Security and insecurity

When Harold Wilson said a week is a long time in politics, he was likely thinking about ones like we’ve just had.

If the week began with an illustration of the need for counter-terrorism types of investment, it quickly turned to the need for conventional forces. On Tuesday, Turkey engaged a Russian jet, the first such time a NATO state has engaged a Russian aircraft since the Korean War in the 1950s – and it did so with a US-made F-16. For a few moments, around the world, the hearts of Defence Ministers were surely in their throats, their minds’ turning collectively to article five of the NATO treaty. Russia’s response fell short of direct retaliation – to their relief – but it has beefed up its own anti-aircraft capability, threatening to engage Turkey back if it tried to repeat its actions again. The day after the Chancellor stood up in front of the nation’s gathered MPs and declared the UK would meet both the 0.7% aid target, recalibrated towards Eastern Europe and the buffer with Russia, and NATO’s 2% target; with extra money available for more spooks and planes. John McDonnell of course responded by brandishing Mao’s little red book. This was the week that security turned to insecurity, and within this context, the scene was set for last night’s shadow Cabinet meeting, where Labour would discuss whether to back the prime minister on airstrikes in Syria, discussion led by the pacifist and former Stop the War Chairman Jeremy Corbyn. The meeting was supposed to last 45 minutes, but Lucy Powell, Ed Miliband’s old campaign manager and now shadow Education Secretary, declared her belief the meeting should last as long as was needed. In the end they were locked in that room for nearly an hour and a half – not arguing we’re told – but clearly not entirely agreeing. Diane Abbott resolutely defended Jeremy Corbyn’s position – leading to a rebuke from Powell – but she and the leader were in the minority, with most of the cabinet reflecting that the week’s events had made the case for air strikes more persuasive, including the shadow Foreign Secretary Hillary Benn. No agreement was made at the meeting, with murmurs of a fudged solution where the party leader would vote the opposite way to his cabinet. The only real conclusion emerging from the meeting was that Corbyn’s position is becoming increasingly insecure. This has been Corbyn’s eleventh week in charge of the Labour Party, but it must feel like longer. Next week he has to decide whether the country goes to war while staving off insurrections from his own cabinet, then he must win a by-election convincingly enough to keep the circling wolves at bay. If this week seemed long, next week will be an eternity.


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