Corbyn's Victory Is Another Step in Britain's Departure From the World Stage

The election of a man who blames the West for Russia's aggression against Ukraine and who has backed terrorist groups from Ireland to Iraq shows how little British voters care for questions of foreign policy.

Anshel Pfeffer
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The new leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn waves after making his inaugural speech at the Queen Elizabeth Centre in central London, September 12, 2015.Credit: Reuters
Anshel Pfeffer

Hours after being elected leader of the United Kingdom's opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn used his victory speech to speak forcefully about the rights of refugees to be accepted in Britain. "We are one world" he said, calling for the British people to open their arms and hearts to the refugees, adding that his first act as new party leader would be to join a march later in central London welcoming refugees. But apart from a vague mention of "war," Corbyn did not refer to any of the reasons for the massive surge of Syrian refugees now coming to Europe.

Indeed, that was the only mention of any sort of foreign policy issue in his victory speech. Those who were waiting for Corbyn to clarify on his rather ambiguous view of Britain's membership of the European Union, his aversion to the NATO western military alliance or his steadfast belief that Britain should unilaterally dismantle its nuclear weapon capability, were disappointed. He may have deliberately skimmed over foreign affairs in an effort to counter the predictions of a major split within the Labour leadership over those very issues. But it was also another sign of how questions of foreign policy have rapidly become irrelevant in British politics.

It is almost facile to say that most political battles are, in any case, fought on domestic issues, but the total absence of Britain's role in global issues from the general election campaign earlier this year was striking. With the exception of Britain's relationship with Europe and the related question of immigration, it simply did not come up. Prime Minister David Cameron seemed uninterested in showing any achievement his government had made abroad and his rivals showed no inclination whatsoever in challenging him on the global field. Cameron's first term as prime minister was primarily focused on domestic issues, and arguably the biggest setback was losing a parliamentary vote on joining the U.S. in a retaliatory attack on the Assad regime after the mass-murder of Syrian civilians by chemical weapons. That vote was a clear signal that both main British parties, Cameron's Conservatives and Labour, were accepting the U.K.'s greatly reduced role on the global stage.

The fact that over a quarter of a million Labour members and voters affiliated with the party have just elected a leader who blames the west for Russia's aggression against Ukraine, who fervently supports repressive klepotcracies like Chavista Venezuela and has supported terrorist groups around the world – from Northern Ireland to Iraq – in the name of anti-imperialism, could either mean that they agree with him on this, or more likely, the majority of them simply don't care. They voted Corbyn for his anti-austerity policies, his willingness to espouse a clear socialist alternative, including the nationalization of public transport and energy companies, and the fact that, unlike the other leadership candidates, he refuses to compromise his beliefs for something as trivial as being elected prime minister and implementing at least some of his policies.

It's not that Corbyn is an isolationist; he most certainly isn't. He has strident views on a wide range of international issues that don't necessarily impact on Britain directly. At heart, he is a full-paid member of every fashionable cause of the radical-left, including his unquestioning support for Holocaust deniers and blood libelers – as long as they're "pro-Palestinian." But he wouldn't have been elected Labour leader with the largest personal mandate in the party's history, if it were not for the fact that these issues simply didn't matter to the vast majority of his supporters. Obviously, few of them asked themselves why they are voting for a man who attacks the British media (as he did repeatedly in his victory speech) yet recommends watching the Kremlin's propaganda channel Russia Today.

Very few in Britain believe that Corbyn's policies, domestic or foreign, will return Labour to power in the next election. Precious few of supporters think that's a likely scenario. But his victory will have a profound effect on the political landscape. Not the least because it confirms that while we are all one world, as Corbyn says, Britain has abdicated its historical role of having much influence over it.

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