The meaning of the decision of Labour’s Right to support Arms to Saudi Arabia
The meaning of the decision of Labour’s Right to support Arms to Saudi Arabia
It is time to deselect the 98 Labour
MPs who believe Saudia Arabia is our ally
What do you call Peter Kyle – Hove’s gay Progress MP sees nothing wrong in supporting the alliance with Saudia Arabia where being gay can be fatal?
On the face of it, it is a
strange issue on which to stage the biggest revolt since Jeremy Corbyn was
re-elected as Labour leader. Even the
Lib-Dems, who were up to their ears, in the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia in the
last government, voted against.
On Wednesday a Labour
motion which had already been unacceptably watered down to call for a UN
Inquiry into ‘all sides’ of the Saudi Arabia’s attack on Yemen was met with a
concerted abstention by nearly 100 Labour MPs.
It was wrong of Jeremy Corbyn and Emily Thornberry not to move a clear
and unambiguous motion calling for the cessation of arms shipments to Saudi
The position of Emily Thornberry,
Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary, was pathetically weak. She is quoted in Labour List as saying that:
‘while Saudi Arabia will remain an “ally” in
the region, the UK would suspend its support for Saudi forces in Yemen until
“alleged violations” of international humanitarian law in the had been
She added that she would not want to see
support resumed “until the children of Yemen have received the humanitarian aid
that they so desperately need.”
The idea that we will
resume support for Saudi Arabia after humanitarian aid to children has been let
in, so that Saudi Arabia can continue to kill and maim children and civilians
The facts are quite
clear. Saudi Arabia which has no
business meddling in Yemen’s civil war has killed at least 10,000 Yemeni
civilians with US and British arms. Only
a few weeks ago Saudi Arabia planes killed 140 people in a funeral party.
Raif Badawi is due another 950 lashes of the 1,000 he was sentenced to in Peter Kyle’s paradise kingdom
What needs to be challenged is the idea that Saudi Arabia is an
ally in the Middle East. It is a
barbaric state which has one of the highest execution rates in the world,
primarily of poor migrant workers. Its
attitude to women, who are forbidden to drive or go out without a male
chaperon, makes the Iranian state seem positively progressive in
comparison. Flogging dissident bloggers,
executing children, torture etc. should make anyone who is serious about human
rights abuses steer a million miles from giving this detestable regime an ounce
Couple this with the
export of the Wahabbi brand of Islam and the aid and financing of the very
groups – ISIS and Al Qaeda – against which the West is allegedly waging a ‘war
against terror’ and we see the hypocrisy magnify. The fact is that there is moral basis for the
alliance with Saudi Arabia, which together with the Gulf Sheikdoms, is in a
close alliance with Israel in policing the region.
Saudi Arabia has no business
interfering in Yemeni’s civil war. Its
blockade and merciless bombing, with British and US weaponry, has caused a
human rights catastrophe. One can but
compare the crocodile tears shed over Russia’s aerial bombardment of Aleppo
with the support given to Saudi Arabia to note that Western foreign policy in
the Middle East doesn’t have a shred of moral legitimacy.
Saudi King Salman – John Woodcock’s comrade in arms
Naturally Labour’s pro-Trident John Woodcock defended
his decision to support Tory party policy in Saudi Arabia (which is what an
abstention means) on the basis that the “last
thing the Middle East needs is more gesture politics from the comfort of
British dining tables and withdrawal by those who have the capacity to play a
constructive role.” In other words
it is acceptable to supply arms to Saudi Arabia from London’s dinner tables but
not to oppose their butchery. If it is ‘gesture
politics’ to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia then it is the kind of politics we need.
