If my inadvertent involvement in last year’s media onslaught against Stop the War taught me one thing: it was the incredible mendacity, political dishonesty and sheer venality of Jeremy Corbyn’s opponents inside the Labour Party. It is possible – within limits – to respect one’s political opponents when they uphold genuine principles that they sincerely believe in, and when they themselves have the decency to consider opposing arguments and actually think about them.
None of these conditions were present amongst the Labour politicians who entered December’s ‘debate’ over Stop the War. From the outset Corbyn’s opponents on the Labour right wilfully misinterpreted and distorted Chris Floyd’s ‘reaping the whirlwind’ blog and my own, without any indication that they had even read or understood the two pieces concerned.
No one did this more relentlessly or more cynically than MP for Wolverhampton North East Emma Reynolds. Throughout the week leading up to the (in)famous Christmas dinner, she was a ubiquitous public presence in the shrill and witless McCarthyist campaign against Stop the War, as she poured forth a stream of fauxtrage about the ‘Stop the War blogs’ that accompanied it.
On the Radio 4 Today programme, Reynolds claimed that Stop the War
‘… blame Paris for reaping the whirlwind of Western intentions after the recent terrorist attacks. They compared ISIL/Daesh with the international brigades who fought fascism in 1930s Spain and they have failed to condemn Russia for its invasion and occupation of Ukraine and Georgia.’
Told by STW’s Chris Nineham that both posts had been removed, she responded:
‘ I think the mask is slipping on the real views of Stop the War. I don’t believe for a minute that they don’t believe the views I’ve just outlined. The posts were published on their website. One of the authors Matt Carr is somebody who represents you on public platforms.’
The day after her Today interview, she was on the Week in Westminster, debating John Rees, and declaring that
‘… Matt Carr, who wrote the piece comparing jihadism to the International Brigades that came together to fight against fascism in the 1930s, has also been a spokesman for Stop the War and has sat on different platforms representing the organization.’
In fact I have never been a member of Stop the War, and I have never represented the organization on any public platform. Reynolds had clearly been briefed, and the most charitable interpretation that can placed on her statements is that she was briefed incorrectly. But I don’t think that charity is called for here, because she and Tristram Hunt were clearly acting in concert, as part of a political strategy whose essential aims were a) to make Floyd and me appear as depraved as possibly b) to portray us the authentic ‘voice’ of Stop the War and c) to tarnish and undermine Corbyn by association.
This pseudo-debate appeared to die down over the Christmas period, but yesterday it came back into the headlines as a new bunch of political zombies shambled off into the backbenches clutching straw men arguments in response to Corbyn’s chaotic and ill-managed reshuffle.
First up was Pat McFadden, MP for Wolverhampton South East, who was sacked as Shadow Europe Minister. Not many people outside his constituency had heard of McFadden until yesterday. Elected in 2005, McFadden has said that Britain shouldn’t be ‘imprisoned’ by the Iraq War, and he voted on eight occasions against holding a public inquiry into the war.
He also supported the extension of the bombing campaign to Syria. During the debate he indirectly referred to Chris Floyd’s blog, when he posed the following question:
This question was as cunning and deceitful as Hilary Benn’s ‘International Brigades’ speech. In the midst of the most important foreign policy debate since 2013, McFadden deliberately used a gross distortion of Floyd’s arguments in an attempt to undermine and humiliate his own party leader in front of parliament and the whole nation – and he even appealed directly to Cameron of all people to help him do it.
No wonder Corbyn sacked him. The only surprise is that it took him so long. Yet now McFadden has the unbelievable gall to claim that he was sacked not because of his disloyalty, but as the result of ‘ a disagreement on substance and national security….I made the decision to serve in the best interests of the Labour Party. He (Corbyn) made the decision that my views on terrorism and national security mean I cannot continue.’
Yes that Corbyn is a monstrous autocrat, isn’t he? And yesterday Shadow foreign minister Stephen Doughty, resigned in protest at McFadden’s sacking and cited his intervention in parliament as a a justification for it, tweeting:
This noble gesture of solidarity was repeated by Shadow rail minister Jonathan Reynolds, who also resigned, declaring
The very best that can be said about McFadden, Reynolds and Doughty is that they are completely obtuse, or perhaps lack the ability to think critically. None of them appear to have read Floyd’s piece, which looks back on the history of Western involvement in the Middle East with more insight than any of them have ever shown, and which echoes an argument about the relationship between terrorism and foreign policy that many people have made, including the British government’s own intelligence agencies.
At no point did Floyd argue that the murderers in Paris were not responsible for their actions or that their victims had somehow deserved it or brought it on themselves. On the contrary, his horror and disgust at their actions is absolutely transparent in the following passage:
‘I write in despair. Despair of course at the depravity displayed by the murderers of innocents in Paris tonight; but an even deeper despair at the depravity of the egregious murderers who have brought us to this ghastly place in human history: those gilded figures who have strode the halls of power for decades in the high chambers of the West, killing innocent people by the hundreds of thousands, crushing secular opposition to their favored dictators — and again, again and again — supporting, funding and arming some of the most virulent sectarians on earth.’
Floyd also added:
‘And one further cause of despair: that although this historical record is there in the open, readily available from the most mainstream sources, it is and will continue to be completely ignored, both by the power-gamers and by the public. The latter will continue to support the former as they replicate and regurgitate the same old policies of intervention, the same old agendas of domination and greed, over and over and over again — creating ever-more fresh hells for us all to live in, and poisoning the lives of our children, and of all those who come after us.’
Floyd is absolutely right. And the faux-outrage displayed by McFadden and his fellow zombies only bears out his argument. Like Emma Reynolds and Tristram Hunt before them, these politicians would like the public to believe that they are acting out of principle.
But there is nothing principled whatsoever about traducing and distorting the arguments of your opponents in order to fit a preconceived political agenda, or reducing a serious debate about the relationship between terrorism and foreign policy to a straw-filled travesty, simply in order to undermine the elected leader of your own party.
To behave like that you have to be operating at a very low level, somewhere near the lower reaches of the political gutter in fact. Unfortunately for Corbyn, I fear that there are many more where this lot came from. And they might fervently proclaim their ‘principles’, but they might more truthfully echo the words that T.S. Elliot once wrote many years ago: ‘We are the hollow men/We are the stuffed men/Leaning together/Headpiece filled with straw.’