Be­yond the wa­ter’s edge: pos­tur­ing politi­cians break

COM­MENT

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - ROBERT PHILPOT

WHEN THE Repub­li­can chair­man of the Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee, Arthur Van­den­berg, of­fered his back­ing in 1948 for Demo­crat Harry Tru­man’s es­tab­lish­ment of NATO, he de­clared that “pol­i­tics stops at the wa­ter’s edge”.

On this side of the At­lantic, we’ve largely ad­hered to Van­den­berg’s maxim and there has been a con­sen­sus be­tween Labour and the Con­ser­va­tives on for­eign pol­icy in the post-Cold War pe­riod. That’s been most ev­i­dent in the Mid­dle East. In the 1990s, Labour backed the Ma­jor govern­ment when it set its face against western in­ter­ven­tion as the for­mer Yu­goslavia de­scended into civil war, while the Tories backed Tony Blair’s de­ci­sion to go to war in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

Try­ing to carve out a dis­tinc­tive po­si­tion, the Lib­eral Democrats adopted a hawk­ish stance on Yu­goslavia but a doveish one on Iraq.

Ed Miliband’s force­ful at­tack on the govern­ment’s han­dling of the con­flict in Gaza sug­gests he has few qualms about break­ing the hitherto broad una­nim­ity be­tween the Tory and Labour front benches. In­deed, this is the sec­ond ma­jor break — fol­low­ing the Op­po­si­tion’s de­ci­sion to “stop the rush to war” in last Au­gust’s par­lia­men­tary vote on Syria — Miliband has in­sti­tuted in just un­der a year.

In terms of pol­icy, the gulf be­tween the two sides isn’t wide: like Miliband, David Cameron has con­sis­tently called for a cease­fire. But, tonally, the breach over Opera- tion Pro­tec­tive Edge has been grow­ing as the Prime Min­is­ter places the onus largely on Ha­mas, while Labour ap­pears to sug­gest that Is­rael bears greater re­spon­si­bil­ity for a con­flict that shadow for­eign sec­re­tary Dou­glas Alexan­der says “shames our com­mon hu­man­ity”.

Raw pol­i­tics won’t be en­tirely ab­sent from Labour’s cal­cu­la­tions. Af­ter a dif­fi­cult summer, Miliband re­ceived a ma­jor fil­lip in­side the party for his stance on Syria. He con­tin­ues to trum­pet de­feat­ing Cameron’s plans for air strikes as one of the ma­jor achieve­ments of his lead­er­ship and ev­i­dence that the party has “moved on” from New Labour.

The pol­i­tics of Gaza, though, has an added com­pli­ca­tion for Miliband. On Syria, Nick Clegg was a lead­ing pro­po­nent of mil­i­tary ac­tion. How­ever, over the past month, the Deputy Prime Min­is­ter has been at the fore­front of criti- cisms of Op­er­a­tion Pro­tec­tive Edge, sug­gest­ing that Is­rael has “over­stepped the mark”, calling for it to open di­rect talks with Ha­mas, and push­ing for Bri­tain to sus­pend arms ex­port li­censes.

Clegg’s stance car­ries min­i­mal po­lit­i­cal risks: there are few strongly pro-Is­rael voices within his party. At­tack­ing Is­rael pro­vides an op­por­tu­nity for him to pol­ish his tar­nished cen­tre-left cre­den­tials.

This is space that Miliband will be loath to con­cede to Clegg, how­ever. Since be­com­ing Labour leader he has pinned his hopes of mak­ing it to Down­ing Street on hold­ing on to the left-wing vot­ers who de­fected to the Lib­eral Democrats over Iraq in 2005 but fled the party when it went into coali­tion with the Tories in 2010.

Dubbed the “35 per cent strat­egy” by Miliband’s crit­ics, it is threat­ened by any­thing which al­lows the Lib­eral Democrats to re-es­tab­lish a con- nec­tion with the Guardian- read­ing vot­ers in key Labour tar­get seats.

The Labour leader’s po­si­tion on Gaza is not with­out risk. Polls may in­di­cate sup­port for his views, but any sug­ges­tion that he is play­ing pol­i­tics could un­der­mine what the pres­i­dent of YouGov, Peter Kellner, has iden­ti­fied as his key task: to “start sound­ing like a prime min­is­ter-in-wait­ing rather than a per­pet­u­ally an­gry critic of the coali­tion”.

Baroness Warsi’s res­ig­na­tion as a For­eign Of­fice min­is­ter over the govern­ment’s “morally in­de­fen­si­ble” stance over Gaza will have pro­vided Miliband with some cross-party po­lit­i­cal cover. But while some see her res­ig­na­tion as a re­volt against the more pro-Is­raeli po­si­tion of new for­eign sec­re­tary, Philip Ham­mond, oth­ers de­tect a more base mo­tive. The for­mer Tory chair had al­legedly been told dur­ing last month’s reshuf­fle that she wouldn’t be pro-

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