Don’t Give Corbyn a Pass

The British Labour leader’s fondness for dictators and extremists should disqualify from heading a major party, much less a country.

Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn addresses supporters during a rally on Friday in Southport, England. 

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Donald Trump isn’t the only leader in the West seemingly incapable of calling out political violence. Less than a week before the president conspicuously neglected to denounce neo-Nazis and spoke of “violence on many sides” in Charlottesville, Virginia, British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn was asked if he condemned the violence perpetrated by the left-wing populist Venezuelan regime of Nicolás Maduro against its own citizens. “What I condemn is the violence that’s been done by any side, by all sides, in all this,” Corbyn, a vocal supporter of Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chávez, replied. A stubborn lack of moral clarity appears to be a trans-Atlantic (and bipartisan) affliction.

Watching Corbyn receive a standing ovation from his parliamentary caucus after Britain’s snap election last June, I felt the same twinge of dread I had standing on the floor of the Republican National Convention when Trump accepted his party’s presidential nomination last summer. Though Labour technically lost the June 8 general election, the party defied expectations, picking up 30 seats when it was expected to lose twice that many. Having led Labour to its biggest percentage point swing since Clement Attlee defeated Winston Churchill in 1945, Corbyn basked in the newfound gratitude of his colleagues, the majority of whom had voted against him in a no-confidence motion less than a year earlier.

Normalization is a word much bruited about these days to describe the ways in which Americans have acceded to all sorts of indecent and dangerous phenomena since Trump launched his successful campaign for president more than two years ago. With Corbyn, the list of deplorable things the British left has accepted is just as long. Since his election to Parliament in 1983, Corbyn has sided with practically every enemy of the British state, from the fascist Argentinian junta during the Falklands War to the Irish Republican Army to Vladimir Putin’s Russia. He has frequently shared platforms with and heaped praise upon violent extremist hate preachers. A sizeable portion of Corbyn’s supporters have engaged in reprehensible behavior toward his critics in a fashion similar to Trump’s more fanatical backers. And Corbyn’s ascension has corresponded with an appalling increase in anti-Semitism within the ranks of the Labour Party.

In spite of these manifest moral failings—which should be disqualifying for anyone seeking to represent, never mind lead, a respectable political party in a Western liberal democracy— Corbyn inspires nothing like the universal revulsion Trump has generated among right-thinking people. Thanks to his genial demeanor and left-wing politics, Corbyn has escaped the sort of scrutiny that a right-wing politician with similarly dubious associations and extremist views would inevitably attract. If a right-wing populist demagogue such as Trump is a threat to democracy and the liberal world order, which he surely is, then Corbyn’s left-wing populist demagoguery is no less a danger.

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Whereas Trump has merely expressed warm feelings for authoritarian leaders, Corbyn actually spent decades promoting, organizing alongside, and “normalizing” all manner of illiberal regimes and terrorist organizations. During the worst years of Northern Ireland’s “Troubles,” Corbyn was a vocal champion of the Irish Republican Army, inviting several of its leaders to Parliament just weeks after one of its bombs nearly killed then–Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. For the four years prior to his becoming Labour leader, Corbyn was chair of the Stop the War Coalition, essentially a communist front organization whose rote opposition to any and all Western military intervention bleeds into shilling for a variety of terrorist movements and dictators, from the Iraqi insurgency to Syria’s mass-murdering Bashar al-Assad. Not only did Corbyn accept up to 20,000 pounds (about $25,600) for appearances on the Iranian state-sponsored propaganda network Press TV, he once praised the Iranian regime’s “inclusivity and tolerance.”

When Venezuelan strongman Chávez died in 2013, Corbyn declared that the strongman was an “inspiration to all of us fighting back against neoliberalism and austerity in Europe and showing us there is a better way of doing things. It’s called socialism, it’s called social justice, and it’s something that Venezuela has made a big step towards.” (Asked recently by the BBC if his politics were closer to that of former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair or the Venezuelan regime, a Corbynite MP refused to answer). Corbyn similarly described Fidel Castro as a “champion of social justice.” And although Corbyn has demanded that Blair be brought to The Hague on war crimes charges, he denies that the ex-Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic was a war criminal. In 2005, Corbyn sponsored a parliamentary motion referring to “a ‘genocide’ that never really existed in Kosovo.”

