Wednesday, 30 November 2016

The SNP's Blather About Blair

Tony Blair's politics are awful. But, after a 2.6 million word consideration of his conduct in the lead up to the Iraq War, I'm confident in the belief he's not a war criminal. However, some disagree and remain bent on bringing him to justice. The latest episode in this long-running drama was the motion put to the Commons earlier today by the SNP demanding yet another investigation. This was hung on the infamous note passed to George W Bush (relieved he won't now go down as the worst president in US history) saying "we will be with you, whatever". I can't see what purpose raking over all this for the fourth time would achieve, and think it's better left to the court of public opinion. And, as we know, their verdict is such that Blair remains a cult figure to fewer than 4.5% of the present Labour Party membership.

Well, actually, I can see a reason for some people wanting to go there yet again. As readers know, the motion was heavily defeated by Conservative and Labour votes. This came after a spat between the PLP majority and the leader's office over the appropriate response to the motion. The PLP wanted a three line whip to vote against, while Jeremy was equivocal and consented to a single line whip ... and making himself scarce in the process. However, contrary to what Stop the War think, this was no principled move by Alex Salmond and co. It was a political trap you could see from the Moon.

The PLP were right to oppose the motion, though for the wrong reasons. A defence of past votes cast in favour of the Iraq bloodbath, a residual loyalty to a fattening albatross around the old establishment's neck, some of the calculations undoubtedly were self-serving and arse-covering. Yet some might have spotted the wider politics too. In case anyone forgot Labour's summer of anything-but-love, the divisions haven't gone away. Instead, the emphatic backing of the party membership have imposed a truce on the PLP, though differences persist about what an accommodation with Corbynism involves. Yet that settlement, however imperfect it is, could fall apart if one of its fissures - in this case, differing attitudes to the Iraq War and His Blairness - is wrenched open further. Which is exactly what the SNP were trying to do. It's what any party opposed to Labour would try and do.

Herein lies the logic of Salmond's trap. The PLP would vote against the motion, confirming to former Scottish Labour voters that they remain the same old same old who made common cause with the Tories to keep the UK together and squash the progressive aspirations of the Scottish people. Had Corbyn been bounced into going along with it, that would have discomfited his leftist support base. And if he didn't and somehow avoided the vote, which he eventually did, he looks like a hostage to the PLP and boosts the demonstrably untrue ineffective opposition rubbish. In all, it suits the SNP for Labour to stay down and divided for as long as possible - they know their support in the medium and long-term might go back to Labour if it gets its act together and the SNP falls victim to a sudden shift in political fortune. If we draw one conclusion from 2016, it's that stranger things do happen.

A win-win for the SNP, then. Labour members are moaning about the PLP again, and Jezza made to look a bit rubbish. There was, however, an alternative. And that would have been for the leader to, um, have led. As a trap so obvious it made George Osborne's past stratagems look like Napoleonic masterstrokes, Jeremy should have attacked it as such, criticised the SNP for wasting Parliamentary time with petty point scoring, and voted down the motion on that basis. He should have trusted the good will the majority of party members have toward him as well as the utter non-issue it is among the wider electorate. This wouldn't have meant or been read by anyone that he'd gone soft on Blair and his legacy, but merely underlined the SNP's posturing. The lesson to take home is play the Parliamentary game, which is often irrelevant and mind numbing, or otherwise it will play you - and the consequences, unfortunately, are anything but trivial.


jim mclean said...

This may have more to do with Salmond being a small fish in the big pool, he said he would not try to take over at Westminster but could be seen as a challenge against Angus Robertson and a move for Wee Eck to become WM leader

Anonymous said...

Sadly, Corbyn is stuffed anyway. And Labour are on 15% in a Holyrood poll today. But yes, you are demonstrating Corbyn 's poor parliamentary skills.

Ed said...

There’s something very important that you’re leaving out here: this isn’t the first time since the leadership election that a divide has opened up between Corbyn and the PLP over a foreign-policy issue. Just a few weeks ago, a large group of Labour MPs picked the Saudi war in Yemen as the occasion for their first major rebellion after Corbyn’s second victory. That was a three-line whip, but as far as I know there hasn’t been any disciplinary action taken against those who refused to support the party position, so their demands for a three-line whip and disciplinary measures against rebels in this case requires about as much shamelessness as you would expect from this quarter.
It wasn’t just a case of MPs quietly rebelling, either; the likes of Colin McGinn, John Woodcock and Stephen Kinnock went out of their way to declare their wholehearted support for the Saudi military campaign and for the UK-Saudi alliance in general, referring to the Saudis as friends, allies, partners. Their arguments were flagrantly dishonest, ignoring all the evidence of what is actually happening in Yemen and relying on pure fabrication to justify their support for the Saudis. This is not an issue like Trident where there can be principled (‘we need a nuclear deterrent to protect Britain from attack’) or pragmatic (‘Labour needs to protect its flank on security and nobody is planning to nuke Moscow or Tehran anyway’) arguments that you can make against a unilateralist policy for Labour (not arguments that I would accept, but they can be made all the same). There’s absolutely no principled case you can make for supporting the Saudi war on Yemeni civilians; the Americans are only supporting it to appease the Saudis over the Iran nuclear deal; and the likes of Kinnock, Woodcock and McGinn are only supporting it because they believe in Atlanticist militarism the way Christian fundamentalists believe in the Bible. There’s no pragmatic case, either; unlike Trident, there’s no conceivable argument that backing the Saudis is essential to ‘protect the homeland’, and it’s hardly a vote-winner (most people in Britain are probably unware the war is happening at all, and if they were told about it it’s unlikely they would be very keen to support it).

So we don’t need the SNP playing silly games—and I fully agree this motion was about their own self-interest, not a matter of principle—to open up the gulf between the leadership and much of the PLP; the PLP hard-liners are quite happy to do that themselves, even over an issue of no political significance for the next general election and one that casts them in the worst possible light. With that in mind, I can’t really blame Corbyn for not going out of his way to accommodate people who act in such a petulant way.