I’m going to go on record – I really like Jeremy Corbyn. He is not some archaic throwback to 1970s Labour politics but a politician who, on a wide number of issues, has proven himself several decades ahead of the curve. He is reconnecting with long lost Labour core voters as well as reaching swathes of young people who have grown tired of bland, centrist politicians who stand for next to nothing. He has achieved this without spin and slickness but rather by speaking his mind based on a set of political principles that he has communicated clearly and held consistently.
Jeremy Corbyn really is my sort of candidate. When I see how in tune he is with public opinion, I am not particularly surprised. He is pro-nationalisation of public services, he is in favour of high tax on the wealthy and considers this a good way to bring down the deficit, he is for rent controls and overhauling the private rental sector, he sees little value in upgrading trident, he backs the living wage, he is against tuition fees and has generally been on the right side of every suggested military intervention over the last few decades. On all these issues, I am in agreement with him. I really do share many of his core convictions and I think his explanation re common misconceptions surrounding his candidacy are spot on.
But there is one area on which I simply cannot agree and which sticks in my craw. There may be more than one such issue but, if there are, his opinions on them are not being widely reported. Nonetheless, there is one particular issue that stands out as something of a blind spot. In fact, I would go as far as to say it is an inconsistency from a man who has been, in almost every other respect, unimpeachably consistent on his guiding political principles. That issue is his unwavering support for the IRA and his staunch refusal to condemn their actions. There are several reasons why I find this a problem.
First, as a man wedded to the concept of direct democracy, it is apparent he does not apply this principle to the Northern Irish context. It has always been my basic position that so long as the majority wish to remain in the Union, the status quo ought to be maintained. The point at which a 60-70% majority wish to unify with the Republic of Ireland, the province ought to change hands (1). At present, the majority (by a c.10% margin) wish to remain within the Union so thus it ought to be. To continue to publicly support the Republican movement in the region, regardless of the democratic will of the people, is to fly in the face democracy itself. The majority in Northern Ireland do not wish to be united to Ireland and, lest we try to co-opt the Republic of Ireland into the voting majority (and as separate state we shouldn’t), the majority in the ROI do not particularly want to be unified with the North either. It is a limited number, a minority within the region of Ulster, who are pressing for Irish unification. To support and press their aims is to ride roughshod over democracy itself. This is a patent inconsistency from a man who so supports the will of the people that he wants to reinstate direct election of the entire Labour cabinet by a vote of the party membership.
Second, as a man committed to CND and (rightly) outraged by various recent military interventions in foreign countries, it seems incredible that he cannot bring himself to condemn the more obviously illegal IRA bombing and murder campaigns that took place on home soil. He would be critical of British Army behaviour during The Troubles, he would see issues with Protestant Loyalist groups such as the UVF and UDA, so why can he not accept the same issues regarding the IRA? Most agree that the British Army did not always act reasonably and responsibly in Northern Ireland. All will agree Loyalist paramilitary men were guilty of heinous acts of murder. But neither of these things justify the murderous IRA campaign. In fact, the Loyalist paramilitaries only formed in response to increased IRA action and the British Army were initially sent to the province to protect the Catholic community from the resultant increase in Loyalist paramilitary action. None of this justifies the behaviour of the British Army nor any Loyalist group (the former often acted questionably and the latter should certainly be condemned by all). Nonetheless, to justify one whilst condemning the others seems to be a clear case of justifying the means because you support the ends. Worse still, it actually undercuts Corbyn’s (largely correct) opposition to military interventions in Iraq and Syria. Most people agree with the intended ends of military intervention but found the means both morally questionable and practically ineffective. However, any moral outrage Corbyn may have regarding military intervention cannot be justifiably maintained whilst he refuses to condemn the means undertaken by the IRA in pursuit of their own agenda.
Third, Corbyn has always maintained that talking to terrorists was an essential part of any peace process. On this we can agree. Without speaking to the parties involved in conflict, one can never expect to reach any sort of solution. In the Northern Irish context, this approach formed the basis of the now (largely) successful peace process and power-sharing agreement.
Nevertheless, it is entirely possible to argue that talking to terrorist organisations is a necessary component of any successful peace process whilst simultaneously condemning their activities. Presumably Corbyn would have seen the importance of including the UVF and UDA in such talks despite clearly disagreeing with their agenda and tactics. It is simply reprehensible to allow certain atrocities to pass simply because we are sympathetic to the aims of those who commit them. The right-wing very often do it with military interventions and dealing with certain dictators whilst the left will often turn a blind eye to those advancing some revolutionary cause or in dealing with other despots closer to their position. It is simply intellectually dishonest to decry violence and murder, and especially to claim pacifism as a cause, and yet make allowances for the acts of murder committed in the name of a cause we rather admire. Either it is morally abhorrent to engage in bombing campaigns, murder and “disappear” your victims or it is not. If it is, we cannot simply tolerate those things because they are done in the name of a cause we rather like. To do so is to disrespect the victims and their families in the most egregious way. It is hard to view Corbyn’s refusal to denounce the IRA’s activities in any other way.
To hear Jeremy Corbyn refuse, five times no less, to condemn the actions of the IRA is a blot on his campaign and a stain on his character. To refuse to acknowledge their behaviour as repugnant – no matter how much he may sympathise with their aims – is nothing short of disrespectful to all IRA victims and their families. It is the sort of refusal that would (rightly) not be OK if it were directed at victims of Islamic State, those who suffered at the hands of the Nazis in Germany nor even the victims of the Loyalists fighting on the other side of the divide within the same conflict. If it is not OK in all these other cases, we surely can’t be OK with this being an exception.
Let me say it again, I really like Jeremy Corbyn. I support vast swathes of his policy. But if I could change one thing about his campaign, if I could get him to apologise for just one thing, I would almost certainly make it this.
- This is my basic position on all issues of national self-determination and it applies to Scotland, Wales and any other province that wishes to gain independence or join with another state.