Post-reshuffle and post-Maria Eagle, Corbyn has no one involved in Labour’s defence review that he doesn’t see eye to eye with. The near-future of Labour defence policy now rests on the shoulders of Emily Thornberry and Ken Livingstone. If that didn’t give you a little shudder, nothing will.
The latter of those two illustrious figures appeared on the Daily Politics yesterday to declare that Labour’s position on NATO was fair game:
“My main view on this is it doesn’t really matter whether you are in Nato or not terribly much because the cold war is over. If we are to stay in Nato, the question is what’s it’s role going to be? Invading more countries in the Middle East? I’m not in favour of that.”
I could make an impassioned case for why NATO is so important here, but I’ll refrain. It would be like making a case for why democracy is necessary – you either get it already or no amount of arguing will convince you. But just a few things to consider on the subject: NATO is one of the few things in the world that scares Vladimir Putin into avoiding a Dugin-inspired invasion of parts of the west. If there were no other reason to support it, that would be enough for me. So why does Ken really not like NATO? For the same reason Corbyn isn’t a fan: it’s American led and identifiably part of the apparatus of western liberal democracy. If you don’t like any of the things mentioned in that last sentence then obviously NATO won’t be for you.
What really got me was the “invading more countries in the Middle East” quip. What the hell is Livingstone on about? One of the major objections to Iraq was that international institutions such as the UN and NATO weren’t keen on the premise, but the US and Britain went ahead with the invasion anyhow.
It should be noted here that yes, Labour HQ denied that NATO membership was up for grabs pretty much right after Livingstone said what he said on TV. However, he remains co-chair of the defence review, does he not? So is he in charge of whether leaving NATO is put up for a vote at Labour conference in autumn 2016 or not? Given we were told that Corbyn would effectively be making foreign policy now instead of Hilary Benn, refuted by Benn himself the same day, how these things work within Labour at the moment is far from clear.
The big problem is that if Labour takes an explicitly anti-NATO policy on board, in other words it becomes official party policy to pull out of the alliance should Labour win a general election, this will possibly be the most damaging thing to them electorally – more so than even an anti-Trident position, which becomes irrelevant very quickly anyhow as the deterrent will unquestionably be renewed in this parliament and then not be an issue for another two decades. But pulling out of a military alliance that looks pretty comforting in the face of a very uncertain world to most British people will be a bad plan even by Corbyn standards.
I’m tempted to say they’ll never do it; that some fudge on the whole issue will happen instead and that Labour HQ is really the final word on all of this. But given the people leading the review, I wouldn’t take that for granted.