The reaction to recent statements made in the media by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has sunk to a new low. If you ever doubt a consensus exists between the two main parties and most of our media (print and TV), just observe the aftermath of any great tragedy. All actors in the Westminster farce come together around a single idea or set of ideas, beyond which no one is permitted to stray. Should they dare to do so, they face being roundly denounced. The person to do that has rarely been the leader of the opposition (at least in my life time), and so the reaction to Jeremy Corbyn’s straying from the agreed lines is particularly vitriolic – not least from within his own party.
A little background first for those who may not have been following developments in Westminster this week. Following the terrible attacks in Paris on Friday, several in Westminster saw it as a chance to hasten through move to increase the powers of the security services and realise their long-held desire to bomb Syria. At times like these, the official opposition is expected to fall into line and pledge full support for whatever the government want to do. Earlier in the week, the so-called ‘Jihadi John’ had (probably) been killed by a US drone strike. This news was greeted with jubilation by the British Government, a sentiment that was supposed to be shared by the Labour Party.
Cameron’s government has faithfully played its part in events, but the fly in the ointment has been Jeremy Corbyn’s response. This is simply unforgivable in the eyes of many. So what crimes has Corbyn committed in the last 7 days?
First off he dared to question whether the drone strike that reportedly killed Mohammed Emwazi were an altogether good thing. His comments saying it would have been better if he could have been put on trial, rather than being treated as a perfectly reasonable – if rather obvious – statement were met with ridicule.
Next up, following the Paris attacks, Corbyn re-iterated his doubts that joining the French in bombing Syria was the right way for the UK to act. Many Labour MPs seem to really want the chance to vote to bomb Syria, and are hopping mad they may not immediately get the chance to do so.
The final straw seems to have been Corbyn responding in the negative when asked if he supported a policy of ‘shoot to kill’. Corbyn’s position on this is rather nuanced. He wants police and security services to try to stop those engaging in armed attacks with non-lethal force if at all possible, but to retain the option to use lethal force if there is no other option. This is pretty much what happens now, so his response was actually pretty reasonable. This really caused Labour MPs to lose the plot though, and the print media have had a field day. Ben Bradshaw Tweeted:
Happy to tell you Ben that it is not true (although you already knew that and just want everyone to think that’s what he said).
Corbyn also had the audacity to suggest that British (and the West’s more generally) foreign policy towards the Middle East might not on the whole have made us any safer and may in fact have made things worse. To most people this should be a statement of the bleeding obvious. Not to Labour MP Ian Austin though it seems. He used the occasion of David Cameron’s statement to Parliament today to ask this question:
I agree with everything the prime minister said about Syria and about terrorism. But does he agree with me that those that say that Paris is reaping the whirwind of Western policy or who want to say that Britain’s foreign policy has increased not diminished the threats to our own nation security are not just absolving the terrorists of responsibility, but risk fuelling the sense of grievance and resentment which can develop into extremism and terrorism.
So apparently, in the post-Paris world, anyone who dares to suggest Britain’s foreign policy makes us less safe is “absolving the terrorists”. If this is not the madness of groupthink, I don’t know what is. Austin wasn’t the only one either, Labour MPs seemed to be queuing up to praise the Prime Minister and distance themselves for their own party leader.
Corbyn’s style does often work against him and makes him easy to misrepresent however. If you watch Cameron in interviews, it’s obvious he has prepped for hours, run through all the possible questions he could be asked, rehearsed his answers and had someone write him some soundbites to unveil at an opportune moment, knowing these are what journalists will pick up on. He is incredibly good at it. Many politicians are.
Corbyn though does not appear to do this. He doesn’t have a lot of time for the media and seems to give answers off the cuff and without having anticipated the questions in advance. This has the advantage of being authentic and at times interesting, but it also means if he says something out of the ordinary (judged by the turgid standards of Westminster) – which is frequently – he doesn’t explain his position comprehensively, so people unexposed to that opinion, or those with an interest in misrepresentation, can find their own meaning in Corbyn’s remarks. He needs to understand that this will happen and find his own way to set out his position in a way that leaves no room for doubt or misrepresentation.
Nuance and shades of grey are not welcome in Westminster. We are now at a stage where someone can write this with a straight face. This is the sort of reporting we used to laugh at if it came from Fox News in the States, thankful that that sort of bullshit wasn’t tolerated here. Not any more it seems.
Many people in the public at large fall into the “string em up, hang em high” way of thinking. Politicians know this and at times like this queue up to look tough, and simply appear to be doing something, anything. I find it hard to believe that they all believe in private the things they say in public. The opinions of the likes of Corbyn are always unwelcome in situations like this, but to seek to marginalise those views seems to me rather dangerous, and smacks of repeating the same mistakes we have made in the very recent past.