Jeremy Corbyn: Divisive on all fronts?

  1. Craig Harrison writes for us about Jeremy Corbyn’s impact on Northern Ireland

With the debate surrounding the ascent of Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of the Labour Party focused on what this means for future Westminster politics, very little attention has been payed to the implications for Northern Ireland. If the few days since the announcement that he would replace Ed Miliband are anything to go on however, then we can rest assured that his time in power will be of significance beyond the halls of the UK Parliament.

It’s fair to say that Mr Corbyn has had a history of involvement in Northern Ireland more active than many during his time as an MP. Perhaps most notoriously, he joined Ken Livingstone in inviting Gerry Adams to speak in London in 1984, not long after the Brighton bomb and 10 years before the IRA ceasefire. He was also associated with the Troops Out movement during the Troubles – which campaigned for the British army to be withdrawn from Northern Ireland – and more recently during the leadership race, was the subject of significant media attention over Northern Ireland issues; one of the most high profile incidents, perhaps, when Mr Corbyn stated his belief “ultimately that Ireland should be reunited” during a hustings event.

These things will certainly have caught the attention of politicians in Northern Ireland during the leadership race, and upon his election, it didn’t take long for Jeremy Corbyn to provide another line of division for our parties.

Indeed, while Martin McGuinness was one of the first to take to Twitter to congratulate Mr Corbyn – described as a “friend of Ireland” by Gerry Adams – his politics have become a source of concern for unionists, some of whom doubt his ability to be bi-partisan. This fear was expressed bluntly by DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson, who told the News Letter: “we will not stand idly by and let Mr Corbyn take a pro-republican partisan stance… We hope that he will be more balanced in his approach to Northern Ireland than he has been in the past”.

Beyond Mr Corbyn’s own politics, those of John McDonnell – his new Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer – have set even more alarm bells ringing. The source of the controversy is again perceived sympathies held toward armed republicanism – allegedly expressed when Mr McDonnell told a London commemoration of hunger striker Bobby Sands that members of the IRA should be “honoured” for taking part in the “armed struggle”. This, unsurprisingly, caused outrage among unionists in Northern Ireland, with DUP MLA Peter Weir stating that he was “disgusted” at the decision, and arguing that the “sickening choice” was a “foretaste of things to come”.

We can see that Mr Corbyn has already proved to be as divisive in the Northern Ireland political sphere as in Westminster. Beyond the media interest, this is important because of the implications it has for local politics. Mr Corbyn has a Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland – the moderate Vernon Coaker – who has to try and engage with the parties here with the biggest one in the country already suspicious of the man who sent him.

And should Corbyn’s Labour Party ever get into government, the dynamics would be fascinating to say the least. Certainly, it would be a significant cause for concern among unionists if the next Prime Minister was a man who previously stated his support for a united Ireland.

Qualifications have been made; the new Shadow Secretary of State for NI affirmed strongly in the House of Commons that Labour would continue to pursue a bi-partisan approach, and it is likely that Mr Corbyn will have to moderate his position now that he is leader of the British opposition and not just a contender for it. However, it is likely that the relationship between unionists in Northern Ireland – particularly the DUP – and the Labour party will still be frosty for as long as Mr Corbyn is in control. Contrastingly,  we may see Sinn Féin engage with a British political party to an extend never seen before.

Mr Corbyn has been in charge less than a week, but he has already been added to the long list of things that divide our parties. This will add another interesting dynamic to the NI-Westminster political relationship, and if Mr Corbyn is capable of maintaining any level of success, by 2020 this could prove to be a very interesting dynamic indeed.

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  • Reader

    Well then, at some point the anthem will be changed or replaced. After all at one time or another there have been 20+ different verses in versions of the anthem (including peace verses; the famous ‘rebellious scots’ verse, and a rival Jacobite verse – ‘freed from vile Presbytry’). There’s precedent.
    And there is nothing wrong with Corbyn being a republican, and seeking changes to the constitution or some of the national symbols. But for the moment, he is leader of the opposition in the current constitution.

  • kalista63

    Sadly, things aren’t changed by good will but by stubborn actions

  • kalista63

    I still don’t get you

  • Croiteir

    what are you going on about – you said “No Northern Ireland” I said perfect, no more to be said

  • Croiteir

    So what? Nothing to do with the point I was making about division having been made already. I think your response is to a point not made.

