It is delightful to see Labour voters defy the establishment by finally electing a leader on the centre ground of British thinking. Opinion polls suggest that Jeremy Corbyn’s policies of nationalising the railways, energy companies and Royal Mail, along with opposition to the Iraq war and British intervention in the Middle East are all supported by a majority of the public.
These views stand in marked contrast to the neo-liberal, military policies of the Conservative and ‘mainstream’ Labour parties at home and abroad. These extreme positions, which are contributing to unprecedented domestic inequality, the draining of wealth from the world’s poorest countries and terrible military interventions (and not least the rise of Islamic State), have amazingly been allowed to be presented as the centre ground or ‘liberal democratic’ – an astonishing propaganda achievement for policy planners.
The threat of popular democracy is something I’ve tried to document in all my books because it comes through crystal clear in the government planning record, visible in declassified files, thousands of which I’ve looked at in my research. The threat that policies made by and for the elite could be derailed by popular opposition has long been regarded by British planners as a serious threat; in the Cold War, more serious, for example, than the Soviet threat, which was anyway rarely taken seriously in private after the early 1950s .
During the Vietnam War, Harold Wilson was terrified that public opposition would stop his ongoing private support for the US bombing campaign – something which the mainstream media still refuses to acknowledge. In various wars in the Middle East over the decades, the files are full of examples of how planners have had to resort to propaganda to counter public concerns. What elites have feared, especially during controversial policies such as military interventions, is that public opposition will become so great that they might actually have to change policy.
British elite strategy is at least consistent – abroad, Whitehall is more or less permanently opposed to democracy in regions where it has special interests, especially the Middle East where its allies are dictatorships: witness the striking levels of current support for the repressive rulers of Egypt and Bahrain, not to mention the ongoing special relationships – which are as deep as that with Washington – with the feudal regimes of Saudi Arabia and Oman.
Here, the support of any real democracy – other than the show elections promoted in Iraq and Afghanistan – is off the agenda, since it would likely yield up popular forces even more opposed to Western power. It is a great shame that the British elite opposition to democracy is still not well-understood or explained by academics and journalists. The public is continually fed the message that ‘we’ support democracy – at home and abroad – just because this is what Cameron, Blair or Brown say.
The fear of Corbyn on the part of the elite is palpable in the literally hysterical right wing and ‘liberal’ media coverage, well documented as ever by Medialens. The BBC has given up even pretending to be a public service broadcaster in its coverage of Corbyn, with virtually every news piece that I have heard or seen in recent days simply smear and propaganda. BBC Panorama’s recent attempt to character-assassinate Corbyn – which received many complaints (presumably from the loony centre) – was merely part of a campaign. Tom Mills, an incisive analyst of the BBC, notes that the Panorama programme ‘should be understood as part of a broader pattern in which the BBC’s political output has overwhelmingly reflected the interests of a political Establishment in which it is deeply embedded’.
Indeed, Corbyn and his supporters are being routinely presented by the BBC as ‘hardliners’, which, if true, makes the British taxpayers who pay for this nonsense reporting to be hardliners too. In the mainstream media, anyone who does not back the extremists’ agenda – of supporting the US, Israel, military intervention, NATO, arms exports or transnational corporations – is regarded as outside the ‘centre ground’. So flogging arms to despots, sending young British kids to die in wars and retaining the ability to destroy the entire planet is perfectly OK – anything different is extreme. To a Martian, mainstream British political culture would surely be hilarious.
The Guardian is an integral part of this. Former British ambassador Craig Murray has described ‘the panic-driven hysterical hate-fest campaign against Corbyn by the Guardian’ and he is hardly exaggerating. Guardian editorials and pieces by Jonathan Freedland, Polly Toynbee, Martin Kettle and some others, are all ridiculing the ‘unelectable’ Corbyn and helping to position him as a loony lefty. Similarly, Guardian news reporter Nadia Khomami, explaining ‘what does Jeremy Corbyn think?’, writes that Corbyn has ‘said he supports Israel’s right to exist but opposes what he describes as the country’s “occupation policies”’. The use of ‘what he describes as…’ and the use of speech marks are revealing, perhaps like writing about Al Qaeda’s ‘terrorist attack’ on 9/11.
