Election 2010 Lookahead: Monday 12 April

The who, when and where of the campaign.

And so begins week two of the 2010 election campaign:

Labour

Gordon Brown is in Birmingham today to launch Labour's manifesto (the Conservatives follow tomorrow, the Liberal Democrats on Wednesday). There has been much pre-launch speculation, including pledges to keep bus fares and children's clothes free of VAT, and raise tax credits for poor mothers.

Conservatives

The news agenda is likely to be dominated by Labour's manifesto, so Tory plans today have a certain "second division" feel to them (© Yvette Cooper). We have the shadow skills minister John Hayes unveiling a Tory apprenticeship scheme at a debate in Birmingham. The initiative includes a £2,000 incentive for small businesses to take on apprentices. Meanwhile, another senior Tory pitches up in Crawley. This time the party chairman, Eric Pickles, will be touring the constituency where Labour has a wafer-thin majority of 37 votes.

Liberal Democrats

Nick Clegg hosts his party's press conference in London this morning.

The media

Television executives are getting excited about the TV leaders' debates, which kick off this Thursday (ITV, 8pm). So, tonight we have Michael Cockerell's How to Win the TV Debate (BBC2, 7pm) and Tonight: Spotlight on the Leaders -- David Cameron (ITV, 8pm). Meanwhile, Panorama (BBC1, 8.30pm) asks Is Britain Full?, to which Ukip answers, "Yes, it is." (Some newspaper listings suggest Jeremy Paxman will be interviewing Nick Clegg at the same time on BBC1, but we're reliably informed that the immigration piece will be going out in its place.)

Away from the campaign

President Barack Obama hosts a global Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, DC. Gordon Brown has chosen to remain on the campaign trail, so while the PM stays at home the would-be Labour leadership contender, and current Foreign Secretary, David Miliband gets an opportunity to do his international statesman routine, flirt with Hillary Clinton and do his leadership chances no harm at all* (*assuming there's a leadership contest, of course).

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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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