This year’s Labour conference has proved a topsy turvy affair for the Parliamentary Labour party. Moderates feel as though they have switched places with the far-left protesters that usually lurk on the outskirts of conference. As Ben Bradshaw put it, for the first time he found himself in the protests outside (as part of the anti-Brexit march) while the usual placard-carrying socialists dominated proceedings in the hall.
Nowhere was this new order more apparent than at last night’s Stop the War event. Two frontbenchers – Diane Abbott and Richard Burgon – turned up at the anti-war group’s fringe event. Andrew Murray – Corbyn’s close ally and former campaign strategist – also spoke. He talked with excitement about the first proper anti-war government that would soon be in power at the next election:
‘We are celebrating have an anti-war leader as leader of the Labour party. We’re now within sight of a Labour government which will be an anti-war government. One of the greatest breaks it will be make will be in the area of foreign policy. That is where Jeremy’s commitments are as profound as any and it’s also where I anticipate he will meet some of the fiercest political resistance which is why the Stop the War coalition will be needing to mobilise more than ever.’
So, what does an anti-war Prime Minister mean in terms of foreign policy under a Labour government? It’s a topic Labour often skirt around – whether it’s on the issue of Trident where few really believe the official Labour commitment to maintaining it – or on Labour’s position on Syria and Russia’s involvement there. It’s clear that Corbyn will pursue a non-interventionist agenda and concerns from Stop the War that he will meet resistance suggest that few, if any, exceptions will be made.
One thing that is clear is that the ‘special relationship’ between the UK and US would be loosened – and potentially severed. Diane Abbott, Richard Burgon and Emma Dent-Coad all used their appearances to criticise Trump. The shadow home secretary said British and American history needed to be rewritten – she can only hope the ‘Conservative government collapses soon’ so we can have genuine anti-war leadership.
The Stop the War coalition are regarded by moderates as being a far out movement which can often cause embarrassment to the Labour party. They are a group which has noted the ‘internationalism and solidarity’ of ISIS, compared Assad to Churchill and supported the Iraqi ‘struggle’ against British troops. At the event Murray said that if Corbyn becomes Prime Minister it ‘will be a huge vindication of the Stop the War coalition’; ‘I think that day when Jeremy Corbyn goes into Downing Street we can say we’ve won.’ The fact that Labour’s frontbench are happy to take on such a prominent role at Stop the War events suggests they are already winning the argument.