Nadhim Zahawi is a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and MP for Stratford On Avon.
We live in an age of hyperbole of which politics is only one of many victims, but our political discourse in particular has become increasingly adversarial, aggressive and exaggerated. Tiny differences become inflamed into moral battles, small variations in opinion are evidence of treachery. This has left us not just with an inability to find strong enough words, but a credibility gap when identifying the scale of an opponent’s error on an issue of real seriousness. Perhaps we describe politicians and parties as increasing the danger to our country too readily, but such a description is terrifyingly apt for the current direction of the Labour Party, and its naïve current and potential leadership.
We first saw hints of this on the issue of renewing Trident. In reality there is the potential for a reasonable economic argument about other alternative options for our nuclear deterrent, and whether we have achieved best value for money, as there always is with any public expenditure. There are also reasonable moral arguments against holding nuclear weapons, the most terrible manifestation of mankind’s overwhelming ability to kill itself.
But nuclear weapons exist, and you cannot just hope they’ll disappear. To make an argument that if we removed our nuclear deterrent unilaterally that this would in any way change the world is utterly naïve. Does anyone seriously believe that taking the moral high ground and preaching to Russia and the Americans would convince them to disarm faster? Instead our voice would be silenced and Putin would feel even more comfortable meddling in European affairs, either militarily in the Baltic Region, economically through switching off gas to Eastern Europe, or politically with his propaganda stations already based in the UK. Our nuclear deterrent maintains an equilibrium, a status quo. Any sudden change in that balance would be dangerous. It would signal an increasing disinterest in protecting ourselves or our European allies, just as the USA is discussing drawing back its protection on our behalf. We would sacrifice so much to gain nothing but a feeling of being morally right and virtuous.
But the most immediate danger is the comments their candidates have made in the current leadership contest about ISIL and NATO. When Jeremy Corbyn was asked what his response would be if Russia attacked a NATO ally, he refused to confirm he would come to their aid. Instead he prefers to “achieve a world in which we don’t need to go to war”. That is all very well and good, but once again we must expect our leaders to do slightly more than just wish bad things away.
One of the many inherent flaws in Corbyn’s thinking, is his lack of understanding that no one ever hopes for war. He genuinely seems to believe that every problem in the world is caused by Britain and America desiring war, going out of our way to find it. In short he thinks we are the bad guys, that if he was in charge we could just stop meddling and everything would be sunshine and rainbows. In reality we go to war when it is deemed necessary to protect our country and our allies. It is painstakingly debated by everyone involved, the security services, the military, the Government and Parliament. Each person that has a voice in the process knows the grave nature of their decision. Each person knows the impact it would have on so many lives, both in our military and among local civilians. But each must also balance this against the evil that has forced us to act. It is difficult but worse things often happen when we step away. Corbyn hopes that if we ignore that evil it will disappear. I hope we will not see the added danger that policy would place us in.
Reasonable Labour supporters hope for change from this catastrophic leader, and have placed their faith in the ‘moderate’ Owen Smith. However he only has a slightly different form of naivety to offer to the British people. Instead of ignoring problems like ISIL, he would like to have a chat with them, and bring them into negotiations. His clarification that this would only be if they gave up violence merely displays more stunning ignorance about the organisation. ISIL are not the IRA. We cannot wait for them to give up armed struggle, and then negotiate a political solution with them, because it will not happen. They are not going to end their ardent wish to purge apostates, ethnic minorities and gay people in order to negotiate with Owen Smith. There is no negotiation, there is no give and take. When they believe God has commanded everything they do, to negotiate with us would be betrayal of their ideology. Syria requires a political solution, that is undeniable, but it cannot involve a group such as ISIL.
I know such warnings will be ignored by those in the Labour Party because they come from the voice of, evil of all evils, an actual Tory – and not even a red one, a legitimate blue one. But we cannot allow the fundamental safety of the British people and our role in increasing global security to be voluntarily compromised in this way. Labour has gone too far. We cannot have political leaders who proudly proclaim that if they become leader their foreign policy will be to just hope for a nuclear free, war free, ISIL free world. These are terrible and difficult problems and threats to our nation, but they only become graver if we ignore them. If Labour wants to survive it must quickly reassess, but if it does not it doesn’t deserve to.