Notes from the front – of the week 8/9/2015

Campaigning to defend Jeremy Corbyn needs to step up a gear

The Labour right is already openly, and covertly, plotting against Jeremy Corbyn. If, as widely expected, he wins the Labour leadership the right’s campaign will only intensify and all those who support anti-austerity, anti-war and anti-racist politics will need to defend him against attack.

The attempts to undermine the Corbyn surge are not now primarily about weeding out his potential supports from the vote, even though this is widespread. There is an all-sided campaign to undermine him as the efforts to exclude voters may not be enough to prevent victory given the scale of his support.

If they can, the right will point out any part of the electorate where there is not a convincing majority in an attempt to delegitimise Corbyn’s standing. While claiming ‘unity’, it is clear they will attempt to undermine him, blocking his policies in direct coordination with the Tories. The Labour party apparatus is dominated by the right and will attempt to block him. But for now, it is possible they may not feel strong enough to block him in his choice of Shadow Cabinet.

Most importantly, the Tories will attempt to set a series of traps for the new leadership, assisted by the Labour right. How issues are handled, such as the possible vote on bombing Syria, will be important. Cameron and the Labour right want to put issues such as NATO membership on the agenda. They do not want discussion about how austerity is cutting growth and living standards, as that agenda underpins the Corbyn surge.

The right’s aim is to split the forces numbering in hundreds of thousands – the Corbyn surge into Labour – from the layer of two or three million in the unions who support his clear anti-austerity stance. The latter are the key link to the mass of voters who make the possibility of an anti-austerity Labour government a feasible project.

Jeremy Corbyn and his team have proved very adept in deflecting all these attacks so far. If he wins, these attacks will only increase in intensity and complexity. Strategically, the key issues are the victory and then survival of anti-austerity, anti-war and anti-racist leadership.

There is no room for complacency as to the outcome, so the final day of campaigning up to the noon deadline on 10 September remains focused on getting out the vote. In London, the same applies to Diane Abbott’s campaign to be Labour’s candidate for Mayor. Whatever the outcomes, the need to defend these politics will be raised to a new, higher level in the period ahead.

Cameron’s racist response on refugees

Britain’s Tory government resolutely opposes providing sanctuary to refugees that have fled war and chaos to reach Europe. Prime Minister David Cameron may have now made a speech referring to ‘compassion’, but it is only the rhetoric as he has not adjusted the policy.

The propaganda of this government, and the previous coalition, has been directed at whipping up a vile reaction against these refugees. This reached new lows on 30 July when Cameron called the refugees crossing the Mediterranean a ‘swarm’, followed shortly after on 8 August by Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond claiming ‘marauding migrants’ are threatening Europe’s standard of living.

The government’s line is to provide no help, irrespective of whether the refugees are in Calais or elsewhere in Europe. It instead focuses it efforts on stopping refugees reaching Europe and Britain in particular.

Last October Britain withdrew its support from the Mediterranean search and rescue operations that were supposed to prevent refugees drowning. This May Britain was drafting a UN Security Council resolution to authorise military attacks on Libyan ships used by refugees – an initiative that was scuppered as Russia opposed a bombing campaign and others raised objections.

The West has created this humanitarian crisis. The wars it has sponsored or engaged in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan have forced many to flee their homes. Most have sought refuge in neighbouring states. There are currently 4 million Syrian refugees living outside their country. Only a small minority travels to Europe.

According to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) the number of people who crossed the Mediterranean between January and August this year was 300,000 and extrapolating this to estimate the possible number for the whole of 2015 you get around 450,000.

Whilst this is the biggest movement of refugees in Europe seen since 1945, it is less than 0.1 per cent of the EU’s 500 million total population. Even if you add in the refugees, mainly from Syria, who use land routes the totals are still tiny compared with the EU’s population. These are not remotely numbers of people that could overwhelm the EU and are proportionally far lower than the numbers of refugees catered for in the much poorer countries neighbouring those experiencing conflict and chaos. An EU coordinated response could easily accommodate these refugees.

Britain’s refusal to support such a Europe-wide program undermines the EU reaching agreement on quotas and resource allocation. Both Germany and Austria have warned Cameron he is damaging his negotiation prospects with them on his EU referendum agenda.

The far-right in Europe has seized the opportunity to whip up racist hostility. At the same time a popular humanitarian response is growing, particularly evident after widespread media coverage of the tragic death of a three year old Syrian boy, washed up on a Turkish beach. ‘Refugees welcome here’ is a growing sentiment and movement in many countries.

Under EU pressure Cameron has changed the tone of his rhetoric. But his expressions of humanitarian concern are entirely fake – he insists Britain will not provide sanctuary to any of the refugees recently arrived in Europe. On 7 September Cameron told MPs Britain will accept just 20,000 Syrian refugees over the next five years. He proposes this small number will be refugees currently in the Middle East, chosen by his government, not those in Europe.