Since Corbyn’s policies are generally popular, they are a direct threat to the elite consensus, and three stand out in foreign policy. First, the idea of holding Blair to account under international law for invading Iraq will strike terror into the minds of the Foreign Office and Ministry of Offence. These people reserve the right to bomb the gyppos every once in a while and they are not going to accept the idea of being held to account for this. The public have long been bombarded by the notion that we, as opposed to, say, Burkina Faso or Iran, have the sovereign right to intervene in other countries’ affairs. It really says something very serious about how primitive Britain is when the idea of holding our leaders to account to the law is regarded as hardline.
The second red line policy is obviously Trident. When Britain first acquired nuclear weapons in the late 1940s, the main goal, shown in the declassified files, was to ensure that Britain was seen to remain a great power, especially in the eyes of the new superpower, the US. The primary goal remains, with various largely fictional threats deployed at various times to justify it. Reducing nuclear weapons would put Britain below France (France!) in the great power league, demeaning to the chaps in Whitehall clinging on to the remnants of imperial power.
Third, Corbyn’s questioning of NATO will, along with the other two red lines, be ringing alarm bells in Obama’s Washington, which will no doubt be heavily deploying its (many) assets in the British political scene to counter them. The media regularly states that Corbyn wants to withdraw from NATO, but I have not found such a statement, and I assume this is another smear. Corbyn has, however, said that NATO should have been wound up at the end of the Cold War (more loonyism) and that NATO’s expansion eastwards contributed to the Ukraine crisis. The latter idea is surely wacky, as explained by US mainstream academic John Mearsheimer, who recently wrote that ‘the United States and its European allies share most of the responsibility for the crisis’ due to NATO and EU enlargement, and that ‘Putin’s pushback should have come as no surprise’.
Luckily, there are some exceptions to the tirade of abuse being heaped on Corbyn (including some in the mainstream media) and it is from this rational true centre ground that I am optimistic that some kind of response can be made. Along with the unions and social movements, I hope that organisations like NGOs, with whom I regularly work, see the importance of defending Corbyn’s lines of thinking, and recognise the urgency of this.
Some development charities have sadly been collaborating with the extremists, partnering with UK- based transnational corporations and participating in Whitehall’s privatisation offensives in Africa, thinking this to be normal and that there is no alternative. Britain’s ‘development’ policies under Conservative and Labour have become vehicles for promoting British big business abroad . My view is that Cameron’s support for 0.7 per cent is due to recognizing how useful the aid programme is in supporting British commercial and foreign policy objectives. Development policy has played almost no role in the Corbyn surge but this is another area where he must challenge current policies and develop hardline policies in the centre ground, and deserves to be strongly supported.
Mark Curtis is an author, consultant and journalist. He is a former Research Fellow at the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) and has been an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Strathclyde and Visiting Research Fellow at the Institut Francais des Relations Internationales, Paris and the Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Auswartige Politik, Bonn.
Mark has written six books on British foreign policies and international development:
Secret Affairs: Britain’s Collusion with Radical Islam(Serpent’s Tail, 2012)
Unpeople: Britain’s Secret Human Rights Abuses (Vintage, 2004)
Web of Deceit: Britain’s Real Role in the World, (Vintage, 2003)
Trade for Life: Making Trade Work for Poor People (Christian Aid, 2001)
The Great Deception: Anglo-American Power and World Order (Pluto, 1998)
The Ambiguities of Power: British Foreign Policy since 1945 (Zed, 1995).
Mark has also worked on international development issues for over 20 years and manages a consultancy that works with and supports the activities of progressive NGOs – Curtis Research. This focuses on developing countries, especially in Africa, on issues such as food/agriculture, mining, tax, corporations and trade.
Mark is a former Director of the World Development Movement (now called Global Justice Now), Head of Global Advocacy and Policy at Christian Aid and Head of Policy at ActionAid. He is a graduate of Goldsmiths’ College, University of London and the London School of Economics and Political Science.
To contact Mark, email: firstname.lastname@example.org