Opinion / Chris Peterson

President Xi to meet David Cameron and 'Comrade' Jeremy Corbyn

By Chris Peterson (China Daily Europe) Updated: 2015-09-16 19:19

A few weeks ago, I wrote that in the wake of the unexpected Labour Party collapse in May's UK general election, and the Conservative Party's victory, China's President Xi Jinping would be faced with a vastly changed political landscape during his state visit to Britain in late October.

But I could never, in my wildest dreams – or nightmares – have envisioned the dramatically-changed scenario that will greet him and his wife when they arrive.

True, David Cameron is firmly ensconced, along with Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, and the atmosphere will be warm, inviting, and friendly, aided by the prospect of trade deals, including a much-anticipated agreement on Chinese involvement in Britain's nuclear power program.

True, Queen Elizabeth, at 89 now officially the country's longest-serving monarch, will be ready to greet her guests at Buckingham Palace in the heart of London, and there will be the usual parade of pageantry and pomp.

But behind the welcoming smiles of both politicians and royalty will be a genuine sense of bewilderment at the latest political shenanigans in the Labour Party, with its official title of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition.

Bewildering because Labour, reeling from the shock of defeat and the abrupt resignation of leader Ed Miliband, elected a 200-1 outsider from the back benches of Parliament, a man who has never held any position of authority, espouses views from the hard left of British politics, and, to quote one popular newspaper, is a vegetarian, bicycle-riding, non-smoking, thrice-married political theorist who once said the killing of Osama Bin Laden was a tragedy.

Yes, enter stage left Jeremy Corbyn, who has spent virtually all his political life railing against the establishment, voting in defiance of his own party and calling for a republic to replace the Monarchy. To be fair, he's recently said the calling for the abolition of the Monarchy is a fight he doesn't want to take on right now, but he has suggested the Queen might move to a smaller, more modest residence.

As Leader of the Opposition, he has indicated he will join the royal advisory body the Privy Council, as is customary, although to do so will require him to kneel in front of the Queen, swear allegiance, and kiss her hand. I'd love to be a fly on that wall.

If today's media headlines are to be believed, he's already made three key concessions to his new role – he has given up his bicycle in favour of a chauffeur-drive armoured Jaguar, has agreed to wear a red poppy at Armistice Day celebrations (he is a self-avowed pacifist opposed to both NATO membership and the nuclear weapons program), and vital to the largely pro-establishment press here, actually wore a suit and tie for his House of Commons debut as leader of the opposition.

Don't forget, this is the main who celebrated his victory on Saturday night by leading a rousing chorus of the 'Internationale' in a pub near Parliament.

How long he will last is anybody's guess – his new deputy, Tom Watson, has already said he is in favour of continuing with both Britain's nuclear deterrent and membership of NATO, which is at odds with Corbyn's long-standing beliefs.

In the past he's expressed support for the Republican movement in Northern Ireland, whose IRA wing fought a bloody campaign against British rule for decades, which only ended with a peace deal brokered by US President Bill Clinton, in which republicans and loyalists who want Northern Ireland to remain under British rule share power.

The reason that's so important is that the 12 loyalist parliamentarians sitting in the House of Commons in London will now almost certainly vote with Cameron's Conservatives, effectively doubling the government's majority to 24. That would have a damaging effect on any Labour efforts to delay or derail government plans.

So it's not a straightforward situation – my sympathies lie with the Chinese government officials whose task it will be to brief President Xi ahead of his visit.

Best of luck on that one.

Chris Peterson is the Managing Editor for China Daily Europe.

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