Skip to main content


Why Labour always struggles with foreign policy

Blair with Benjamin Netanyahu in 2011. Moshe Milner/GPO/Getty

Keir Starmer, like Israel, must “brace for a long war he might not be able to win”, says Tom McTague in UnHerd. More than 60 Labour MPs have called for a ceasefire in Gaza, in direct opposition to their leader, as well as 250 councillors, two Labour mayors and the leader of the party in Scotland. Starmer’s dilemma – whether to maintain his principled stance against Hamas or cave in to the “childish analysis” that “Israel is the baddy and Palestine the goody” – goes to the very heart of Labour’s understanding of itself. “This party is a moral crusade,” said Harold Wilson, “or it is nothing.”

Labour’s self-image as the “conscientious party of British politics” always causes difficulties in foreign policy. While the “ordered life of the nation state” is the natural home of the progressive, the disordered world of international relations lends itself to the “tragic mind of the conservative”. Tony Blair found this out in 2006, during Israel’s war with Hezbollah. Just as today, Hezbollah knew it could provoke Israel into violent retaliation. And then, as now, progressive sympathy for Israel quickly disappeared. Blair later wrote that he had come to view the situation entirely differently from most in his party, seeing Israel as the embattled vanguard in a global struggle between “religious extremism in Islam and the rest of us”. But the consensus among Western progressives was so powerful that he sometimes wondered why he didn’t just “cave in and condemn Israel”. Instead, he ignored the “fierce political criticism” and stuck to his guns. Starmer should take note.