Sorry Jeremy, foreign policy doesn’t win elections

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

Tags: , , , , , ,

17 Responses to “Sorry Jeremy, foreign policy doesn’t win elections”

  1. Stevge Brundish says:

    Seeing as Jeremy Corbyns media briefers had been energetically spinning agaisnt anyone who is not a signed broad left politburo member, I think Hilary Benn did well to stand up to Corbyn’s pressure to be moved. but more than this
    Its about time the parliamentary Labour party stood up to Jeremy
    Corbyn’s extreme makeover of the Labour party. Corbyn who was voted in
    with 121,000 (49% ) of full party members obviously has grass roots
    support but the Labour party is not yet run by a dictatorship and it
    needs to be remembered that MPs represent not just Labour party members
    but the 9 million poeple who voted Labour at the last election. It
    should also be remembered that Clement Attlee mostly acted as a chairman

    in the great 1945 Labour Governement letting ministers deliver the
    results like the helth service that we still cherish today. In this
    light it looks like jeremy Corbyn is not practicing the new polics and
    but instead removing anyone who dissents from the view of the great leader (this from
    the man who rebelled agaist the party leadership hundreds of times). MPs
    have a duty to show this is not the view of PLP and act before its too
    late by reinstating the rule by which the MPs elect the shadow cabinet.
    This is the only way to stop Labour from becoming unelectable and at the
    same time show the puplic another side of Labour showcasing the next
    generation of Labour leaders.

  2. James Martin says:

    “Sorry Jeremy, foreign policy doesn’t win elections.” Well sorry too Kevin because it can certainly lose them given the dreadful consequences of Blair’s Iraq policy, not least when it came to losing a significant chunk of our activists and in turn a reduction our ability to campaign to a high level in a lot of areas. Of course domestic issues must be central, although of course in a sense that includes the need to scrap Trident given the large amount of government resources that would free up to be used elsewhere for much better things.

  3. James says:

    Let’s face it – Labour is in a death spiral. It doesn’t really want to govern. Some delusional souls have this notion that `the masses haven’t seen the light`. Labour started to become a sectarian faith around about 2001 with Blairism. It accelerated after 2008 until we have now a supreme faith with a yogi from the North London intellectual `elite`. Even one of his right hand women is like the Islington kindred spirit.

    The more that this carries on the more votes are frittered away in vital places like Northampton, Nuneaton and Norwich. It matters not if they add to the Tory pile, UKIP, stay at home or even back to Lib Dems. The show’s over due to shadow cabinet cowards stopping the split like a boy putting his finger over the hole in the dyke. Sooner or later the water will drip through – Corbynites creating what is effectively a new Socialist Labour Party to swamp Arthur Scargill and the rest either leaving politics or creating their own new party a sort of Germanic SPD.

  4. Tafia says:

    “foreign policy doesn’t win elections”

    No but iyt leads to the situation where you end up losing them.

    Nothing wins elections – that’s not how the UK electorate work. Governments fail and get booted put when they have upset enough of the electorate.

    Governments lose elections. Oppositions do not win them.

    Events dear boy, events.

  5. JSW says:

    “Well sorry too Kevin because it can certainly lose them given the dreadful consequences of Blair’s Iraq policy, not least when it came to losing a significant chunk of our activists and in turn a reduction our ability to campaign to a high level in a lot of areas.”

    I do believe, James Martin, that Labour won the 2005 general election in the aftermath of the Iraq war and under Blair’s leadership. The Iraq war was 12 years ago, yet it is only Corbyn’s Stop the War/Momentum cronies still banging on it about. Most of the British public acknowledge it was a mistake, but this does not make then want to give up Trident, or leave NATO, or even make them pacifists.

    2005 incidentally was the last time I voted Labour, having also campaigned during that election as a Labour Party member. I left soon after – not because Labour weren’t left wing enough but because Blair was having his radical and neccessary public service reforms stifled by Brown et al. Don’t assume everyone who left the party did so because of Iraq. Corbyn’s leadership is making me want to re-join – if for nothing else than to shore up the mainstream voices within the party.

  6. paul barker says:

    This article seems to be missing the point. Corbyns Foreign Policy is wrong, stupid, mistaken & usually on the wrong side of every important conflict. Of course most elections arent decided by foeign policy but why talk about that when you should be attacking what The Left actually think ?

