British voters already pulled the lever for Brexit. Will they elect a terrorist-loving, Jew-baiting, NATO-hater as prime minister next?
- By James KirchickJames Kirchick is author of The End of Europe: Dictators, Demagogues, and the Coming Dark Age, published by Yale University Press.
Over a near 35-year career in the British House of Commons, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has never come across an anti-Western terrorist, political movement, or dictator he couldn’t defend.
In 1984, weeks after an Irish Republican Army (IRA) bomb nearly killed Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at the Conservative Party conference in Brighton, Corbyn invited the leader of the IRA’s political wing, Gerry Adams, to Parliament for a chummy reception. Throughout the 1980s, Corbyn sat on the editorial board of a hard-left magazine that praised IRA violence (“What do you call four dead Tories?” it asked. “A start.”), and he attended rallies honoring IRA terrorists. Confronted by journalists with this distasteful past, Corbyn disingenuously claims that he “never met the IRA” while avoiding any condemnation of it.
Onward to the Middle East, where Corbyn’s affinities are determined by whichever thug or religious sectarian can claim to be “anti-imperialist” (that is, anti-American, anti-British, or anti-Israel). He infamously called Hamas and Hezbollah “friends.” He accepted 20,000 pounds to appear five times on PressTV, the Iranian regime-funded propaganda outlet later banned in the U.K. for broadcasting the forced confession of an independent journalist (who later called Corbyn and other Westerners who appear on the network “useful idiots”). The assassination of Osama bin Laden at the hands of American special forces operators was a “tragedy.” Corbyn once invited to tea and praised as an “honored citizen” a Palestinian Islamist who claimed Jews were behind the 9/11 attacks. Indeed, Corbyn’s sympathy for Jew-haters is ecumenical: In 2015, after the Church of England reprimanded a vicar who had used social media to blame Israel for 9/11, Corbyn rushed to the cleric’s defense, stating that the poor fellow had been targeted because he “dared to speak out against Zionism.” For four years, Corbyn served as the chairman of the misnamed Stop the War Coalition, misnamed because it’s only opposed to Western-backed wars and silent (if not supportive) of those waged by Russia, Hamas, the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, and Iran’s mullahs.
The list of dubious relationships, crackpot proclamations, and leftist sympathies for some of the vilest governments and political movements on Earth is endless. In a 2003 book, Corbyn insisted the Soviet Union was “no real threat” and that North Korea is “not a rogue state.” Western sanctions on the totalitarian Kim dynasty, which starves and tortures its own people to death by the millions, comprises a plot to “force some kind of integration between North and South Korea,” an outcome that, according to Corbyn, would bring about a real horror: “the spread of free market capitalism into North Korea.” Corbyn has contributed many articles over the years to the communist newspaper Morning Star, which recently hailed the “liberation” of Aleppo by Assad and his Russian patrons. (While stating he disagreed with the headline, Corbyn nonetheless avowed he would continue to read and “no doubt will probably write again” for the paper.) After Hugo Chávez died in 2013, Corbyn eulogized the Venezuelan strongman for “showing that the poor matter and wealth can be shared.” (Thanks to Chávez and his successor, Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela has so much wealth today that its citizens riot over toilet paper.)
For decades, no one paid much attention to Jeremy Corbyn because he didn’t matter. Over his many years as a Labour backbencher, he defied the party more than any other member, voting against it some 500 times. Corbyn never crafted any successful legislation, nor did he ever serve in a Labour government or opposition shadow cabinet, preferring the protest rally to the despatch box.
All that changed in the fall of 2015 when Corbyn became Labour’s leader. Part of the reason for his victory was due to a fateful rules change in the party leadership selection process, opening it up beyond Labour MPs, lay members, and union to anyone paying 3 pounds. This allowed a large cohort of hard-left “entryists” to infiltrate the party and catapult the fringe Corbyn to victory. At a deeper level, however, Corbyn is a manifestation of long-simmering discontent on the British left over Tony Blair’s interventionist foreign policy and reorientation of Labour toward the center, something for which many hardcore leftists could never forgive him (despite his being the only Labour prime minister in history to win three elections).
Until a few weeks ago, it seemed that Corbyn was careening Labour toward oblivion. Despite Labour’s official pro-European Union position, Corbyn was at best nominally in favor of Britain’s membership in the bloc and played a lackluster role in last year’s EU referendum campaign. So ambiguous was Corbyn’s stance that, after the Brexit ballot, he refused tell a fellow MP whether he actually voted “Remain” (later, when faced with the prospect of a leadership challenge, he told an interviewer that he did). Fed up with his slow-motion destruction of the party and complicity in Brexit, Labour MPs issued a vote of no confidence against Corbyn, which he decisively lost 172-40. Claiming the support of party members, however, he refused to step down and easily resisted the leadership challenge from the more moderate Owen Smith.