The question therefore remains why did Labour’s
Right choose this issue? It is clear
that the fundamental issue which divides Corbyn from the Labour Right is over
the alliance with the United States. Saudi
Arabia is the US’s closest ally, despite its funding for terrorist groups. Ipso
facto Britain must tag along. The extent of this alliance was shown when
the Serious Fraud Office was getting close to British Aerospace’s use of bribes
to obtain Saudi arms contracts in the Al-Yamamah arms deal. Tony Blair vetoed
One of the quaint customs that John Mann and Peter Kyle have no problem with
The alliance, if one can call it that, with the Saudi
Arabian ruling family, is the lynchpin of US and British policy in the Middle
East. The other key ally of course is Israel
and it is no surprise that Israel and Saudi Arabia are extremely
Labour’s Right is therefore saying that whatever Saudi
Arabia’s human rights abuses and whatever its support for Jihadi groups in
Syria, the necessities of the Western Alliance override the interests of the
Saudi and Yemeni people. Old fashioned
imperialism and self-interest dressed up in the language of mutual interests
It is one of the political weaknesses of Corbyn that
instead of espousing an anti-imperialist
position that rejects per se support for Saudi Arabia in the region, it
is dressed up in a pacifism which in the end is watered down to remove even an
It is noticeable that the Chair of Labour Friends of
Israel, Joan Ryan, was one of the abstainers, along with Ann Clwyd, the
hypocrite who supported the Iraq war because of Saddam Hussein’s undoubted atrocities
but was more than prepared to turn a blind eye to those of King Salman. Other luminaries include the ‘anti-Semitism’
liar John Mann MP and of course our very own Peter Kyle. Peter is a
very great advocate of gay rights yet he was happy to support Saudi Arabia which
reserves the death penalty for gays. The
same was true of Ben Bradshaw. Keith Vaz
and another Zionist Mike Gapes also abstained and Vaz actually spoke in the
This is why the attitude of the Momentum leadership
and Jon Lansman, that the Labour Right can be appeased and brought to accept Corbyn’s
leadership is so off beam. They will never accept the dominance of the Right in the
party and that is why the Left has to be
campaigning, not only to reselect these people but to gain control of Labour’s
civil service and dismiss Crooked Iain McNicol, Labour’s General
Secretary. Instead Corbyn has said that
he has no quarrel with McNicol continuing in office so that he can continue the
witch hunt of people on the Left.
In the past month the elected Brighton & Hove Labour
Party Chair Mark Sandell has been expelled from the Labour Party and we heard
last week that Greg Hadfield, the elected Secretary, has been suspended. The witch hunt goes on and Momentum and its
unelected leadership keep silent. Indeed
we have news of Momentum intending to hold a long awaited conference in the New
Year. Apparently it involves internet
voting which suggests that they aren’t intending to hold a meaningful physical
conference. The sooner Lansman’s baleful
grip, together with his cronies, is lifted from Momentum the better. The membership of Momentum, which is now over
20,000 has to decide who their officers are.
week’s Yemen vote demonstrates something apparent since the vote to invade
Iraq: the party of war holds a majority in the Commons
month, Jeremy Corbyn was re-elected as Labour leader. It was his second victory
by an overwhelming majority in a year, and it should have given Corbyn
Yet he is
still regarded with mutinous contempt by a significant proportion of his own
side. They flatly refuse to accept Corbyn’s leadership.
reported politics from Westminster for almost 25 years and can recall few more
shocking parliamentary events
became clear on Wednesday night, when more than 100 Labour MPs failed to
support a three-line whip on British policy towards the Yemen. It was
disloyalty on an epic scale.
cannot be faulted for calling a debate on Yemen. For the past 18 months,
Britain has been complicit with mass murder as our Saudi allies have bombarded
Yemen from the air, slaughtering thousands of innocent people as well as
helping fuel a humanitarian calamity.
clearly felt that it was his duty as leader of a responsible and moral
opposition to challenge this policy. He nevertheless bent over backwards to
make sure that the Yemen vote was uncontroversial. The Labour motion therefore
stopped short of calling for the suspension of arms sales to Saudi Arabia which
has been demanded by many charities and campaign groups.
because Corbyn and his foreign affairs spokeswoman Emily Thornberry were
mindful that some Labour MPs represented constituencies where local jobs
depended on the arms industry. So they contented themselves with demanding an
independent United Nations inquiry into crimes committed by all sides – not
just the Saudis – in this terrible and bloody conflict. They reasonably
suggested that Britain should suspend support for the Saudis until this
investigation was completed.
Green light to Saudi
the position taken by the bulk of the international community, by all reputable
aid agencies and, as far as I can tell, by almost all ordinary Yemenis. In her
excellent speech on Wednesday afternoon, Thornberry set out the reasons why the
Saudis could no longer be trusted to investigate their own affairs.
