Lately, I’ve been thinking about Willie Horton and Michael Dukakis. That’s what Jeremy Corbyn’s rise to prominence will do to a fellow. Horton, you will remember, was the convicted murderer who never returned from a weekend furlough granted to him while Dukakis was governor of Massachusetts, and subsequently kidnapped a couple in Maryland, stabbing the husband and repeatedly raping the wife.
He became the star of George Bush’s 1988 presidential election campaign. Lee Atwater, Bush’s most pugnacious strategist, had vowed to “strip the bark” from Dukakis and promised that “by the time we’re finished they’re going to wonder whether Willie Horton is Dukakis’ running-mate”. The Willie Horton ads were ugly – there was, no matter how much Atwater and Roger Ailes denied it, a racial element to them – but, by god, they were effective. They gave Bush a message: he wasn’t the other guy. The guy from the most liberal corner of the most liberal state in the Union, the guy who opposed the death penalty, who disapproved of prayer in school and the Pledge of Allegiance, the guy who let a first-degree murderer out of jail, not once, but ten times. The same murderer, Willie Horton, who invaded a suburban home and raped a woman. The Willie Horton who said “Obviously, I am for Dukakis” (it didn’t matter that he didn’t vote just as the other nuances of the issue didn’t matter at all).
By the end of it all it was a bloody business. In the second presidential debate Dukakis was asked if he’d still oppose the death penalty for someone who raped and killed his own wife. He said he would. Game over. Dukakis never understood what hit him.
Of course it was ugly and of course it was merciless and sometimes it was unfair too. But that didn’t matter.
All his bark was stripped.
So the question is, How many Willie Hortons does Jeremy Corbyn have?
An astonishing number. Not just ISIS, not just his support for an inquiry into supposed Jewish influence on government decisions, not just the platforms he’s shared with a remarkable number of unsavoury types. Not just his suggestion Hamas is not a terrorist organisation. Not just his willingness to blame Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine on NATO. Not just his instinctive support for anyone opposed to anything proposed by either the United States or the United Kingdom. Not even just his suggestion, in 2013, that Argentina be permitted a say in the governance of the Falkland Islands. Not just these things, but all or any of them.
Most of these, frankly, should disqualify him from serious office.
And so too should his record on Northern Ireland. A vast amount of guff is now being peddled by Corbyn’s supporters on this. If we are to believe them, Corby’s willingness to talk to Sinn Fein and the IRA in the 1980s just showed how he was ahead of the game. After all, the British government eventually did so too, didn’t it?
This misses the vital point. Corbyn might have wanted ‘peace’ but he wanted it on the IRA’s terms. He wanted Sinn Fein and the IRA to win.
People genuinely interested in peace – and cross-community dialogue – back then didn’t speak at Troops Out rallies. They didn’t invite convicted IRA bombers to the House of Commons two weeks after the IRA attempted to assassinate the Prime Minister and the rest of her cabinet in Brighton. (A bomb, remember, that killed five people.)
And all this time, you know, Corbyn had a choice. You could believe in a united Ireland (regardless of consent) and that was, well, if not fine then certainly a position you could hold. But if that was what you felt you still had this choice: you could associate yourself with constitutional nationalists like the SDLP or you could pal around with Sinn Fein, the IRA and the republican movement. Corbyn chose the latter and that makes all the difference.
Even now he cannot actually bring himself to condemn IRA atrocities, weaselling out of suggestions he do so by condemning all atrocities. But normal people know that condemning IRA murders does not mean condoning Loyalist murders or, for that matter, the excesses of the RUC and British Army. Corbyn, however, still prefers to sing from the Republican song-sheet.
Some of this other dubious associations might be put down to naivete and, sure, it’s true you cannot always pick who speaks alongside you at a given event. On the other hand, you can control some things. There are some things you can do.
And Jeremy Corbyn chose to support Sinn Fein and, by extension, the IRA at a time when Sinn Fein/IRA had no interest at all in a ceasefire, let alone a lasting peace. That interest would only come when the IRA realised a military victory was impossible. Far from being ahead of the game, Corbyn was, at best, deluded, and at worst, marginally complicit in the murderous actions of a terrorist organisation that targeted his fellow citizens.
That none of this seems to trouble his supporters says all you need to know about the mess Labour finds itself in.
If – and perhaps this is unlikely – Corbyn makes it to 2020 even the most ludicrous, improbable, Tory could beat him. Running an anti-Corbyn campaign would be the greatest turkey shoot in the history of modern British politics.
The only difficulty would be deciding which of Corbyn’s Willie Hortons it would be most effective to focus upon. Bark-stripping will never be easier.
Choosing Corbyn is worse than a blunder, it’s a crime. One, moreover, that is terrible for this country’s politics. That’s why someone, anyone, even, Christ, Andy Burnham, would be a better choice for Labour. Because however decent Corbyn might be as a chap, there’s something repellent, something entirely indecent about his politics.