Liam Fox wages “war among the people” (. . . his own people)

The Defence Secretary is making statements at odds with British strategy in Afghanistan and the natu

While getting my quick politics fix this morning on Politics Home, I saw the bit on the Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, getting "slapped down" over Afghan policy. According to the Daily Mail, William Hague gave Liam Fox a dressing-down for describing Afghanistan as a 'broken 13th century' country and for suggesting that troop withdrawal could happen without development.

In the Times, Fox is quoted as saying: "We are not in Afghanistan for the sake of the education policy in a broken 13th-century country. We are there so the people of Britain and our global interests are not threatened."

The stories in the press focus on the issue of mixed messages coming out from the various ministers, particularly Andrew Mitchell and Fox. And I have just seen that, in the NS, Samira Shackle has picked up on the story, with comprehensive quotations, and works the angle from the perspective of the offence caused to the Afghan government by these "colonialist, orientalist remarks" by a clumsy Dr Fox.

Not surprising, as the Afghans are an intelligent and proud people who are touchy about any perceived disrespect. In the same vein, Hamid Karzai's somewhat "erratic behavior" of late can apparently be referenced to Barack Obama's patronising attitude and "negative body language".

However, what struck me was that Fox seemed to be making brash statements at odds with British strategy in Afghanistan and the nature of the conflict being dealt with. As he is Defence Secretary, this is a glaring concern.

The conflict in Afghanistan is arguably a "New War", or what General Rupert Smith in the Utility of Force might categorise as a "war among the people", which is, he writes:

. . . both a graphic description of modern warlike situations, and also a conceptual framework, in that it reflects the hard fact that there is no secluded battlefield upon which armies engage, nor are there necessarily armies: definitely not on all sides. To be clear: this is not asymmetrical warfare as "war among the people" is different: it is the reality in which the people in the streets and houses and fields -- all the people, anywhere -- are the battlefield. Military engagements can take place anywhere in the presence of civilians, against civilians, in defence of civilians. Civilians are the targets, objectives to be won, as much as an opposing force.

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What Jeremy Corbyn gets right about the single market

Technically, you can be outside the EU but inside the single market. Philosophically, you're still in the EU. 

I’ve been trying to work out what bothers me about the response to Jeremy Corbyn’s interview on the Andrew Marr programme.

What bothers me about Corbyn’s interview is obvious: the use of the phrase “wholesale importation” to describe people coming from Eastern Europe to the United Kingdom makes them sound like boxes of sugar rather than people. Adding to that, by suggesting that this “importation” had “destroy[ed] conditions”, rather than laying the blame on Britain’s under-enforced and under-regulated labour market, his words were more appropriate to a politician who believes that immigrants are objects to be scapegoated, not people to be served. (Though perhaps that is appropriate for the leader of the Labour Party if recent history is any guide.)

But I’m bothered, too, by the reaction to another part of his interview, in which the Labour leader said that Britain must leave the single market as it leaves the European Union. The response to this, which is technically correct, has been to attack Corbyn as Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland are members of the single market but not the European Union.

In my view, leaving the single market will make Britain poorer in the short and long term, will immediately render much of Labour’s 2017 manifesto moot and will, in the long run, be a far bigger victory for right-wing politics than any mere election. Corbyn’s view, that the benefits of freeing a British government from the rules of the single market will outweigh the costs, doesn’t seem very likely to me. So why do I feel so uneasy about the claim that you can be a member of the single market and not the European Union?

I think it’s because the difficult truth is that these countries are, de facto, in the European Union in any meaningful sense. By any estimation, the three pillars of Britain’s “Out” vote were, firstly, control over Britain’s borders, aka the end of the free movement of people, secondly, more money for the public realm aka £350m a week for the NHS, and thirdly control over Britain’s own laws. It’s hard to see how, if the United Kingdom continues to be subject to the free movement of people, continues to pay large sums towards the European Union, and continues to have its laws set elsewhere, we have “honoured the referendum result”.

None of which changes my view that leaving the single market would be a catastrophe for the United Kingdom. But retaining Britain’s single market membership starts with making the argument for single market membership, not hiding behind rhetorical tricks about whether or not single market membership was on the ballot last June, when it quite clearly was. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.