The UK’s news on the poisoning of Sergei Skripal has been rife with inflammatory and miscalculated political statements. Deftly written and well argued, yes, but my fellow Broad columnist Emil Gjørvad’s latest piece also represents the hysteria that has characterised the overriding response to Skripal’s case. The point of this case is to sensitively handle a very sad example of international crime. Unfortunately, the focus has been clouded by internal conflict within the UK.
The most misguided statement that keeps being repeated – within UK broadsheets and by my colleague – is that Jeremy Corbyn is refusing to condemn it, which unsurprisingly keeps spiralling into ‘Corbyn is a Communist!!’ rhetoric that has plagued his statements since his emergence as a politician.
This is a cheap trick. A trick that fundamentally rests on a mistake. Corbyn has repeatedly condemned the poisoning and has not refuted Russia’s involvement in it. While he hasn’t spiralled into the inflammatory finger pointing that Thersa May and Boris Johnson have, he has recognised the continued risk of international spy conflicts. He has called for Russia to be investigated. He has also called for Putin’s government, whether innocent or not, to research and attempt to restrict the toxin used within this poisoning.
If Putin orchestrated the poisoning, the best way for him to evade any punishment for it would be the internal party conflict within the UK.
What Corbyn hasn’t done is make Cold War-scale accusations. This cannot be misunderstood as his refusal to condemn the event. This does not prove his pawn-like involvement in relation to Russia, but rather the opposite. By calling for legal and formal investigations (rather than throwing his accusatory toys out of the pram, like Johnson), Corbyn is attempting to uphold UK’s standards and reputation, internationally. Compared to the brashly optimistic responses of Trump and Juncker, the Labour leader’s level headed and rational response is clear amongst the international hysteria which has reached fever-pitch.
The Tory response does not prove their strength or strategy. Johnson’s comment comparing the Russian World Cup to Hitler’s Olympics is dangerous and arguably plays into Putin’s plans – if such a stereotype should be taken – more than Corbyn’s response. If Putin orchestrated the poisoning, the best way for him to evade any punishment for it would be the internal party conflict within the UK. The finger pointing and argument allows Russia’s complicity to slip unnoticed.
The Tory inflammatory response (expulsions included) allows the Russia’s press to package the incident as unfair on their own nation. This response risks the true victims of the crime – the Skripals and other international spy turmoils – being obscured. Corbyn’s rational response at least attempts to ground focus on solving the issue and preventing it in the future.
Claims of Corbyn’s lack of response is even more laughably ignorant if his actual comments are read. He has said he ‘would continue to do business with Putin’. This remark spurred all the headlines to ostracise Corbyn as a nouveau-Communist, yet it ignores a fundamental part of his statement. He specified that he would challenge Russia’s human rights abuse – something that the Torys have hypocritically ignored.
Thus, criticisms of Corbyn’s response are unfounded. His call for a rational, unified investigation is the best response to this crisis. It will stop it spiralling into an international incident that could resemble, in the worst case scenario, a second Cold War.
Instead, Corbyn’s call for an investigation, of the poisoning as well as of other claims of Russian misbehaviour such as bribery, represents a more effective, rational, and just response. The Tory alternative could harm the UK’s international relations and reputation, which is already teetering on the edge of destruction with Brexit looming.
If is the Left response to such a crisis, I am proud to be with them.