CommentPlus: pick of the papers

The ten must-read pieces from this morning’s papers.

1. Bloody Sunday: Saville missed the chance of deeper healing -- seeing killers admit the truth (Guardian)

Northern Ireland's justice system now must try to balance priorities of peace and justice. But, says Jonathan Freedland, that dilemma would have been avoided if the inquiry had been less more like South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

2. For many, Saville has fallen short (Independent)

The report addresses some of the demands of the victims' families, says Henry Patterson. But there will be disappointment that the terms "murder" and "unlawful killing" don't appear.

Read the CommentPlus summary.

3. The truth. And anything but the whole truth (Times)

Yes, says Daniel Finkelstein, soldiers were guilty on Bloody Sunday. But the price of peace is that they must get the same leniency as the IRA.

Read the CommentPlus summary.

4. A programme to horrify politicians, but save Britain (Daily Telegraph)

Simon Heffer makes the case for extreme measures on the economy, endorsing a specimen Budget by the think tank Reform that calls for VAT on food and severe NHS cuts.

Read the CommentPlus summary.

5. We need new means to control deficits (Independent)

What is happening here is an attempt to recast government decision-making on fiscal policy, Hamish McRae explains. We're moving towards an extra-democratic body taking a long view of fiscal responsibility.

Read the CommentPlus summary.

6. Oil addiction is suicidal. It's also pointless (Times)

BP's real crime is wasting billions on risky exploration when new technologies are obviously the future, says Anatole Kaletsky.

Read the CommentPlus summary.

7. We should all have a say in how banks are reformed (Financial Times)

John Kay maintains that the value of banks lies in what they do for the rest of the economy, not for themselves. The separation of retail from investment banking would be a prelude to addressing the conflicts within investment banking itself.

Read the CommentPlus summary.

8. Football: a dear friend to capitalism (Guardian)

Terry Eagleton argues that if the Cameron government is bad news for those seeking radical change, the World Cup is even worse. The opium of the people is now football.

9. Too many forms to fill in? Welcome to our world, MPs (Times)

MPs are complaining about the hassle inflicted on them buy the new Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. Alice Thomson points out that we've put up with bureaucracy and incompetence for years.

10. Merkel's paralysis (Guardian)

Sabine Rennefanz describes how Germans are awaiting the fate of their hopeless coalition -- similar to Britain's, though it never had a honeymoon period. The obituaries are in.

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In the 1980s, I went to a rally where Labour Party speakers shared the stage with men in balaclavas

The links between the Labour left and Irish republicanism are worth investigating.

A spat between Jeremy Corbyn’s henchfolk and Conor McGinn, the MP for St Helens North, caught my ear the other evening. McGinn was a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour, and he obligingly revisited the brouhaha for the listeners at home. Apparently, following an interview in May, in which McGinn called for Corbyn to “reach out beyond his comfort zone”, he was first threatened obliquely with the sack, then asked for a retraction (which he refused to give) and finally learned – from someone in the whips’ office – that his party leader was considering phoning up McGinn’s father to whip the errant whipper-in into line. On the programme, McGinn said: “The modus operandi that he [Corbyn] and the people around him were trying to do [sic], involving my family, was to isolate and ostracise me from them and from the community I am very proud to come from – which is an Irish nationalist community in south Armagh.”

Needless to say, the Labour leader’s office has continued to deny any such thing, but while we may nurture some suspicions about his behaviour, McGinn was also indulging in a little airbrushing when he described south Armagh as an “Irish ­nationalist community”. In the most recent elections, Newry and Armagh returned three Sinn Fein members to the Northern Ireland Assembly (as against one Social Democratic and Labour Party member) and one Sinn Fein MP to Westminster. When I last looked, Sinn Fein was still a republican, rather than a nationalist, party – something that McGinn should only be too well aware of, as the paternal hand that was putatively to have been lain on him belongs to Pat McGinn, the former Sinn Fein mayor of Newry and Armagh.

According to the Irish News, a “close friend” of the McGinns poured this cold water on the mini-conflagration: “Anybody who knows the McGinn family knows that Pat is very proud of Conor and that they remain very close.” The friend went on to opine: “He [Pat McGinn] found the whole notion of Corbyn phoning him totally ridiculous – as if Pat is going to criticise his son to save Jeremy Corbyn’s face. They would laugh about it were it not so sinister.”

“Sinister” does seem the mot juste. McGinn, Jr grew up in Bessbrook during the Troubles. I visited the village in the early 1990s on assignment. The skies were full of the chattering of British army Chinooks, and there were fake road signs in the hedgerows bearing pictograms of rifles and captioned: “Sniper at work”. South Armagh had been known for years as “bandit country”. There were army watchtowers standing sentinel in the dinky, green fields and checkpoints everywhere, manned by some of the thousands of the troops who had been deployed to fight what was, in effect, a low-level counter-insurgency war. Nationalist community, my foot.

What lies beneath the Corbyn-McGinn spat is the queered problematics of the ­relationship between the far left wing of the Labour Party and physical-force Irish republicanism. I also recall, during the hunger strikes of the early 1980s, going to a “Smash the H-Blocks” rally in Kilburn, north London, at which Labour Party speakers shared the stage with representatives from Sinn Fein, some of whom wore balaclavas and dark glasses to evade the telephoto lenses of the Met’s anti-terrorist squad.

The shape-shifting relationship between the “political wing” of the IRA and the men with sniper rifles in the south Armagh bocage was always of the essence of the conflict, allowing both sides a convenient fiction around which to posture publicly and privately negotiate. In choosing to appear on platforms with people who might or might not be terrorists, Labour leftists also sprinkled a little of their stardust on themselves: the “stardust” being the implication that they, too, under the right circumstances, might be capable of violence in pursuit of their political ends.

On the far right of British politics, Her Majesty’s Government and its apparatus are referred to derisively as “state”. There were various attempts in the 1970s and 1980s by far-right groupuscules to link up with the Ulster Freedom Fighters and other loyalist paramilitary organisations in their battle against “state”. All foundered on the obvious incompetence of the fascists. The situation on the far left was different. The socialist credentials of Sinn Fein/IRA were too threadbare for genuine expressions of solidarity, but there was a sort of tacit confidence-and-supply arrangement between these factions. The Labour far left provided the republicans with the confidence that, should an appropriately radical government be elected to Westminster, “state” would withdraw from Northern Ireland. What the republicans did for the mainland militants was to cloak them in their penumbra of darkness: without needing to call down on themselves the armed might of “state”, they could imply that they were willing to take it on, should the opportunity arise.

I don’t for a second believe that Corbyn was summoning up these ghosts of the insurrectionary dead when he either did or did not threaten to phone McGinn, Sr. But his supporters need to ask themselves what they’re getting into. Their leader, if he was to have remained true to the positions that he has espoused over many years, should have refused to sit as privy counsellor upon assuming his party office, and refused all the other mummery associated with the monarchical “state”. That he didn’t do so was surely a strategic decision. Such a position would make him utterly unelectable.

The snipers may not be at work in south Armagh just now – but there are rifles out there that could yet be dug up. I wouldn’t be surprised if some in Sinn Fein knew where they are, but one thing’s for certain: Corbyn hasn’t got a clue, bloody or otherwise. 

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser