As MPs begin to wind down for the holidays, Jeremy Corbyn appears to have other ideas when it comes to a quiet Christmas. The Labour leader has plunged himself into a fresh row with his party over his links to Sinn Féin.
Corbyn has hired a former Sinn Féin member of staff to join his office in the new year. Jayne Fisher, previously head of Sinn Féin’s London office, has been appointed head of ‘stakeholder engagement’. Announcing the news to MPs, Corbyn is said to have described her as ‘very lovely’. Yet as ‘lovely’ as Fisher may be, this doesn’t quite cut it as far as MPs are concerned. Many are worried that the move will remind voters of Corbyn’s history of support for Sinn Féin and in turn damage the Labour party’s image.
They’re not wrong to be concerned either. Corbyn and John McDonnell’s links to the Sinn Féin leaders have long been a source of contention within the party, with Corbyn provoking outrage in 1984 when he invited Gerry Adams to Parliament just weeks after the Brighton bombing. Since then, Corbyn has not tried to downplay his links — being pictured with both Adams and Martin McGuinness in the Commons last year — though, as Alex writes, he has tried to rewrite history. It follows that the hire is not that surprising when it comes to telling us about Corbyn’s politics.
What’s most telling is that it shows he is not coming round to the art of compromise. As the party attempt to heal old wounds after a difficult year, optimists within Labour have been recently buoyed by small signs that Corbyn is adapting to the role of leader — with a more focussed approach to PMQs and less needless PR gaffes. Corbyn’s decision to bring in Fisher above any other suitable candidate suggests he has no real desire to keep his MPs — or the public — on side.