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Two very different visions of Labour foreign policy

TWO very different visions of what a Labour government’s foreign policy could look like were set out at the weekend.

One came from the party’s leader Jeremy Corbyn, who visited camps for Syrian and Palestinian refugees in Jordan.

A commitment to quickly recognise a Palestinian state would make a welcome change from decades of lip service to a “peace process” that has become a sick joke thanks to Israel’s ability to continue colonising Palestinian land with impunity.

It’s a long overdue step anyway since Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of recognising Palestine four years ago.

British recognition would not change facts on the ground or allow Palestine full recognition at the United Nations, but it would show solidarity with a people resisting brutal occupation and put pressure on Israel to enter serious negotiations.

Corbyn’s determination to end the “bomb first, talk later approach to international affairs, which has left a trail of destruction abroad and left us less safe at home” should be seen as a challenge to the mindless sabre-rattling of Conservative Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, which is, unfortunately, still the default position of most MPs and almost the entire British media.

Even Labour frontbenchers are not immune to it, as shadow defence secretary Nia Griffith showed on Andrew Marr.

Griffith would “absolutely” send more soldiers to Afghanistan, although 17 years after the US-led invasion of that country the war shows no sign of ending.

The deaths of hundreds of British troops, thousands of coalition troops and tens of thousands of Afghan combatants and civilians have not come anywhere near defeating the Taliban, which continues to gain ground.

Griffith is correct when she states that Labour’s current policy is to renew our nuclear arsenal, but doing so is a breach of our commitment to disarm under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, increases the likelihood of our being targeted in the event of a conflict between other nuclear powers and will cost hundreds of billions of pounds that could be productively invested in health, education, housing or any number of other more useful sectors.

The guff about “the United States not stepping up to the mark” is irrelevant, since Britain’s nuclear “deterrent” is not independent.

Trident missiles are manufactured and maintained by the United States. Britain’s all-party Trident Commission called the system “a hostage to American goodwill” in 2014. Trident is an expensive, dangerous and useless vanity project.

Griffith’s implied criticism of US President Donald Trump did not go into specifics.

But her conclusion that Britain’s response should be to beef up its military is shared by liberals who oppose progress towards a Korean peace deal and indulge in delusional fantasies about Moscow somehow fixing US elections, but have had rather less to say about Trump’s aggressive meddling in Latin American politics and actively applauded his missile attacks on Syria.

Labour MPs who assume the “bomb first, talk later” approach is popular with voters should think back to the election campaign last year.

Corbyn’s brave decision following the terror attack on Manchester Arena — by a Libyan bomber known to British intelligence who was allowed to travel to Libya and back on Theresa May’s watch as home secretary — to address the ways in which Britain’s warmongering foreign policy puts our people at risk was rewarded at the polls.

A child can see that the “war on terror” has exacerbated the terrorist threat, while turning whole countries into permanent war zones, and Corbyn has shown that, when politicians have the guts to make the arguments, people are willing to listen.

Labour’s transformative appeal will only be boosted by a willingness to rethink our international approach and turn our backs on the failed policies of the past.

It’s time the radicalism Corbyn demonstrates was reflected in party policy on these questions.

 

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