30/07/2016 by socialistfight
Writer, translator, irritant. Omnia sunt communia
Last week Labour MP Conor McGinn asked Jeremy Corbyn, on Twitter, whether Corbyn had threatened to contact McGinn’s father, a former Sinn Féin councillor in County Armagh, following an interview McGinn had given to the Politics Home website.In an article subsequently posted on the Politics Home website on the same day, McGinn expanded on his concern:
I outlined my views on a range of issues, including the need for Labour to reengage with our working class base. I mentioned Jeremy in this interview only once, when I respectfully suggested that he had a challenge to reach out beyond his comfort zone and his own constituency to traditional Labour voters across the country.
Corbyn’s proposed response to the interview, according to McGinn, was to contact his father:
It transpired that Jeremy, in deliberations about how to respond to my interview, had said that he intended to ring my father to discuss it with him and ask him to speak to me about it.
The impression from McGinn’s statement is that Corbyn’s response was paranoid -he was mentioned only once, after all- and that this response had to do with the contention that Corbyn was somewhat disconnected from working class concerns.
using my family against me in an attempt to bully me in to submission
On the surface, and absent any further detail, this paints a bizarre picture of Corbyn’s approach to dealings with parliamentary colleagues. But McGinn’s characterisation of his interview glosses over details that might otherwise be salient. They do not explain Corbyn’s reaction -assuming Corbyn did indeed say something about contacting McGinn’s father- but they do offer some grounds for understanding how such a reaction might come about.
In the interview, McGinn indeed suggests that Corbyn, as a longtime MP for Islington, might not be able to relate to the rest of the country. McGinn, on the other hand, originally from Camlough in County Armagh but now MP for Merseyside constituency St Helens, is, in his own words
“a very straightforward sort of fella”.
McGinn claims a “political crisis” had “engulfed what would be seen as the traditional Labour working class. They don’t feel that anyone listens to them, never mind speaks for them.” He said that “a genuine revival in the politics of the left” meant “listening to people and hearing their truths”.
One way -in fact, the only concrete way mentioned in the interview- of addressing this “political crisis” was voting for the renewal of Trident, since such people want a government “they think puts their safety and security as a priority”.
McGinn, a “working class Paddy” who became “the chair of the youth wing of the intellectual side of the party”, regales the Politics Home readership with his experience firing weapons and trading ‘impertinent’ jokes on Salisbury Plain with
“Sir Nick Houghton, who is now head of the Army”
and describes the kind of Paddy-meets-the-upper-orders scene that the scriptwriters from Downton Abbey might reject for Branson as too inauthentic.
Regarding his dealings with military top brass and defence contractors, McGinn stresses that
“I was never treated with anything other than the utmost of respect.”
But leaving aside Sir Nick’s insinuation that anyone from South Armagh ought to be a crack shot (Bandit Country, you know) what did he expect: a pistol-whipping in the back of a Snatch Land Rover?
McGinn is later reported citing his party’s “pride” in
“our membership of Nato, the nuclear deterrent, support for the Armed Forces, or not being afraid to intervene in the best spirit and sense of internationalism, and humanitarianism.”
On the surface, it is quite the thing for McGinn’s background to speak in such glowingly benign terms about British military might and its benevolence.
One does not have to be an Irish republican in any sense, however, to be mindful of the murderous activities of British armed forces in McGinn’s native Northern Ireland.
In particular, one might be mindful of the collusion between those forces and loyalist paramilitaries, including the activities of the Glenanne Gang, which was involved in 120 murders in Armagh and Tyrone in the 1970s. Among these were the murders of brothers John, Brian and Anthony Reavey in 1976, in Whitecross, a short drive down the road from Camlough.
It’s highly unlikely that McGinn is unaware of these facts. Nor is he likely to be unaware that these activities have gone unpunished. However, whilst he is happy to publicise how he uses the floor of the House of Commons to send birthday wishes to the Queen in Irish -on behalf of the entire Irish community in Britain, no less- and wax lyrical about the Boys From The County Armagh, he does not seem to have had much to say about weightier particulars, such as questions raised by the recent Loughinisland inquiry by the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman.
Such questions might concern, for example, the role of British military intelligence in allowing loyalist paramilitaries to import weaponry that would subsequently be used in the Heights Bar massacre. Amnesty International, responding to the Ombudsman report, said ‘the government’s decades-long failure to properly investigate allegations in cases such as Loughinisland and the arms trafficking operation which supplied the weapons for this and at least 70 murders and attempted murders’. Perhaps Conor McGinn raised such matters with Sir Nick over target practice, or over sherry afterwards.
