with additional update on Tuesday 22 September 2015
The fallout from the election of Jeremy Corbyn as the Labour leader has taken on a sinister turn after an anonymous serving Army General made thinly veiled threats that if Corbyn ever became Prime Minister the Army would react badly. The General warned that any attempt by Corbyn, if he was Prime Minister, to abolish Trident or withdraw the UK from Nato – or even cut back the size of the armed forces – would be fought by the Army with means “fair or foul.”
He also said that there would be “mass resignations” from the armed forces if Corbyn wins the 2020 General Election and that there would be a “very real prospect of an event which would effectively be a mutiny,” and that there would be “direct action.”
A Labour source, as reported in the I newspaper, said that: “You can’t have serving officers going round effectively threatening a coup against an elected government.” The right-wing Tory MEP Daniel Hannon agreed: “We’re not Bolivia, for God’s sake,” and called the General an “idiot.”
The General has hid behind anonymity but he is said to be a seving officer who served in Northern Ireland in the 1980s. The General added: “The Army would not stand for it. … The general staff would not allow a prime minister to jeopardise the security of this country and I think people would use whatever means possible, fair or foul, to prevent that.”
If the identity of this General is identified he should be dismissed dishonourably from the Army – at least. His comments could certainly be interpreted as mutinous. A serving officer of such high rank suggesting that a democractically elected Prime Minister in a democracy could be threatened with mutiny. If Jeremy Corbyn does become Prime Minister he will have been elected to that position. His positions on both Trident and Nato will undoubtedly be in his party’s manifesto for the 2020 election. Therefore, if elected on that manifesto, he will have a mandate to fulfill the proposals within it. Even then, they will be subject to approval by Parliament before becoming law and implemented.
Should such proposals as scrapping Trident or withdrawing from Nato become part of a 2020 Labour manifesto then I’m sure many members of the armed forces will be opposed to them and may even express that opposition. But that does not give members of the armed forces, especially senior officers, the right to suggest or call for anything more than verbal expressions of their opposition (and it’s questionable if even that is allowed from serving members of the armed forces). The Government and Parliament are sovereign in this country. The armed forces may swear loyalty to the Queen but they are under the control of the Government and Parliament and act upon their orders . No member of the armed services are conscripted and those who can’t accept that situation is free – and I would argue duty-bound – to resign.
In other Corbyn-related news, the new Labour leader could face his first real test of unity in his Shadow Cabinet with the impending vote on whether the UK should join in with air strikes against Islamic State (IS) in Syria.
Jeremy Corbyn, as a life-long pacifist, is opposed to air strikes against the self-declared Islamic State. Yet he faces the dilemma of whether he should allow his MPs a free vote on the issue. If he does he will probably face the reality that several of his Shadow Cabinet will join the Government in voting in favour.
Most significantly, his Shadow Justice Minister – Lord Falconer – said he would support strikes as “long as it had proper military and legal justification.” Additionally, Corbyn’s Shadow Foreign Secretary, Hilary Benn, would not rule out supporting a bombing campaign against IS.
Parliament has already voted against striking targets in Syria, but it seems that the Prime Minister is determined to force the issue through Parliament. His humiliation the last time he tried, and failed, no doubt looms large in his mind. But now he has a majority and is not dependent on the Liberal Democrats. When in Coalition with the Tories prior to the 2015 General Election, they helped thwart his desire to take the fight against IS into Syria where it holds huge swathes of the country. Reduced to just eight MPs at the election, and banished from any power, the Lib Dems’ opposition won’t make any difference this time, but any disunity in the Labour Party will simply make Labour look weak and make the Government’s attempt to get air strikes on Syria through Parliament a lot easier.
This issue, ominously for Corbyn’s success as Labour leader, isn’t the only one on which many of his MPs disagree with him. Lord Falconer, for example, listed several on which he alone differs from Corbyn’s views, including “abolishing academies, leaving Nato, keeping the energy companies in private hands, renewing Trident and the benefit cap” – a list that depressingly shows that many so-called Labour MPs are more in-tune with Conservative policies than they are with their own leader.
Jeremy Corbyn needs to overcome the opposition of his own Shadow Cabinet and MPs before Labour can effectively oppose the Government. If he doesn’t, the threat of mutiny from the Army will be mute as Corbyn won’t remain leader of his party long enough to fight the 2020 General Election. If he fails and resigns or is pushed then it is extremely unlikely that any Labour leader who replaces him will consider scrapping Trident or withdrawing from Nato.
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UPDATE: Tuesday 22 September 2015
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is under pressure to order a leak inquiry to identify the General who made claims that Jeremy Corbyn could face an armed forces “mutiny” if he ever became Prime Minister. The MoD had quickly ruled out an inquiry, claiming it would be impossible to identify the General.
The Labour MP Madeleine Moon, who is also a member of the Defence Select Committee, was furious and called on the Defence Secretary Michael Fallon to order an inquiry. She said: “This is deeply worrying. I will be writing to Mr Fallon to express my grave concern that the MoD is not going to investigate such a threatening statement.” She expressed concern that the threats will tarnish the reputation of Britain and its armed forces around the world. She said that it may appear that the British armed forces are threatening a coup and “that it is totally unacceptable” that the MoD is not be investigating it.
The MoD’s stance is also concerning to some Conservative MPs. Michael Fallon himself said that: “The Chief of the Defence Staff and I agree that these comments, if true, are completely unacceptable. We are absolutely clear that senior members of the military must of course always remain politically neutral.”
I’m sure that the MoD would find it difficult to identify the General but not to even have an inquiry and try suggests that they don’t take the comments serious.