This piece is not part of some wider conspiracy to unfairly discredit Jeremy Corbyn – nor is it some macabre plot, instigated by demonic forces known more commonly as Blairites and the mainstream media, to oust him as leader of the Labour Party.
Jeremy Corbyn is not an anti-semite. He does, though, have a worldview that is, to say the least, problematic. This leads him to surround himself with people who hold questionable views, to keep company with unsavoury characters, and support causes that are worthy of no one’s support. The problem begins, rather than ends, with the row surrounding anti-semitism; it is part of a much wider problem with the way in which Jeremy Corbyn sees the world and understands its recent history, reminding us of the need to interrogate more throughly the views he holds.
The recent uproar over Corbyn’s support for a blatantly anti-semitic mural, which he defended on the basis of freedom of expression, is not a matter that has been blown out of proportion. The reaction has perhaps even been too soft, given the leader’s record of condemning anti-semitism and doing nothing about it.
The mural in question is not obscure or subtle in the message it seeks to convey. Rather, it is about as in-your-face insulting, degrading and anti-semitic as an image can be. Much like Corbyn, I happened to first see it on my phone, in my Facebook feed. It was clear then, within seconds, that the mural was blatantly, unabashedly anti-semitic. That the leader of the Labour Party could not see this is both deeply concerning and entirely unsurprising. If he could not see the image properly, as has been suggested, this begs the question as to why he felt the need to defend it.
Overlooking any inconsistencies – Corbyn is hardly the poster boy of free expression – this mural goes beyond the realm of what anyone, whether they be on the left or right of politics, can defend as being reasonable. It ventured deep into the boundaries of hateful expression. It played on a classic conspiracy favoured by the hard left, of a few wealthy Jewish figures controlling world affairs through their money, using anti-semitic tropes to hammer home the message, and depicting this oligarchy as crushing workers beneath them.
The problem begins, rather than ends, with the row surrounding anti-semitism; it is part of a much wider problem with the way in which Jeremy Corbyn sees the world.
I would, as others across the political spectrum have, suggest that Mr Corbyn would not have chosen to defend a similar image which attacked a different ethnic or religious group on the grounds of freedom of expression. As I write this, he has issued at least four statements, ranging from regret to an unsatisfactory “sorry”. They are all tautological, asserting nothing of any substance. That his first line of defence was that he saw the image on a small screen when he was ‘on the move’ is simply unacceptable, and betrays a figure reluctant to issue even the most basic apology. So much for a ‘kinder and gentler politics’.
Jenny Manson, a representative of Jewish Voice for Labour, took to the Daily Politics show to defend the Labour leader. Rather than admit Corbyn’s error or even seek to justify it, she spent her time on air insisting that the problem was with the far right, refusing to enter into a discussion about Labour’s own issues with anti-semitism. There is undoubtedly anti-semitism on both sides of the political spectrum, but it is not institutionalised to the same extent in other parties as it is among some groups within the Labour movement. It exists within the outermost fringes of the right, not within the main party of the right, as is the case on the left.
The Shadow Chancellor has now asserted that Christine Shawcroft, who defended a council candidate after they called the Holocaust a hoax, should not be removed from the NEC. While the Labour brass defend such people, they quietly undermine those standing in solidarity with recent protests by the Jewish community. While Corbyn dithers, pro-Corbyn trolls have called for MP David Lammy’s head after he attended the Enough is Enough protests. A post under the name Emmet Harverty-Stacke said: “I want a candidate in the next election who wants Labour to win, not one who joins the extreme right-wing attacks on the Labour movement… He can be triggered in December if we haven’t had an election by then”.
The rose-tinted nostalgia with which he views communism, the history of the USSR and Russia generally betrays a skewed world view that should be a source of anxiety.
Lord Levy, a Jewish peer, received an email calling him a ‘bloodsucking pig’, and asserted he has no right to question Jeremy Corbyn on the matter of anti-semitism within the party. When he appeared on Newsnight, it had been 24 hours since he had alerted the police and Labour leadership to this, and yet the Labour Party made no contact with him to reassure that he is welcome within the party regardless of such a horrifying email. Corbyn can condemn anti-semitism as much as he likes, but without meaningful action, his vacillations allow a small minority to continue such abuses unrestrained.
All the more concerning is Corbyn’s recent history of support for anti-semitic figures. He took tea on the parliamentary terrace with Raed Salah, whom he described as “a very honoured citizen”. Salah has been found guilty by a British court judge to have used the blood libel, a medieval anti-semitic canard that Jews use Christian blood for ritual purposes. Corbyn himself may not be an anti-semite, but too often we find him on the side of those who are.
Corbyn’s other opinions also raise serious questions. The rose-tinted nostalgia with which he views communism, the history of the USSR and Russia generally betrays a skewed world view that should be a source of anxiety. His difficulty in blaming the Russian state for the use of a military-grade nerve agent in Salisbury, and that his Executive Director of Strategy and Communications, Seumas Milne, suggested the nature of the evidence was akin to the flawed evidence about WMDs in Iraq, betrays a reluctance to side with former opponents of the Soviet Union and now the Russian Federation.
Besides John McDonnell, Milne is Corbyn’s closest confidant. He has been chosen by Corbyn as the man best fit to communicate his views to the media and spin them persuasively. Milne’s past suggestions that the USSR – “for all its brutalities and failures” – Improved people’s lives and “provided a powerful counterweight to Western global domination” is one of many deeply questionable views Corbyn has either overlooked or, more troublingly, reflected in his own opinions. In one fell swoop, almost a century of oppressive tyranny and innumerate killings of Russian people was lightly skipped over. For them, Russia is not the enemy; it is capitalist, imperialist America and the West.
The allegations surrounding Corbyn meeting with and exchanging “intelligence” with communist agents are of little relevance. They don’t make him a traitor, nor do they make him the sandal-sock chic, corny version of James Bond. But that he decided to meet with such people again suggests a worldview that deserves greater scrutiny. It should be of great concern, then, that his core supporters try to create a protective shield from probing questions. Examination of the Salisbury attack on Newsnight recently, and Corbyn’s response to it, were simply shouted down. His cap was made to look “more Russian”, they claimed, a right-wing ploy to undermine the Dear Leader and unfairly tarnish his image.
The way in which he has refused to tame the anti-semitism within his own party is a bad omen should he enter government.
His view of the USSR and its ideology against the capitalist and imperial order feeds into the kind of imagery the mural in question presents, showing why these opinions expressed by Corbyn and his top team remain pertinent. Their views are no secret; they have not been unearthed by some maverick agent, nor are they the product of Tory attack lines. Corbyn and those around him have been openly expressing them for years. At the 2017 general election, few people – wrongly – took Corbyn seriously and, as a result, did not query his many questionable opinions on the world and Britain’s place in it.
Why does this matter? How a leader perceives the world not only impacts their policies, it affects how the nation they lead interacts with other countries, defining the government’s foreign policy and direction. As Britain prepares to leave the EU, it is crucial for it to maintain its key strategic alliances with America, NATO and the EU.
The way Jeremy Corbyn views the world would have a deep and fundamental impact on British foreign and, indeed, domestic policy. The way in which he has refused to tame the anti-semitism within his own party is a bad omen should he enter government. The inability to suppress and disown fully this kind of vitriol suggests he does not have the capacity to rein in the excesses of the hard left within his party, who would see Britain take a very different path to the one it is on now. That he prefers membership of groups peddling conspiracies about the Jewish people to tackling disgusting incidents of anti-semitism shows just why we should be concerned about the ramifications of a Corbyn government for Britain’s place in the world.