Notes from the front – of 20/5/2016

Labour members back Corbyn and blame right wing for disunity

This month’s poll of Labour Party members, by YouGov for The Times, revealed that Jeremy Corbyn’s support has been rising within Labour.


72 per cent of Labour members now think Corbyn is ‘doing well’ as leader, up from 66 per cent in last November’s poll.

A majority of members (53 per cent) think Labour is now on course to be in government in 2020, but if Corbyn was replaced only 42 per cent think Labour would win the next general election. So 60 per cent think he should lead Labour in to that election.

Amongst the 35 per cent who think Corbyn should step down now or before the election, the top three choices as replacement leader were Dan Jarvis on 19 per cent, Andy Burnham on 17 per cent and Yvette Cooper on 13 per cent.

If there was another leadership contest, including Corbyn on the ballot paper, 64 per cent of members would vote for him, as opposed to 33 per cent who would not.

The top four qualities party members associate with Corbyn are: ‘principled’ 87 per cent, ‘honest’ 86 per cent, ‘shares my political outlook’ 58 per cent and ‘courageous’ 59 per cent.

Party members hold the Labour right wing responsible for internal division, with 62 per cent blaming Labour MPs who oppose Corbyn, compared to 15 per cent who blame Corbyn and his allies.

Overall 67 per cent of members think Labour did well at the 5 May elections and 11 per cent think it did badly. Labour members also clearly differentiate between England where the party made electoral advances and Scotland where the Blairites led the party to further defeat. Asked how well or badly Labour did, the responses were that Labour did well in: London Mayor 99 per cent, local councils 67 per cent, Welsh Assembly 61 per cent, but for the Scottish Parliament only 3 per cent. Instead 89 per cent consider Scottish Labour’s result bad, including 88 per cent of members in Scotland.

On the issue of Ken Livingstone’s suspension from the party, 51 per cent are against expelling him, with only 27 per cent supporting expulsion. The majority of party members (54 per cent) do not think Livingstone’s comments were anti-Semitic, as against 26 per cent who think them anti-Semitic. The suspension is supported by 59 per cent and opposed by 24 per cent who think it was wrong.

When asked to consider press coverage of Labour and anti-Semitism: 49 per cent of members think Labour does not have problem with anti-Semitism and that it has been created by the press and Corbyn’s opponents to attack him, as against 35 per cent who think the party does have a problem with anti-Semitism but it is used by the press and Corbyn’s opponents to attack him. The bulk of Labour members 47 per cent think anti-Semitism is a problem, but no worse than in other parties, whilst 38 per cent do not think anti-Semitism is a problem within Labour.


West steps up military intervention in Libya

In Libya it appears that there is the likelihood of a deepening military conflict. At the ministerial meeting in Vienna on Monday 16 May, the US announced its support for lifting the arms embargo on Libya, in order to arm the Government of National Accord (GNA). This call was supported in a communiqué of the nations present.

The GNA is supported by the UN but is not supported by either of the two pre-existing governments. The House of Representatives (HOR) is based in the east of the country, and its military wing is led by General Haftar. The General National Congress (GNC) is based in the west, and includes the Misratan militias of Libyan Dawn. The GNC appears to be now cooperating with the GNA on an offensive against ISIS.

ISIS can even be seen as the fourth government in Libya. It controls 300 kilometres of coastline, including many villages and towns, most notably Sirte. With an estimated 6000 fighters, it represents a serious force.

The complete fragmentation of the Libyan state, following NATO’s 2011 war, makes external intervention particularly dangerous. At present there are two military operations being launched to free Sirte. From the west, the GNA/GNC military forces are moving towards the town. From the east, the HOR forces of General Haftar are assembling, backed by the Egyptian and UAE governments. Given that these forces were engaged in military conflict previously, even the liberation of Sirte could promote further fighting.

Already there are imperialist forces in the country. Britain sent 20 troops as a ‘training team’ to the Tunisian side of the border, earlier this year. RAF jets are flying reconnaissance over Libya. King Abdullah of Jordan revealed to US Congressmen, in January, that there were SAS troops in Libya operating with Jordanian special forces. The Daily Mail reported on May 15th, that up to 50 Special Boat Squadron (SBS) forces are to be deployed in Libya this week.

In addition, French military advisors have been engaged in military action around Benghazi since February. The US has established 2 teams of 25 troops in bases near Misrata and Benghazi. US jets have carried out air strikes against ISIS in the western town of Sabratha.

Some hesitancy remains amongst governments. On Monday, Italian PM, Matteo Renzi, stated that ‘Italy would not send troops to Libya’. David Cameron has told the Commons that any planned deployment would be discussed there. Special forces, like the SAS and SBS, are not characterised as ‘conventional forces’ and are so excluded from the Commons notification. But the anti-war movement needs to be aware of the renewed war drive, and demand that MPs block it.

Venezuela – fighting to maintain sovereignty

The government of Venezuela is stepping up its efforts to fend off economic destabilisation. As part of the recently declared state of emergency President Nicolas Maduro has announced that factories that cease production may be seized and their owners arrested. He is warning that the US is plotting a coup against his administration, similar to its plots against President Hugo Chavez, which saw the latter temporarily ousted in 2002.

The right-wing are engaged in sabotage to deepen the crisis in an economy that contracted 5.7 per cent in 2015.

The right are also campaigning to remove President Maduro through a referendum and claim to have collected 1.8 million signatures. That is more than the 195,721 (equivalent to one per cent of the voting population) required to initiate the process of a recall referendum. But it is short of the 4 million (20 per cent of the voting population) needed to authorise an actual referendum taking place. If a referendum is authorised Maduro’s opponents would need more than 7,587,532 votes (the number of votes Maduro received in 2013 when he was elected) to depose him.

It is a key goal of the US to secure regime change in Venezuela. The Chavistas are fighting to defend Venezuela’s sovereignty, against the plots to overthrow their President. They should be supported by socialists and anti-imperialists everywhere.