Dont be afraid to put pacificism at the heart of foreign policy
“I am not a pacifist” Jeremy Corbyn insisted last week. A pacifist is seen as the ultimate party pooper – someone misunderstood as cowardly, unpatriotic and beyond reason.
In fact, pacifists are about the bravest people around putting themselves on the line to campaign for peace. They have been executed, imprisoned, beaten up, arrested and ostracised for their beliefs. Pacifists are however unlikely to win the floating vote.
Jeremy Corbyn spoke eloquently about pacifist practices in an under reported speech at Chatham House last Friday. The media was obsessed with manifesto leaks that day and nobody is much interested in foreign policy anyway.
The Leaders speech urged Britain to “walk the hard yards to a better way to live together on this planet”. Labour would place far more emphasis on diplomacy, non proliferation and multi lateral disarmament and be far less inclined to rush to arms and put troops on foreign shores. He cited the disastrous intervention in Libya as a failure of Conservative foreign policy and evidence that the war of terror was failing.
He quoted President Eisenhower’s warning of the unwarranted influence of the military industrial complex and said there would be no more hand holding with Donald Trump. A Labour government would not be afraid to speak its mind.
In an article on the same day, the shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry evoked the late Robin Cook’s search for an ethical foreign policy that would stand up for human rights, support emerging democracies and keep climate change at the top of the agenda.
In the leaked manifesto, Labour commits to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia, maintain the 2% commitment on defence spending and renew Trident. All in all, Labour proposes a thoughtful and different kind of foreign policy that also tries to keep the two wings of the Labour party happy.
Meanwhile no word from Boris Johnson on foreign affairs apart from a flat refusal to pay the Brexit bill and a belief that the Russians would interfere to help Labour because “Putin would rejoice to see British defences weakened, Britain’s foreign policy become less active, to see us detached from the United States.”. He is being kept well up the back of the Team Theresa bus for the time being.
It was brave of Jeremy Corbyn to make a set speech on foreign policy because it exposes him to the suspicion that he is soft on defence and would not press the button to order a nuclear strike. World leaders would have catastrophically failed if this situation arose, he said, and the results would kill millions and devastate the planet.
Indeed, it is alright with me if Corbyn does come out as a pacifist. He has voted against every use of armed force apart from Cyprus and East Timor. But he held back to say that he would use military action under international law as a genuine last resort and that the safety and security of the British people was his first priority.
I find Corbyn’s hand wringing endearing and reassuring . I would not want to live under a Prime Minister who was confident about proceeding with nuclear war, intent on sending out the bombers or deploying the troops. By contrast, the Conservatives now say that would use a deterrent first strike.
Having only recently written off Jeremy Corbyn as party leader and potential prime minister in this column, I find myself warming to him as the election campaign unravels. On the Six o Clock news every night, Jezza can be found sitting on the classroom floor reading to a child or walking the factory floor in a pair of safety glasses appearing to enjoy himself and running the risk of looking silly.
Judged by the news clips, the contrast with Theresa May could not be greater. She stands to attention in front of a few rows of well dressed Conservative supporters, reiterates her mantra and pours scorn on Jeremy Corbyn. Her handlers will not cut her any slack.
On her raid into Labour heartland in the North East, Mrs May’s one and only stop in Northumberland was at Eschott Airport? Why not visit Newcastle International Airport and make a statement about airport taxes? I wonder if the empty acres and good road connections around the private airfield at Eschott are about to be revealed as the new regeneration hub of the region?
She sneaked in the side door at Linskill Centre in North Shields to avoid the public outside with their placards and spoke to another select few including her great fan Laura Kuenssberg. Why not visit the much grander Memorial Hall in Wallsend or Sage Gateshead to get a feel for the regions past and present triumphs? Why make the journey at all if you are not going to meet those “ordinary working people” you want to vote for you?
The Prime Minister is missing the opportunity to expound her vision for the country and her policies for the new government . Although she called the election over leaving Europe, Brexit is the elephant in the room. She may be heading back to Downing Street after the election but Theresa May is losing the campaign. Her lead dropped eight points last week and there are still three weeks to go.
published in Newcastle Journal Tues 16th May