29 October 2016

The meaning of the decision of Labour’s Right to support Arms to Saudi Arabia

It is time to deselect the 98 Labour MPs who believe Saudia Arabia is our ally

What do you call Peter Kyle - Hove's gay Progress MP sees nothing wrong in supporting the alliance with Saudia Arabia where being gay can be fatal?

On the face of it, it is a strange issue on which to stage the biggest revolt since Jeremy Corbyn was re-elected as Labour leader.  Even the Lib-Dems, who were up to their ears, in the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia in the last government, voted against. 

On Wednesday a Labour motion which had already been unacceptably watered down to call for a UN Inquiry into ‘all sides’ of the Saudi Arabia’s attack on Yemen was met with a concerted abstention by nearly 100 Labour MPs.  It was wrong of Jeremy Corbyn and Emily Thornberry not to move a clear and unambiguous motion calling for the cessation of arms shipments to Saudi Arabia. 

The position of Emily Thornberry, Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary, was pathetically weak.   She is quoted in Labour List as saying that:

while Saudi Arabia will remain an “ally” in the region, the UK would suspend its support for Saudi forces in Yemen until “alleged violations” of international humanitarian law in the had been independently investigated.

She added that she would not want to see support resumed “until the children of Yemen have received the humanitarian aid that they so desperately need.”

The idea that we will resume support for Saudi Arabia after humanitarian aid to children has been let in, so that Saudi Arabia can continue to kill and maim children and civilians is nonsensical. 

The facts are quite clear.  Saudi Arabia which has no business meddling in Yemen’s civil war has killed at least 10,000 Yemeni civilians with US and British arms.  Only a few weeks ago Saudi Arabia planes killed 140 people in a funeral party.

Raif Badawi is due another 950 lashes of the 1,000 he was sentenced to in Peter Kyle's paradise kingdom

What needs to be  challenged is the idea that Saudi Arabia is an ally in the Middle East.  It is a barbaric state which has one of the highest execution rates in the world, primarily of poor migrant workers.  Its attitude to women, who are forbidden to drive or go out without a male chaperon, makes the Iranian state seem positively progressive in comparison.  Flogging dissident bloggers, executing children, torture etc. should make anyone who is serious about human rights abuses steer a million miles from giving this detestable regime an ounce of support.

Couple this with the export of the Wahabbi brand of Islam and the aid and financing of the very groups – ISIS and Al Qaeda – against which the West is allegedly waging a ‘war against terror’ and we see the hypocrisy magnify.  The fact is that there is moral basis for the alliance with Saudi Arabia, which together with the Gulf Sheikdoms, is in a close alliance with Israel in policing the region.

Saudi Arabia has no business interfering in Yemeni’s civil war.  Its blockade and merciless bombing, with British and US weaponry, has caused a human rights catastrophe.  One can but compare the crocodile tears shed over Russia’s aerial bombardment of Aleppo with the support given to Saudi Arabia to note that Western foreign policy in the Middle East doesn’t have a shred of moral legitimacy.

Saudi King Salman - John Woodcock's comrade in arms

Naturally Labour’s pro-Trident John Woodcock defended his decision to support Tory party policy in Saudi Arabia (which is what an abstention means) on the basis that the “last thing the Middle East needs is more gesture politics from the comfort of British dining tables and withdrawal by those who have the capacity to play a constructive role.”  In other words it is acceptable to supply arms to Saudi Arabia from London’s dinner tables but not to oppose their butchery.  If it is ‘gesture politics’ to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia  then it is the kind of politics we need.

The question therefore remains why did Labour’s Right choose this issue?  It is clear that the fundamental issue which divides Corbyn from the Labour Right is over the alliance with the United States.  Saudi Arabia is the US’s closest ally, despite its funding for terrorist groups.  Ipso facto Britain must tag along. The extent of this alliance was shown when the Serious Fraud Office was getting close to British Aerospace’s use of bribes to obtain Saudi arms contracts in the Al-Yamamah arms deal.  Tony Blair vetoed the prosecution.

One of the quaint customs that John Mann and Peter Kyle have no problem with

The alliance, if one can call it that, with the Saudi Arabian ruling family, is the lynchpin of US and British policy in the Middle East.  The other key ally of course is Israel and it is no surprise that Israel and Saudi Arabia are extremely close politically.

