Jeremy Corbyn first became an MP 30-odd years ago. Until he became Labour leader, Corbyn was a relatively unknown figure with all sorts of fringe views. Corbyn said, and did, a lot of things with minimal scrutiny because no one thought he would ever be in a position of power. But Corbyn is now Labour’s candidate to be Prime Minister in a general election campaign in which the polls are tightening.
Tonight, Andrew Neil confronted Corbyn with a lot of his past statements. When questioned over his past sympathy for the IRA, Corbyn had no answer to the specifics of any of the questions. When confronted with Seamus Mallon, of the Nationalist SDLP’s, criticism that Corbyn ‘clearly took the side of the IRA’, Corbyn could only reply that Mallon had never said this to him directly.
Corbyn’s hostile attitude to Nato was also on display. Corbyn said his views on it hadn’t changed, but he conceded that he had thought it should be wound up at the end of the Cold War. On Trident and the British nuclear deterrent, he said that he accepted the Labour position in favour of renewal. But it was clear that he remained personally opposed.
On foreign policy and the fight against Islamic State, Corbyn was vague in the extreme. He talked about robustly chasing its connections around the world. But it wasn’t clear how this would actually deal with the problem.
In her interview, Theresa May tried to make the election into a question about who do you trust to negotiate Brexit. Corbyn wanted to make it about ‘hope’ and investing for the future. But if voters are going to go for that, they will—as this interview made clear—not only have to accept someone who is vague in the extreme on the details but is far outside the political mainstream on security.