On Monday 12 April, the Labour Party, which is one of the two major parties in British politics, released their manifesto for May’s General Election.
The remit of this blog is to cover issues around the wars currently being fought by the U.K. and it’s allies, mainly the U.S.. With that in mind, here’s a brief review of some of the foreign policy pledges contained within Labour’s manifesto.
1. Supporting the war in Iraq
If there was one political issue that tainted the last Labour government, it was their decision to join the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
It subsequently emerged that the invasion was illegal, and therefore a war crime (even the Foreign Office’s senior legal advisors said so); that it was based on a pack of lies and half-truths; and that it caused a major humanitarian disaster, with – bare minimum – several hundreds of thousands people killed, and millions displaced.
The invasion was, to be frank, a moral and political abomination that might have consigned the Labour Party to oblivion, and put them beyond the pale of respectable opinion for generations.
Labour are of course aware of this, and so in their manifesto they state:
Labour has been clear about the need to learn the lessons of previous interventions, especially the 2003 invasion of Iraq
That is hardly a statement of deep contrition, shame and regret, but it does suggest a degree of reckoning with their past.
The statement would be much more credible, however, if it wasn’t preceded by a pledge to support the continued bombing of Iraq. As here:
Most immediately we will work with our allies to counter and confront terrorism. ISIL’s barbarism and expansionist ideology, alongside terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and Al-Shabaab, represent a particular threat to global security. Following a request from the Iraqi Prime Minister, it was right that the UK joined other nations in air strikes against ISIL targets in Iraq.
If Labour do win power next month, that ‘supporting’ will surely become ‘participating in’.
What Labour can’t admit here is that it was their decision to invade Iraq that helped birth ISIS in the first place (even that anti-Imperialist firebrand Barack Obama says so), and that it was their decision to invade Iraq that helped to increase the terror threat to the U.K. in general (a totally uncontroversial claim supported by the security services).
And they cant admit this because 1) it looks bad for them, and so wouldn’t be a vote winner and 2) they are a party who remain at the heart of the British Establishment, especially when it comes to foreign policy, and so are structurally and ideologically incapable of being honest about this issue.
So they’re basically just promising more of the same, knowing that none of the other major parties or the corporate media will call them out on it – and we can reasonably expect the same disastrous results.
2. Putting freedom and human rights at the heart of their foreign policy
One of the claims made in Labour’s manifesto is that they will
support human rights, always putting individual freedom and democracy at the heart of our foreign policy
This is nothing if not reminiscent of the pledge former foreign secretary Robin Cook made in May 1997, when he said that:
Our foreign policy must have an ethical dimension and must support the demands of other peoples for the democratic rights on which we insist for ourselves.
In reality, Labour then continued to arm and support some of the most tyrannical regimes on Earth – one Labour minister, Kim Howells, even spoke of the U.K.’s ‘shared values’ with the regime in Saudi Arabia; they participated in major war crimes from Kosovo to Iraq; and they were deeply complicit in the Bush administration’s torture and rendition programs – Amnesty International accused them in 2006 of ‘attempts to undermine the ban on torture’.
This time around, and beyond the platitudes, there is no clear promise to ban the sale of weapons to abusive regimes, or anything even approaching that.
You’ll hopefully forgive me, then, for not treating their pledge with anything other than the contempt it deserves. Only the credulous or the hopelessly optimistic could fail to see it as a cynical lie designed to win votes from people for whom human rights are important, but which they absolutely won’t follow through on.
3. Labour think the Tories were wrong to scrap Control Orders, and could reinstate them.
But it’s not just abroad where they will likely seek to attack and undermine human rights.
From their manifesto:
With Labour, the security services will have the powers they need to disrupt and tackle terrorism. The Government were wrong to weaken counter terror powers by scrapping Control Orders. With Labour, dangerous suspects will be subject to proper controls.
I’m sure Labour see this as proof that they will be ‘tough on terrorism’, on some such other headline grabbing soundbite.
But once again, Labour, as a party who remain at the heart of the British Establishment, are structurally and ideologically incapable of proposing the one policy measure that could play a major role in reducing the threat from terrorism.
And that is simply refraining from killing people, and supporting their oppressors, in the middle east and beyond.
So instead, they are hinting at authoritarian measures to deal with the inevitable backlash that their policies have lead to, and will continue to lead to.
Amnesty International have described Control Orders as being ‘not compatible with the UK’s human rights obligations under international law’ (p.5)
They basically allow the state to treat mere suspects as convicts, imposing limits on their freedom of movement, subjecting them to house arrest, and controlling their access to employment, education and communications equipment.
To put it more succinctly: Labour are lamenting the loss of ‘security measures’ which clearly violate the human rights of citizens in the U.K., and are hinting strongly that they will reinstate them, or something akin to them. The aim being to counter a terrorist threat that is in no small part the result of the foreign policies they will continue to pursue.
4. Maintaining the U.K.’s nuclear arsenal
The manifesto states that Labour are:
committed to a minimum, credible, independent nuclear capability, delivered through a Continuous At-Sea Deterrent.
They don’t specifically mention Trident by name, but it’s clear that they are in favour of its renewal. Indeed, Ed Miliband took umbrage when it was suggested he might not be. Hell yeah, he loves nuclear weapons!
The last time there was a parliamentary vote on the issue, in March 2007, 230 Labour MPs voted in favour of renewing Trident, and only 88 voted against. That’s nearly three quarters of Labour MPs in favour.
So the renewal of Trident is clearly a policy that is supported by both the leadership of the Labour Party, and by the Parliamentary Labour Party.
Labour, like The Tories, are all in favour of maintaining a massively expensive weapons system whose sole purpose is indiscriminate mass murder, and which will likely make it much harder for the U.K. to argue against nuclear weapons proliferation on the global stage (without coming across as laughable hypocrites).
To sum up, i’ll say that I can understand why some people might vote Labour as a ‘lesser evil’ to the Tories on the domestic front. But when it comes to foreign policy, don’t expect anything radically different to what they did last time they were in power, or anything radically different to what the Tories are doing now.
They haven’t changed *that much* in the space of five years, – if they’ve changed at all – and the effective promotion of nuclear weapons, murderous wars, support for dictatorship and tyranny, and the domestic repression that these things lead to are still at the heart of their foreign policy agenda.