Who is Sir Nick, anyway? He was appointed to Chief of the Defence Staff in 2013 and retired in mid-July this year. He was previously head of operations during the invasion of Iraq and was the senior British military officer in Baghdad. Prior to this he had been ‘a Company Commander in and Commanding Officer of the 1st Battalion in the Mechanised and Air Mobile Roles and in Northern Ireland.’ In the run-up to the Chilcot Report, he was widely expected to come in for criticism, but emerged somewhat less scathed than expectations. Subsequent to its publication, Houghton warned of “paralysis of inaction because the risk is too high”, since this “would result in us collectively losing our courage as a nation.”
He came to fuller public prominence on Sunday 9th November, when he appeared on the Andrew Marr Show speaking about his worries for Britain’s nuclear deterrent were Jeremy Corbyn to become Prime Minister. Corbyn described the intervention as undemocratic and unconstitutional, and said he would complain to the Ministry of Defence about the matter.
The Guardian, which is hardly sympathetic to Corbyn’s leadership, described Houghton’s intervention as ‘fanning the flames’ of fears of a ‘Spanish-style pronunciamento to prevent a leftwing government from carrying out its mandate’ and as contrary to ‘a fundamental axiom of democratic order’.
Prior to Houghton’s appearance on the BBC, the Sunday Times on September 20th reported the remarks of a ‘senior serving general’ that the armed forces would take “direct action” in the event that a Corbyn government might downgrade the armed forces:
‘”There would be mass resignations at all levels and you would face the very real prospect of an event which would effectively be a mutiny”’
“Feelings are running very high within the armed forces. You would see a major break in convention with senior generals directly and publicly challenging Corbyn over vital important policy decisions such as Trident, pulling out of Nato and any plans to emasculate and shrink the size of the armed forces. The Army just wouldn’t stand for it. The general staff would not allow a prime minister to jeopardise the security of this country and I think people would use whatever means possible, fair or foul to prevent that. You can’t put a maverick in charge of a country’s security.”
The Sunday Times continued:
‘The general, who served in Northern Ireland in the 1980s and 1990s, said he and many soldiers were sickened by Corbyn’s admiration for the IRA.
For most people from South Armagh, as opposed to those temporarily stationed there, it’s long way from Newtown, Forkhill and Crossmaglen to firing rounds on Salisbury Plain with the head of the British Army and speaking of your pride in the British armed forces and membership of NATO.
It is longer still to be giving interviews where you proudly relate your encounter with a top British general who has publicly voiced his discomfort at the prospect of your party leader ever getting elected.
It is not hard to understand why Jeremy Corbyn might have been concerned with this aspect of the interview: McGinn’s resolute alignment with the British military establishment; his support for Trident; his support for UK membership of NATO; and, perhaps most egregiously, the flaunting of his chummy encounter with one of the main figures not only responsible for the Iraq war invasion, but also, for undermining, through his public remarks, the possibilities for a left-wing government in the UK.
If Corbyn was not concerned by this, let me venture that he bloody well should have been. Indeed, the fact he did not sack him immediately, but instead, as is reputed, mulled over putting in a call to McGinn père, does not fit well with the image of the ‘bully’ that McGinn, the opposition whip who co-ordinated the rolling resignations in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, has sought to portray.
Instead, it suggests a leader who is charitable to a literal fault, and who imagines, perhaps jokingly, that a paternal arm round the shoulder might set a wayward son on the straight and narrow. But subsequent to McGinn’s allegation, dozens of headlines appeared in the British press that associated Corbyn with bullying, even if only to report that he was denying the charge. Naturally, McGinn will never be asked by the press how such tenderness about bullying can be squared with his support for a permanent threat to incinerate millions of people.
On a media landscape that is overwhelmingly hostile to Corbyn, a ‘straightforward sort of fella’ like McGinn can shrug off whatever ridicule might be generated by him bringing his biological father into his own political wrangles. He can do so, moreover, safe in the knowledge that the damage to Corbyn, in terms of column inches at least, will be greater, and that the embrace for this member of the ‘intellectual side’ of the Labour Party from his Military Dads will be all the warmer, now that working class Paddy has helped flog the notion that Trident is the true Workers’ Bomb.