Starmer’s latest move underlines his commitment to destroying any last vestiges of Corbynism in Labour, particularly as it relates to foreign policy.


Keir Starmer has put new conditions on Jeremy Corbyn’s readmission to the Labour Party. Now Corbyn has been told he has to stop his ‘association’ with the Stop the War Coalition and accept Labour’s ‘unqualified support’ for NATO.

This is an extraordinary development even by the standards of the Starmer leadership. First, he is unilaterally adding hurdles to Corbyn’s readmission, effectively admitting in the process that the move against Corbyn is about opposition to his politics generally rather than specific charges over antisemitism.

Second, it signals that he is using the war in Ukraine to launch a further attack on the anti-war left. This is not just an internal Labour Party matter. Starmer is playing his part in the big effort to make Britain safe for war again.

Labour under Blair was responsible for British participation in the bloody Kosovan war of 1999 and the catastrophic invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. The first two involved leadership by NATO and NATO played a significant role in Iraq too.

There was, however, massive opposition to what became known as the War on Terror. The demonstrations against the Iraq war were the biggest in British history and, reflecting the popular mood, a quarter of Labour MPs broke the whip and voted against the government in the biggest rebellion in Labour’s history.

The movement failed to stop the Iraq War, but as internal Ministry of Defence documents show, it has made fighting foreign wars difficult for our rulers by creating a situation in which ‘boots on the ground’ invasions are widely regarded as unacceptable.

The anti-war left inside and outside the Labour Party coalesced around Corbyn in his 2015 leadership election. Corbyn’s victory and the impressive election result of 2017 shook the establishment. Generals, civil servants, spooks and journalists joined the Labour right in a concerted campaign against him. Again and again issues of ‘security,’ foreign policy and war were at the heart of their attacks. In the end the highly duplicitous campaign succeeded in discrediting Corbyn and derailing the project.

Starmer’s latest move underlines his commitment to destroying any last vestiges of Corbynism in Labour, particularly as it relates to foreign policy. Some will take the view that these are not the central questions of politics. The Ukraine war, however, has dominated the news agenda since it began. It has been used to create an atmosphere in which other issues, including Partygate, have been side-lined. The suffocating mainstream consensus against any criticism of NATO has side-lined any real discussion of the context and causes of a historically important war.

The war in Ukraine is certain to be a turning point in world affairs. Countries across Europe are rearming at pace. Both Russia’s invasion and the West’s militaristic response point to a future in which great power competition can easily spill into open war.

The extreme hostility between Russia and the West is dangerous enough. But it is commonplace that the current confrontation between Russia and the West partly reflects the more fundamental contest between a rising China and a US deeply fearful of growing economic and military competition. Every single US strategy document since the middle of last decade identifies great power rivalry as the key military challenge facing the West.

In these circumstances, Starmer’s efforts to crush the anti-war left are dangerous. They are part of an attempt to shift the whole balance of opinion in British society.

One of the precious achievements of the anti-war movement over the last two decades has been to help create a popular majority against foreign interventions. In a more and more dangerous looking world, that anti- war sentiment could not be more important. We are almost certainly going to have to draw on it and to mobilise it in the months and years to come. Accepting Starmer’s demand for unconditional support for NATO means burying the whole shameful history of the wars of the last two decades and the tremendous record of popular opposition to them.

It also means abandoning the effort to stop our governments further militarising foreign policy and taking us into more foreign wars. The stakes are high. The whole movement needs to campaign against Starmer’s attacks.

13 Apr 2022 by Chris Nineham

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