  7. Touchstone says:

    I heard John McDonnell on the radio the other day and was quite heartened. He landed some decent punches on Osborne over his flip-flopping and failure to achieve his own targets. So there are signs that he, at least, is starting to get what it means to hold a shadow portfolio. He’s not that good at it yet, but at least he’s trying. Corbyn, however, just seems to be using the leadership of the opposition as a platform to push his decades-old obsession with nasty Britain and America and plucky Palestinians and Iranians, which will no doubt delight Stop the War-ites who keep banging on about Iraq until the rest of us are bored witless, but its not going to win any elections.

  8. Anne says:

    In our modern democracy it is now acceptable practice to ask the general public their opinion on certain matters – while this is good practice survives must be conducted fairly and without bias or, as any reaserch student will tell us, the results are meaningless. Today on my local radio station It was reported that Tim Farron (lib dem leader) is starting a petition to ask the European Union for funding to help with our flood defences in Cumbria. I also believe the lady Labour MP for Workington has also raised this issue in The House and the Labour MEP as also requested this. This is right that this funding should be requested. Mr Cameron has replied that it will take too long to obtain the money. I don’t think this is a strong enough reason not to apply for the funding as this problem is not going to be solved in five minutes but will take years to complete. However the real clever thing about seeking public opinion is converting these wants into actual working policies.

  9. Mike Stallard says:

    As a floating voter, I am terrified of what Mr Corbyn stands for. In no way will I vote for him.
    When the Labour movement breaks in half, though, as it will surely very soon, and the parliamentary half splits away, I am sorely tempted. Mr Blair made a terrible mistake in not listening to the people he represented and to people much cleverer than himself. But he was certainly very electable.
    What, for instance, is Mr Corbyn’s view on the “Common Market”?

  10. Anne says:

    I noticed in today’s papers that Corbyn is planning to copy some of Nicola Surgeon’s ideas about taxation. There are very big differences between Corbyn and Nicola and this is around style and approach as well as content and ability. Corbyn, McDowell and Livingstone are coming across to the general public as not particularly nice people Or trustworthy. They present as being rude and difficult – instead of bringing other members on aboard with their ideas they resort to name calling and abuse. They have managed to split the party. The bit I don’t get is who are these people that support them? If the majority of Labour MPs do not support them and presumably their constituents back them how mathematically has Corbyn got a majority? Also, now we have seen what a hash Corbyn is making are those people who did voted for him still of the same view?

  11. Anne says:

    I am in favour of a split- even forming a new party – The Citizens Party – one which addresses today’s problems in a pragmatic democrats way. One which represents all citizens – the young, the retired, the poor, the middle income and the working population. Yes it will be hard, but wouldn’t it also be exciting – surely better than what we have got at present.

  12. Feodor says:

    “Corbyn, McDowell and Livingstone … have managed to split the party.”

    Remind me, Anne, before Corbyn’s election as leader, which wing of the party was it that talked about constructing a broad and inclusive church, and which wing was it that spoke of potential coups and splits?

    Corbyn is far from faultless, but the rewriting of history that the anti-Corbyn brigade regularly engage in, alongside their insistence in judging everything he does in the most negative possible light, in accordance with pre-established narratives, is risible.

  13. Mike Homfray says:

    Please do go ahead and form that party, and then perhaps Labour can get on with being what it is supposed to be -a socialist party

  14. Anne says:

    Liam Gallagher referred to Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party as a Communist Party in yesterday’s Sunday Times.

  15. Madasafish says:

    This is all very predictable and boring.

    Anyone and any Party which allows the general public to elect MPs and then expects those MPs to obey the leadership of a man they themselves do not support is asking for trouble.

    Well Labour have done that – and are reaping the results.

    I expect it to get worse.

  16. swatantra says:

    Its a great pity that it doesn’t win us election. If we got our Foreign Policy right then we wouldn’t have had to spend billions on armaments in Defence. If we had an effective and ethical foreign policy the billions saved would go to improve the lives of our own citizens.
    So the electorate really does need to pressure the Govt to get its Foreign Policy right.

  17. Tafia says:

    Foreign Policy eh.

    Lets have a look at the USA. A sizeable chunk of Democrat senators & congressmen/women (Labour’s ‘sister’ party remeber) are now publicly saying that the two greatest threats to world peace are Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Not Iran, not Syria, not Russia. Some of them have been giving interviews to Russia Today saying just that and along with people in the Republican party are about to launch a bipartisan Bill to stop the USA supporting Saudi or Turkey and, more tellingly to cease combat operations in Syria and Iraq, including air support, training, equipment and non-lethal suport of any sort. (involvement is Syria is rapidly losing support with the American public and they’ve all but given up on Iraq – both are seen as massive vote losers)

    And this in an election year.

Leave a Reply