Jeremy Corbyn: will UK Labour give peace a chance?

Jeremy Corbyn: will UK Labour give peace a chance?
Comment: Jeremy Corbyn might not win the British Labour party leadership, but his involvement could put the Middle East on the agenda of the contest, says Tom Charles.
3 min read
15 June, 2015
An internationalist such as Corbyn would alter the debate on the Middle East [Getty]

The decision of veteran bankbench MP Jeremy Corbyn to stand for the leadership of the British Labour party has given peace campaigners the opportunity to indulge in a collective daydream about the direction the party would take.

The implications of a genuine internationalist, socialist leader such as Corbyn would be huge for UK Middle East policy.

With Corbyn, Labour’s foreign policy would move away from its long-standing military-industrial, pro-US approach and take a much more solution-orientated direction, focusing on peace and justice.

Corbyn is a hugely popular figure among the public, reflected in a Daily Mirror poll last week which put him 40 percent ahead of his nearest rival in this five-horse race.

Despite this, the odds are stacked against him as he is considered too left-wing by many of his colleagues in parliament. A number of bookmakers have odds of 100-1 on Corbyn becoming party leader. Andy Burnham is the clear favourite.

Candidates need an initial 35 nominations from the parliamentary Labour party to be on the final ballot, to be sent to members in August, with the winner announced in September.

But while Corbyn is still in the race, it is worth speculating about what a Corbyn-led Labour party would look like and what it mean for UK Middle East policy.

     He was a campaigner for Palestinian rights long before the issue gained traction in mainstream debate.

On Palestine, his record is clear: he was a campaigner for Palestinian rights long before the issue gained traction in mainstream debate.

He regularly cuts through the perceived wisdom of the two-state solution approach and is an expert on the much neglected issues of Palestinian refugees, trade, water rights and intra-Palestinian reconciliation. Corbyn has consistently condemned the UK’s complicity in Israeli crimes.

The MP also has vast experience on the ground in the region, making nine visits to Gaza in the past 15 years.

Corbyn vehemently opposed the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq that have so damaged the reputation of both the UK and Labour. He was elected to the steering committee of the influential Stop the War Coalition.

Across every major Middle East issue, Corbyn's politics would represent a sea-change. He opposes what he calls the UK's "hands off approach" to its arms sales and wants to see a "WMD-free zone" in the Middle East.

Corbyn's approach to foreign policy is summed up with this truism: "War is not inevitable, but unless we understand the commercial, military and xenophobic forces that are able to promote war, we will have great difficulty in stopping the wars of the future."

Such an approach will be dismissed by many so-called 'realists' as naive, but it is also testament to the righteousness of Corbyn, and the left more generally, when it comes to matters of war and peace in the Middle East.

In this, he stands in stark contrast to his rivals for Labour leadership.

But, Corbyn is no hopeless idealist. He is a skilled politician, at once steadfast in his principles, conciliatory in tone and disarmingly personable in character.

Supporters of Corbyn can justifiably claim that a humane, compassionate approach is long-overdue in British Middle East policy, and while he may not ultimately threaten the frontrunners for the Labour leadership, if he secures enough nominations to get on to the final ballot, peace may be back on the agenda of Labour politics.