Notes from the front of 3-11-16
On 26 October Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry, moved a motion in Parliament calling for an independent, UN led investigation into violations of international humanitarian law in Yemen. It called for the British government to suspend its support to the Saudi-led coalition pending the outcome. The motion was defeated, with 197 MPs voting in favour and 283 against.
On a three line whip, 100 Labour MPs failed to support the motion. This was despite the fact that the motion was tailored to embrace right wing concerns about an immediate arms embargo, and possible war crimes by the Houthis.
In the debate, a small number of Labour MPs openly defended Saudi actions, or justified supporting them because arms sales protect jobs in their constituencies. Wrong though such views are, at least they are explicit and can be debated. But evidently, a large section of abstentions were down to a refusal to credit Labour’s Front Bench for its leadership role on Yemen.
In the face of starvation in Yemen, and extensive documentation of war crimes, some Labour MPs believed this was an opportunity to undermine Jeremy Corbyn. Actually it was a demonstration of moral corruption.
The right-wing Partido Popular (PP) government has finally been installed after months of political impasse. The right’s win is solely due to the utter capitulation of the PSOE (Socialist Workers’ Party of Spain – sister party of the Labour party), who ousted their own leader to push through an abstention on the vote to form a minority government.
In a fiction that would be familiar to Irish voters currently, the pretence is that PSOE is not supporting the right, but simply allowing political deadlock to be broken. But the historic betrayal has already caused convulsions in PSOE, with a new leadership winning support for its policy only by 139 to 96 votes and 15 PSOE MPs refused to follow the abstention line in the Cortes vote. If there is no change of course, traditional PSOE voters are likely to drift away.
The real opposition to the government of the right must come from Podemos, who achieved 21 per cent only 1 per cent behind PSOE in the June 2016 election. Podemos has internal struggles of its own. It needs to raise itself up to the task of being the effective opposition. It is well-placed to ally with any fracturing on the left given its fundamentally correct position on the rights of the Spanish nations to self-determination. It now needs to develop an economic programme which can unite the left and win a popular majority with a clear alternative to austerity.
If opinion polls are to be believed Alain Juppé should win the nomination for the right wing Les Republicaines in their primary elections which takes places in two rounded on 20 and 27 November. His main challenger is former President Nicolas Sarkozy. Should Sarkozy fail it would be a setback for the US, as he was effectively backed by the State Department as the most pro-US French President ever. Juppé represents a more traditional Gaullist trend of French nationalism.
There seems to be no prospect at all that the Socialists can retain the Presidency. Hollande, an Ed Miliband-like figure, hinted at anti-austerity policies and has in fact deepened them. His approval rating has dipped to a record low for any President of 4 per cent. This is well behind Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the main challenger on the left who has a 10 or 11 per cent rating.
In Europe as whole the poisoned well of racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia is expanding and received a lift with the Brexit vote. It should be expected to boost the Front National. It seems likely that the overtly and militantly racist right will be a challenger in the second round Presidential voting in April and May next year. Their poll rating hovers between the high 20s to low 30s per cent. However, there are few indications that the FN could win the Presidency itself.
The conditions for the strength of the FN are created by the failure of the Socialists, who had no answers for the economic crisis and worsened it. The government has spent the last period attacking workers and trying to win support among small businesses. But they too are crushed by austerity and the FN’s disgusting line of attacking foreigners and Muslims has gained traction as a result.
As elsewhere, France needs a left which is anti-austerity, anti-war and anti-racist.