With the election of Jeremy Corbyn as the new leader of the British Labor Party, there are signs that the longstanding foreign policy consensus in Britain could be changing in Russia’s favor.
Jeremy Corbyn smiles as he leaves the stage after he is announced as the new leader of The Labour Party during the Labour Party Leadership Conference in London. Corbyn will now lead Britain's main opposition party. Photo: AP
Last week the British Labor Party announced its new leader after a lengthy selection process. The winner was 66-year-old veteran politician Jeremy Corbyn. He overcame three other competitors, all of whom are proponents of the New Labor establishment and members of the party’s shadow government.
Corbyn’s victory was nothing short of a landslide. In all three of the party’s “electoral colleges” — Labor MPs, trade union-affiliated members and registered party supporters — Corbyn won convincingly. The new “one member, one vote” system handed him 59.6 percent of the vote (251,000 people). According to Professor Philippe Marliere of University College London, “What is remarkable is that Jeremy Corbyn owes his rise to new supporters (especially the young) and former activists who left the party during the period of Blairism.”
The dominance of social liberalism inside the Labor Party, which began under Tony Blair, seemed unstoppable. But clearly that is not the case. After the Labor Party’s defeat in the May elections, most British political analysts expected the party to swing once again to the right, away from the foggy social reformism of the former leadership. But no, for the first time since the 1980s, the party faithful entrusted the leadership to a true leftist.
Corbyn stands for a world free of aggression and imperialism
Back in the 1980s Corbyn stood out as an unswerving campaigner against all forms of imperialism and militarism, winning a reputation for his participation in demonstrations and protests against apartheid in South Africa and the Pinochet regime in Chile. Moreover, Labor MPs are generally known for speaking up for Palestinians’ right to statehood, supporting calls for a boycott against Israel.
Corbyn has long been involved in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and wants to scrap Britain’s Trident nuclear submarine program. Corbyn favors general disarmament and a “radically different policy,” which, in his opinion, should be based exclusively on the principles of peace, solidarity and internationalism.
Unlike past leaders of the Labor Party, Corbyn is an outspoken critic of the “special relationship” between London and Washington. At the turn of the new millennium, he took an active part in the mass anti-war demonstrations against U.S. (and British) military intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq. Corbyn was fiercely critical of what he saw as America’s highly unconstructive position on the Middle East, Iran and the Palestinian-Israeli settlement.
It is no coincidence that one of the first to congratulate the new leader of the Labor Party on his stunning victory was Argentine President Christina Fernandez de Kirchner. More than 30 years ago, Corbyn openly opposed sending the British armada to the Falkland Islands. To this day, he supports Argentina’s historical right to the Islas Malvinas, as they are known in Spanish. Moreover, Corbyn has long enjoyed amicable relations with the leaders of Venezuela, having repeatedly stated that he sympathizes with the Bolivarian model of “21st century socialism.”
Corbyn and Russia: Friendly criticism
As a politician with a left-socialist leaning, Corbyn is certainly not one of those European politicians who take delight in criticizing the “Russian model.” Like other Labor left-wingers, he did not hide his deep affection for the Soviet Union, and his public addresses have repeatedly stressed the heroic contribution of the Red Army and the Soviet people in the victory over Nazism.
At the same time, he is known for his criticism of Russia’s policies in Chechnya and the country’s record on human rights, with particular regard to the LGBT community, which the democratic socialist Corbyn staunchly supports.
"I am not an admirer or supporter of Putin’s foreign policy, or of Russian or anybody else’s expansion," Corbyn stressed.
But it was no accident that immediately after the results of the Labor leadership contest were announced, incumbent Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted: “The Labor Party is now a threat to national security...”
The Labour Party is now a threat to our national security, our economic security and your family's security.
— David Cameron (@David_Cameron) September 13, 2015
This might be an exaggeration, but, nevertheless, it might also show how much Cameron fears that the many-decades-long consensus among Britain’s major parties on foreign policy and security could be now in play.
Also on Russia, it is no secret that the former leadership of the Labor Party actively supported the policy of sanctions on the Kremlin, accusing the Kremlin of aggression in Ukraine. Corbyn and his radical supporters inside the Labor Party consider the “U.S.-European” policy of sanctions ineffective and futile. He also believes that NATO, the United States and Western European countries bear a large share of responsibility for the course of events in Ukraine.
As Corbyn suggests, the West largely provoked Moscow into taking action in eastern Ukraine through its policy of NATO expansion eastwards, which he has denounced on numerous occasions. In the MP’s own words, “NATO expansion and Russian expansion — one leads to the other, and one reflects the other.”
Corbyn believes that Europe should instead pursue cooperation, for which reason he advocates full-fledged economic, cultural and scientific ties between Britain and Russia, focusing on coordinated action in the humanitarian sphere and the work of NGOs. All told, there are real grounds to suppose that the period of foreign policy consensus in British politics could be over.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.