Now, in the run-up to Thursday’s snap general election, Corbyn is once again demonstrating his stubborn resistance to going quietly into that good night. According to some polls, he has managed to close what was once a 20-point gap to come within striking distance of Prime Minister Theresa May’s once-invincible Tories. Even if he loses (which is still the most probable outcome), he will earn a reputation for being one of the unlikeliest comeback artists in recent British political history.
Though it is custom in parliamentary systems for a party leader to resign immediately after losing an election, Corbyn is not a customary political leader but a blinkered revolutionary: Now that he and his hard-left acolytes are firmly in control of the Labour Party, they are not about to give it up. Indeed, one of the most alarming aspects of Corbyn’s rise is the cast of fellow extremists he has brought with him, like Seumas Milne, a former editor at the Guardian and bona fide Stalinist, or John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor of the exchequer who approvingly quoted Mao Zedong’s “Little Red Book” during a House of Commons debate and once signed a letter calling for both MI5 and the country’s armed police force to be disbanded. Corbyn has also empowered the absolutely worst elements of the British left; his supporters have launched misogynistic, anti-Semitic, and homophobic attacks against their dear leader’s critics.
That this election would be this close was an utterly unthinkable, indeed laughable, proposition not so long ago. But in this era of Donald Trump becoming president of the United States and Britain exiting the EU, the prospect of a Prime Minister Corbyn is not so absurd. The ascension of a left-wing populist demagogue to the leadership of one of Europe’s biggest military powers and America’s closest ally would plunge an already fractured West into even further chaos and uncertainty.
Like Trump, who has called NATO “obsolete” and failed to endorse its collective defense clause during a visit to Brussels last month, Corbyn, too, has little use for the transatlantic military alliance. In a 2015 debate, he admitted that he could not think of a single instance in which he would support the deployment of British troops abroad and the following year, when asked specifically what Britain should do if Russia attacked a NATO ally, replied with the following bit of adolescent pacifism: “What I want to do is achieve a world where we don’t need to go to war, where there is no need for it. That can be done.” Long an advocate for unilaterally scrapping the U.K. nuclear arsenal, known as Trident, Corbyn explicitly refused last week to state whether he would retaliate in the event of a nuclear strike on Britain, effectively negating the entire concept of deterrence. Following a spate of deadly Islamist-inspired terrorist attacks in London and Manchester, Corbyn has tried to adopt a tough pose, criticizing May for cuts she made to the police forces during her period as home secretary — which is ridiculous considering his decades-long coddling of the very sorts of people who have murdered and maimed so many British innocents these past few months.
The exigencies of Britain’s turbulent political situation have essentially rendered this election a referendum on which party is better suited to guiding the U.K. forward through its messy divorce with the EU. This is unfortunate, because the attention consumed by Brexit has provided the electorate with an excuse to ignore Jeremy Corbyn’s extremism. Those who oppose Brexit and find Corbyn unpalatable might vote Labour anyway just to frustrate May’s negotiating position with Brussels. This means that Corbyn will perform far better than he has any business doing under normal circumstances, and the lesson learned by the British and wider European left may be that pursuing a hardcore anti-American, anti-NATO, neutralist platform is an acceptable strategy.
Many have favorably compared Corbyn to an earlier Labour leader, Michael Foot. A hapless left-winger who led the party during Margaret Thatcher’s first term, Foot was responsible for the 1983 Labour manifesto, famously dubbed “the longest suicide note in history” for its calls to abolish Trident, renationalize a bevy of British industries, and withdraw from the European Economic Community (a position later taken up, ironically, by the right). After leading the party to its worst defeat since 1918, Foot did the honorable thing that Corbyn won’t do and resigned. Foot, like Corbyn, came from the Labour left, was a republican (in that he wished to abolish the monarchy), and had a similarly disheveled appearance. But Foot — unlike Corbyn — was a patriot. In 1940, he was one of three pseudonymous co-authors of a pamphlet entitled Guilty Men, a polemical attack on the appeasement policy of Neville Chamberlain’s Conservative-led government. Foot and his comrades excoriated Britain’s military unpreparedness and the “deliberate surrender of small nations in the face of Hitler’s blatant bullying.” Today, Labour is led by a rank appeaser to dictators and terrorists who makes excuses for bullies so long as they adopt an anti-Western pose.
When he died in 2010, Foot was universally acknowledged as a man of principle and decency. One often hears, even from some critics, that Corbyn is the same. His grandfatherly demeanor and passionate cries for social justice have earned the endorsements of people ranging from actress Lena Dunham to New York Times columnist Roger Cohen.
This impression of the Labour leader is utterly, dangerously wrong. For Jeremy Corbyn is a fundamentally indecent person. Making common cause with those who wantonly killed and wounded innocents during the Troubles, taking blood money from the propaganda outlet of a theocratic dictatorship, defending the North Korean slave state, and being utterly oblivious to the point of tacitly endorsing hatred of Jews in his own ranks, Corbyn is a sinister man with a credulous following. If Michael Foot’s utopian 1983 party manifesto was “the longest suicide note in history,” then making Jeremy Corbyn prime minister of the United Kingdom would be suicide.
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