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Foreign Affairs Could Bring Down Corbyn’s Cabinet

Could Corbyn's controversial standpoint on foreign policy create serious obstacles for him?

Ben Harris

Naked Politics Blogger

After months of momentum, Jeremy Corbyn has finally been elected as leader of the Labour Party with a huge mandate. Britain now has its most left-wing opposition leader since at least the early 80s. Naturally, much of the debate about Corbyn and his policies has focused on economics. Many of Corbyn’s economic views are indeed hotly debated, such as his plans to renationalise the railways, drastically higher taxes for the rich and a plan to invest in infrastructure by essentially printing money, a policy Corbyn calls: “people’s quantitative easing”.

However, while many of Corbyn’s economic policies are quite hotly contested, it is his views on foreign affairs which could prove most damaging to his leadership. Among other things, Corbyn believes the UK should negotiate with Argentina on the Falkland Islands (despite the islanders voting overwhelming to remain British in 2013), he supports British withdrawal of NATO, has blamed the US and NATO for Russian aggression in Ukraine and in a recent leadership debate, he remarked that he couldn’t think of a situation in which he would agree with British troops intervening abroad.

The implications of these sorts of positions are clear for all to see. On the issue of the Falklands, Corbyn has displayed a rather bizarre and hypocritical attitude. For all his statements about the importance of democracy, he seems to care little about the democratic will of the Falkland Islanders. His strictly non-interventionist stance would also imply that even cases of mass genocide would not be enough to get him to support British military action, a rather unusual position to adopt in light of his frequent calls for justice and human rights worldwide.

It is not just Corbyn’s views on foreign affairs which could come back to haunt him. He has also associated himself with some very unsavoury characters over the years, including a number of vociferous anti-Semites. Corbyn has repeatedly praised the government of Venezuela, despite its poor record on human rights and shambolic economic leadership that has somehow managed to make one of the most oil-rich countries in the world the most impoverished country in South America. Notoriously, Corbyn has also referred to members of the terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends” and recently he repeatedly refused to condemn the IRA while at the same time condemning the actions of the British Army in Northern Ireland. Corbyn’s new shadow chancellor John McDonnell is even more extreme – he once lavished sickening praise on the “bombs and bullets” of IRA terrorists.

So far Corbyn’s views on foreign affairs have not yet been thrust into the public spotlight, but that could soon change. There is an imminent vote in the Commons on extending air strikes against ISIS into Syria and this is an issue which Corbyn has very strong views on. It should come as no surprise that Corbyn is vehemently opposed to air strikes against ISIS in either Syria or Iraq, claiming that he wants a “peaceful” solution. Of course, it probably hasn’t occurred to him that the same group who regularly execute gays, religious minorities, Shia Muslims and push women into sexual enslavement aren’t all that open to diplomacy. At best, Corbyn is incredibly naive on this issue and he is also on the wrong side of public opinion, with a large majority of the public backing more air strikes against ISIS.

In many respects, Corbyn’s views on foreign affairs are deeply paradoxical. On the one hand he has positioned himself as a passionate defender of human rights, gay rights and female empowerment and yet at the same time he seems perfectly happy to associate himself with vicious Islamists who are incredibly anti-gay, anti-women and most certainly anti-human rights. Corbyn describes himself as anti-war and pro-peace, yet he seems totally unwilling to condemn aggressors in certain conflicts, such as Russia and its recent actions in Ukraine. The only consistent thread running through Corbyn’s foreign policy views is that the causes which matter most to him are not human rights or peace but opposing the UK, the US and the wider Western world at every turn.

It should probably come as no surprise that I come from a very different part of the political spectrum to Corbyn. Despite thinking most of his economic ideas are crazy, I do however accept that there’s a possibility that these ideas could gain some traction with the electorate if they are presented in the right way and under the right set of conditions. On the other hand, I cannot foresee any situation in which Corbyn’s views on foreign policy become accepted by anything more than a small minority. The British people may have many different ideas on how to run the economy or structure the state but for the most part, we are bitterly opposed to terrorists who wish to attack us and our way of life. Once Jeremy Corbyn’s bizarre views on foreign affairs become more entrenched in the public consciousness, it is unlikely that they will do anything but turn the public firmly against him.

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