Refugees Welcome Here Demonstration London Saturday 12 September
12 noon Marble Arch
March to Downing Street 
Rally at Downing Street 2pm

Attacks on Muslims – on the rise

A wave of Islamophobia is leading to a further increase in hate crimes against Muslims, according to official data. The Metropolitan Police Service is one of the few forces that monitors hate crime against Muslims and reports a 70% increase in attacks. These are largely directed against women, with a soaring number of street assaults and abuse of women in Muslim dress.

This is not a one-off. The same data for 2014 showed a 65% increase in attacks. The Met attempts to play down the surge, arguing that the increase in numbers is owing to increased reporting. But this assertion is without any evidence. On the contrary, the widespread attempts to cow and silence Muslims mean that the scale of under-reporting is likely to be extremely high.

In reality there is a cauldron of officially sponsored hatred being stoked against the Muslim population of Britain and other Western states. Muslims are the majority population in Middle Eastern countries which have repeatedly been bombed by the West. Demonising Muslims serves as a necessary precondition to those campaigns. In addition, domestic austerity policies and the effects of prolonged economic stagnation require a scapegoat. Muslims are placed at the centre of that, alongside immigrants and ‘welfare scroungers’.

These vile campaigns are a product of reactionary foreign and domestic policies and lead directly to street assaults and other crimes as well as the growth of the far-right. Campaigning against Islamophobia needs to reach out to all who will defend a decent and inclusive society which respects freedom of religious and cultural expression, irrespective of views on wars and other issues. Stand Up To Racism works alongside others campaigning against Islamophobia. Learn more about its activities here.

Bombing Syria will not defeat ISIS

Cameron is continuing covert action inside Syria, despite the decision of Parliament in 2013 not to engage in a new war. Previously he had allowed RAF personnel to fly military strikes in US planes. He also allowed SAS members to engage in ground operations, wearing US uniforms and using US weapons. Such embedding was under US command. This week he announced a UK drone strike inside Syria. Clearly, he hopes to gain Parliament’s support for his current secret war.

The refugee crisis is being used as an excuse for the drive to another war. In the past week, the Sun newspaper, and the former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, have joined Cameron’s lobby. The UK bombing ISIS in Syria will neither resolve the refugee crisis, nor defeat ISIS. Despite US government denials, objective reports from Syria confirm that US military strikes are killing civilians. Ariel bombardment of towns and cities render them less habitable and further displace civilians. Kobane is virtually empty of population, despite a successful offensive against ISIS by the Kurdish PYD aligned militias.

In Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya the US-led coalitions caused huge damage to the economies and infrastructure; created enormous numbers of refugees, and failed to establish stable governments and state apparatuses which commanded popular support. Failure, however, is not an outcome that registers with Cameron and his allies.

Syria and Iraq need a political process that can be supported by the majority of the population, without external coercion. International support to rebuild these countries would be an important contribution to isolating ISIS and similar forces. But a peace process can only succeed without preconditions – in Syria it cannot be a prerequisite for Assad to stand down, or the opposition to disarm. We are a long way from such a process, but the agreement on Iranian nuclear power shows that there are routes other than military ones.

Military intervention inside Syria since 2011 has laid the ground for ISIS to advance. ISIS is a split from Al Qaeda in Iraq. It did not exist before the NATO occupation. The programme of building the armed opposition in Syria by the US/UK/French governments, in partnership with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar has fuelled ISIS. The Western attempts to establish a “moderate” section of this opposition lies in tatters. The Free Syrian Army exists in not much more than name, with the vast majority of its forces having joined or allied themselves to Jabhat al-Nusrah (Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate) or ISIS. The new force being trained up by the US in Turkey and Saudi Arabia has already failed. The first batch of these fighters was captured by al-Nusrah, who appear to have been tipped off by Turkish intelligence forces.

The only effective fighters against ISIS are deemed unsuitable by Western governments, these are the Syrian Arab Army, Hezbollah, the PYD aligned Kurdish militias, and the Shia militia in Iraq. Clearly an alliance which could overturn ISIS would involve these forces.

UK involvement in bombing ISIS in Iraq has been underway since September 2014, to no real effect. In 2015, ISIS has continued to gain ground in Iraq. The people of Iraq and Syria have suffered enough without further rounds of western intervention which are characterised by a complete absence of strategy, and in the case of Syria, an absence of legality (the Iraqi government has invited the intervention).

It is vital, as the Stop The War Coalition prepares for its AGM on 19 September, to step up the campaign against the UK parliament authorising military action in Syria.