Tribune leader, 21 August 1992
Labour’s silence on the crisis in Bosnia – or, rather, its barely audible mumbling about sanctions and humanitarian aid – is, of course, explicable. It is, after all, a terribly complex crisis and, from April until July, Labour was stuck with a shadow Foreign Secretary whose main concern was his impending retirement to the back benches.
Gerald Kaufman’s replacement, Jack Cunningham, unfortunately knows nothing whatever about foreign affairs and thus has to be kept in purdah. Worse still, the second-in-command at foreign affairs, George Robertson, is almost as clueless. He has spent most of the past decade dealing with the minutiae of EC affairs and has shunned non-Foreign Office advice on the break-up of Yugoslavia. To cap it all, the party has not replaced its senior international officer, Mike Gapes, who became an MP in April.
Is this any way to run a political party that hopes to be taken seriously, let alone one with ambitions for government office within five years? What has happened in Bosnia in the past five months is not a “civil war” requiring from Britain 1,800 “peace-keeping troops” to escort food convoys: it is the most outrageous case of naked aggression in Europe since the second world war.
The complicity of the governments of western Europe in the Serbian land-grab, codified in the EC’s cantonisation plan for Bosnia of March 18, ranks with the 1938 Munich agreement as an example of cowering before militarist expansionism.
The Foreign Office, moreover, has been in the vanguard of this disastrous diplomacy. Even if it were too late to intervene militarily to repel the bloody advance the Serbian irregulars (and it is not, despite the cosy consensus among much of the “quality” press that Bosnia should be written off) Labour should surely be attacking the government for its incompetence, prevarication and turpitude.
Instead, the party’s spokesmen, supposedly on a “summer offensive” against the Tories, have gone out of their way to avoid offending the government. Since he took over from the ineffectual Mr; Kaufman, Mr Cunningham has bravely avoided public appearances. Meanwhile, Mr Robertson has. uttered, not a word of criticism of the EC or the Foreign Office, opening his mouth only to express his . sense of helplessness and, unforgivably, to back the government’s rejection of the use of armed force except in a “peacekeeping” role – a position that guarantees Serbian hegemony in Bosnia.
It now seems that Labour is prepared even to endorse the government’s view that a show of air-power above Iraq to aid President George- Bush’s flailing re-election campaign is a greater priority for the international community than dealing with Bosnia (or indeed the Somali famine and civil war).
By any standards, this is a shabby performance, particularly on the part of Mr Cunningham: Mr Robertson can at least plead that he has only been following orders. Mr Cunningham should never have been appointed: unless he bucks up his ideas in the next month, he will deserve to lose his job.