Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Jeremy Corbyn and the Provisional IRA

The Conservatives clearly believed that Jeremy Corbyn’s history of links with Irish Republican terrorists was their trump card against him.

For that reason they held off playing it before the general election and even before the final two weeks of the campaign.

It has not turned out quite like that, but that has far more to with the passage of time than it has to do with the virtues of Jeremy Corbyn’s reaction to the revelation of those links.

The point that commentators have missed is that such views were wholly commonplace, in fact almost obligatory, on the Trotskyite left and the hard Bennite left of Labour in the days when Jeremy Corbyn was making his name there.

At every Student Union meeting I attended at York there seemed to be a motion from those sources on Northern Ireland. It began by expressing concern about the judicial system and civil liberties in Northern Ireland – concerns good Liberals shared – and ended by calling for victory for the armed struggle.

You can see an authentic relic of those years in the Diane Abbott quotation that has been circulating recently:
"Ireland is our struggle. Every defeat of the British state is a victory for all of us. A defeat in Northern Ireland would be a defeat indeed."
Note that Northern Ireland was seen as only part of a wider struggle against the existing, capitalist order.

You can find plenty more such quotes from John McDonnell in another post on this blog, where I wrote:
Maybe the IRA bombing campaign on the mainland is too long ago to move voters. But I was working in London at the time shoppers and workers were being killed by it. 
The very least I expect from the party of the workers is that it condemns those who murder them. That was too much to ask of Mr McDonnell.
It was a long time ago and the Provisional IRA bombing campaign is history to younger voters. As Patrick Maguire says in the New Statesman:
For better or worse, the [Martin] McGuinness most people have seen the most of is the man who chuckled with Ian Paisley, governed Northern Ireland alongside his mortal enemies, shook hands with the Queen and was eulogised by Bill Clinton. 
The lay public’s memories of the Troubles have now softened to such an extent that he is now portrayed as a likeable, wisecracking wag in a Hollywood film about his relationship with Paisley. The same could well be said, to a lesser extent, of Adams's idiosyncratic tweets.
And to keep with the showbiz clichés, at least McGuinness had been on a journey. They had taken some personal risks to move the political process on and, you hope, learnt some wisdom.

You get no such feeling with Corbyn. Whenever I discuss his politics, I think of the comment by Peter Harrison:
"I knew him when we were 18 or 19, and his views have not changed. We are talking about the thick end of 50 years ago."
He has not been on any journey at all. Even Diane Abbott, in her clumsy way, admitted she had changed her views on Ireland.

Not only was Corbyn’s tolerance of Irish Republican terrorism obligatory in making his way on the far left when he was a young man, I suspect there was an element of electoral calculation about it too,

When he first stood in Islington, the arrival of the SDP was a serious challenge to Labour’s hegemony there. Being seen with Republican hardliners may have helped shore up his support among a section of Irish voters.

What that dalliance was not was a sort of peace process ahead of its time, as Corbyn now claims. The idea, as he suggested last night, that the commemoration for Provisional IRA fighters killed during an attempted terror attack in Loughgall he attended in 1987 was in reality staged to honour everyone who died in Northern Ireland during the conflict, is not believable.

Nor do his supporters attempts to equate Corbyn's grandstanding during the Provisional IRA bombing campaign with ministerial meetings after the peace agreement convince.

Let’s leave the last word to John McDonnell:
"An assembly is not what people have laid down their lives for over thirty years…the settlement must be for a united Ireland."

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