over, finally declared a state of emergency ten days ago in an attempt to cling onto power, backed by the country’s army.
It is all the more ironic to understand that the state enjoys a massive economic blessing: it contains the world’s largest oil reserves. But it has been so terribly managed since the turn of the century that there is scarcely any food in the shops, electricity in the wall sockets or medicine in the hospitals. A clearer example of Biblical famine in the land of plenty it would be difficult to find.
The country, of course, is Venezuela. A country which, under its recent leadership, has gone out of its way to pick fights with the West: US presidents, even the King of Spain. And wasted no time in cuddling up to the West’s enemies, notably Putin’s Russia.
But, as Nick Cohen has argued many times, in Britain the current regime has long been supported by “a herd of bovine leftists”. This has particular resonance for those of us who find ourselves in a Corbyn-led Labour Party which we seem to scarcely recognise any more.
In short: in spite of the absolute dog’s breakfast it has made of running a country bursting with natural wealth, the regime of Nicolás Maduro has still has a few close political allies in the West.
Who, we ask, might those be?
Step forward, the current leader of our beloved party (not to mention one Diane Abbott, who enjoyed a Caribbean trip as an “impartial” observer at the 2012 election, an election which itself raised big questions about freeness and fairness).
These people see the Venezuelan regime as a shining example of democratic socialism, and are active campaigners on its behalf through its “useful idiots” support organisation in the UK, the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign (also, for the record, supported by TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady, ironic when you consider the regime’s record on rights for trade unions). Any failure by the regime, of course, is conveniently attributed to the shadowy forces of its enemies, such as the United States or Britain.
To that particular roll of shame we can give a special mention to Labour frontbencher Richard Burgon MP, who tweeted last year about the “alternative to the agenda of austerity”, even as the queues for basic foodstuffs were lengthening in Caracas:
— VSC (@VenSolidarity) May 31, 2015
Jeremy Corbyn has not only been a supporter of the disastrous regime for many years but, like his friend George Galloway, has gone further and for years carved out a modest niche for himself, as a politician often better known in far-flung despotic corners of the world than within his own country.
To wit, you can see him here fêted by Maduro on this call from 2014 commemorating the death of Tony Benn, broadcast live on Venezuelan TV (Corbyn, then a mere backbencher, joins the president – in half-decent Spanish, it must be said – for a mutual back-slapping session which goes on for a good five minutes).
The thing is, these people really believe this stuff. Take Corbyn on the regime in Parliament, 2004:
“And why do the US hate him so much?…It’s because they cannot cope with the threat of example all over Latin America. Because if you do it in Venezuela, you can do it anywhere else in the whole continent, and all those vested interests of the USA will then be under threat.”
So, get this: for Corbyn, there exists a visceral hatred of Venezuela, because the US is scared that its anti-capitalist economic miracle will be replicated all over South America and they will be out of business. Seriously, there are adult people who think this.
But the country’s decline was already achingly predictable in those days, the days of Maduro’s predecessor: the equally corrupt and incompetent yet considerably more charismatic Hugo Chávez.
Even as it was being lauded by British leftists, the country was designated a human rights and press freedom pariah by organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders. And that is without even starting on the chronic economic mismanagement which has led it to its present state of near-collapse. Or its debilitating corruption.
How can a relatively small group of people, such as the current crop at the top of the Labour party, have called a situation so terribly wrong? Exceptionally poor judgement, is the only possible answer. Now imagine putting those people in charge of Britain’s economy. Or its defence, for that matter.
And it is not as though Corbyn has changed his mind on the subject, for all that anyone can make out. The news of recent days and months, in Corbyn’s favourite example of a socialist state, have met with a silence from the Leader’s Office which one can only see as grimly prudent.
No, this story will not hurt Corbyn or Labour, because the British public is not interested enough to probe that deeply into Corbyn’s past and present beliefs (that said, surprisingly obscure points, such as his historical engagement with known anti-Semites, can eventually make the news).
But it is ultimately about judgement. The quality of that judgement should worry anyone who seriously believes that the Corbynites are capable of running the country, even in the unlikely event that they should be given the opportunity.
Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour party manager who blogs at The Centre Left