Archive for the 'Corbyn' Category


The man or the message?

Saturday, July 6th, 2019

The recent decision by Iran to start enriching uranium, in breach of the JCPOA, shortly after the attack on two ships in the Gulf of Oman is a reminder of the Middle East’s penchant for unpleasant surprises.  No sooner had the attack happened, than the US, followed by Britain, asserted Iran’s responsibility.  There was intelligence proving this.  Unsurprisingly perhaps, Corbyn queried its reliability and, even more predictably, was slapped down by the Foreign Secretary.

Corbyn was, however, right to ask such a question.  Instant findings are not always correct.  Intelligence does not always get it right.  At any event, the US swerved away from what seemed at one point like a potential casus belli.  We are unlikely ever to know exactly who did what and why.

The understandable focus on establishing responsibility has tended to elide three far more interesting questions: (1) Should the US react? (2) If so, how? and (3) If militarily, should the UK join in?  Until recently, there has been an almost automatic assumption that Britain should join in with whatever the US decided.  It has not proved a wise assumption.  And partly because the assumption was that Britain should act, more credibility was perhaps afforded to the intelligence than it really warranted.

It is not surprising that alternative voices have arisen querying this.  Not all of these are motivated by malice towards the US.  (One of Blair’s fiercest critics regarding his decision to join the Iraq war in 2003 was Ken Clarke, a man unlikely to be swayed by the arguments of the Stop the War groupuscule.)

Reactions to claims based on intelligence seem to fall into two camps.  One trusts the intelligence authorities on the basis that they do a difficult, thankless task, their successes unremarked and their failures all too bloodily visible.  Criticism of them is seen by some politicians and commentators as akin to a form of treachery, though this is not shared by Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee.

The other view is to see them as self-serving operatives more concerned with upholding unjust and reactionary power relations and dismissive of the demands of democratically elected radical politicians.  There has long been such a tradition on parts of the left, not all of it Corbynite, to hold a version of this view, certainly since the 1924 Zinoviev affair.  The fact that at times some Labour MPs and others on the left did consort with the Soviet Union and were in consequence under the eye of the intelligence authorities did not help matters.

So if Corbyn was right on this occasion to be a little cautious, can the concerns previously expressed by members of his own party  about his approach to military adventures abroad and security issues be dismissed?  Not so fast.  The questions to be asked of Corbyn are these: (1) If the evidence existed, would you accept it?  (2) If military action was the most sensible course of action, would you take it? And, finally (3) Do you apply the same high standards of proof to claims by other states or only to some? 

This is where Corbyn faces difficulties.  Scepticism is valuable.  But demanding endless proof beyond a reasonable point suggests someone who is looking for a reason to disbelieve rather than genuinely testing the evidence.  It is not at all clear what Corbyn’s reaction would be in circumstances where military action was the right thing to do or the lesser of two evils.  And it is in relation to the third question that he faces the greatest difficulties of all.  

As his response to the Skripal poisonings showed, his scepticism about Western claims is only matched by a credulity about the claims of other states, with a far less transparent political system and without any sort of free press.  It is, therefore, all too easy to dismiss what Corbyn says on the basis that his responses are predictable and based less on evidence and more on an a priori assumption about which side he should be against.

This may not matter in the immediate future. Whatever else the Iraq war has done, it, the ill-fated Libyan adventure and the Syrian imbroglio have probably exhausted Britain’s desire to project force abroad, at least in anything more than a token way.  It will be a long time before a British PM can stand up in the Commons, say “Trust me” on a matter of war and peace and not be viewed with a gimlet eye by 649 other MPs.

Does Corbyn’s credibility on security issues matter?  Isn’t the topic discussed and what is said more important?  Well, yes and no.  Difficult topics like what Britain’s role should be in relation to civil disturbances/civil wars/terrorist or military threats from abroad need to be discussed openly and frankly, not declared off limits or no longer relevant because of the agreed established consensus, what might be termed “received opinion”.  If Corbyn becomes PM he will benefit from a new consensus or, at least, a weariness with and wariness of military adventurism, certainly if it involves following Trump.

