On 25 June, Labour Shadow Defence Secretary Nia Griffith made a speech to the Royal United Services Institute, a think-tank made up of retired generals and military-industrial-complex grandees with well-paid jobs in “strategic intelligence consulting firms” and the like.
You might have hoped that a leader of a radically left-wing Labour Party would have had some hard words for the masters of war. Maybe something about scrapping Trident, nationalising British arms manufacturers, and repurposing the shipyards and factories for socially-useful ends.
Maybe something about taking the 2% of GDP spent on the military (as per NATO rules) and spending it on fighting climate change or helping people displaced by wars? She might even have repudiated previous Labour governments’ records of imperial adventures, from Attlee’s war in Malaysia to Blair’s invasion of Iraq.
Griffith actually reiterated Labour’s 2017 manifesto pledge to keep Trident; said that “the Opposition would warmly welcome any rise” in military spending; denounced the “deep cuts” that have been made to the Ministry of Defence budget; and proudly reminded the RUSI mandarins that it was Attlee and Bevin who set up NATO in the first place.
Griffith accompanied this drum-banging for more weapons of mass destruction with the announcement that “Labour is — and has always been — a proudly internationalist party.”
This kind of eye-popping double-think has been seen before, when Emily Thornberry unveiled the Labour foreign policy at the 2017 conference, quoting Martin Luther King’s call for “a revolution in values” to introduce a policy of continuing arms sales but with slightly tighter restrictions on bribing the British arms salesmen.
Griffith quoted Corbyn: “There is no contradiction between working for peace across the world and doing what is necessary to keep us safe.” Translation: “don’t worry about Corbyn’s peacenik speechifying, we will continue the favoured foreign policy of the British bourgeoisie, propping up NATO and supporting US military “police actions” around the world. And we won’t touch war profiteers’ business interests.”
Like Thornberry, whose aim was to make it clear that one can wear an MLK T-shirt while subsidising sales of UK fighter jets, the current Labour policy on defence is about sitting between two stools: trying to reconcile a lefty leadership with a continuation of Blair-era foreign policy.
Labour should not wave at anti-imperialism with one hand and slip cash to the masters of war on the other. Ditch militarism — end arms exports — scrap Trident, and spend the money on human need!