We've had two solid threads on the rights and wrongs of the nerve-gas business; and the actions and reactions; the knowns and unknowns, etc etc. Our old friend Raedwald stirred up an even longer one last week (- and it seems to have changed his mind on the matter). My interest here lies in how May and Corbyn have reacted to it all, in base political terms. I'll start by chipping in with three related points on the path to this realpolitik.
1. Nations do indeed behave in extreme and spiteful ways, displaying crass bad judgement and, often, to the detriment of their own interests. Let us merely recall the sordid epsiode of the Rainbow Warrior, perpetrated by none other than our good democratic neighbours the French. This cuts both ways. It means that to claim Putin would never have done anything like that is daft; but at the same time, you can take it as the basis of any false-flag hypothesis you wish to dream up.
2. As Misha Glenny said in an interview before the recent screening of McMafia, when you meet an educated Russian in a suit, he might be: a businessman; an FSB agent; or a gangster - or all three. For many purposes, "the Russians" is a term lacking today in precise definition, but nonetheless means something for the purposes of geopolitics. It is clear Putin's government is thus able (at a superficial level of plausibility), and willing, to disavow literally anything - including a corps-scale attack on a neighbouring country. In such circumstances, taking measures such as May has done against "the Russians" seems rather more appropriate than is being asserted in some pedantic quarters.
3. On the subject of legalistic pedantry, it's always easy to find fault with any type of reaction or retaliation if one adopts the standards of a court of law and requires the matter to be beyond all reasonable doubt. This, I fear, is the tone of a good many comments, here and at Raedwald's and elsewhere. OK, we've all read David Hume; we can all summon up a 'doubt', or hatch an alternative explanation for anything (see 1. above) if we put ourselves to the challenge. But it's not a court of law, it's the court of public opinion. And given the present situation in Russia (see 2. above), to indulge in lawyer-like hair-splitting on judgements about Russian actions is to misapply a concept - a waste of breath.
Mrs May's Response
We all know what she's done; and given her utterly dismal showing against Hollande over the Hinkley contract when she first came into office, I suggest it's been a whole lot better than one might have feared - not only in its speed and tone of delivery, but in the way she has enlisted Macron, Merkel and Trump.
Note, in passing, the Macron / Merkel aspect to this. They are keen (very keen - trust me on this one) that future security cooperation with the UK isn't to become some sort of Brexit issue. So it behoves them to stand up and be counted, right now. As they have done. And - be it further noted - both France and Germany have been known to shuffle to the back of the room on security matters in the past. Credit where it's due: to them, and to May - for once.
(And for what it's worth, the public seems to agree in the ratio 5:1. How this translates into votes is anyone's guess. An Iron Lady moment? Let's not get ahead of ourselves.)
Mr *spits* Corbyn's Response
Sorry about that, I was just clearing my throat. Well yes, we all know his instincts. UK Bad, Everybody Else Good. Corbyn Always Right. Corbyn Never Backs Away. So off he goes, to be disowned immediately and publicly by his parliamentary colleagues in large numbers. As I've read it described, this actually discomfited him acutely and visibly. But still, no backing down, no disowning the reptilian Milne.
So (presumably with a weary sigh) his office is obliged to make the best of it. More; they are required to give him a line that can be written down in black and white, released to the outside (and rather hostile) world. More still; it must come across as Jeremy Undaunted, Corbyn Courageous. Never backing down; always right.
Well, they followed their brief. The neat line in truculent sophistry they came up with is this: I vehemently and resolutely insist that either Russia did this dastardly deed, OR some of those nasty chemicals (that seemed once to be in their possession, can't think how that happened) did it without their knowledge. And this stern and unequivocal accusation by me must be followed up with resolute and proportionate action. See how firm and fair I am. Did I mention how firm I am? And unbending. And always right. You can tell, can't you, from my righteous demeanour.
The trick is transparent (and, by the way, demonstrates he is in fact afraid of being labelled a Putin apologist: because this isn't even remotely an unequivocal statement - either of what he really believes, or 'what he ought to say'. He actually wants to be able both to pretend still to be an upright Englishman, and to be thought not to have changed his mind or agreed with the warmonger May.)
But presumably it passes the immediate test of: does it allow Jeremy to blow hard and fearlessly in public? In the sure knowledge that a veritable army of sock-puppets is just waiting in the wings to love him for it (whatever they think 'it' is), and swamp CiF with upvotes. And everyone can point to the thousands of swooning acolytes gathering on the densely-laid astroturf and say to themselves: see, it does actually work, seeming to be sticking to your guns like that. Brazening it out. They love him for it! Some people actually think it's clever strategy! There you go, Jezza-boy: you can carry on with the foreign-policy posturing.
We may allow them their heady moment of relief. On the quiet, earlier in the week there had been a string of red-on-red incidents, most notably the General Secretary row but also others documented by Guido: Jezza vs Abrahams; 'Corbyn & McDonnell Spilt Three Times in One Week'; 'McDonnell Orders Labour MPs to Stop Going on RT'; 'Corbyn Slaps Down McDonnell Over Anti-Semitic FB Group' ...
Yes, we must allow for Guido being in Murdoch's pay these days; but those tensions are there to be watched as they simmer. (At
the weekend, McDonnell made sure his way of mouthing the
carefully-crafted Party Line came across as outright condemnation of
Russia.) Yes, there is a hard core of Jeremy-lovers for whom, quite literally, he can do no wrong. Yes, it's hard for observers on the other side of the political spectrum to fathom what goes on in these people's heads, and easy to underestimate their numbers and their enthusiasms.
But a couple of hard facts stand out. McDonnell is no idle 'politics-of-protest' dilletante; and four years is a very long time.