Still, as the Skripal poisonings and the downing of the Malaysian airline over Ukraine show, let alone ISIS terrorism, events have a habit of upsetting the consensus.  When British lives are lost or at risk, voters will want to feel the PM is on their side, that this is his default instinct.  It is not necessarily obvious that this is the case with Corbyn or, perhaps, to be fair to him, that this is the case with his closest advisors.

It is all very well criticising past British actions and how this has impacted what other states think of Britain.  That does not help those blown to smithereens.  However self-critical one wants to be about British history, it is naïve to think that Britain has no enemies or that they will respond gently to discussion and an “I feel your pain” apologia.

Geo-politics is not a Socratic debate in genteel drawing-rooms.  Who makes the argument is often as important to us as what is said.  Why?  Well, motive and sincerity matter.  A person’s history and associations are relevant to both.  Those who hold up Corbyn’s views on the Iraq war as evidence that he got it right and that, therefore, his foreign policy views should be listened to ignore how he arrived at that decision.  Was it through chance or careful thought that he got it right?

If WMD had been found, if the UN had passed a second resolution, would Corbyn have changed his mind?  If not, then his rightness was no better than that of a stopped clock.  Indeed, he may have been right but for the wrong reasons.  It is the reasoning which matters not the conclusion.  Too many of Corbyn’s supporters look at the latter and ignore the former.

But equally – and however distasteful the messenger – a challenging message needs to be listened to.  Politicians are fond of touting Britain’s intelligence operations, its membership of the Five Eyes Group, its defence capabilities as strengths in a post-Brexit world, one way in which it can project power, be important and relevant.

The more pertinent question is what is the purpose of Britain’s intelligence services: just to protect British citizens and interests?  Or also as a platform for a wider projection of British influence, the cyber-equivalent of the Navy of old?  As for defence, all very well for Hunt to promise a huge increase in spending. But what is this for?  What role can Britain play, should Britain play, whether alone or with others?  Surely these questions should be debated long before budgets are decided?

There is an ambiguity in Corbyn’s approach: contrast this thoughtful speech following the Manchester Arena bombings in 2017 with his earlier defence speech and response to questions.  But there is much to agree with in what he said, as well as much to disagree with.  The issue of Corbyn’s true views and what he would do when events happen may not be entirely clear.  His response to the Skripal affair seemed at odds with his speeches a year before.  But we would nonetheless do well to pay closer attention to what he has said.

Regardless of whether he becomes PM, how Britain should deal with events beyond its immediate horizons will, like much else, require fresh thinking not a complacent assumption that Britain can and should behave as it has always done.  Just because it is Corbyn making that point is no reason to disregard it.




A Marf cartoon for the day Corbyn’s LAB dropped to a polling low

Thursday, July 4th, 2019

This Marf cartoon first appeared in the Jewish Chronicle.


Corbyn’s protégée, Rebecca Long-Bailey, now betting favourite to be his successor

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2019

Will there be a change before the next general election?

The furious efforts by the LAB media team to undermine the reports last week that there might be issues with Corbyn’s health suggest that they could be something in it. They protesteth too much .

Whatever the issue of who succeeds Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader and of course leader of the opposition is one that we haven’t looked at for sometime.  Going back over the Betfair market trends in the long term favourite,  Emily Thornberry, seems to be getting less support from punters and we now have Rebecca  Long-Bailey edging into the lead in the betting.  When Corbyn did not attend PMQs last month it was Long-Bailey and not Thornberry who deputised for the leader. Perhaps the latter is falling out of favour for opposing Corbyn/Milne/Murphy on their Brexit approach.

At some stage it will have to be decided whether the party wants Corbyn to lead it into the next general election. My sense is that it doesn’t and if so then the question of the successor becomes relevant.

The assumption is that whoever Corbyn backs will be supported by the party membership. We don’t know whether this is the case or not until it is in fact tested.

Another story that’s  been strongly attacked by LAB’s  media managers in the past few days has been a suggestion in the Observer that its membership has dropped by 100,000. Look at the response here and the precise phrasing.

