British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s impressive speech on foreign policy and the West’s failed “War on Terror” illustrates an unreported truth about the ongoing British general election: Jeremy Corby is cutting a far more impressive figure during the election than Prime Minister Theresa May.
Before discussing this I wish to make one important qualification about Corbyn’s speech.
Corbyn has bravely made the connection between the Manchester terror attack and the West’s foreign policy – enthusiastically supported by the British political class – of waging regime change wars across the Middle East. However it is essential to understand that these wars have exacerbated the problem of Jihadi terrorism because they do not target it but rather the Arab governments such as those in Iraq, Syria and Libya which fight it.
Afghanistan is no different. The war in Afghanistan is not being waged against Al-Qaeda – the Jihadi terrorist group which the US says carried out the 9/11 terrorist attacks – but against the Taliban, an entirely different group which though Salafi in ideology never before 2001 sought to wage a terrorist Jihad against the West, or has done so since. Suffice to say that not one of the 9/11 hijackers the US has identified was an Afghan.
I would add that prior to the US attack on Afghanistan in 2001 some Taliban leaders and the Muslim clergy in Afghanistan pressed Mullah Mohammed Omar – the Taliban’s erstwhile leader – to expel Osama bin Laden and his followers from Afghanistan, and there was in fact a proposal to hand him over in return for international recognition of the Taliban’s government and on condition that he was tried in an Islamic court.
I have always believed that with care and patience a diplomatic solution which might have resulted in Osama bin Laden’s arrest and trial was possible, with the Taliban’s two international supporters – Pakistan and Saudi Arabia – lobbying hard for such an outcome. Needless to say had that ever happened the history of the following decades would have been completely different.
In the event the US attack on Afghanistan in 2001, whether intentionally or not, meant that this never happened, leading to the disastrous “War on Terror” Corbyn spoke about today.
Putting all this aside, Corbyn’s speech shows that he is prepared to challenge Britain’s failed foreign policy orthodoxy in ways that no other mainstream British politician seems able to do. He has of course been doing it for years, ever since the so-called ‘War on Terror’ began.
However foreign policy is only one area where Corbyn has cut a more impressive figure during the election than Theresa May.
Not only has Corbyn campaigned and interacted with the media and the public in a genuine way – in contrast to Theresa May’s controlled and ritualistic meetings and her stilted language of clichés – but he has also produced a manifesto which though left wing is coherent and close to voters’ concerns. By contrast Theresa May’s manifesto looks cobbled together, mating contradictory messages of One Nation Toryism with Thatcherite free market policies.
Unsurprisingly Theresa May has already been forced into an embarrassing U turn, dropping a manifesto commitment that would have introduced costs for the elderly, something which to my knowledge has never happened in a British general election before.
All this partly reflects a truth about Jeremy Corbyn: he is a far more serious and experienced politician than the British political class and news media care to admit.
However it also reflects an important truth about Theresa May. Quite simply she is not the strong and decisive leader her supporters in the Conservative Party and the media repeatedly say. On the contrary what the election campaign has done is expose once more her indecision and insecurity, and her lack of ideas.
By way of example, Theresa May has never provided a truly convincing explanation of why she called the election in the first place, despite previously repeatedly ruling the option out. The best she has come up with is that she needs a strong mandate from the British people to negotiate a good Brexit deal.
That might have been convincing if Theresa May had a Brexit negotiating policy to put to the British people for them to support. However – as I have repeatedly pointed out – in reality she has none.
The result is that she has been unable to keep the election focused on the issue, allowing Corbyn to move the debate onto ground closer to his own.
The reality of course is that Theresa May called the election not because she wanted a mandate to negotiate a good Brexit deal but because she thought she would win it.
That is a perfectly good and valid reason for a British Prime Minister to call an election. A genuinely strong Prime Minister – a Margaret Thatcher for instance – would not have hesitated to say it, and would have laughed off criticism of it, saying she had a right to change her mind. Theresa May would have saved herself a great deal of trouble and would have looked a lot more convincing had she said it. However, as has long been obvious, she is temperamentally incapable of saying it.
As it is I still expect Theresa May to win. Though the latest opinion poll shows her once stratospheric lead collapsing to 5% with 2 weeks of the election still to go (Conservative 43%, Labour 38%) I suspect that as polling day approaches some British voters who are presently being drawn to Corbyn will switch back to Theresa May rather than face the actual prospect of a Corbyn government, for which I don’t think Britain is ready.
There is simply no precedent in Britain for an electoral upset on the scale that a Corbyn victory would require, and I can’t believe in the end it will happen. My guess is that as polling day approaches the Conservative lead will start to widen again.
However if I am proved wrong then whilst the credit for such a truly astonishing turnaround would have to go to Corbyn, the major cause would be the failure of Theresa May to explain convincingly to the British people what point there is in her being Prime Minister.