The Campaign Against Corbynism will publish a series of essays outlying why Jeremy Corbyn is deeply unsuitable to being Prime Minister. Below is the first, on the relationship between Corbyn and some of his closest allies with groups and individuals that engaged in political violence:
Corbynism and political violence
One of the most fundamental principles of a liberal-democratic society is that politics is conducted via public debate and the ballot box, not the use or threat of physical violence. Until recently there was no reasonable doubt that the leadership of the Labour Party completely rejected violence as a political tool and were utterly committed to the democratic process. Sadly, since Jeremy Corbyn assumed the party’s leadership in September 2015, this is no longer the case.
A number of key figures within the current Labour Party leadership, including Corbyn himself, have a worrying history of sympathy towards or even support for groups which routinely deployed violence to achieve political ends within democratic societies. This includes groups, like the IRA, which launched terror campaigns against the very country the Corbynites aspire to lead. This ambiguity about violence, including when directed against their own countrymen and women, makes it vital to stop Jeremy Corbyn and much of his inner circle taking the levers of power.
We’ll start, as we have to begin somewhere, with Jeremy Corbyn himself. For much of his political career Corbyn was an apologist for, and perhaps sympathiser with, the IRA which aimed to create a united Ireland using terrorism despite peaceful and democratic alternatives being available. Throughout the 1980s Corbyn was a regular attendee at rallies organised by Troops Out, a UK based republican group supportive of Sinn Fein, then the IRA’s political wing. In 1986 he was arrested during a Troops Out rally outside the Old Bailey, called to defend suspected IRA men including Patrick Magee. Magee was convicted later that year of planting the Brighton hotel bomb that killed five people during the 1984 Tory Party conference.
Corbyn’s response to that atrocity, an attempt to murder a democratically elected Prime Minister which killed one of his fellow MPs, went beyond shocking. Just two weeks later he invited two convicted IRA bombers, who had since joined the group’s political wing, to the Houses of Parliament. Putting the security implications to one side the level of disrespect being shown to the family of one of Corbyn’s murdered colleagues was astonishing. At the time Corbyn was on the editorial board of the London Labour Briefing, a small hard-left paper. Following the bombing the publication justified the attack commenting “the British only sit up and take notice when they are bombed into it”. The same issue, which Corbyn wrote the frontpage article for, published a readers letter on the attack asking “What do you call four dead Tories? A start”.
In each year from 1986 to 1992 Corbyn spoke at the annual “Connolly/Sands” commemoration held to show solidarity with IRA “prisoners of war”. According to The Telegraph the 1987 events programme explicitly praised the “soldiers of the IRA”. The paper adds that each years programme contained a list of imprisoned IRA members, encouraging sympathisers to send them birthday cards and other messages of support.
Now of course Corbyn’s justification for his actions is that he was attempting to facilitate “dialogue”. To say this is spectacularly unconvincing would be an understatement. Corbyn opposed the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement, an early attempt by the British and Irish Governments to end the conflict. He was also supportive of the Labour Committee on Ireland, a group which fiercely opposed the moderate Irish nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) which it termed “cannon-fodder”. Whilst it campaigned for Northern Ireland to join the Irish Republic the SDLP opposed the IRA’s campaign of violence, earning it the enmity of extreme republicans.
Notably Corbyn avoided associating with unionists, loyalists and moderate Irish nationalists, choosing instead to back groups which sympathised with the IRA and its campaign of violence. Associating with violent extremists when moderate alternatives were available was to become something of a theme in his career.
If Corbyn appeared to sympathise with IRA violence John McDonnell, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor, was downright supportive. In 2003, referring to the IRA’s campaign in Northern Ireland, he said “It’s about time we started honouring those people involved in the armed struggle”. He went on to add “It was the bombs and bullets and sacrifice made by the likes of Bobby Sands that brought Britain to the negotiating table”. It is, astonishingly, entirely possible the British economy could end up being run by a man who explicitly praised terror attacks on UK targets. That should have been the end of his political career, regardless of the not remotely convincing apology that followed in 2015.
