Keir Starmer was lying when he wrote last week that Nato—the US’s warmongering military alliance—had “never provoked conflict.”
But he was telling the truth when he said Labour’s commitment to the war machine is “unshakeable.” And he’s also right that two of Labour’s heroes—Clement Attlee and Ernest Bevin—are to blame for setting it up in 1949.
This example of “Bevinite internationalism,” as Starmer grandly put it, had nothing to do with “peace and resistance to aggression.” It was about the British state’s role in the world as a military power—and the Labour Party’s desperate desire to defend it.
At the end of the Second World War, the US looked to assert itself as a dominant world power by aligning Western countries against Russia. Setting up Nato was key. Those at the top of the British state were keen to join. They thought joining Nato would help Britain keep its empire, and its power in Europe.
British general Lord Ismay, Nato’s first secretary general, said the alliance’s aim was “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in and the Germans down”.
For the same reason, Bevin was also desperate for Britain to have nuclear weapons. Having heard of the destruction the US’s atom bomb caused in Japan, he said, “We’ve got to have this thing over here whatever it costs. We’ve got to have the bloody Union Jack on top of it.”
Attlee and most of Labour’s leading politicians all thought the same.For them, it was about the vital question of securing the interests of the British state. In a biography of Attlee, John Bew wrote that for Labour politicians, protecting the British state was about “preserving intact the field on which they fought their particular battles”.
In other words, if you want to use the state to deliver reforms then you have to keep it strong. And when the strength of the British state depends on siding with the US, Labour leaders commit wholeheartedly.
That’s why Starmer isn’t the fist Labour leader to rally behind a Tory government when it comes to war. Neil Kinnock offered nothing but grovelling support to Tory prime minister John Major when he joined the US’s first invasion of Iraq in 1991.
It’s also why no Labour leader has ever promised to leave Nato. Both of the celebrated manifestos under left wing leader Jeremy Corbyn committed the party’s support. This wasn’t to do with some personal shortcoming of Corbyn. He’s always personally opposed the US’s wars—but the logic of the Labour Party compelled him to concede.
Labour MPs’ biggest rebellions against him were over the question of war and “national security.” They detested his anti-imperialism more than anything else. So they openly defied him to demand he committed to keeping Trident nuclear weapons and allow them to support bombing Syria.
Now Starmer is desperate to prove he’s brought Labour back to its natural support for war. Like leaders before him, he’ll lie about the reasons—but Labour has always been a party of war, and that’s the sickening truth.
Labour’s latest right wing answer to the Tories’ crisis is renewed posturing as “the true party of law and order.”
The party is planning to make crime a central part of its campaigning ahead of local elections in May.
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper used the crisis around Boris Johnson’s lockdown parties to shift the focus to crime in “communities.”
“Boris Johnson shows a total lack of respect for the rule of law in Downing Street and a total lack of respect for people who are suffering when the law breaks down in their communities,” she said.
She added that Labour would prove itself “the true party of law and order” by giving more resources to cops on the street.
Cooper is a right wing veteran of Labour under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, when “tough on crime” meant increasing punishments and surveillance on working class people.
So Labour’s response to Johnson’s rule breaking is to turn away from anger at the corruption and arrogance at the top of society in favour of fear and suspicion of those at the bottom.
It means more support for the cops who harass young black people on the street, treat women with contempt—and who let Johnson off the hook.
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