Trump’s strange infatuation with Putin and his campaign’s ties to the Kremlin have rightly come under investigation, yet the relationship between Corbyn and Russia is just as extensive—and more ideologically substantive. Corbyn has appeared multiple times on the Kremlin propaganda network RT (formerly Russia Today) and recommends it as “more objective” than mainstream broadcast outlets such as the BBC. Whereas Trump is merely ambivalent about NATO, calling it “obsolete,” Corbyn has vocally opposed the Western military alliance for his entire political career, calling it “a danger to world peace.” Weeks after Russia annexed Crimea in the first violent seizure of territory on the European continent since World War II, Corbyn penned an article for the Morning Star, a communist newspaper, titled, “NATO Belligerence Threatens Us All.”

As for worries about Trump possessing the nuclear codes, Corbyn wants to abolish them entirely. Though he publicly (and reluctantly) supported Labour’s manifesto pledge to renew Britain’s Trident nuclear deterrent, Corbyn allegedly promised in private to scrap it “as soon as I can” once he becomes prime minister. This would be in keeping with his decadeslong support, dating back to the Cold War, for unilateral disarmament. Asked at a recent debate if he could imagine a situation in which he would ever use Trident, including an imminent nuclear attack on his own country, Corbyn refused to answer. Corbyn’s positions on Russia, NATO, and nuclear deterrence constitute a blatant repudiation of Labour tradition; under Attlee’s postwar leadership, the party was resolutely anti-communist, helped found the Atlantic military alliance, and acquired nuclear weapons. So extreme is Corbyn that the former head of Britain’s spy service recently declared him “unfit” to lead the country and that he “would not be cleared” to work for any of Britain’s intelligence agencies, a charge reminiscent of former CIA director Michael Hayden’s calling Trump “Moscow’s useful idiot.”

A great deal has rightly been made, particularly in the past two weeks, of Trump’s ties to and sympathy for the nebulous “alt-right.” For all of his adult life, Corbyn has inhabited a morally unhygienic hard-left milieu, reflected in the type of individuals with whom he has surrounded himself. His shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, not long ago put his name to a petition calling for MI5, Britain’s domestic security agency, to be disbanded and the armed police service to be disarmed. His chief media adviser, former Guardian editor Seumas Milne, is an apologist for Joseph Stalin and the East German communist dictatorship; he is to Corbyn what Steve Bannon is to Trump. In March, Corbyn appointed to his campaign team a longtime member of the Communist Party of Britain who has expressed “solidarity” with North Korea.

To be sure, Trump’s alt-right supporters have committed violence, while Corbyn’s hard-left ones only threaten it. But like Trump, Corbyn’s brand of left-wing populism inspires a moblike mentality and contempt for democracy. Prior to the election, Corbyn supporters across the country burned newspapers critical of their dear leader, proudly posting photos of their fascistic exploits on social media. In the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, Corbyn called for “requisitioning” private apartments, a Robert Mugabe–style abrogation of private property rights that threatens a core component of the free society. In the fire’s aftermath, McDonnell, who once praised Mao Zedong as a virtuoso of economic planning on the floor of the House of Commons, called for a million people “to get out on the streets” and force Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party government from office. (Ominously last year, the extra-parliamentary, pro-Corbyn campaigning organization Momentum, an extreme left party-within-the-party, dropped a commitment to nonviolence from its mission statement.)

While Corbyn himself may not personally rival Trump in misogyny, many of his supporters do. Last fall, 45 female Labour MPs wrote an open letter to Corbyn accusing him of failing to stop the “disgusting and totally unacceptable” sexist abuse directed at them, including “rape threats, death threats, smashed cars and bricks through the windows,” all “done in your name.” During the campaign, the BBC enlisted private security for its political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, due to violent threats she received from Corbyn backers.

Meanwhile, an entire ecosystem of highly partisan, conspiratorial pro-Corbyn websites has emerged over the past two years to rival the alt-right universe of Breitbart and Infowars that Trump has emboldened. Nor is such perfervid thinking limited to fringe websites: Guardian columnist Owen Jones, perhaps Corbyn’s most high-profile media supporter, recently reiterated a long-discredited conspiracy theory alleging an MI5 plot to take down Harold Wilson’s Labour government in the 1970s as pretext for claiming that, should Corbyn become prime minister, “the establishment” would similarly launch a “coup” against him.

Perhaps the most disturbing phenomenon to have become “normalized” in Britain thanks to Corbyn is anti-Semitism. It should hardly come as a surprise that a man who called Hamas and Hezbollah “friends,” attended pro-Palestinian events organized by a Holocaust-denier, invited a purveyor of the blood libel for tea at the House of Commons, and hosted programs on an Iranian propaganda network would embolden Jew-haters within Labour’s ranks. That was indeed the finding of a 2016 cross-party parliamentary inquiry into anti-Semitism, which concluded that Corbyn had “created what some have referred to as a ‘safe space’ for those with vile attitudes towards Jewish people” in his party. The nature of this “safe space” was illustrated when Labour chose not to expel former London Mayor Ken Livingstone for repeatedly (and inaccurately) claiming, in a series of interviews and public statements, that Adolf Hitler “supported Zionism.”

