With Labour closing the gap on the Tories in the polls, it was only a matter of time before an act of self-immolation returned them to square one. This morning, Corbyn gave a speech in which he drew a link between British foreign policy and terrorist attacks on home soil. This will surely go down like a lead balloon with the party’s working-class base, particularly in the north of England which is still reeling from their worst terror attack in modern history. But in London and the home counties, there might be whispered recognition of the fact that Corbyn is, essentially, right, even if he’s wrong to say it.
It seems that nothing is more destructive in British politics at the moment than being right. YouGov analysis of the manifestos illustrates this: the consensus concern, as ever, is the NHS, followed by housing and wages. These are the pillars of the Labour party’s manifesto – existing only as sickly beams in the Tory offering – because Corbyn understands the subjects that really worry the British public. But even though he’s right on the issues (and the Tories are largely, and wilfully, wrong), he has a reputation as such a snatcher that people fear for the whole cow, not just the milk. The same is true of his reputation on domestic security: the accusation that he is a terrorist sympathiser has cut through.
The controversial points of Corbyn’s speech are actually fairly standard, well-rehearsed ideas. A more simple speech to give would have been a condemnation of Islamist terror on British soil – rather than one which discussed the question of causation. But what is politically expedient is not necessarily right, and Corbyn’s oddly nuanced reading of the situation is a better analysis than the dogmatic status quo of successive governments. There is little to dispute in Corbyn saying ‘the war on terror is simply not working’, other than the timing and the fact that it invites national introspection in a way that will make many people deeply uncomfortable.
And the thing is, Jeremy Corbyn is right about all sorts of things. But because he’s both ideologically and morally equivocal, this sits poorly with the electorate. Much has been made of his dealings with the IRA and Hamas, with scant acknowledgement of the complexity of those situations. The situations in Syria and Libya are equally as complex, as Corbyn pointed out in his speech. Undoubtedly, he has been inconsistent in his foreign policy positions, but British foreign policy itself has been deeply inconsistent. Even now, for example, there is no agreement between politicians and pundits as to whether the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime was a success.
But even when he’s right, Corbyn manages to be wrong. As a result, the narrative about the Labour leader sympathising with terrorists is about to be cemented in the imagination of the British people.
Kwasi Kwarteng and Kim Sengupta consider the situation in Libya: