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By refusing to engage, Corbyn is digging a big hole

By Liam Clarke

Published 15/10/2015

Jeremy Corbyn has certainly flooded Labour with new members and ignited a debate since he took over as the party leader.

That is the end of the good news. So far he has shown no sign of being able to lead that debate, or direct those new members. On many issues, including Northern Ireland, he adopts the ostrich pose and, on others, he simply does a U-turn when he runs into trouble.

He has had a finding against the Daily Telegraph (no relation) for wrongfully implying he was anti-Semitic. That came after he dropped Ivan Lewis, a Jew, from the shadow Cabinet after Mr Lewis had suggested he should be more careful about appearing with groups like Hezbollah.

The Lewis affair, sacking by text, was badly handled, but so has much else. He avoids the Press if he feels they have awkward questions; he regards questions and criticism as naked hostility, and doesn't understand the opportunity that answering critics gives him. This week Corbyn is refusing to comment on a list of his involvement with Provisional republicans in the Eighties and Nineties. This time it was in the Sunday Telegraph, and all he will say in reply is that he opposes violence.

Every year between 1986 and 1992, when the IRA campaign was still under way, Mr Corbyn spoke at republican commemorations held to honour dead IRA "volunteers", "prisoners of war", as well as the "soldiers of the IRA". When he was secretary of the editorial board of Labour Briefing, the magazine praised the 1984 bombing of the Tory conference at Brighton. A statement written by the editorial board claimed "it certainly appears to be the case that the British only sit up and take notice (of Ireland) when they are bombed into it".

While the left-wing faction did not condone the Brighton terror attack, or express support for the IRA, it sympathised with "the Irish republican movement, though we may not always agree with all their tactics, or policies".

We'd like to hear what Mr Corbyn says about this, what context he can put it in, or if there are points he wishes to correct. It is jaw-dropping stuff, and most sensible politicians would deal with it. There is also material about John McDonnell, the shadow Chancellor. He allegedly opposed the negotiations leading up to Good Friday Agreement as an obstacle to Irish unity, though he later supported the peace settlement. Such allegations don't fade away if ignored. They fester if they are distained or left unanswered.

It's one thing making fire-breathing speeches when you are a backbencher with a niche market. It's another when you're leader of a major political party - then you are only digging the hole deeper by stubbornly refusing to engage.

Mr Corbyn is already in it up to his waist.

Belfast Telegraph

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