Monday, 26 March 2018

The Labour MP’s dilemma: when does this become party before country?

Image result for labour party imagesIf there were a week for Labour MPs to question their continued acceptance of the party whip, it was surely the last one.

Should we cite the lack of apparent sanction on Chris Williamson MP, who appeared onstage with Jackie Walker, suspended from the party for anti-Semitism along with Tony Greenstein, and then proposed their readmission to the party, to rapturous applause?

Or the stitch-up of the General Secretary choice, effectively handing control of the party machine to Len McCluskey and his acolytes? Triggering the resignation of six key staff-members? While the aforementioned Walker and Greenstein celebrated outside party HQ, barracking the party’s remaining staff and telling them they were coming for the rest of them? And a General Secretary herself, notorious for questioning the neutrality of Baroness Jan Royall to run an anti-Semitism inquiry, on the spurious grounds that she had once visited Israel?

But the real question for Labour MPs is simple: can you genuinely look yourself in the mirror in the morning and say “I want Jeremy Corbyn to be Prime Minister”?

Yes, we know there are millions of supporters to whom we owe a Labour government. Yes, we know you may well think he’ll probably never get there, but that’s not the point. What if he does?

What if someone who has shown, as Corbyn did last week that he cannot support the Prime Minister even in a fundamental matter of national security, like an attack by foreign agents on British citizens on British soil? A feat which is probably a first in postwar Britain?

That he cannot, in short, be trusted in that most fundamental governmental matter of all, the security of the nation?

Now let’s think about the reality of what a Corbyn premiership would mean. Prime Minister Corbyn taking confidential briefings from the security services, after thirty-odd years of trashing them in public? Corbyn chairing COBRA meetings on national security? Corbyn, after a lifetime campaigning for a united Ireland in direct opposition to those same security services, looking to bring Republicans and Loyalists together at a highly delicate time for the peace process? Corbyn in charge of nuclear deployment, dammit? How feasible are any of those?

Or, worse: what about not just attending briefings but sharing information with Seumas Milne, the man who chaired a Moscow Q&A session with Putin and has repeatedly apologised for him in his Guardian columns? Or with the self-proclaimed Communist Andrew Murray, a man clearly delighted with Putin’s efforts to encourage the rehabilitation of Comrade Stalin? And that’s if, of course, these two would even get a security clearance in the first place, something which would seem to be by no means certain.

Perhaps instead you believe that Corbyn, once elected, would be different in power; that he would become a pragmatist and yes, a patriot. But how likely is that, for a man who has not changed his politics in the thirty-five years he has been in Parliament? And one, let it not be forgotten, last week prepared to contradict his own Foreign Affairs, Treasury and Defence spokespeople over the Salisbury poisoning. Yes, even John McDonnell found Corbyn’s position too extreme.

And it was not merely extreme: it was, frankly, ridiculous. Jeremy Corbyn genuinely, without irony or laughter, asked the Prime Minister to send nerve gas samples to the Russian authorities so they could report back on whether it was theirs or not. That is, the conversation he was requesting was essentially this:

PM: Did you do it?

Putin: Oh, the poisoning? No, guv, that wasn’t us. No way. We wuz framed.

PM: Ah, well that’s ok then. Cheers Vlad.

It is not as if Vladimir Putin has a great history of truthfulness and straight talking. And even if he did, there is clearly only ever going to be one answer to Corbyn’s question by any head of state under the circumstances.

So why ask it, unless you are casting around desperately for a reason, any reason, not to directly criticise the Russian government?

MPs are said to be up in arms, which is as it should be: as the BBC put it, “Mr Corbyn’s tone and reaction to those moves have cracked open Labour’s political truce.” As John Woodcock MP put it:

But if Woodcock’s EDM accepting Russian culpability can garner only 36 Labour votes, that is hardly a rebellion. And, at the same time, they still need to have a convincing answer to the above questions; as to why they have not done what a large number of members (and peers, and councillors) have already done and resigned the whip, and/or their membership.

It seems that the position of most MPs, not to mention many remaining moderate members, is “hang on for dear life and see what happens”. We who are still in the party understand. But there must also be a limit.

That is: at what point do we become complicit in the tolerance of anti-Semitism, currently on the increase in the party, if disciplinary cases are anything to go by?

And, given the risk that a man with – by any reasonable measure – extreme views on foreign affairs could really end up as PM, at what point do we all become guilty of putting party before country?

As the residents of perhaps the world’s most unstable times in decades, we might ponder on that a little.

This post first published at Labour Uncut

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