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By Lord Watson of Wyre Forest
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Labour MP urges party not to 'back the wrong side' in Venezuela crisis

3 min read

A Labour backbencher has criticised one of his frontbench colleagues for ducking a question on whether he is politically closer to Tony Blair than Hugo Chavez. 

Chris Williamson, the Shadow Fire Minister and ally of Jeremy Corbyn, last night hit out at “shady” US interference in Venezuela and said the British public were being presented with a “one-sided, one-eyed view” of the current turmoil in the country.

When asked on BBC Newsnight whether he corresponded more closely to the views of former Labour leader Mr Blair, or former Venezuelan president Mr Chavez, he replied: “That’s an interesting question. I don’t like to characterise these things as left or right; for me it’s right and wrong.”

Labour MP Graham Jones, who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on Venezuela, said it should have been a “straightforward answer to anybody” and that Mr Williamson was “backing the wrong side”.

“You don’t have to be a supporter of Tony Blair to know that the answer is Tony Blair,” he told the Today programme.

“Low inflation, growing economy, huge investment in public services versus Venezuela: rampant corruption, inflation at 720%, public services collapsing. It’s not a difficult question, whether you’re a Blair supporter or not.”

The row came amid pressure for Mr Corbyn – who has previously described the policies of president Nicolas Maduro, who succeeded Mr Chavez, as a “cause for celebration” – to speak out about the current situation.

President Maduro has been facing months of protests, triggered by a food crisis, soaring inflation and rising crime levels.

Opposition leaders, meanwhile, have been arrested and more than 120 people are believed to have died as a result of riots breaking out from the protests.

Mr Jones said Mr Corbyn would have to speak out against the Venezuelan government “at some point”.

“I would have gone further [than the statement from shadow FCO minister Liz McInnes] and I think more needs to be taken. I think we need to reflect on – and part of the, I suppose, critique of Chris's argument is he's backing the wrong side.

“Our sister parties are the third, fourth and fifth-largest parties in Venezuela. We're not affiliated to Chavez, never have been.”

Ken Livingstone, another longstanding ally of the Labour leader, has again spoken out in favour of the Maduro government.

“He didn’t kill all the oligarchs, there were about 200 families who controlled around 80% of the wealth of Venezuela,” the former Mayor of London – who is currently suspended from Labour – told TalkRadio.

“He allowed them to live and to carry on, and I suspect that a lot of them are using their power and their control over imports and exports, medicines and food and making it difficult to undermine Maduro.”

Mr Livingstone also dismissed as “propaganda” the idea that Mr Maduro was arresting his political opponents, and added: “I’ve never seen Jeremy support a dictator, he’s a democrat.”

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