The Libya reader

A round-up of the day’s commentary on Libya.

Andrew Sullivan is furious with the Obama administration for not consulting Congress before agreeing to carry out air strikes on Libya.

When will the US Congress be able to debate and vote? When will the congressmen and senators actually take a position for the record? Or is that kind of democracy the kind of thing we only export and don't actually follow ourselves?

The National Interest argues that the days of hawks and doves are over – it's all about the Valkyries now.

[A] troika of female advisers – Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice and Samantha Power – are, by and large, responsible for persuading President Obama, against the advice of Robert Gates and other members of the military establishment – that bombing Libya is a good idea. Power has condemned American foreign policy for failing to intervene sufficiently to avert genocidal wars, particularly in Bosnia and Rwanda. Bill Clinton has himself said that his biggest regret was not intervening in Rwanda to stop the carnage.

While the memory of Rwanda lies heavily upon the Clintons and US policy, it is Bosnia that dominates the thinking of David Cameron and the coalition, according to Ian Birrell, the Prime Minister's former speechwriter.

[O]ne of the books that left its mark on the Prime Minister recently is Unfinest Hour, a howl of moral outrage against Britain's failure to intervene amid the bloodstained break-up of the former Yugoslavia. The book, which argues Bosnia ranks alongside Munich and Suez in the litany of Conservative foreign policy disasters, underlines that doing nothing can be a fateful choice

The author of Unfinest Hour, Brendan Simms, argued in last week's New Statesman that the Conservatives have made a "fundamental break" from the realist policy approach that blighted the government's policy in Bosnia in the 1990s. However, away from Cameron and his hawks (or should that be Valkyries?), many in the Conservative Party are more cautious.

Rory Stewart, writing in the London Review of Books, argues that the decision was taken in spite of Iraq and Afghanistan and the neocon agenda, rather than because of it. Stewart errs on the side of intervention, with a caveat.

But today, though I am in favour of the no-fly zone, it seems as though the real danger remains not despair but our irrepressible, almost hyperactive actions: that sense of moral obligation; those fears about rogue states, failed states, regions and our own credibility, which threaten to make this decade again a decade of over-intervention.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, also offered cautious support for the intervention – but left himself space to wriggle and revert to a realist stance, should it all go wrong: "The best we can say of this venture is that it is the lesser of two evils – or so it seems at the moment."

Both Stewart and Johnson are tipped as potential prime ministers as often as they are labelled pompous buffoons. If Libya goes wrong, then Cameron will have no shortage of critics within his party ready to say, "I told you so – sort of."

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

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.