Is this Theresa May’s ‘Falklands moment’, several commentators have asked? This refers of course to the way Galtieri’s aggression against the Falklands (Malvinas) Islands in 1982 presented Thatcher with the opportunity to reverse her currently low domestic poll ratings by taking a ‘firm stand’ against him. Many historians attribute both her survival then and her later success to this ‘Iron Lady’ decision. Some of her political opponents suspected that she had deliberately provoked the crisis, or at least avoided settling it more diplomatically, to this end. Unlikely as this is (in my judgment), there can be little doubt that the Falklands War strengthened her immensely, at a time when her domestic political fortunes were wavering. It was a lucky break for her, testing her mettle in a way that – in the eyes of her macho supporters (women as well as men) – made her almost a god. Which is how, of course, she is still regarded in the Conservative Party today, including by the fat red-faced MP who claimed to espy some of her divinity in the face of Theresa May, when she stood up in the House of Commons yesterday to defy Putin , against a deafening background of Tory roars. Some of them looked as if they were wetting themselves; or about to have coronaries. Whether or not they really are as ‘warlike’ as they sounded, they’re certainly enjoying this!
Jeremy Corbyn’s sane and rational response – was it the Russian government? let’s see the evidence first – was predictably howled down by this mob – ‘traitor!’ ‘appeaser!’ ‘communist!’; and has apparently discomfited some of his own party on the backbenches: albeit usually those who have never felt comfortable with him as their leader. Clearly a little thrown by this, Corbyn sought to spell out his position in today’s Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/mar/15/salisbury-attack-conflict-britain-cold-war. He has some support, of course, especially among those who recall – as he points out in this piece – how often he has been proved right about these things in the past. The question is, politically speaking, how this Russian bru-ha-ha is going to affect his broader popularity, when it comes to the next General Election – if he is still at Labour’s helm then.
It was popular ‘jingoism’ and her ‘macho’ image that was partly responsible for Thatcher’s success in the election of 1983. What we don’t know yet is whether the jingoism that seemed to be displayed in the House of Commons yesterday, and of course in our tabloid press, is still as widespread as it was then. That may partly depend on whether Corbyn’s doubts (they were no more than that) are proved right, or at least plausible, and the Salisbury poisoner was in fact out of Putin’s and the Russian government’s control (Russian mafia? Ex-KGB?); or whether his perfectly justifiable point about Russian oligarchs’ financial contributions to the Conservative party have any purchase. As for May’s ‘macho’ qualities: it may be difficult to see her in the same league as the blessed Margaret in this regard. I don’t think any of us ever saw Thatcher as pathetic.
But she does have the added advantage of her opponent’s – Corbyn, not Putin – having been consistently characterised in the press as just the kind of lily-livered pacifist the political Right and the tabloids profess to despise; and smeared by them very recently as a communist spy himself. That was comprehensively disproved, under the threat of a libel action (https://bernardjporter.com/2018/02/20/a-traitor-in-our-midst/), and indeed appears ridiculous to most thinking people. (A Labour leader on the side of a corrupt capitalist?) But, as we know, mud sticks. That’s why the Right throw it. And it must worry those who are hoping that Corbyn’s more measured and reasonable approach to just about everything, including war scares, might eventually win through.
He was right to question (not deny) Putin’s responsibility for the Salisbury attack, incidentally, even if – as seems more likely than not – it turns out to be true.