Like Trump backers who excuse the president’s obvious race-baiting as “fake news,” Corbyn supporters view the entire anti-Semitism controversy engulfing their party as a cynical, partisan campaign orchestrated by unscrupulous Jews “weaponizing” charges of anti-Semitism to defame his good character. According to David Hirsh, a professor of sociology at the University of London and author of a forthcoming book about left-wing anti-Semitism, “evidence about [Corbyn’s] record of embracing political anti-Semitism was generally met with the understanding that people said hateful things about Corbyn in order to smear the left and to silence criticism of Israel.” While it’s wrong to paint every Trump voter as a racist or misogynist, one nonetheless has to possess a rather high tolerance for racism and misogyny to have voted for the man. The same applies to anti-Semitism within the Labour Party, which Corbyn, far from combating, has institutionalized.

Aside from the conservative press and a handful of liberal columnists, however, Corbyn’s consolidation of control over Labour is arousing nothing like the outrage and apprehension mustered by Trump. Part of this insouciance is due to self-deception. For instance, many Corbyn defenders insist that, when the future leader of the Labour Party was attending IRA rallies or standing on stages draped with Hezbollah flags, he was merely encouraging “dialogue.” This is disingenuous, at best. For whether the cause was Northern Ireland or Palestine, it was only the most violent and rejectionist elements with whom Corbyn associated during his decades as a parliamentary backbencher. And he always did so in clear support of their tactics and objectives, not as some neutral arbiter facilitating “dialogue.”

Facile assertions to Corbyn’s being “the British Bernie Sanders” (which the Vermont senator has himself unwisely encouraged) are woefully unfair to Sanders; while the two may share a redistributionist economic agenda, Sanders does not have a record of denying genocide, stumping for terrorists, or praising Iranian theocrats. Like Trump’s apologists among mainstream Republicans, mainstream Labourites insist that Corbyn has “moderated” since taking control of the party two years ago, and that his 35-year history supporting extremists and apologizing for foreign tyrannies is irrelevant. Corbyn’s long history of unsavory associations, activities, and declarations were not youthful dalliances. They were the conscious commitments of a staunch, hard-left ideologue. His equivocating statement on the collapse of his socialist Venezuelan paradise—praising the Maduro regime’s “effective and serious attempts” to alleviate poverty—indicates that nothing, not even the utter destruction of a once-prosperous country, will alter this man’s dedication to authoritarian socialism.

Much like the Republicans and conservatives who condemned Trump as unfit for office yet nonetheless backed him for president, so too have many Labour MPs and left-wing commentators come around to accepting Corbyn. Three days before the election, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen endorsed the Labour leader for prime minister despite acknowledging his “anti-Americanism, his long flirtation with Hamas, his coterie’s clueless leftover Marxism and anti-Zionism, his NATO bashing, his unworkable tax-and-spend promises.” The New Statesman, Britain’s leading left-wing magazine, overnight went from warning about Corbyn’s being “engaged in a dance of death” to editorializing that “it is time for the party to unite behind him.” And on this side of the Atlantic, Corbyn enjoys a loud and vigorous following among many progressives.

Ever since Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party in the fall of 2015, his critics have registered two arguments against him. The first was practical: Corbyn is simply too left-wing and incompetent to ever win a general election; indeed, he would very likely destroy the party for a generation. The second was a matter of principle: Corbyn’s politics make him morally unsuitable to lead the country. As was the case with Trump, whose electability eventually obviated whatever moral qualms many conservatives had about supporting him, the second argument ought always to have taken precedence over the first. But in the wake of the June election and Theresa May’s bumbling leadership, many seem to believe that ostensible negation of the former somehow obviates the latter. And the prospect of a Prime Minister Corbyn is no longer the stuff of left-wing fantasy: Current polls indicate that, were another election held today, Labour would win.

The Corbynization of Labour bears many similarities to the Trumpification of the GOP: In both instances, political parties were overtaken by populists opposed to the American-led liberal world order, sympathetic to dictatorships (most prominently Russia), and indulgent of bigotry. The main difference is that whereas Trump hails from the nativist right, Corbyn descends from the antediluvian left. During last year’s American presidential election, as more and more conservatives shed their misgivings about Trump and fell into line behind him, a hypothetical question was frequently posed: Would the left behave any differently were a Trumplike demagogue to hijack their party? Now, in Britain at least, we have an answer.