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Fantasy plans to hold ballots on military action will not help Labour win back power

Fantasy plans to hold ballots on military action will not help Labour win back power
3 min read

Labour's response to the mistakes made at the time of the Iraq War must not be to indulge in fantasy politics

Anyone who knocked on doors for Labour during the General Election campaign will be able to tell you that voters did not trust our party on matters of national security.

Over the last five years, the Labour leadership paid too much attention to hard-left anti-western groups, and was seen by the public to be pandering to Russia.

The leadership was out of touch with working class communities up and down the country who want a government that always stands up for our national interest. It doesn’t matter how good our policies to build a fairer economy are if people don’t trust us when Britain’s national security is threatened.

In part because of that lack of trust, millions of people who need a Labour government will now have to spend another five years struggling under a Tory government.

Fantasy proposals to hold internal Labour Party referendums on military action are not the way to win back power. Quite the opposite.

Labour will only win again by becoming a credible alternative government. That means understanding that decisions on military action are key decisions for government ministers to take, in possession of full information which will rightly not always be in the public domain.

Ministers should always be held accountable for those decisions by Parliament, but it is a folly to offload decisions on national security to members of a political party, who by their very nature will not have all the facts before them - or be able to respond in the time needed.

And absolving ministers of responsibility raises the obvious conundrum – who will be held accountable if decisions are put into the hands of Labour members?

We must never put our party before the country, and certainly not when it relates to national security. I’m afraid that my colleague Richard Burgon has failed to recognise the most important job of a government.

This proves the need for our party to choose change, not continuity.

Formulating a coherent answer on issues of national security is integral to the offer that Labour must make to the country in order to reverse our losing streak of four General Elections. I’m proud that my campaign is being co-chaired by former Security Minister Dave Hanson, who understands what we need to do to win back public trust.

We have to look forward, not back to 2003.

I wasn’t an MP at the time, but like many in the Labour movement I opposed the Iraq War. So, yes, we should always learn lessons from the past, and from that particular conflict more than any other in modern times.

But the response to mistakes made nearly 20 years ago is not to indulge in fantasy politics.

Instead, we must become credible again, with a sensible national security policy for the future that is rooted in our Labour values, championing human rights and cooperation across the globe. We should be standing up for the institutions which safeguard those values – NATO and the European Union.

Never again can the Labour Party be in a position where the public don’t trust us to keep the country safe.

The Labour Party must adopt an internationalism of the type championed by my political hero John Smith – standing together with our partners in the promotion of the values we hold dear: democracy; human rights; and the freedom to live a safe and prosperous life.


Ian Murray is Labour MP for Edinburgh South and a candidate in the party's deputy leadership contest.

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