Labour’s Right is therefore saying that whatever Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses and whatever its support for Jihadi groups in Syria, the necessities of the Western Alliance override the interests of the Saudi and Yemeni people.  Old fashioned imperialism and self-interest dressed up in the language of mutual interests and ‘anti-terrorism’.

It is one of the political weaknesses of Corbyn that instead of espousing an anti-imperialist  position that rejects per se support for Saudi Arabia in the region, it is dressed up in a pacifism which in the end is watered down to remove even an arms ban.

It is noticeable that the Chair of Labour Friends of Israel, Joan Ryan, was one of the abstainers, along with Ann Clwyd, the hypocrite who supported the Iraq war because of Saddam Hussein’s undoubted atrocities but was more than prepared to turn a blind eye to those of King Salman.  Other luminaries include the ‘anti-Semitism’ liar John Mann MP and of course our very own Peter Kyle.  Peter is a very great advocate of gay rights yet he was happy to support Saudi Arabia which reserves the death penalty for gays.  The same was true of Ben Bradshaw.  Keith Vaz and another Zionist Mike Gapes also abstained and Vaz actually spoke in the debat.

This is why the attitude of the Momentum leadership and Jon Lansman, that the Labour Right can be appeased and brought to accept Corbyn’s leadership is so off beam.  They will never accept the dominance of the Right in the party and that is why the Left has  to be campaigning, not only to reselect these people but to gain control of Labour’s civil service and dismiss Crooked Iain McNicol, Labour’s General Secretary.  Instead Corbyn has said that he has no quarrel with McNicol continuing in office so that he can continue the witch hunt of people on the Left.

In the past month the elected Brighton & Hove Labour Party Chair Mark Sandell has been expelled from the Labour Party and we heard last week that Greg Hadfield, the elected Secretary, has been suspended.  The witch hunt goes on and Momentum and its unelected leadership keep silent.  Indeed we have news of Momentum intending to hold a long awaited conference in the New Year.  Apparently it involves internet voting which suggests that they aren’t intending to hold a meaningful physical conference.  The sooner Lansman’s baleful grip, together with his cronies, is lifted from Momentum the better.  The membership of Momentum, which is now over 20,000 has to decide who their officers are.

The Labour MPs who abstained on a bill to withdraw support from Saudi Arabia’s murderous war in Yemen

see also The Labour rebels who didn’t back the Yemen vote have blood on their hands

Friday 28 October 2016 11:15 UTC

This week's Yemen vote demonstrates something apparent since the vote to invade Iraq: the party of war holds a majority in the Commons

Last month, Jeremy Corbyn was re-elected as Labour leader. It was his second victory by an overwhelming majority in a year, and it should have given Corbyn uncontested authority.

Yet he is still regarded with mutinous contempt by a significant proportion of his own side. They flatly refuse to accept Corbyn’s leadership.

I have reported politics from Westminster for almost 25 years and can recall few more shocking parliamentary events

This became clear on Wednesday night, when more than 100 Labour MPs failed to support a three-line whip on British policy towards the Yemen. It was disloyalty on an epic scale. 

Corbyn cannot be faulted for calling a debate on Yemen. For the past 18 months, Britain has been complicit with mass murder as our Saudi allies have bombarded Yemen from the air, slaughtering thousands of innocent people as well as helping fuel a humanitarian calamity.

Corbyn clearly felt that it was his duty as leader of a responsible and moral opposition to challenge this policy. He nevertheless bent over backwards to make sure that the Yemen vote was uncontroversial. The Labour motion therefore stopped short of calling for the suspension of arms sales to Saudi Arabia which has been demanded by many charities and campaign groups.

This is because Corbyn and his foreign affairs spokeswoman Emily Thornberry were mindful that some Labour MPs represented constituencies where local jobs depended on the arms industry. So they contented themselves with demanding an independent United Nations inquiry into crimes committed by all sides – not just the Saudis – in this terrible and bloody conflict. They reasonably suggested that Britain should suspend support for the Saudis until this investigation was completed.

Green light to Saudi

This is the position taken by the bulk of the international community, by all reputable aid agencies and, as far as I can tell, by almost all ordinary Yemenis. In her excellent speech on Wednesday afternoon, Thornberry set out the reasons why the Saudis could no longer be trusted to investigate their own affairs. 