Labour abstainers and absentees, Corbyn’s motion would have been carried and
parliament would have voted for an independent investigation
than 100 Labour MPs – not far short of half the Labour Party – defied Corbyn.
As a result, Labour’s call for an independent inquiry was defeated by 283 votes
to just 193, a majority of 90. But for Labour abstainers and absentees,
Corbyn’s motion would have been carried and parliament would have voted for an
is bound to be interpreted by Saudi King Salman as a vote of confidence in his
deeply controversial assault on the Yemen.
also lift pressure on the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson as he resists a
growing international clamour for Britain to throw its weight behind an
independent UN investigation.
up, on Wednesday night, the British parliament sent the green light to Saudi
Arabia and its allies to carry on bombing, maiming and killing. I have reported
politics from Westminster for almost 25 years and can recall few more shocking
Party of War
– but not surprising. The Yemen vote demonstrates something that has been
apparent ever since the vote on 18 March 2003 to support the invasion of
Iraq: the party of war holds a majority in the Commons.
comprises virtually all of the Conservative Party and the Blairite wing of
Labour. As Nafeez Ahmed wrote in
is a clear and demonstrable connection between the vote for war in Iraq,
opposition to an Iraq inquiry, support for the calamitous intervention in
Libya, and opposition to Jeremy Corbyn.
past 15 years, parliament has been governed by a cross-party consensus in
favour of war
showed the majority of those who tried to unseat Corbyn last summer were
interventionist. Some 172 supported the motion of no confidence in Corbyn’s
leadership. By coincidence or not, exactly the same number of MPs have
supported Britain’s calamitous overseas wars.
look at the Labour MPs who put a smile on the faces of King Salman and Boris
Johnson by defying Corbyn’s three-line whip and abstaining in Wednesday night’s
vote: once again we are at least partly talking about a confederacy of
out that Ann Clywd, who made such a sparkling speech in favour of war during
the 2003 Iraq debate, has abstained over Corbyn’s call for an independent
investigation of Yememi war crimes. So have John Spellar, Gloria de Piero,
Fiona MacTaggart, Barry Sheerman, Angela Eagle, Liz Kendall, Luciana Berger,
Lucy Powell, Mike Gapes, Stephen Kinnock, Tristram Hunt, Margaret Hodge etc
Keith Vaz, who was born in Aden and makes a big deal of his Yemeni antecedents,
defied Labour’s three-line whip and abstained.
important to highlight the fact that some of the most prominent opponents of
Jeremy Corbyn did traipse through the division lobbies with their leader on
Wednesday night. Alan Johnson, Hilary Benn and Yvette Cooper are just three
examples. And, of course, the majority of those who abstained on Wednesday were
not in parliament for the Iraq vote in 2003.
The Neocons and the unforgiven
there is a telling pattern here. For the past 15 years, parliament has been
governed by a cross-party consensus in favour of war. During that period,
Britain has undertaken three major foreign interventions, each one of them
utterly disastrous. In each one, military success was swiftly followed by
political and, ultimately, state failure.
the hard-won experience of 15 years, there is still a parliamentary majority in
favour of intervention.
an intimate connection between politicians who style themselves as moderate and
neoconservative policies overseas
parliamentarians opposed all these interventions. Jeremy Corbyn was among them
and he has never been forgiven for it.
brings me to the final paradox of Wednesday night’s vote: the intimate
connection between politicians who style themselves as moderate or occupying
the centre ground in Britain and neoconservative policies overseas.
past 20 years, the so-called “modernisers”, whether Blair’s Labour or
Cameron’s Conservatives, have been in charge at Westminster. As has been
well-documented (not least by Labour’s Jon Cruddas), they have hollowed out
British politics through techniques of spin and electoral manipulation.
these same modernisers who have caused havoc in the Middle East, condemning the
region to bloodshed and war. They were at it again on Wednesday by sending a
signal to the Saudi dictatorship that it was acceptable to carry out its
murderous policies in the Yemen. Thirteen years after Iraq, neoconservatism
Oborne was named
freelancer of the year 2016 by the Online Media Awards for an article he wrote
for Middle East Eye. He was British Press Awards Columnist of the Year 2013. He
resigned as chief political columnist of the Daily Telegraph in 2015.