Appointing John McDonnell as his Shadow Chancellor made Jeremy Corbyn’s first few days as Labour leader much harder than they needed to be. This was mainly because the Hayes and Harlington MP made some deeply distasteful comments about the ‘bravery’ of the IRA.
In 2003, McDonnell told a gathering to commemorate IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands:
‘It’s about time we started honouring those people involved in the armed struggle.
‘It was the bombs and bullets and sacrifice made by the likes of Bobby Sands that brought Britain to the negotiating table.’
The most serious part of this week’s PMQs was when the DUP’s Nigel Dodds raised the comments, and David Cameron branded them as ‘shameful’. No Labour MP was prepared to support them – and McDonnell’s lack of friends in his own party didn’t help with that, either.
So it was inevitable that the Shadow Chancellor would feel he should apologise for the comments, which he has just done on tonight’s Question Time. He said:
‘I accept it was a mistake to use those words, but actually if it contributed towards saving one life, or preventing someone else being maimed it was worth doing, because we did hold on to the peace process.
‘There was a real risk of the republican movement splitting and some of them continuing the armed process. If I gave offence, and I clearly have, from the bottom of my heart I apologise, I apologise.’
This shows that Jeremy Corbyn and his senior colleagues are trying to address the problems they encountered in their first few days. Those were that the new leader appeared to have no press operation at all to stop journalists overhearing an entire reshuffle, that in that reshuffle he appointed someone who thought praising the IRA a good plan as Shadow Chancellor, and that a lot of Labour MPs were deeply worried that their party’s European policy was about to change in a way they couldn’t stomach.
Today Corbyn’s team has tried to address all those problems in one way or another – though it is playing catch up, and though it will soon realise that frontline politics is often like a game of whack-a-mole. But there is clearly a fighting spirit in the man who has just been elected Labour leader – and clearly a desire to compromise in order to stop Labour descending into meltdown, both internally and electorally.