  • Reader

    Well, actually by an Act of Parliament; but Corbyn isn’t really on the road to delivering that, is he?

  • Reader

    He means it’s ongoing – i.e. unfinished business.

  • Reader

    It’s more complicated than that. He’s annoyed at the clever and apt mope/MOPE pun, and wanted to contribute to the debate by creating a nationalist counter. All he has managed to create is poop/POOP, but the potential user base is too classy to swallow that sort of stuff, so he hasn’t managed to make it go viral.

  • Mike the First

    Kalista, you should be able to make your argument without recruiting a deceased person who “would” support it if he were alive.

  • Mike the First

    Then explain how you see Corbyn’s views as “unifying and pacifying”, rather than simply not being divisive.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    but if you reject Northern Ireland, you reject the Good Friday Agreement and the Peace Process. The existence of Northern Ireland was and is kind of integral to it. You can aspire to a future change of border; but there’s no room in the present moment for anything other than working constructively within the Northern Ireland setting, respecting the wishes of the people that it continue to exist.

    If you’re an Irish nationalist, you can seek to persuade people there is another better viable alternative they should choose instead. Happy for those who want to remain nationalist to do that, as long as they still show full respect for what the people’s current choice is. To do anything other than that, as I think even the more sensible Republicans grasp, is to store up future reciprocal problems for any future united Ireland.

    Grousing about the existence of Northern Ireland has been off the agenda since the last century – and rightly so. The real politics is about what kind of Northern Ireland we want and how to get the best living standards and public services for NI people.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    they’re none of them pulling up trees, that’s for sure. But look, let’s just get everyone working to the same rules, with transparency, honesty and decency and that’s about as much as we can hope for.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I listened to that. The reporter said “there’s a big BUT …” (we all like big buts of course) which was that Labour also lost because of a perceived lack of economic credibility. A lot of people (wrongly) blamed the crash on Labour “maxing out the credit card”. Nonsense, but a widely held view. The reporter was saying Labour could move to the left that’s not necessarily a problem – I’d agree with that totally – BUT it has to restore its economic credibility. The big question is: can Corbyn and McDonnell do that?

    All my instincts and knowledge, limited as it is, tells me that’s a very big ‘no’.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    but my point was, that’s being too narrowly literal on what an anthem is and how it exists within the culture. The literal meaning of its words are only one aspect of it. An anthem is also a signifier, more broadly, for the nation.

  • barnshee

    “The leader of the DUP is surely the North Charles Haughey in this respect.”

    Robinson has been gun running ? do tell

  • kalista63

    Wasn’t there a media splash, that the BBC put great effort in to ignoring, when over a dozen economists (including Nobel winners) backed Corbyn’s perspective?

    Corbyn needs to keep the public informed of his alternative view of the economy every quarter and come at us with numbers and solid evidence and as I understand it, he has the contacts to do that relatively easily. Those who pay attention, who don’t rely on the BBC and ITV news & red top papers, know that Osborne has put the country in to much greater debt than the Blairites ever did we also know that the money borrowed isn’t going in to the country but is used for nonsense such as QE which is being used to float the failed finance sector, a cruel perversion of Keynsian economics.

  • kalista63

    Odd, they didn’t disrupt Stormont when other IRA linked crimes happened, including when Jock Davidson was shot. In fact, the Jock Davidson case would indicate that the DUP are happy enough with drug dealers killing people. There again, they are in various groups and pacts with the UDA and UVF, both drug dealers.

  • Reader

    What party is associated with the presumed drug dealers who murdered Jock Davidson? Are they in the Executive?
    And your other comparison suggests that you think that the DUP is simply the UVF in suits – but that’s the job of the PUP, and the PUP aren’t in government.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    yes most macro-economists think austerity is daft – and I agree. That’s not the same as agreeing with Corbyn’s “people’s QE” though; nor is it backing for his overall economic programme, which is still to be costed.

  • Croiteir

    The place is already divided before Corbyn was elected, he was not divisive. He wants unity in Ireland – I believe that is unifying and ultimately pacifying.

  • Croiteir

    No he did not, the so called peace here is patently an interlude. In fact unionists claim to be upset by the lack of peace. Only a united Ireland will ultimately bring peace. So Corbyn was correct in that respect. The continuation of partition is divisive and needs to be ended before there will be a peaceful Ireland