Just in case you had grown confused, the big international story at the moment is actually about Theresa May’s response to Russia’s involvement in the Salisbury attack, not the internal war in the Labour Party. It’s not actually all about Labour, though Jeremy Corbyn and his allies are doing their damnedest to make sure that they get a disproportionate share of the attention.
This evening, Corbyn has backed his spokesman’s line on Russia, writing a piece in the Guardian which repeats the post-PMQs claim that British intelligence on chemical weapons has been ‘problematic’. The Labour leader writes:
‘There can and should be the basis for a common political response to this crime. But in my years in Parliament I have seen clear thinking in an international crisis overwhelmed by emotion and hasty judgements too many times. Flawed intelligence and dodgy dossiers led to the calamity of the Iraq invasion. There was overwhelming bipartisan support for attacking Libya, but it proved to be wrong. A universal repugnance at the 9/11 attacks led to a war on Afghanistan that continues to this day, while terrorism has spread across the globe.’
Corbyn is arguing that the perpetrators still need to be identified and claims that May has decided to ‘rush way ahead of the evidence being gathered by the police, in a fevered parliamentary atmosphere’.
It is not a surprise that Corbyn is backing his spokesman, given the important strategic role that he plays in the party more widely. The spokesman was named this morning by frontbenchers including Nia Griffith as Seumas Milne, and at the time Griffith claimed Milne was speaking for himself. Now the two are speaking as one again, frontbenchers have to decide whether to continue to claim that they are also offering the party line when Griffith and Emily Thornberry have been quite clear in supporting May’s conclusion about Russian culpability.
More widely, there will be Labour MPs for whom this sort of stance should represent a red line. They cannot move against Corbyn, having failed to depose him and then failed in their predictions about the snap election. But this doesn’t mean they have to agree with him that he is carrying on the Labour tradition on foreign affairs as leader. The question is whether Labour MPs are emotionally ready to act on that red line.