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Tom Charles

UK elections: Corbyn's shock result may lead to major change in Middle East policy

The Conservatives did not win enough seats for an overall majority [AFP]

Date of publication: 9 June, 2017

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Comment: If the opportunity is there, Labour should form a minority government, and immediately implement profound change in the UK's Middle East policy, writes Tom Charles.

The snap UK general election, called by Prime Minister Theresa May with the presumption of a landslide Conservative party victory, has resulted this morning in a hung parliament.

With no party securing a majority, there is now uncertainty over how the next government will be formed. Much is at stake, including the country's foreign policy direction. Some of the most repressive regimes on earth will be looking on in the hope that their Conservative ally can hold on to power.

One alternative is a progressive government led by Labour's Jeremy Corbyn, with the potential to transform the UK's role in the Middle East.

Another world is possible - one of the slogans of the international socialist movement and Jeremy Corbyn's grassroots support.

A crushing Tory victory thwarted by Labour and a progressive government in London is still a possibility, representing a stunning failure for the Conservative party and their brand of fear-based politics.

The Conservatives were undone by Labour's popular socialist manifesto, which confounded and put to bed the propaganda that portrayed Corbyn as a relic of the 1970s, lacking in leadership credentials.

The reverberations of the final outcome will be felt around the Middle East. Will the UK follow Jeremy Corbyn's vision of peace? This would mean a major European country could then throw off the shackles of Pax Americana and its own dark history in the Middle East.

The arms dealers, human rights abusers, occupiers, misogynists and Islamophobes are looking on in trepidation

Or will the Conservatives lead a right-wing government that continues policies of arming repressive governments, undermining democracy and waging war for oil?

Moral victory

In upsetting the odds, Corbyn has undoubtedly secured a moral victory. But a moral victory is still a defeat if not backed up by hard power in the form of implementing manifesto pledges. And a moral victory means nothing to those on the sharp end of the Conservative government's allies in the region - dictatorships and occupiers among them.

Theresa May has been an unambiguous servant of the powerful. Seemingly devoid of human empathy or humanity, May's track record is a chilling warning to the world: Under the Conservatives, the UK has been a client state of Donald Trump, US hegemony, and by extension some of the worst abusers of human beings on the planet.

Theresa May has been an unambiguous servant of the powerful, seemingly devoid of human empathy or humanity

Their role in creating, and then failing to respond normally to, the refugee crisis leaves no doubt about Tory priorities.

"The Conservatives have no answers to the challenges we face" was the truism in Labour's manifesto. This could well be the epitaph for UK Middle East policy should Labour fail to form a government, and it could be a sentence that comes back to haunt British voters if violent extremism attacks on UK targets are not stemmed.

In a climate of glaring incompetence and ideologically driven policy disasters, May's election campaign offered nothing on the crucial foreign policy issues, except a familiar sounding but entirely specious populist stance on terrorism.

The mass media, across the spectrum, failed to hold May to account over her mistakes, and pedalled fake news and personal attacks on Corbyn based on absurd accusations of terrorist sympathy and antisemitism.

Countering extremism - a Tory weakness

Despite the recent atrocities in Manchester and London, May claimed trustworthiness on security. But thanks to the leak from the American government, British citizens gained an insight in to the dark arts employed by their government and security services.

MI5 had been maintaining terrorist "assets" in Manchester over a period of 20 years, but the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) were not known to the public, until Salman Abedi carried out mass murder at the Manchester Arena.

As Home Secretary, Theresa May allowed members of LIFG to travel across Europe to Libya where they were encouraged to participate in the ouster of Muamar Gaddafi; they then moved on to Syria to join the UK's al-Qaeda affiliated allies.

  Read more: UK voters face stark choice over Palestine

To enable this, control orders were lifted, and despite the FBI warning the UK that Abedi was on a "terrorist watch list" and the LIFG was looking for a British target, he could travel freely from Libya to Britain days before carrying out the atrocity.

In the days before the election, The Guardian revealed that May’s government had signalled that it may suppress a report on foreign funding for extremist groups, believed to document the connection between Tory allies, the Saudis and Islamic fundamentalists.

