Labour's cluelessness on Syria is not an innocent mistake
"Someone had obviously shoved them up and I was furious afterwards and I think so were the organisers themselves,” Macdonnell told the BBC.
"We are talking about the Trades Union Congress. It isn't an organisation that backs any of these sorts of movements," he added.
Even more prominently displayed were the hammer and sickle flags of the Marxist-Leninist Community Party of Great Britain (CPGB-ML) who openly advocate Stalinism and support the Syrian regime. At the same event one of their members sent a message in solidarity to the Syrian Arab Army for resisting "US imperialism".
This was not an isolated incident but continues to demonstrate the failure of Labour - and indeed the wider British left - to recognise the legitimacy of the Syrian revolution and the Syrian people’s right to freedom.
Days after the flag incident, following reports that the conservatives intend to hold another commons vote on military escalation in Syria, Labour condemned the plan, with the Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry saying this would "risk open conflict between our armed forces and those of Russia and Iran".
Thornberry warned against the UK "following in the footsteps of Donald Trump" after a strike last month on Shayrat airbase following a chemical attack on Khan Shaykhon in Idlib province.
The warning concerning Trump alludes to the leftist myth that the imperialistic US is backing "regime change", is attacking Assad, and could become another "Iraq war".
The myth persists despite overwhelming evidence that the US has consistently been appeasing Assad for years, notably by preventing Syrian rebels from getting their hands on anti-aircraft missiles - their only potential defence against regime and Russian airstrikes.
Trump’s administration doesn’t appear to advocate a drastic policy change towards Syria; a one-off strike on a half-empty airbase can hardly be seen as meaningful military action against a regime who has been killing her own people for five years. And considering Trump’s friendliness with Assad’s prime backer Russia, his motives behind the strike remain unclear, with some commenting that this has more to do with appeasing dissident Republicans than any humanitarian concern for Syrian victims of Assad’s terror.
|Jeremy Corbyn repeatedly failed to specifically condemn the regime for perpetrating the chemical attack that killed at least 86 people|
Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, and former chairperson for Stop the War Coalition who have repeatedly come under fire for their stance on Syria, condemned the US airbase strike, saying that it should have been authorised by the UN.
And yet he repeatedly failed to specifically condemn the regime for perpetrating the chemical attack that killed at least 86 people.
Although Corbyn described the massacre as "horrific", when asked if Assad regime was behind the strike, he said: "Fingers are pointing, yes, but let's get the proof from the United Nations first."
The former shadow minister Michael Dugher even (jokingly) suggested that Corbyn’s statement had been cleared by the Kremlin.
A recent US strike was not against Assad’s military, but on a mosque in al-Jinah in Aleppo, killing 42 people. Again, the condemnations from the Left were far more muted.
Emily Thornberry, shadow foreign secretary, said on Friday that the UK joining the US in military action would "risk open conflict between our armed forces and those of Russia and Iran."
"Instead of this headlong rush to war, the British government should be working flat out through the United Nations to support the current talks on de-escalation of the conflict, with a view to creating a permanent ceasefire, a political solution and a lasting peace.
"That is what the Syrian people need, not Theresa May’s secret plans to escalate the war."
|Although appealing for UN involvement and a political solution seems reasonable enough, its not such an innocent proposition considering Russia’s veto power which they have used eight times during the Syrian war|
The false UN argument
Although appealing for UN involvement and a political solution seems reasonable enough, its not such an innocent proposition considering Russia’s veto power which they have used eight times during the Syrian war. Most recently the power Assad backer blocked a Security Council resolution to condemn the regime for the Khan Shaikhoun attack.
A political solution is also a remote possibility as rounds of peace talks repeatedly fail. The Syrian National Council’s position in the talks is undermined by a lack of international support - both politically and a military - and opposition figures are reluctant to continue dialogue as horrific strikes continue.
Labour could be forgiven for ignorance and for understandable caution towards intervention, however the party should know better by now, and should stop manipulating the British public’s applaudable opposition to the Iraq war.
All this is far from new; the sentiments expressed here reflect those of Syrian activists and solidarity groups who have repeatedly criticised Labour policies, even meeting Corbyn and other prominent members of the party to explain their short-comings. However, Labour still refuse to listen.
As the Conservative party lead the country towards a devastating "hard Brexit", likely to transform the UK into a third-rate tax haven and tearing apart all achievements of social democracy, many have attacked Labour for failing to provide any opposition this issue. Instead, the opposition seem bent on attacking the Tories for attacking dictatorships, regardless of their intentions.
In this context, John Macdonnell's flag incident was far from an innocent mistake.
Imogen Lambert graduated from the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, and has worked in social and economic rights in Cairo.
Follow her on Twitter: @InnogenLamb
Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff