Notes from the front – of the week 3/11/2015

Support grows for Corbyn’s agenda

Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership continues to gain support, as his new direction for Labour has created political problems for the Tories, compounded by the latter’s small parliamentary majority.

By re-positioning Labour as a party that defends the population’s living standards – in particular his and John McDonnell’s focus on tax credits – has imposed a first substantial political defeat on the Tories since the General Election and forced them to announce a retreat on their planned cuts.

The victory for the Labour motion on the tax credit cuts in the House of Lords on 26 October was followed up with a House of Commons motion on 29 October that voiced fears over the impact of the cut. This motion passed unanimously, by 215 votes to 0. That means not a single Tory MP opposed it. In fact 20 Tories voted for the motion – more than the government’s majority.

Corbyn’s Labour is setting the agenda on tax credits. Irrespective of the level of any change the government now makes to its planned cuts, Cameron and Osborne are on the back foot, and Labour is making political gains.

Under Corbyn the Labour Party is also fighting Theresa May‘s reactionary agenda on immigration. Previous accommodations to the Tories on issues of race are being set aside. Labour MPs voted in October against the Immigration Bill. This will help Labour reconnect with lost support.

Corbyn is also disrupting David Cameron plans to secure parliamentary approval for the British bombing of Syria. The necessary vote has at least been delayed, and may have even been shelved according to some reports. This is because with Corbyn as Labour Leader Cameron does not believe he can persuade sufficient Labour MPs to vote for air strikes to cover the Tory MPs that will break the whip to oppose them.

Corbyn won the Labour leadership having clearly campaigned for a negotiated solution to the Syrian conflict and against further Western military intervention. At September’s Labour Party Conference his stand on the issue was overwhelmingly endorsed and the party agreed to only support military action if all the following conditions are met: UN authorisation, EU-wide plans to assist the extra refugees, bombing only ISIS and subordination of military action to diplomatic efforts aimed at ending the civil war.

Most Labour MPs will want to respect the Conference decision and not vote to take Britain into another war. The small number of Labour MPs offering to assist the Tories secure a vote for this war are insufficient to guarantee a motion approving bombing would pass at present.

The effect of Russia’s intervention in Syria taken together with Corbyn’s support for negotiations has undermined support for British military action. The Foreign Affairs Select Committee (on 3 November) published a report recommending the government refrains from bringing a motion to parliament requesting support for air strikes on Syria.

The Scottish Labour Party at its conference (30 October – 1 November) also shifted to the left. There were proposals to tax top earners, plus the conference voted to oppose Trident renewal and the Transatlantic Trade and Investments Partnerships (TTIP).

The motion opposing Trident renewal won support from 70 per cent of both the CLPs and the unions. 82 per cent of the CLPs and 100 per cent of the union delegates supported the motion opposing TTIP. Corbyn has made clear that if the plans for Trident renewal are scrapped the first call on the £100bn released will be replacing the jobs involved in the current Trident programme.

Scottish Labour’s previous pro-austerity stance, combined with it running a joint campaign with the Tories in last year’s referendum campaign, had lost it significant electoral support, mostly to the SNP. The Conference’s left moves could start the process of winning back lost support. Obstacles to this will come from the Scottish Labour leadership, the hard right wing that has so damagingly pulled Labour in the wrong direction.

To regain support in Scotland Labour needs to set a clear agenda against the Tories’ austerity policies. This is the source of the main problems confronting the population, not the SNP. To win back voters Labour has demonstrate it can better defend the population from the Tories policies than can the SNP. This requires setting out an anti-austerity programme of popular concrete policies. That would position Labour to the left of the SNP, not to its right as is favoured by Scottish Labour’s leadership.

The national media, the Tories and Labour’s hard right wing will continue to heavily attack Corbyn. They share the aim of removing him from Labour’s leadership, so give little publicity to his achievements including favourable polls.

One such recent poll, by ComRes for the Daily Mail was published on 30 October and reported Labour support had risen 3 per cent whilst all other main parties had fallen since its previous September poll.

The headline ComRes figures are: Con 38% (-1), Lab 33% (+3), LD 8% (-1), UKIP 10% (-2), Green 3% (-1), SNP 3% (-1) and others 4% (+1). The figures in brackets show change from September. The Tories now only have a 5 point lead over Labour, down from 9 points in September.

End the witch-hunt against Andrew Fisher

The hard right of the Labour Party has been engaged in a vicious joint witch-hunting campaign with sections of the press against Andrew Fisher, an economic adviser to Jeremy Corbyn. The campaign is entirely spurious, purportedly based on a few tweets in support of non-Labour candidates. But since the complainant is Emily Benn, who has herself tweeted in support of the Women’s Equality Party, it is evident that this is simply scurrilous.

Fisher is the target of attack because there continues to be an unrelenting campaign to undermine and eventually to overthrow the Corbyn leadership of the Labour Party. Fisher’s own role is as a serious economist. This is clear from his book The Failed Experiment: And How to Build an Economy That Works, which sets out the priority of investment for recovery and offers a variety of means to achieve that.

