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Why Jeremy Corbyn is a serious contender to lead Labour

Jeremy Corbyn's entry into the race to become the next leader of Britain's Labour Party was, initially, dismissed as a publicity stunt. With just over one month left before the poll takes place, he has emerged as the front runner and a serious contender for the job. In an attempt to stop the MP for Islington North, his Conservative detractors and sections of the media have thrown everything at him. Their latest scare tactic is to try to embarrass him over his position on Hamas.

A few days ago the Channel 4 TV news presenter Krishnan Guru Murthy tried to put Corbyn on the spot by asking him why he called the Palestinian resistance movement his "friends". Despite determined efforts by the veteran politician to explain the context of a previous statement about Hamas from which Murthy's selective quote had been taken, the interviewer interrupted him repeatedly in a manner that Corbyn could only describe as "tabloid journalism".

Like him or loathe him, the veteran MP has distinguished himself for his consistency on the situation in Palestine. Throughout his dealings on the issue he has been firm in his conviction that if Britain really wants to support peace in the troubled land it should speak to all parties, including the resistance movements. This has been informed by an acceptance of the fact that peace is always made with enemies, not with friends.

Corbyn's position contrasts markedly with that of the former Labour leader and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. During his first term in Downing Street he succeeded in brokering the Good Friday Agreement which ended the troubles in Northern Ireland. Buoyed by that success, for a while he entertained the view that a similar approach could be used in Palestine. However, once he decided to stand "shoulder to shoulder" with George W Bush in his global "crusade" against terrorism, Blair abandoned his plan.

Alastair Crooke, the former MI6 officer and European Union Middle East advisor to Javier Solana, High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union, recalls the dramatic shift in policy well. "It was in 2003 that I realised something fundamental had changed," he wrote. At a meeting in Downing Street with the prime minister's foreign affairs adviser, David Manning, Crooke described how Jack Straw interrupted them to explain how he had persuaded Joschka Fischer, the German foreign minister, to add Hamas to the EU list of terrorist movements. Straw's elation was palpable.

Successive British governments have remained resolutely committed to the ban (although the political wing of Hamas has never actually been banned in Britain), which was dismissed recently as procedurally unsound by the European Court; Tony Blair, though, had expressed different views. After Hamas's victory in the 2006 Palestinian elections and successful handling of a western-backed coup attempt in 2007, Blair realised that it was time to change.

On 9 January, 2009 he told the Times, "I do think it is important that we find a way of bringing Hamas into this process, but it can only be done if Hamas are prepared to do it on the right terms."

Even now, it is not clear whether Blair was sincere in his view. Alvaro de Soto, the retired UN coordinator for the Middle East, wrote a memo to the international organisation's secretary-general suggesting that the conditions for entering into a dialogue with Hamas had been set, deliberately, so that Hamas would be unable to meet them, thus engineering the movement's exclusion.

Whatever his motive, it is now an open secret that Blair is today talking to Hamas. Indeed, there are unconfirmed reports that he has even proposed that Khaled Meshaal, the head of the Hamas political bureau, should visit London. If true, it is inconceivable that such an overture could have been made without consulting Prime Minister David Cameron.

Whether such a proposal has been put forward in order to secure a long-term truce between Hamas and Israel, or help to broker the repatriation of the captured Israeli soldiers being held in Gaza, the fact is that Blair's current undertakings reflect yet another flip flop in his tortured approach to the movement.

The same cannot be said about the aspiring Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. He is no political chameleon. What you see is what you get. He is by all accounts one of the last of a dying breed of socialists in the Labour Party. By choosing to be unswerving in his adherence to political principles rather than opportunism, he has never made it into a ministerial role, despite being a member of parliament for over thirty years. As Labour now stands on the brink of the political wilderness in opposition, this may well be his time. Cometh the moment, cometh the man.

Whatever the press may do to deter, distort and discredit Corbyn brings to mind the fate of the former leader of the Liberal Democrats who led his party into oblivion because he sacrificed principles and broke electoral promises. Throughout Corbyn's career, consistency has been his greatest asset; he and those who run his campaign must now use that for all its worth in an age of two-dimensional politicians who put power over principles. His position on Palestine has stood the test of time and may even, if Tony Blair's moves bear fruit, demonstrate that he was correct all along. That alone should convince Labour Party members and supporters that if they want a leader who stands for what is right, come what may, then Jeremy Corbyn is their man.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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