Amid the coronavirus pandemic Labour’s new team has received scant attention but Nandy’s appointment may be cause for concern


The appointment of Labour’s new Shadow Cabinet would normally be hitting the headlines with comments about the runners and riders filling columns and airwaves. However, amid the coronavirus pandemic Labour’s new team has received scant attention.

Lack of coverage has resulted in little or no questioning by the pundits on some surprising appointments. Lisa Nandy’s new role as Shadow Foreign Secretary is a case in point. That Lisa Nandy was offered a key role in the Starmer team was expected; her appointment to this high-profile position was not.

Having made her name as an expert on towns – and the rebalancing the economy in their favour – she was touted as a possible candidate for the business or transport portfolios. Her views on foreign policy issues are considerably more opaque, even bordering on contradictory.

Like many Labour MPs Nandy voted in favour of the bombing of Libya in 2011. However, she is also quoted as saying that the decision to go to war in Iraq was “catastrophic”. In 2015 she voted against airstrikes in Syria and in 2016 against the renewal of Trident.

All well and good. But as a key player in the ‘chicken-coup’ Nandy was no supporter of Corbyn’s leadership and during the last few years that clearly included his foreign policy.

In a speech in January, Nandy argued that Labour’s foreign policy failures were exemplified by Corbyn’s reaction to the Salisbury attack (in which Sergei and Yulia Skripal were poisoned), where he called for consideration of evidence before action. She said Corbyn’s position was “totally wrong”. She is unlikely to differ much from government policy in terms of issues such as supporting NATO maneuvers in Germany and Eastern Europe. It’s hard to imagine that with such views Nandy will be proposing withdrawal from NATO any day soon.

Nandy’s position on criticism of Israel is also concerning. Along with many members of Labour’s parliamentary party, Nandy has been vocal in opposing Corbyn’s handling of the antisemitism crisis. She has conflated antisemitism with anti-Zionism: on the BBC’s Andrew Neil show she said it was antisemitic to ‘condemn Israeli military atrocities on the West Bank’, and when asked by journalist Robert Peston if she thought it antisemitic to describe Israeli discriminatory policies as racist, Nandy answered with an emphatic ‘yes’.

During the recent leadership campaign, she described herself as a Zionist – she was nominated by the pro-Zionist Jewish Labour Movement as part of her bid to become Labour leader and the JLM warmly welcomed her appointment as Shadow Foreign Secretary. It is hard to see how the unquestioned Zionism promoted by JLM and its supporters can co-exist with the campaign for Palestinian rights and freedom.

Yet, while courting support from the JLM, Lisa Nandy also held the chair of Labour Friends of Palestine. This fact alone has led some to say that we can expect her to be much more sympathetic to the Palestinians. Indeed, when appointed to the position in 2018 Nandy criticised Israel’s “systematic denial” of Palestinian’s rights.

In an article published in Labour List Nandy wrote “as long as the blockade of Gaza and the illegal occupation continues, while Britain continues to sell arms to Israel, as Palestinian refugees continue to be denied their rights and while the lives of children remain under threat, we will strive harder.”

As Shadow Foreign Secretary would she stand by these views? If so, it would bring her into conflict with the JLM, and with government foreign policy which is keen to get behind Netanyahu and Trump’s ‘deal of the century’ which will dramatically erode Palestinians rights. Nandy’s conflation of anti-Israeli sentiment with antisemitism, and the endorsement given to her by pro-Zionist groups do not bode well.

We know that Jeremy Corbyn was the most anti-war leader the Labour Party has had. That he continued to speak out on issues of war and peace and take part in the anti-war movement during his leadership was a bone of contention for many in the Parliamentary Party, and something for which he was viciously attacked.

We also know that Stop the War is one of the most popular campaign groups amongst Labour members, and although very little was said about foreign policy during the long leadership campaign we must ensure that members’ anti-war views do not become sidelined by the new leadership team.

It is imperative that we work together uphold Corbyn’s legacy. But if Labour moves away from its anti-war position it will be up to us in the movement to stay strong, to continue to hold politicians to account, and to build campaigns both within and outside the party. We have done this before; we can do so again.

09 Apr 2020 by Terina Hine

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