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Labour and Atlanticism

This is a guest post by Norf London

Writing in The Guardian, Jacob Weisberg, the editor of Slate, claims that the UK election does not mean much for the U.S.: “What differences exist have few implications for the United States.”

Weisberg is wrong. Britain’s alliance with the U.S. is a cornerstone of British foreign policy and the differences between the parties are substantial.

Labour is the true Atlanticist party. Just look at their record under Blair and Brown (Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq)—and compare to the Tories under Major during the Bosnia war (1992-5). Don’t let any Tory con you by invoking Thatcher’s Atlanticism, because Cameron wants to have nothing to do with her). The Tories in opposition under Howard and Cameron have been equally poor on Atlanticism. Howard and Cameron were happy to take side swipes at the U.S. and against the Iraq war. Indeed, Howard was so proud of being told he was not welcome in George W. Bush’s White House that the Tories leaked this to the newspapers. The Tories also pushed for the ridiculous Iraq inquiry led by Chilcot. (Does anybody remember this Cameron speech?

“We should be solid but not slavish in our friendship with America,” “I fear that if we continue as at present we may combine the maximum of exposure with the minimum of real influence over decisions. The sooner we rediscover the right balance the better for Britain and our alliance.” Sub-text: Blair’s a poodle.)

From a historic perspective Labour Atlanticism and Tory sniping at the U.S. alliance is not new–there was Tory anti-Americanism during the Second World War (see Orwell Notes on Nationalism). There was similar Tory distaste for the Americans after the war, a period when Labour was involved in setting up NATO. Bevin was awful on Palestine, but superb on the U.S. alliance. Americans who think that anti-EU sentiment means the Tories are pro-U.S. are fooling themselves. The Tories are quite capable of being anti-U.S. and anti-EU.

Of course, the Tories do a fine line in telling American audiences one thing and UK audiences another. For example, the Tory foreign policy team visited the U.S. earlier this year and told American politicians that the Conservatives are pro-U.S. and, because it was an American audience, they also claimed to be pro-Israel. Contrast the claim that the Conservatives are friends of Israel with Cameron’s comments to the Financial Times in which he backed the Obama policy of pressure on Israel, called East Jerusalem “occupied” and was rather proud of having gotten into an argument with Tzipi Livni, the previous Israeli foreign minister. The same approach of tailoring messages to different audiences also happens in the UK—when the Tory leadership is speaking to the Conservative Friends of Israel. Different messages for different audiences is an old Middle East trick for which Yasser Arafat was famous. Arafat did it in different languages. The Tories manage it in the same language. So kudos of sort to them.

This style first, substance whenever approach is what Cameron is all about. It’s worth noting that the one Tory who is genuinely decent on these issues is Michael Gove. He will probably go down in the history books as the best prime minister we never had. No other Tory has Gove’s intelligence, his passion or his grasp of the issues.

Labour, as Nick Cohen has argued, has something to give. Brown is awful, but only Labour has a solid commitment to a genuinely progressive agenda key issues such as foreign policy, social policy, and the economy. Of course, it would have been preferable to have Blair stay on, he scared the Tories, but Brown was too ambitious and bloody minded. A further asset to Labour is its attitude to ethnic and religious minorities, especially when compared to the Tories and, now sadly, the Lib Dems. The Tories have long been willing to stir up immigration scares and place the race card (remember the Smethwick election in 1964, Thatcher’s “alien culture” remarks, the Daily Mail in every election, Michael Howard’s use of the immigration issue when in government).

In recent years, the Lib Dems have been happy to work with Islamist anti-Semites. Indeed, the Lib Dems have become weird and sinister. They gladly shelter anti-Semites. Their europhilia is sickening and unpatriotic.

Can one question somebody else’s patriotism? Easy, it happens all the time in UK politics. Britons are not touchy feely about this. The Tories, for example, have done this constantly. They told us we should not criticize the government when the troops were in action (and conveniently when they were in power). Yet, when in opposition, such as during the Kosovo and Iraq wars, they were happy to do so. Of course, the Tories, for all their flag waving are happy to take money from foreigners with a tenuous commitment to democracy. Remember Gordon Brown’s famous joke at the Tory’s expense when it was revealed in 1991 that they taking money from John Latsis, a Greek shipowner who had supported the Colonels’ military junta in Athens, that Latsis “had gone from supporting Colonels to Majors.” And remember also that the Tories have had a sickeningly close relationship with the Saudis—with one Tory cabinet minister, Jonathan Aitken, going to jail for perjury after his Saudi dealings were revealed.

So, I am voting Labour.

Editor’s Note: Harry’s Place will accept party-political guest posts for the purpose of generating political debate. No collective or individual endorsement of any party is necessarily implied or should be assumed.