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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > Jun-18 > the Corbyn doctrine

the Corbyn doctrine

Jeremy Corbyn talks about changing the world. But would his Britain just end up protesting from the sidelines?

The Morning Star has never been an influential newspaper. During the Cold War the far-left journal was bolstered by a bulk order from the Soviet Union, though now its daily circulation is no more than 10,000. Its columnists rail against American imperialism, wars in the Middle East and poverty in the global south. And up until he ran to be Labour leader in 2015, one of those columnists was Jeremy Corbyn.

For his critics those columns are a goldmine of material. Corbyn had called for Nato to be abolished, blamed the west for the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and denounced the way the United States tackled terrorism—points of controversy that have often dominated his leadership. But the Morning Star columns went wider, too. He wrote about the stand-off in western Sahara, the crisis in the Great Lakes and atrocities in Sri Lanka; he highlighted the case of an arrested Ethiopian opposition leader, abject working conditions in Qatar and the plight of Kurds in Turkey.

Foreign policy is Corbyn’s passion. While the ins and outs of NHS reform don’t tend to interest him, a conversation about healthcare in Latin America can last for hours. He’s been to more countries than he hasn’t, meeting a kaleidoscope of activists and trades unionists—Corbyn is not the type to hobnob with the ambassador or pop in to see the foreign minister. All of which has helped to form a worldview which focuses on human rights, and tends to ignore conventional wisdom.

Like most of Corbyn’s views, he has held these for all his political life. What’s surprising is the ease with which his oncefringe policy positions are becoming accepted within a Labour Party that still does not, for the most part speak—or think—in his anti-western, pro-developing-world rhetoric.

A party that less than a decade ago believed in intervening to prevent a humanitarian disaster now objects to the use of force in almost all circumstances. A party that just a few years ago was staunchly pro-European and, at least at the top, a wideeyed believer in the so-called “special relationship,” is now coolly keeping its distance from both the European Union and the US. A party that was a strong backer of Nato is now openly sceptical of the western military alliance and seems keen to find common ground with Vladimir Putin.

Labour has always been divided by foreign policy—the argument about whether it should be a “peace party” is as old as the party itself. Its first leader, Keir Hardie, opposed Britain’s involvement in the First World War, but others disagreed and the anti-war Ramsay MacDonald soon had to make way for the more belligerent Arthur Henderson. Two decades later, foreign policy cost another Labour leader his job—George Lansbury’s pacifism was rejected by the party, leading to the elevation of Clement Attlee. In the 1940s and 1950s, and then again in the 1980s, the great divide was over nuclear weapons. Then, in the 1990s, the argument was over interventionism—between the so-called “realist” approach of Jack Cunningham and the first sparks of Robin Cook’s ethical foreign policy.

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In Prospect’s June issue: Isabel Hilton, Rana Mitter, Kerry Brown and Yuan Ren debate the rise of China and what it means for the UK and the rest of the world. Hilton argues that China’s ideas could dominate the next century, just as American ideas dominated the last. Rana Mitter charts how those ideas have developed from Confucius to modern political theorist Wang Huning. Kerry Brown explores how Australia is dealing with the rise of China, by reimagining itself as an Asian country and drifting from the US. Yuan Ren asks whether China’s young people will forge a new path for the country in the coming decades. Elsewhere in the issue: Steve Bloomfield explores Jeremy Corbyn’s foreign policy, asking whether Britain would become a silent protester on the global sideline; Jonathan Liew asks if the World Cup has seen better days; Miranda France explores the life and meaning of Frida Kahlo, and Simon Jenkins says Trump’s charge through the China shop of world affairs is not all bad news.