The hung parliament means that the Tory plan to keep this secret could yet be scuppered, while if May survives or is replaced by another Tory prime minister, they could keep this dirtiest of secrets hidden for a while longer.

Saudi Arabia - a Tory ally

Labour has been consistent on challenging the Tory government's cosy alliance with the absolute monarchy in Saudi Arabia from the time Corbyn was elected party leader. The party's manifesto promised to "immediately suspend any further arms sales" to the Kingdom until a UN investigation in to abuses of international humanitarian law in Yemen was completed.

May's weakness in the face of powerful interests has contrasted with Corbyn’s strength

The UK-Saudi pact has long been a contradictory one. It is classed as a "primary market for arms exports" by the Business Department, and at the same time is listed by the Foreign Office as "a country of major human rights concern" thanks to its systematic imprisonment, torture and beheading of political opponents, as well as its misogynistic and homophobic policies.

The war on Yemen has seen a hundred-fold increase in UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which led Corbyn to declare that May had "sacrificed human rights on the altar of the arms trade".

May's weakness in the face of powerful interests has contrasted with Corbyn's strength: A Labour majority would have meant game over for the UK's number one arms customer and export of British-made death and destruction.

Israel

The Saudi monarchy has not been the only regional power looking on with concern at Corbyn's vibrant campaign and history of total commitment to his principles. Israel is used to a pliant partner in London, but Corbyn made it clear through the Labour manifesto and his long-standing support for the Palestinians, that he would be an awkward politician for the Israelis to deal with.

Corbyn has vowed to immediately recognise the Palestinian state if he takes power

His insistence on "meaningful" peace talks (ie not brokered by the Trump administration) would jeopardise the state of affairs that Israel is currently enjoying: the gradual strengthening of the occupation, with the Palestinians weak and compliant in keeping their own population quiet.

The Israelis know that under Labour, calls for an end to the blockade of Gaza and the 50-year-old occupation would move beyond platitudes.

Corbyn has vowed to immediately recognise the Palestinian state if he takes power. Binyamin Netanyahu and his ministers will be hoping that May, or a similarly pro-Israel replacement can keep Corbyn at bay. Arms sales, political cover for the occupation and Western European consensus on Israel all hinge on how negotiations proceed in the hung parliament.

Trump

All these key relationships exist in the shadow of the Trump White House. While May and the Conservatives are close to Trump, in creed and policy, Labour's manifesto made clear that any continuation of the "special relationship" would need to be based on "shared values", warning that the UK would break with its old ally when Donald Trump diverged from these values by way of religious discrimination or any other policy Labour opposes.

When the dust settles, the status quo could prevail. Or another world could be possible

As Trump's Middle East policy has sought to realign power in the region through the anti-Iran Sunni axis, UK support for Trump's vision depends on the makeup of the next government. The US president could not face two more different possibilities: May, or another Conservative hawk, or the veteran peace campaigner, Corbyn, a politician with the ability to embarrass the American president and rally others to a stronger stance against his policies.   

Progressive change?

In the intense burst of election campaigning, Jeremy Corbyn presented the case for the end of UK imperialism in the Middle East. The Conservatives offered a guarantee of war, death, undermining of democracy and the humiliation of the people of the region.

In the aftermath of the election, there will be calls for a new Conservative-led government to be quickly formed to enable Brexit negotiations to take place. But the stakes are so high that Labour should not accept a role as a strong opposition party. If the opportunity is there, Labour should form a minority government, and immediately implement profound change in the UK's Middle East policy.  

When the dust settles, the status quo could prevail. Or another world could be possible. The arms dealers, human rights abusers, occupiers, misogynists and Islamophobes are looking on in trepidation. The coming days are vital, and Labour has everything to play for.

Tom Charles is a London-based writer, editor and literary agent. He previously worked in the UK parliament, including as a lobbyist for Palestinian rights. He has contributed to Jadaliyya and the Journal of Palestinian Refugee Studies. 

Follow him on Twitter: @tomhcharles


Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

 

 

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