But for Labour abstainers and absentees, Corbyn’s motion would have been carried and parliament would have voted for an independent investigation

Yet more than 100 Labour MPs – not far short of half the Labour Party - defied Corbyn. As a result, Labour’s call for an independent inquiry was defeated by 283 votes to just 193, a majority of 90. But for Labour abstainers and absentees, Corbyn’s motion would have been carried and parliament would have voted for an independent investigation.

The vote is bound to be interpreted by Saudi King Salman as a vote of confidence in his deeply controversial assault on the Yemen. 

It will also lift pressure on the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson as he resists a growing international clamour for Britain to throw its weight behind an independent UN investigation.  

To sum up, on Wednesday night, the British parliament sent the green light to Saudi Arabia and its allies to carry on bombing, maiming and killing. I have reported politics from Westminster for almost 25 years and can recall few more shocking parliamentary events. 

Party of War

Shocking – but not surprising. The Yemen vote demonstrates something that has been apparent ever since the vote on 18  March 2003 to support the invasion of Iraq: the party of war holds a majority in the Commons.

It comprises virtually all of the Conservative Party and the Blairite wing of Labour. As Nafeez Ahmed wrote in July, there is a clear and demonstrable connection between the vote for war in Iraq, opposition to an Iraq inquiry, support for the calamitous intervention in Libya, and opposition to Jeremy Corbyn. 

For the past 15 years, parliament has been governed by a cross-party consensus in favour of war 
Ahmed showed the majority of those who tried to unseat Corbyn last summer were interventionist. Some 172 supported the motion of no confidence in Corbyn’s leadership. By coincidence or not, exactly the same number of MPs have supported Britain’s calamitous overseas wars. 

Now let’s look at the Labour MPs who put a smile on the faces of King Salman and Boris Johnson by defying Corbyn’s three-line whip and abstaining in Wednesday night’s vote: once again we are at least partly talking about a confederacy of Blairites.

It turns out that Ann Clywd, who made such a sparkling speech in favour of war during the 2003 Iraq debate, has abstained over Corbyn’s call for an independent investigation of Yememi war crimes. So have John Spellar, Gloria de Piero, Fiona MacTaggart, Barry Sheerman, Angela Eagle, Liz Kendall, Luciana Berger, Lucy Powell, Mike Gapes, Stephen Kinnock, Tristram Hunt, Margaret Hodge etc etc.
Even Keith Vaz, who was born in Aden and makes a big deal of his Yemeni antecedents, defied Labour’s three-line whip and abstained. 

It is important to highlight the fact that some of the most prominent opponents of Jeremy Corbyn did traipse through the division lobbies with their leader on Wednesday night. Alan Johnson, Hilary Benn and Yvette Cooper are just three examples. And, of course, the majority of those who abstained on Wednesday were not in parliament for the Iraq vote in 2003.

The Neocons and the unforgiven 

Nevertheless there is a telling pattern here. For the past 15 years, parliament has been governed by a cross-party consensus in favour of war. During that period, Britain has undertaken three major foreign interventions, each one of them utterly disastrous. In each one, military success was swiftly followed by political and, ultimately, state failure. 

Despite the hard-won experience of 15 years, there is still a parliamentary majority in favour of intervention.

There is an intimate connection between politicians who style themselves as moderate and neoconservative policies overseas

Very few parliamentarians opposed all these interventions. Jeremy Corbyn was among them and he has never been forgiven for it.

This brings me to the final paradox of Wednesday night’s vote: the intimate connection between politicians who style themselves as moderate or occupying the centre ground in Britain and neoconservative policies overseas. 

For the past 20 years, the so-called "modernisers", whether Blair’s Labour or Cameron’s Conservatives, have been in charge at Westminster. As has been well-documented (not least by Labour’s Jon Cruddas), they have hollowed out British politics through techniques of spin and electoral manipulation.

It is these same modernisers who have caused havoc in the Middle East, condemning the region to bloodshed and war. They were at it again on Wednesday by sending a signal to the Saudi dictatorship that it was acceptable to carry out its murderous policies in the Yemen. Thirteen years after Iraq, neoconservatism still rules.

- Peter Oborne was named freelancer of the year 2016 by the Online Media Awards for an article he wrote for Middle East Eye. He was British Press Awards Columnist of the Year 2013. He resigned as chief political columnist of the Daily Telegraph in 2015.

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