Similar attacks that came on James Meadway, senior economist at the New Economics Foundation, when it was suggested he might become an advisor to the Labour leadership, have had the same character.

As it is impossible to immediately unseat the Labour Leader the attacks have focused on Corbyn’s advisers. It is meant to destabilise and distract before the bigger push comes later. It should be resisted. Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell refuse to accept the austerity agenda and are making real headway. The witch-hunts are designed to impede or reverse that progress.

Turkish elections

The victory of the AKP in the Turkish elections on 1 November was based on promoting social tension and division.

The Kurdish community has been subjected to the most sustained violence since the 1990s. The pro-Kurdish HDP has been unable to hold electoral rallies and had hundreds of offices burnt or attacked. A serious crackdown on the media and journalists has taken place.

The AKP vote rose from 41 per cent in June to 49 per cent on 1 November, securing 316 seats, and rising from the largest party to an overall majority.

This has been achieved at the cost of the Kurdish peace process, and creating a social instability not easily reversed. The HDP vote was reduced by 3 per cent but still secured over 10 per cent to maintain its parliamentary presence.

Syrian negotiations

The first round of serious diplomatic talks on Syria took place last week. The negotiations involved representatives from China, Egypt, EU, France, Germany, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Oman, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, UAE, UK, UN and the US. No agreement was reached, but talks are to be reconvened in two weeks with representatives of the Syrian government and armed opposition present.

This acceleration of diplomacy is certainly an immediate product of the Russian intervention, creating concern in the Obama administration about the weakening of the US position. The framework for the talks is a big concession. US preference had appeared to be for negotiations between just Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and US.

In Britain, the anti-war movement has registered a big success with Cameron reported as still unable to persuade Parliament to vote for the bombing of Syria. On Monday 2 November, the Stop the War Coalition supported a successful meeting in the House of Commons, with Diane Abbott MP chairing and speakers included Crispin Blunt Tory MP, Tommy Shepherd SNP MP, Caroline Lucas Green MP, and Catherine West MP who was representing Labour’s Shadow Foreign Office team.

The meeting coincided with the publication of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee report, which has come out against the involvement of Britain in air strikes on Syria. The report states: ‘We are concerned that the Government is focusing on extending air strikes to Syria, responding to the powerful sense that something must be done to tackle ISIL in Syria, without any expectation that its action will be militarily decisive, and without a coherent and long term plan for defeating ISIL and ending the civil war.’

This has all been aided by Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of Labour, with a particularly notable contribution being made by Diane Abbott campaigning against Britain rushing into this war.

The US escalates anti-China moves in South China Sea

At the end of October the US sharply escalated its hostile policy towards China in the South China Sea, sending an American destroyer within the 12-mile coastal limit of Chinese held islets, provoking a strong diplomatic response from China.

The US followed up this act of aggression by announcing that would become a regular occurrence to ‘defend freedom of navigation’ in the Sea. This is a complete sham as everyone knows that not only has China not made the slightest threat to freedom of navigation across the South China Sea, but on the contrary it is the Pentagon that has developed secret contingency plans for how to ‘blockade’ China and cut off its energy supplies precisely by obstructing its shipping routes from the Gulf via the Malacca Strait and across the South China Sea.

It is China’s concern to prevent the US being able to conduct such a blockade that has driven China to reinforce its own defences for these vulnerable sea routes by developing docks, airstrips and other facilities on the South China Sea islets. And the US’s strong objections and attempts to drive China out are not due to concerns for the freedom of the oceans, but because China may soon build up the capacity to prevent the US closing these sea-lanes if it wished to do so.

In fact the West’s narrative for the entire dispute with China in the South China Sea is a master class in Pentagon newspeak. In this looking glass world, China developing naval and other strategies to prevent a US blockade, or to be able to repel the US from its coastal waters, is portrayed as Chinese ‘anti-access/area denial’ and thus a threat to the ‘global commons’.

Alongside this escalation by the US, China suffered a reverse when – against its objections – the Hague-based arbitration court for the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) ruled on 29 October, that it would hear at least parts of a case submitted by the Philippines against China. The Philippines’ case had been strongly encouraged by the US. American enthusiasm for the Philippines’ submission to UNCLOS is ironic, as while China has signed up to the UNCLOS declaration, the US itself has never ratified it. As with the International Criminal Court, the US finds it a convenient mechanism to harry its opponents while ensuring that the US itself can never be held subject to its rulings.

The situation in the South China Sea has been brewing as a storm centre for conflict between the US and China since 2010 when the US announced its ‘pivot to Asia’ – its new priority to containing the regional rise in Chinese influence. These latest steps have been an escalation in line with that policy.

However, despite urging from the US, its regional allies have not so far followed suit. Japan has been most enthusiastic to support the US, suggesting it might ‘overfly’ the disputed areas. But it has failed to persuade South Korea to join it. And Australia has begun to row back from an initial suggestion that it might also send a warship to the area.

While neighbouring countries – like Vietnam and Malaysia – generally welcome the US presence, they have not been so keen to get drawn in the wake of a Philippines-led/US-inspired campaign against China.

The South China Sea is set to remain a frontline in the US drive to retain its Asian pre-eminence in the face of China’s rise.