by Kevin Meagher
The weeks of speculation over Hilary Benn’s sacking/non-sacking/neutering as shadow foreign secretary obscures the fact that Jeremy Corbyn clearly wants to make foreign policy a priority under his leadership.
Why else make such a fuss about ensuring there are no further policy divisions, following their very public ‘difference of emphasis’ (as a diplomat would put it), over last month’s vote on bombing Syria.
At one remove, we shouldn’t be surprised. Jeremy Corbyn is intensely committed to his foreign policy positions, especially in support of the Palestinians and anti-imperialist/ workerist causes more generally.
But elections are not won, to put it bluntly, on where Labour stands in relation to the plight of Columbian miners, however virtuous a subject that might be.
Polling on the public’s main concerns repeatedly makes this clear. An Ipsos-MORI poll during the election campaign showed the future of the NHS (47%), immigration (36%) and the economy (36%) were the top issues exercising voters’ minds.
A cocktail of ‘defence/foreign affairs/terrorism’ came in at 13% (which is why foreign policy was squirreled away on Page 74 of the Labour manifesto and Page 75 of the Conservatives).
Its lack of salience, especially to an opposition party, usually means the role of shadow foreign secretary is a gilded cage, a sinecure for an elder statesman like Jack Cunningham (under John Smith) or Gerald Kaufman (under Neil Kinnock).
Before 1997, Tony Blair ostensibly promoted Robin Cook from shadow secretary for state for trade and industry to shadow foreign secretary in a bid to sideline him from shaping economic policy.
Cook saw it as a demotion.
Was the delay in confirming that Benn would stay in his role a result of he and Corbyn twirling a globe to see where their beliefs matched up?
There’s certainly an awful lot going on in the world to be concerned about. But it simply doesn’t decide how people vote
Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut