It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, and I keep meaning to, but there’s been nothing much I’ve felt I could add to the various blogs and opinion pieces around. And, yes, this blog turned into a politics blog a few months ago, but it was always intended to be a hodgepotch of stuff. So, yeah, nothing’s been bothering me enough to write a blog post on.
Until now. Because Jeremy Corbyn is running for the Labour Leadership.
Corbyn, by his own admission, is from the left of the Labour party, and this alone has created a kind of “well, he should be elected because of that” attitude among many. I hope I’m not being unfair here; two of the other three candidates (Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall) are far to the right politically from Corbyn and the other – Andy Burnham – was so enmeshed in the 2010-2015 shadow cabinet that it’s understandably proving difficult for him to abandon so many of the not-very-left-wing policies the party offered at the general election.
Now, let’s put my cards on the table upfront. I think the only thing a Corbyn-led party would guarantee would be a Conservative win in 2020, with a much increased majority. Every political party, after all, is an internal coalition between those who favour a watered down version of the party’s core principles and those who hold steadfast to them no matter what. I think, being a bit simplistic for a moment, that every party can be said be said to have three ‘wings’: a not-very-core-vote wing, a somewhat moderate wing and a core-vote wing. I don’t think it’s possible to win an election without getting two of the three.
If we were applying this to the Conservative party, I’d say that Ken Clarke would fall somewhere in the ‘not very core-vote’ side of things, Dominic Grieve in the moderate wing, and George Osborne firmly in the core-vote section of the party.
But we’re talking about Labour and leaving Burnham aside for the moment, I think that using those categories, Liz Kendall is in the ‘not very core-vote’ side of things, Yvette Cooper in the moderate wing, and Jeremy Corbyn is firmly in the core-vote section of the party. Andy Burnham, using this categorisation, would be somewhere between Cooper and Corbyn, slightly closer to the latter.
And if you can only win by taking two of the three ‘wings’, then I can’t see any way that Corbyn’s Labour Party can win. He’ll get the core-vote, sure, but that’s the only ‘wing’ he’d get. And sure, there’s a portion (the size of that portion is disputed) of the Labour Party who only want Corbyn, but as someone else much wiser than I am recently said:
The Labour Party seems to have a problem: win with someone they don’t like, or lose with someone they do.
But you know what, I’ve some sympathy with one very Corbyn view of things: that the purpose of the Labour party isn’t to just roll over and accept the welfare… well, more accurately, not well, and not fair… policies of the Conservative Party. So, the Tory government was elected. Right. OK. That doesn’t mean that the electorate agreed wholeheartedly with the offering made by the Conservatives. It means that the offering from Labour didn’t convince the public, a very different thing indeed. The lesson from the election shouldn’t be “they preferred the Tory manifesto” but that Labour didn’t do enough to convince the public of their manifesto.
Using the analogy of a criminal trial for a moment: being found not guilty doesn’t mean the accused ‘didn’t do it’; it just means that the prosecution didn’t prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.
In the same way, it doesn’t mean Labour’s offering was wrong (although, my personal opinion is that much of it was); it means that Labour didn’t prove their case. Labour need people who can convince – with evidence, facts and debate – an electorate that firmly rejected them on 7th May.
(Oh, and since every post-election blog is apparently obliged to mention Scotland at some point, I’ve always liked the Scottish verdict of “Not Proven”, which a friend once suggested really means “you didn’t do it; now don’t do it again.”)
But back to the Labour Leadership contest. Maybe it’s because I’m a new member, but I’m beginning to feel something that I haven’t felt about my views for a very, very long time: that they were naïve. Not in joining the party, but what the leadership context itself would involve. I was one of those who wanted Corbyn in the leadership race because – perhaps naively – yes, I believed that all wings of the party should be represented, but more importantly I thought the leadership candidates would be obliged to defend their platforms, and justify their proposed direction for the party. And they haven’t, yet. From everything I’ve seen, the candidates have been reduced to spray painting soundbites and sloganising.
If Liz Kendall wants to drag the party into a ‘centre ground’ and win from there, I want to know how the hell she squares that with Scotland, where it can at least be argued that Labour lost because they were portrayed by the SNP as not left-wing enough. If Burnham thinks the Labour Party offering in 2015 was the best manifesto he’s ever stood on, I want to know why he thinks that, and how he reconciles that with wanting to change things. If Cooper is arguing that her experience counts, I need her to defend her actions while part of the Shadow Cabinet that lost the election so badly.
And Jeremy Corbyn? I want to hear him justify his positions. Well, no, I want to him hear justify one position in particular.
That is the prospective leader of the Labour Party referring to Hamas and Hezbollah as ‘friends’ and saying he’s ‘honoured’ to host the latter in Parliament. Now some people have assumed that because I’m angry at this, it means I don’t sympathise with the Palestinians, or that I think Israel is always right. For completeness, respectively, I do and I don’t. And I believe I’ve shown by my words on plenty of occasions the truth of both assertions.
So, that said, why do I have such a problem with Corbyn’s comments?
Well, the Hamas Charter calls for the deaths of ALL Jews. And, unlike the BBC with their recent documentary Children of Gaza, you can’t say that the references to Jews really means Israelis, as the word Zionists is also (in addition) used. Nope, the Charter – the governing document of Hamas – calls for the deaths of “Jews”. That’s ALL Jews. Everywhere.
Now it’s only fair to say that the leadership of Hamas have said the Charter no longer applies. But it is still the governing document of Hamas; they refuse to amend it, and have refused for nearly thirty years. Given the numerous examples of Hamas’s anti-semitism in statements and speeches, it’s not hard to believe, and I think it’s a fair inference, that they’re anti-Semitic in nature, rather than merely anti-Zionist.
So that’s Hamas. Now Hezbollah. The leader of Hezbollah has also called for the deaths of all Jews worldwide. Some time ago, fair enough, but he’s never gone back on it, and is never upbraded for it by those who support them.
Now remember, this isn’t Hezbollah or Hamas calling for the destruction of the Jewish State. That’s bad enough on its own. As a friend said, being anti-Israel’s policies doesn’t mean you’re anti-Israel more than being anti-GWB’s policies meant you were anti-American. But when people call for the destruction of the State of Israel, yeah, I smell ovens warming up. Being anti-Hamas or anti-Hezbollah doesn’t mean you support Israel. Hell, even supporting the continuance of the State of Israel as an entity doesn’t mean that you support the government of Israel. Nor does it mean supporting any individual law, any individual military action. Nor does it mean supporting the settlement movement. At the end of the day, saying you support the aims of Hamas and Hezbollah means you support someone who wants to kill me and my son. If on the other hand, you want to support them but you don’t like those parts of their policies, then don’t call them your ‘friends’, don’t say you’re ‘honoured’ to host them… but DO urge them to make it clear they don’t want to kill Jews. Because the thing is, you see, even if they change THAT bit, their primary motivation clearly isn’t the destruction of Israel per se. It’s to kill Jews.
Zionism is merely the wish for the Jewish people to have a home. That it’s been misused by many doesn’t change the definition. But sadly, some use “Zionist” as an excuse to cover up the fact that they just want to kill Jews. If Israel abandoned the settlements, it wouldn’t stop them. If Israel retreated to the 1967 borders, it wouldn’t stop them. If Israel returned to the 1948 borders, it wouldn’t stop them. They just want to kill Jews.
And, while I’m personally against the idea of ‘The Return’, i.e. everyone who left Israel in 1947-8 getting their land back, it’s not because I’m anti-Arab, I’m anti-double standards. What about the estimated 850k Jews expelled from Arab countries at the same time. Are they going to get their land back as well?
Some people have, understandably, enough offered defences for Corbyn’s words and actions. Let me deal with them quickly.
(1) “It’s hardly diplomatic to criticise those you want to change.” This is a fair point… if diplomacy is your aim. But it’s not; it can’t be. For to be diplomatic, one must be open to there being compromise from all sides, and it’s equally undiplomatic to only support one side in a conflict while only criticising the others. You can either only praise one side entirely uncritically in public and only every criticise the other in harsh language… or you can say you’re being diplomatic. Not both, not without justified accusations of hypocrisy.
(2) Same thing with the defence of “Well, he’s trying to make peace”. Again, You can either only praise one side entirely uncritically in public and only every criticise the other in harsh language… or you can say you’re being a peacemaker. Not both, not without even greater justified accusations of hypocrisy.
(3) “You have to work with people you abhor in politics”. Yes, you do, of course you do. But you don’t have to call them your ‘friends’ and say you’re ‘honoured’ to host them in Parliament.
(4) “Well, he’s just saying it; he doesn’t really mean it; they’re not really his friends”. Ah, so what you’re saying is that I can’t trust what Corbyn says? That he’s just another politician saying things for political effect and I can’t trust him? Hmm.
(5) “The same accusations were made about Corbyn’s preference for the IRA”. For a start, Corbyn never formally invited the IRA. He invited Sinn Fein. Secondly, this gets brought up quite a lot, an attempted and supposed similarity between the IRA and Hamas/Hezbollah. It’s a false analogy, simply because The IRA didn’t want to kill every Brit in the UK, let alone worldwide. They wanted the UK to leave what they considered none of the UK’s business, i.e. the island of Ireland. Hamas and Hezbollah want to destroy Israel, kill every Jew there and every Jew in the area, in the continent, every Jew worldwide. “Ah, but they could never do that…” Right, so if you received a death threat from someone overseas, that’s ok, is it? You’re quite ok with that? Well, you’re a better person than me then.
It’s notable that while some – few – people have defended Corbyn’s views (and some have admitted quite frankly that they support the deaths of Jews and certainly the destruction of Israel), Corbyn himself and his campaign team has been strangely quiet on the matter.
(EDIT TO ADD: since I wrote this post, Corbyn has attempted to explain his comments. Entirely unsuccessfully, in my opinion. But give the man credit. It’s not as if he lost his temper when being asked about it on Channel 4 news or anyth… Oh, wait.)
I know many people who support Corbyn’s bid for the leadership. They do so for the best of motives, I’ve no doubt. However, it seems to me that Corbyn’s ‘friends’ and ‘honoured’ comments are – must be – one of three things to such people:
(i) acceptable comments, i.e, you support them
(ii) unacceptable comments, i.e. you think they’re genuinely not acceptable
(iii) irrelevant and not of any meaning, i.e. you don’t care that he made the comments.
For those who think they’re acceptable, gee thanks, you’re agreeing that he should be honoured to host people who want to kill me and my child. Fuck off now, will you? Cheers.
If you don’t care that he made the comments, fair enough. Personally, I wouldn’t vote for someone (or want someone as my party’s leader) who calls people who want me and my child dead his honoured friends. But, hey, it takes a world and all that.
If you think they’re unacceptable, then please, please for the love of heaven, let me know why you’re considering voting for him. Because if his comments are genuinely unacceptable, then don’t accept them. Vote for someone else, anyone else. Anyone but Corbyn.
Because come the day voting opens, I certainly will be.