Nor was this a one off. According to The Times during a 1986 meeting with members of the IRA’s political wing McDonnell argued the “ballot, the bullet and the bomb” should be used to push Northern Ireland out of the UK. He went on to joke that moderate Labour Councillors who refused to attend were “gutless wimps” who should have their kneecaps blown off.
McDonnell was a trenchant opponent of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement which ended the Northern Ireland conflict, claiming “an assembly is not what people have laid down their lives for”. I think it’s fair to say he wasn’t referring to the victims of IRA and INLA terrorism. Diane Abbott, who will be in charge of Britain’s police and security services under a Corbyn Government, was also sympathetic to violent republicanism. Speaking in 1984, with regard to the Northern Ireland conflict, she commented “every defeat of the British state is a victory for all of us”.
During a 2004 republican fundraiser McDonnell was presented with a plaque honouring the “H-Block Martyrs”, or IRA and INLA members who died during the hunger strikes. The award was presented to him by Gerry Kelly, a former IRA terrorist who was involved in a number of attacks including the 1973 Old Bailey bombing which killed one and left another 200 injured. He also shot a prison officer in the head during an attempted breakout. Those honoured by the plaque included Thomas McElwee, who was involved in a firebomb attack on a shop that burnt a 26-year-old woman to death. According to the Financial Times the plaque was still on display in McDonnell’s constituency office in 2018, and may still be there. It’s hard to think of many more disgusting choices of decorations for a man who aspires to manage the British economy.
Corbyn also maintained friendly relations with a number of Middle Eastern terror groups, including the deeply anti-Semitic Hamas and Hezbollah. The founding charter of Hamas explicitly references “our struggle against the Jews” and calls for the murder of Jews not just in Palestine but worldwide. The group now runs Gaza as a theocratic dictatorship, where internal opposition is violently suppressed. Similarly Hezbollah has a long history of deliberately killing civilians and has attacked Jewish targets, such as the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires, that have no connection to Israel.
In 2009 Corbyn described representatives from both Hamas and Hezbollah as his “friends” adding it was his “pleasure and honour” to invite them to Parliament. In 2010 he had a “takeaway dinner” with Khaled Mashal, the leader of Hamas who has a long history of praising terror attacks, in the Gaza parliament building. The following year Corbyn attended a conference organised by the European Network to support the Rights of Palestinian Prisoners (UFree), which was chaired by Mohammed Hamdan, brother of Hamas leader and UK designated terrorist Osama Hamdan. The conference called for the release of all imprisoned Palestinians, including those convicted of terror offences, who Hamdan termed “heroes not terrorists”.
Those whose release was demanded included Ayman Kafisha, imprisoned over his apparent role in the 1997 Café Apropo suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, which killed three women one of whom was pregnant. Pictured close to Corbyn at the event were Gerry MacLochlainn, the former IRA bomber turned Sinn Fein politician who Corbyn invited to Parliament after the 1984 Brighton hotel bombing, and raging anti-Semite Raed Salah. Salah, who Corbyn later described as a “very honoured citizen”, will be examined in depth in a future article.
The following year, in 2012, Corbyn spoke at a two-day conference in Doha called the “Seminar on Palestinian Refugees in the Arab World”. Other speakers included senior convicted Hamas terrorists Husam Badran and Dr Abdul Aziz Umar, who were released in 2011 as part of a deal to free Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit who had been kidnapped by Hamas. Badran is the former leader of Hamas’s military wing in the northern West Bank, and was apparently involved in organising a string of brutal suicide bombings targeting Israeli civilians. These included the 2001 bombings of a pizza restaurant and night club in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, which killed 15 and 21 respectively, as well as the 2002 Park Hill Passover massacre which killed 30. Dr Abdul Aziz Umar helped organise a 2003 suicide bombing in Jerusalem which killed seven including a bride to be the day before her wedding.
In a Morning Star article Corbyn admitted to listening to men who had been freed in return for Gilad Shalit, claiming “their contribution was fascinating and electrifying”. It is unclear who these comments could have been referring to other than Badran and Aziz Umar, who were both released as part of the Gilad Shalit deal.
