British Invasion: Jeremy Corbyn's Threat to the West

"While Washington may fret about Corbyn’s apparent pro-Palestinian and pro-Iranian sympathies, what will be of greater concern is his attitude towards the EU and NATO..."

While Americans continue to follow with fascination the sometimes bizarre trials and tribulations of the Republican presidential hopefuls, there are new and forceful political winds blowing across the Atlantic. Jeremy Corbyn’s “stunning victory” in the UK Labour Party Leadership election shocked political observers on both the left and the right of the political spectrum. While trade unions and the far left of the Party were jubilant, the remnants of Tony Blair’s moderate New Labour emerged dazed and blinking from the Westminster conference centre, worried for the future. Many in the Conservative Party believed that Labour had effectively committed suicide as a party by choosing an unelectable leader. The Telegraph declared it “the day the Labour Party died”, while the august Spectator called it a “delicious humiliation for the liberal left.”

To Corbyn’s supporters, anything is possible: they point to the unlikely victories of the Scottish National Party, of Syriza in Greece, and Podemos in Spain, and insist that a Corbyn-lead Labour Party can lead win control of the government in five years time when the next election is planned. To most mainstream British analysts, however, a Corbyn Labour Party in power seems remote. Despite this, his foreign policy views are worth analyzing purely for the light they shed on how the far the British far left has moved over the past decade. Given the current appeal of populists on both sides of the Atlantic, understanding the trend is a useful barometer for understanding underlying concerns and issues for unsatisfied segments of the electorate.

Strange Policy Bedfellows

Doubtless what is most likely to arch eyebrows in Washington is Corbyn’s penchant for close ties with regimes and non-state actors deeply critical of the West. It is difficult to place a man who called Osama Bin Laden’s death “a tragedy” on the normal political spectrum. Likewise, his links to Press-TV, an Iranian government-funded broadcast channel, and to Hezbollah and Hamas, indicate a man deeply skeptical of the West. According to the Telegraph’s Andrew Gilligan, Corbyn has close ties with non-state actors listed as terrorist organizations by the State Department such as the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group. The new Labour leader has apparently had trips to Iran and Gaza paid for by political figures close to Tehran and Hamas. While Corbyn’s opposition to the 2003 Iraq War puts him in good company among some American liberals, his desire to apologize for it as well indicates a different approach. Regarding some of the media speculation over these links, a spokesman for Corbyn stated that the new Labour leader believes that peace in the Middle East can only come through dialogue with all parties and that he intends to sit down with pro-Israeli groups as well. Worryingly, however, some within his own party have cast him as anti-Semitic.

While Washington may fret about Corbyn’s apparent pro-Palestinian and pro-Iranian sympathies, what will be of greater concern is his attitude towards the EU and NATO, the two pillars upon which Western postwar peace and prosperity are built. Prior to his appointment as Labour leader on September 12th, Corbyn’s stated position was the United Kingdom should leave both organizations. The situation since his victory has definitely become less clear, as the past two days debate over the “Brexit” illustrate. On the one hand, Ed Miliband’s shadow Europe Minister Emma Reynolds departed the front benches on September 13th, citing Corbyn’s position on leaving the EU; on the other hand, newly appointed Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn reaffirmed Labour’s commitment to remain in the EU on the 14th in a BBC 4 radio interview. Whatever the case, this softening of Labour’s EU commitment combined with the Conservative push for a referendum makes the possibility of a Brexit much more likely. While the United States has sometimes had a complex relationship with the EU, it is overridingly in favor of British membership.