Labour’s foreign policy must avoid Corbyn’s ‘obsession with anti-imperialism’, frontbencher says

By Kit Roberts

LABOUR must move away from the foreign policy failings of Corbynism and build on former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook’s ethos, a Labour frontbencher has told Redaction Politics.

Wayne David MP, Shadow Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, endorsed a new pamphlet by soft-left Open Labour calling for a review of the party’s foreign policy going forward.

Written by academics Paul Thompson and Frederick Harry Pitts, it is strongly critical of foreign policy under the Corbyn leadership, condemning it as ill-thought out and isolationist.

Mr David told Redaction Politics: “This pamphlet is a ‘must read’ for every Labour Party Member who believes that Labour is, and must always be, an internationalist Party. 

“There is a trenchant critique of the failings of “Corbynism” and its simplistic view of the world being divided between the ‘West and the Rest’ and its obsession with anti-imperialism. 

“The pamphlet suggests ways in which the Left can begin to develop a progressive foreign policy which actually sees the world as it is.

“The authors believe, quite rightly, that Lisa Nandy has suggested how a relevant and radical foreign policy can build upon Robin Cook’s ‘ethical foreign policy’. 

“They also see the late Jo Cox’s call for a ‘a new progressive internationalism’ as suggesting an important path to rediscover vital ethical principles.

“The challenge we now face is to continue this work and map out a foreign policy which is proactive and principled, which is firmly based on progressive values, and which recognises that Britain’s national interest can only be advanced through multi-lateral co-operation. 

“This well-written pamphlet is an important contribution to the important work which needs to be done now”.

Speaking at an online conference to launch the report, Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy outlined her priorities for the immediate future: “The biggest priority, especially with the incoming Biden administration, is to get the world working together again. 

“We’ve seen a real tug of war going in the last few months during COVID between people who want to see the world come together to deal with the challenges that we face, and people who want to see the world break apart.

“Britain has got to be on the right side of that.”

Her words reflect the internationalist tone in the report, which centres strongly a proactive, involved role for Britain on the world stage. This, it argues, is both to guarantee our own safety and security, and to act where necessary to protect others.

There is also a strong need, the pamphlet argues, to break away from the failings of the Corbyn years. It criticises the far-left view on foreign policy as unable to think outside of an anti-imperialist world view that ironically displays an inverted narcissism towards the West; if something goes wrong, it must be our fault.

In its criticisms of the former leadership, the pamphlet says: “The left should be able to walk and chew gum at the same time, but instead maintains a solipsistic preoccupation with the often imaginary omnipresence of the extended West the world over.”  

It goes on to call for Britain to take a more active role in global politics, to protect both ourselves and others. Britain, it argues, is no longer to unilaterally guarantee the safety of its citizens. The diminished international role of Britain is acknowledged.

The pamphlet stresses heavily the need to break away from an “anti-west” approach, pointing out that despite the good intentions of anti-imperialism, its focus on western legacies can render it blind to the modern motives and power in non-western nations. 

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Corbyn and his supporters were noted for their opposition to any and all intervention. Critics argued this absolutist approach made it easy for powers such as Putin’s Russia and the Islamic Republic of Iran to fill the void. 

This worldview, the report argues, is no longer compatible with the challenges Britain faces moving forward. It highlights inconsistency in their opposition, and attacks the preoccupation with the West on the Labour far left. It says:

“The ‘two-campist’ positioning of Corbyn’s intellectual and political milieu, which relates world events to a crudely caricatured clash between the West and the rest, is instinctive and reflexive rather than properly thought through.

“It is an undertheorised posture adopted in response to the vagaries and complexities of foreign affairs.” 

The warm reception it received by Nandy and the endorsement by Wayne David reinforces the break with the past that Starmer has sought since winning the leadership. It sets out foreign policy rooted in cooperation, internationalism, and consistent condemnation of human rights abuses. 

On this, it says: “It is clear that the UK cannot act alone, on this or any other front. 

There are some signs that a post-populist, open, global centre-left resurgent on either side of the Atlantic will have a bigger part to play on the world stage than at any time since the mid-nineties ‘Third Way’.

“This means thinking seriously about a coordinated left foreign policy for the contemporary age before, as in Syria and Srebrenica before it, it is once again too late.”

This is of course academic unless Labour can get into government. Nonetheless, the embracing of pragmatic, cooperative values and move away from the dogmatic and inflexible approach of recent years could prove a breath of fresh air for a party that badly needs it. 

Jeremy Corbyn, the Socialist Campaign Group and Stop The War were contacted for comment.

The full pamphlet can be found here.

Featured Image: Richard Townshend/Official Parliamentary Portrait

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6 thoughts on “Labour’s foreign policy must avoid Corbyn’s ‘obsession with anti-imperialism’, frontbencher says

  1. So in effect, the paper argues the “left” should adopt the foreign policy of the right, which is what Tony Blair did. UK foreign policy under Blair was well to the right of that of Conservative politicians elsewhere in Europe, notably that of Chirac in France, but in line with those furthest to the right, notably Berlusconi in Italy. It doesn’t say it directly, but it implies the Iraq invasion was correct.


  2. wayne david you were once a good mp and trades unionist , you are now insinuating that mr corbyn is not an internationalist , when you know that is the exact opposite of the man , you have jumped on the starmer bandwagon of faux criticism of party members who dare to question you and the partys leadership , you will get nowhere fast with comments like this , it is very dissapointing

    Liked by 1 person

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