A brief turn in Brighton

Welsh Assembly member and leading Lib Dem blogger Peter Black
enjoys an all too short visit to Bri

The sunshine that greeted representatives as they arrived in Brighton managed to last into the Sunday morning, but by then the wind had already started to pick up and dark clouds were gathering above our heads. By Monday the wind had died but it was still overcast.

In contrast the mood of Liberal Democrats at this year's Conference is sunny and upbeat. At last we are really putting some meat on the bone with respect to our green policies, our Shadow Home Secretary is taking a principled Liberal Democrat stance on the surveillance society, including the whole state apparatus of ID cards, CCTV and DNA data banks and having settled for Ming as our leader, the vast majority are getting behind him and willing him to succeed.

As a Welsh Assembly member my stay here can be only short. The Assembly is back in session on Tuesday so I must leave the Sussex coast at 8am that day to debate affordable housing in a place where my views can hopefully have an immediate impact.

Most of the debates in the main hall on Sunday and Monday are English-only topics or on matters that I can safely leave to others, so my main focus has been on the fringe meetings and on the Welsh media. I made a point though of attending Ming's question time session, if only because the media will want my comments on the answer to the inevitable question on leadership.

Sunday saw an interview with Radio Wales and BBC Wales about the inevitable leadership issues, but this time the leadership of the Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly group as well. After that it was off to a meeting about the Severn Barrage, the Conference rally with the federal leader himself addressing us, Shelter and the annual Lib Dem blogger awards.

Entitled 'Human rights and civil liberties: home and abroad' the rally was a celebration of the essence of Liberal Democracy. A packed auditorium heard passionate speeches in defence of the right of dissent by Nick Clegg MP, Shami Chakrabarti of Liberty, Philippe Sands QC and Sir Menzies Campbell. If anybody ever questions what the Liberal Democrats are for again they should be made to watch video footage of this event.

Alas I did not win the award for best blog by an elected representative. That honour went instead toCouncillor Mary Reid of Kingston. Liberal Democrat blog of the year went to James Graham's Quaequam blog.

Highlight of the night was the award for most humorous Lib Dem blog, which was won by Liberal Mafia. In time honoured fashion Don Liberali was unable to attend in person but sent an acceptance note instead together with the present of a horses head, not a real one you understand but convincing nevertheless.

Monday saw a session with the Police Federation, held under Chatham House rules. This was an opportunity for both sides to explore issues of mutual concern and for some lobbying to be carried out in respect of our manifesto. The one thing that become evident as we move from fringe meeting to fringe meeting is the respect that various lobby groups have for our spokespeople. We listen and we respond. That does not always happen with Labour and the Tories.

Tuesday morning and I am on my way back to Cardiff. It has been fun. Roll on next year.

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No, Jeremy Corbyn did not refuse to condemn the IRA. Please stop saying he did

Guys, seriously.

Okay, I’ll bite. Someone’s gotta say it, so really might as well be me:

No, Jeremy Corbyn did not, this weekend, refuse to condemn the IRA. And no, his choice of words was not just “and all other forms of racism” all over again.

Can’t wait to read my mentions after this one.

Let’s take the two contentions there in order. The claim that Corbyn refused to condem the IRA relates to his appearance on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme yesterday. (For those who haven’t had the pleasure, it’s a weekly political programme, hosted by Sophy Ridge and broadcast on a Sunday. Don’t say I never teach you anything.)

Here’s how Sky’s website reported that interview:

 

The first paragraph of that story reads:

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been criticised after he refused five times to directly condemn the IRA in an interview with Sky News.

The funny thing is, though, that the third paragraph of that story is this:

He said: “I condemn all the bombing by both the loyalists and the IRA.”

Apparently Jeremy Corbyn has been so widely criticised for refusing to condemn the IRA that people didn’t notice the bit where he specifically said that he condemned the IRA.

Hasn’t he done this before, though? Corbyn’s inability to say he that opposed anti-semitism without appending “and all other forms of racism” was widely – and, to my mind, rightly – criticised. These were weasel words, people argued: an attempt to deflect from a narrow subject where the hard left has often been in the wrong, to a broader one where it wasn’t.

Well, that pissed me off too: an inability to say simply “I oppose anti-semitism” made it look like he did not really think anti-semitism was that big a problem, an impression not relieved by, well, take your pick.

But no, to my mind, this....

“I condemn all the bombing by both the loyalists and the IRA.”

...is, despite its obvious structural similarities, not the same thing.

That’s because the “all other forms of racism thing” is an attempt to distract by bringing in something un-related. It implies that you can’t possibly be soft on anti-semitism if you were tough on Islamophobia or apartheid, and experience shows that simply isn’t true.

But loyalist bombing were not unrelated to IRA ones: they’re very related indeed. There really were atrocities committed on both sides of the Troubles, and while the fatalities were not numerically balanced, neither were they orders of magnitude apart.

As a result, specifically condemning both sides as Corbyn did seems like an entirely reasonable position to take. Far creepier, indeed, is to minimise one set of atrocities to score political points about something else entirely.

The point I’m making here isn’t really about Corbyn at all. Historically, his position on Northern Ireland has been pro-Republican, rather than pro-peace, and I’d be lying if I said I was entirely comfortable with that.

No, the point I’m making is about the media, and its bias against Labour. Whatever he may have said in the past, whatever may be written on his heart, yesterday morning Jeremy Corbyn condemned IRA bombings. This was the correct thing to do. His words were nonetheless reported as “Jeremy Corbyn refuses to condemn IRA”.

I mean, I don’t generally hold with blaming the mainstream media for politicians’ failures, but it’s a bit rum isn’t it?

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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