The thing to notice is that LAB is no longer claiming to be the biggest party in Europe in terms of membership. The wording in the Twitter response suggests that there has been movement. Also, and I know this from my PR days, asserting that a figure is completely untrue could mean that the actual drop is larger.

Mike Smithson


YouGov LAB party members polling finds that just 45% backed the party last Thursday

Thursday, May 30th, 2019

Putting Alastair Campbell into context

I find the above polling of LAB ,members really quite remarkable and shows the huge difficulty the leadership has pursuing its Brexit agenda which is alien to a large part of the membership base. That in a major election fewer than half the membership voted for the party says an enormous amount about the challenges facing the party.

This doesn’t come as a surprise. I personally know LAB members and activists who did exactly the same in the Euros.

YouGov, it should be said, has built up a good reputation with its surveys of the various parties membership.

No doubt this will be used to further ratchet up the pressure on Milne and Corbyn.

Mike Smithson


At least TMay and Jezza have one record they can claim

Thursday, May 30th, 2019

The Ipsos-MORI leader satisfaction ratings have been carried out in the same manner since the 1970s with the question being put in the same way over the decades. It is the longest lasting series of leader ratings in British politics and we can make historical comparisons.

Normally when one of the opposition leader or PM is up the other one is down. So the current trend of both Corbyn and TMay having terrible figures is something of a rarity and the current numbers say something about post Referendum UK politics. That narrow victory for LEAVE three years ago has changed so much.

As as I have pointed out many times the historical record is that leader ratings are a much better guide to electoral outcomes than standard voting intention polls. Given that the Tories are changing their leader this summer then it can be expected that the new person will get something of a boost whoever wins the leadership contest. At the very minimum they will have the advantage of not being Theresa May.

The same is not the same for the Labour because whatever happens it appears Corbyn seems absolutely rock solid in his position of leader. That he is proving to be electorally toxic doesn’t seem to bother the party and it is likely that it will lose another parliamentary by-election next week.

Normally opposition parties proper in parliamentary by-election while governments struggle. In fact Corbyn was two years ago the first Labour leader since 1982 to suffer the loss of a seat while the party was in opposition.

But he ain’t going anywhere.

Mike Smithson


The Campbell expulsion from LAB – the ramifications continue

Tuesday, May 28th, 2019

The problem is that people’s Brexit position has become more important than party loyalty

Mike Smithson


Alastair Campbell purged from Corbyn’s LAB for backing the LDs in last week’s election

Tuesday, May 28th, 2019

So the ramifications of Thursday’s election continue

Almost all parties haw a rule about members publicly backing other parties in elections and LAB is no exception. Already we’ve seen the Tories take action Lord Heseltine for his public support for the anti-Brexit LDs in last week’s elections.

Now Corbyn’s LAB has moved against Campbell who played such a key role in Labour’s three successive general election victories from 1997 to 2005.

A real issue within Labour which undoubtedly depressed turnout for the party last week is that the Corbyn/Milne approach to Brexit is very different from the vast bulk of Labour supporters. On Thursday Labour did far worse than just about all the polls were predicting and came in third place well behind the LDs. That wouldn’t have happened if the leadership had reflected the party support base on the key issue of the day.

The problem with this action is that it drives the narrative of LAB being a party that is totally split on the issue and voters don’t like divided parties.

Campbell himself is taking legal advice. This is not the end of the matter.

Mike Smithson


On Euro election day it looks as though it is all over for the woman whose only crime was to try to implement the referendum without damaging the economy

Thursday, May 23rd, 2019

With parts of her cabinet now in open revolt it is hard to see how even TMay can now survive.  Today being election day at least gives her breathing space ahead of what has appeared likely for some time.

The Tory obsession with Europe is devouring another leader.

In many ways it would have been better for the party if the July 2016 leadership election had resulted in a leaver taking over the helm of the party though no doubt he or she would have faced the same challenges that TMay has.

When and what the sequencing of events will be has yet to be worked out but we are close to leadership election which could be over before the summer recess.

Will TMay step aside immediately or will she stay in post while a successor is chose? It is hard to see the party in it current mood allowing that. They want her out.

At least the likely terrible performance in today’s election will be overshadowed by what lies ahead.

Mike Smithson