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Day after he refused to denounce IRA decades, Jermey Corbyn rails at wartime bombs on Japan

By Liam Clarke

Published 07/08/2015

Jeremy Corbyn lays flowers during an event to mark the 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima bomb, in Tavistock Square, London
Jeremy Corbyn lays flowers during an event to mark the 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima bomb, in Tavistock Square, London

At West Belfast Talks Back, Labour leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn was introduced as "the devil". It drew a laugh, and inspired a cartoon, but in truth Mr Corbyn was more like a slightly diffident sociology lecturer.

He's been compared to Professor Dumbledore, the headmaster in the Harry Potter books, but he puts you more in mind of a left wing academic at his alma mater, North London Polytechnic.

A lot of Labour politicians start off that way, but mellow in power, just as many Tories start off right wingers but move to the centre. It is part of seeing the books when you enter government and realising that things aren't as simple in practice as they seemed in principle.

Yesterday, Mr Corbyn called for an end to the UK's nuclear weapons programme at a Hiroshima memorial event in Tavistock Square, London. But the day before, he couldn't bring himself to condemn the IRA bombs that killed hundreds here.

He didn't appear entirely on top of the Northern Ireland brief. It showed when he refused interviews not handpicked by the Feile organisers. When the line went dead with Stephen Nolan he refused to speak to him again. An aide told the BBC star that he was "unnecessarily rude" in demanding to know if he condemned IRA violence.

For an experienced politician it is amazing that he was thrown by such a question. He has been asked the same thing many times before and he can expect to be asked it even more "rudely" if he wins the leadership and he wouldn't be able to escape them as Prime Minister at the dispatch box.

Jeremy Corbyn: full audio from West Belfast Festival debate  

Mr Corbyn formed his opinions on this place in the Troops Out Movement and in talking to Sinn Fein. A lot of it is broad brush stuff. In parts of 1980s radical London, the Northern Ireland conflict was seen in the same light as the Anti Apartheid movement and Palestinian Solidarity, both of which Mr Corbyn supported. Refusing to condemn the insurgents was seen as a test of character. The problem is that the situations are different. Mr Corbyn showed where he stood by inviting Gerry Adams to the House of Commons a fortnight after the Brighton bombing.

So Mr Corbyn may change if he succeeds, but at 66 it won't be easy. He will certainly have to read himself into the job.

His answers on Welfare Reform suggested that he didn't realise the Northern Ireland Assembly was allowed to top up welfare payments themselves.

"What they are essentially doing is not providing either the resources to the Assembly to fund the welfare system properly or allowing the Assembly to do it itself with the money," he said of the British government on radio. At times he seemed all over the place.

He told his audience that there was no interest in standing candidates in Northern Ireland within UK Labour. He didn't mention that it is committed to reviewing the issue each parliament, that the Irish Labour Party has passed a motion calling for it to cooperate and that several MPs supported it.

And he enraged some victims groups by refusing to explicitly condemn IRA attacks but condemning the Army. These are all loose ends he left dangling, preferring to speak in generalities. His Irish trip, though carefully stage-managed, has left quite a few unfunded pledges and hostages to fortune.

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