It was just a line, from remarks in the House of Commons, but it spoke volumes about what a Corbyn foreign policy would look like.
The Leader of the Opposition, responding to the Prime Minister on a meeting with European leaders about the Russian attack on the Ukrainian Navy in November, called for ‘both sides to show restraint and de-escalate’. So far so familiar but as his hapless Shadow Foreign Minister Khalid Mahmood had done earlier – so we know it’s not just a typo – Corbyn went further and attributed the ‘both-side’ing to NATO. The defence organisation had said, according to Corbyn, that ‘we need both sides to show restraint and de-escalate’.
Only NATO had not said this. The Guardian had lifted the ‘both sides’ comment by a NATO spokesperson out of context. Labour repeated it. Labour hadn’t bothered to check or wonder about the lack of strong pushback from the Ukrainians, and others, if NATO had indeed made such a statement. What does it say that not a single person in the chain who would have read Corbyn’s speech before it was delivered had any sense that NATO could not possibly have made such a statement?
The false statement about NATO went unremarked, even by Corbyn’s Commons adversaries, familiar with his previous ‘both sides’ remarks, or those about Russia being ‘provoked’ by NATO ‘expanding to Russia’s borders’. Though his opponents may be less familiar with Corbyn’s theory that Putin invaded Crimea because the Russian ‘military-industrial complex’ forced him to do it. Or alternately Corbyn’s view that the war in Ukraine is about the arms manufacturers who really run NATO wanting a hi-tech war with Russia.
What I’m saying is, I can understand why elements of Corbyn’s statement about Russia might have flown over people’s heads but also why some unkind souls have taken to calling him ‘Magic Grandpa’. There are weeds here, some of which I will be clambering through.
The Prime Minister had told the Commons that the European leaders’ meeting decided to roll over sanctions against Russia. That was something Corbyn chose not to comment on, despite his previously stated aversion to sanctions on Russia. Nobody pressed him on that either, though, again, I can see why.
The thing is, Corbyn ‘misspeaking’ about NATO is not just another ‘gotcha’ or ‘Corbyn being Corbyn’ moment – the way that such incidents are usually viewed. It’s yet another example of what is happening in plain sight but isn’t, in my view, being understood or examined properly; namely, that Labour is quietly laying out a foreign policy that benefits the Kremlin.