Longtime Iraq war opponent Jeremy Corbyn has Blair running scared
Running scared. That is the only explanation for the increasingly desperate and angry denunciations from the right wing of the UK's Labour Party, as Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn's campaign looks more and more likely to win him the party’s leadership on 12 September. The mass grassroots support for the anti-war and anti-austerity candidate has taken most Labour politicians by surprise. Their horror at this development only indicates their sense of entitlement to their own positions, their undimmed arrogance in the face of political failure, and their paper-thin commitment to any form of real democracy.
This week war mongering multi-millionaire Tony Blair published a second article attacking Corbyn. Blair warns of “annihilation” for Labour if Corbyn becomes leader. In the Guardian he wrote: “The party is walking eyes shut, arms outstretched, over the cliff’s edge to the jagged rocks below. This is not a moment to refrain from disturbing the serenity of the walk on the basis it causes ‘disunity’. It is a moment for a rugby tackle if that were possible.”
His fellow warmonger, former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, told Channel 4 News on 13 August that elections cannot be judged on the basis of the Iraq war. Alastair Campbell, the spin-doctor who spun the 45 minutes WMD claim, has argued that a Corbyn victory would be a “car crash” for Labour.
It takes a supreme level of arrogance and insensitivity for those who were the architects of one of the most disastrous modern wars, whose consequences are still being played out across the Middle East with devastating outcomes for the people there, to feel that their pronouncements should be listened to. Jeremy Corbyn has the advantage over them in that he always opposed this war, and indeed the whole War on Terror since 2001, and he has been proved right.
His view is much more in tune with public opinion, on this and many other issues. How many people supporting Jeremy in this election are doing so because of his position on the Iraq war? Blair, on the other hand, lost the party a million votes in the election of 2005 (generally accepted to be largely as a result of the war), saw membership shrinking, again often for the same reason, and was forced out of office in 2007 again partly because of his enthusiastic backing of Israel in the Lebanon war of 2006.
Families of servicemen and women who died in Iraq this week launched the threat of legal action against Sir John Chilcot, demanding he set a date for publication of the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq war, an inquiry which took its final evidence four years ago but still has been not been released to the public. Blair, Straw and Campbell are all likely to be at the least highly criticised.
Much of the decline in support for Labour can be dated to the war and its aftermath. Of course there are many other issues that are now persuading many Labour members and supporters to back Jeremy Corbyn: opposition to government austerity, a sense that levels of widening inequality need to be halted and reversed, opposition to the scapegoating of migrants and Muslims. The anti-Corbyn candidacy hysteria stems from support for a neoliberal consensus that has led to this inequality.
The potency of Jeremy’s campaign is precisely that it breaks the dominant political consensus in the UK and elsewhere, and puts forward a real alternative. While the right of Labour claim that the Conservatives will welcome a Corbyn victory, this is by no means the case among the more intelligent of them. The neoliberal pro-war consensus needs a supine and weakened Labour leadership, dragged increasingly onto the centre ground in the vain hope that it can implement a slightly more humane set of what are in essence barbaric policies. A Corbyn-led party will put on the agenda a range of policies that the Conservatives would rather were not given much airing.
There is also the small issue of democracy here. Labour’s electoral system was changed expressly to weaken trade union influence, and was accepted at a party conference by all sides. It ended the electoral college system where MPs got one third of the vote, trade unions another third, and individual members the final third. Perhaps least remarked on but most galling to Blair et al is that the MPs have no more say in the election than anyone else (although they do have the power to prevent candidates getting on the ballot paper).
The new system has worked to benefit the left, which certainly was not the intention. That the individual members and supporters, and union affiliates, have the temerity to vote for a left candidate is something that the Blairites thought they had put a stop to. They cannot believe how wrong they were.
Now they are desperately claiming that there are thousands of "entrists" with their own agenda, and combing through lists to disqualify anyone they can. This is a negation of democracy. It is the same negation of democracy that we saw over Iraq. Then millions marched but were ignored, treated with contempt by a leadership that relied on the passive support of millions but did not see it as important to listen to their views.
What is happening with Corbyn's campaign is that many people are waking up to the fact that there can be an alternative political manifesto and that the dominant neoliberal agenda can be fought. Perhaps what frightens the Blairites most is that, far from the myth that this will lead to annihilation, such policies can win elections. The onslaught the Conservatives are planning in this government will meet widespread opposition: there has already been one mass anti-austerity demo since the election, called by the Peoples Assembly, and in October there will be mass protests at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.
The Corbyn campaign is one expression of that movement: the fear of mainstream politicians is that it lights a fire of opposition to their policies.
- Lindsey German is convenor of the Stop the War Coalition and co-author of A People's History of London.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Photo: Britain's former Prime Minister and former Labour Party leader, Tony Blair, speaks at an event attended by Labour supporters in central London on July 22, 2015 (AFP)