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Thursday, October 22, 2015 

Trouble at Milne.

(I am very sorry for the title.)

The response to Jeremy Corbyn appointing Seumas Milne as his director of communications has been pretty much as you would expect.  Considering every past statement and allegiance of Corbyn himself was excavated to be considered fairly and properly by both the media and every other informed person with a social media account, going through Milne's back catalogue of columns in the Guardian has become something of a fun parlour game.  Ooh, look, he said the murder of Lee Rigby was not terrorism in the true sense!  He accused NATO of being the one intent on expansion, rather than Russia!  Milosevic in his view should not have been tried at the Hague!

And so on.  Without a doubt, choosing Milne is the equivalent of a middle finger to all concerned: the media, whom he'll supposedly be dealing with; the rest of the party; and specifically the Guardian, currently going through throes over its next political editor and whether or not he or she will be more sympathetic to Corbyn than Patrick Wintour and his likely successor, Nick Watt will be.  This said, it's of a piece with what's happened to Corbyn so far.  Both he and the media have made it clear where they stand: they don't like each other, it's not likely to change, so what's the point of doing much other than continuing the mutual antagonism?  It's not much of a strategy, but is there another on offer?  The same goes for the party: paranoia is so rife about Momentum, Corbyn's post-campaign campaign group and how as a result every MP millimetres to Corbyn's right will be shortly on notice for deselection it's a wonder the parliamentary Labour party is operating at all.

Few seem to have considered if Milne was anything like Corbyn's first choice, nor have there been many suggestions forthcoming as to whom he should have picked instead.  How many would have drank from what looks such a poisoned chalice?  Milne himself has not left the Graun, apparently instead taking leave, so he doesn't seem sure of how long it's going to last either.

All this said, the response has been as laughable as it has predictable.  Milne is not a great columnist, but he makes what are often fairly standard socialist arguments with force.  Some weeks he's dead wrong and some weeks he's right in spite of himself.  Probably his most objectionable column is the one dealt with by Adam Barnett on Left Foot Forward, as written in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack.  Let's not pretend Milne is the only person on the left to have sullied himself on that score, as hopefully most of those who also equivocated at the time now recognise.  That said, one has to hope his "still less" statement on the Jewish victims was just a slip rather something more revealing.

Milne's appointment should then be considered in relation to the reasons why Corbyn won in the first place.  Lesser factor as it is, foreign policy cannot be discounted entirely.  Labour can essentially be divided into four camps when it comes to interventionism: the irreconcilables, like Corbyn and a few others; those who can be convinced, but are always sceptical; the humanitarians, like Jo Cox; and the prestigious, as Jim Murphy has revealed himself to be in his quite remarkable article for the New Statesman.

It's a fair assumption that not many of those who voted for Corbyn are keen on interventions full stop, let alone missions without any apparent point, as the one proposed for Syria is.  Despite the defeat of the coalition almost by mistake on Syria in 2013, if anything it seems there are now more MPs in the latter two groups than there were previously, as suggested by the 50 or so reckoned to be likely to vote for joining the raids on Islamic State if and when the Conservatives decide to bring it before the Commons.  Some of these are no doubt part of the "spite" group, determined to vote against Corbyn given the slightest opportunity, but others genuinely do think getting involved in Syria despite everything that's happened is a fantastic idea.

There's not much I can add to the Rodent's post on Murphy's raging bone-on for air strikes that he openly admits won't achieve anything, but will still be a "legitimate posture for a P5 nation".  It does seem odd for him to quote Dean Acheson, on how Britain after Suez and the empire had not yet found a role for itself.  This was in 1962, when US involvement in Vietnam was already beginning to ramp up.  Acheson, notably, later turned against the war despite originally supporting it.  


If nothing else, Murphy is at least being honest.  And yet shouldn't the public and the troops themselves know if essentially what they're being asked to do is not in any sense practical, but merely to keep up with our allies, expressing our power by blasting fuck out of a country on the other side of the world?

Which is precisely the problem with the argument being made by the government for joining in the bombing of Islamic State.  There is absolutely no sense of strategy behind it; what difference will our involvement make beyond taking a tiny amount of the slack off the Americans and others that have been taking part up till now?  Into this breach have stepped the likes of Jo Cox, and yet as previously argued, they apparently don't see any point in explaining how either a no fly zone or safe havens would work in practice, rather than merely in rhetoric.  I tried getting an answer out of Clara Connolly when she wrote in support of Cox, only to be told that it would be a "doddle" to impose a no fly zone, although understandably it would be far more difficult to persuade the Russians to cease operating in such zones.

As for the safe zones, answer came there none.  Others, like Dan Fox, have set out how, posing six questions, none of which are easily answered and almost certainly never will be.  He nonetheless supports intervention, although he also voices the bizarre opinion that only two forces are currently bombing in Syria: the Syrians themselves and the Russians, rather overlooking all the other nations that have done so in the very recent past or still are.  The fact of the matter is that for all these fine words, we're not interested in establishing such zones, and even if we were the problems and potential to be playing into the hands of one side or the other were we to try are all but insurmountable.  Turkey has been arguing for some time for such zones, only for it be dismissed out of hand by the Americans and ourselves, most likely for the simple reasoning that no group on the ground in Syria can be trusted to protect civilians in such a way, and so it would require either a UN peacekeeping force or Western "boots on the ground", in the cliche.  Whom would straight away be a target for the jihadists who prize killing Westerners over everything else.

In spite of all this, for some, like Kate Godfrey, something must be done even if it is simply to bomb for the sake of it.  To her, Seumas Milne is an apologist for fascism, and she knows because she has been to Syria and Iraq, rather than just sat here and pontificated about it.  She appeals to authority, her own, makes clear how she has seen the suffering, and that as a result to appoint Milne is to devalue everything Labour stands for, to be ashamed in front of the world.

Her argument, taken on its own, is fair enough.  Over the top, but fair enough.  It is this very argument though, as well as the way that it's made, the self-righteousness combined with the belief that we have to help such people without considering the practicalities, all while ignoring past failures, that is a factor in the rise of Corbyn.  As Murphy urged us to get over Iraq, like Connolly in her response to me blamed Iraq for the failures in Syria, both are forgetting Libya.  It's easy to forget, so I don't blame them.  Nor is it just Libya, it's Afghanistan too.  Many are tired of war for the sake of the war, not least when the arguments made in its favour are so lacking or completely transparent.  Much of what has happened in Syria for instance is a direct result of the Libyan intervention, the invoking of the responsibility to protect and the subsequent using of the UN resolution to force regime change, without anyone accepting the concept has been devalued by that very abuse.  When these arguments are still being made after the Russian intervention has changed everything, and still the same people would like us to go further to the point where they're seemingly willing for there to be a showdown between the West and Russia to see who blinks first, it's difficult to not respond in kind.  


Over to you, Seumas.

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