Corbyn also appeared with Dr Abdul Aziz Umar, the convicted Hamas terrorist, during a 2012 interview on the Iranian regime propaganda network Press TV. Here he admitted meeting Aziz Umar at the Doha conference and called him his “brother”. Corbyn said “I met many of the brothers including the brother who's been speaking here when they came out of prison, when I was in Doha earlier this year”. Apparently referring to the group released in exchange for Gilad Shalit, including Aziz Umar, Corbyn added “I'm glad that those who were released were released, I hope they're now in safe places”.
Two years later Corbyn participated in a wreath laying ceremony in Tunis at a cemetery which included the graves of Black September terrorists who helped organise the 1972 Munich Olympic massacre. He was pictured holding the wreath and later standing in front of a plaque commemorating the three “martyrs” who were killed on January 14 1991 Tunis, onto which the flowers had been placed. The plaque was for Salah Khalaf, one of the Black September founders, and two other PLO operatives. In his memoir Khalaf, who also went by the name Abu Iyad, admitted to personally selecting the terrorists who took part in the Munich Olympic massacre and providing them with guns and grenades. Ironically he was killed by a rival Palestinian faction, the Abu Nidal organisation, rather than Israeli operatives.
It’s also worth mentioning Corbyn’s behaviour in the aftermath of the 1994 car bombings of the Israeli Embassy in London and Balfour House, which the Jewish Philanthropic Institution for Israel was based in. In total twenty people were injured in the two attacks. Two Palestinians living in the UK, Jawad Botmeh and Samar Alami, were convicted of orchestrating the attacks. However whilst they admitted they had possessed the explosives used in the bombings, they denied involvement. Corbyn spent several years lobbying for their release from prison, which he described as a “miscarriage of justice”. Both the Court of Appeal and European Court of Human Rights, in 2001 and 2007 respectively, backed the original judgement. Now of course if Corbyn believed the pair were wrongfully convicted he was within his rights to campaign his release. But, as with the time Corbyn was arrested at a protest showing support for the Brighton hotel bomber, it shows a worrying tendency to take word of suspected or convicted terrorists over the authorities provided Corbyn sympathised with their cause.
In the context of UK politics John McDonnell, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor, has made a number of deeply concerning comments either celebrating or advocating violence against political opponents. After rioters attacked the building containing the Conservative Party headquarters in November 2010 during a student protest they received praise from McDonnell. He claimed the rioters who “kicked the shit” out of the building represented the “best of our movement”, not the reaction you’d expect from a democrat to a physical attack on the headquarters of his main political rival. Speaking in 2011 he also attacked the prison sentence handed to Edward Wollard, who threw a fire extinguisher from the top of Millbank and was lucky not to kill or seriously injure a police officer. McDonnell said “actually he’s not the criminal. The real criminals are the ones that are cutting the education services and increasing the fees”. At the same event he later added “we’ve got to encourage direct action in any form it can possibly take.”
Speaking at a ‘Unite the Resistance’ meeting in 2012 McDonnell also called for a campaign of harassment against all Conservative MPs. He commented “I want to be in a situation where no Tory MP, no Tory MP, no coalition minister, can travel anywhere in the country, or show their face anywhere in public, without being challenged, without direct action”. A year later at another meeting he advocated “insurrection” claiming “parliamentary democracy doesn’t work for us, elections aren’t working for us”. These are the words of a man whose commitment to democracy itself was, and perhaps still is, at best conditional.
Asked during a 2010 episode of the BBC’s Any Questions what he’d do if he could travel back in time McDonnell suggested he would assassinate Margaret Thatcher, in what he later claimed was a joke. At a 2014 Stop the War Coalition event he also repeated the suggestion of a supporter that Esther McVey, then Employment Minister, should be lynched. This wasn’t followed by any condemnation, nor clarification that he thought his supporter was wrong.
In summary Jeremy Corbyn, and many of his closest political allies, had longstanding relationships with groups that used violence as a political tool. In some cases, most notably Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, they directly endorsed terrorism and criminal attacks. Thus, for the first time in modern British politics, we have a Labour Party leadership whose commitment to basic liberal-democratic values is at best conditional. At worst, scarily, it was non-existent.
James Bickerton - Director of Campaign Against Corbynism