Labour expresses anger after Cameron declares: "we're all Thatcherites now"

The party is increasingly concerned by the Tories' attempt to use Thatcher's death for political advantage.

In the nine days since Margaret Thatcher's death, Labour MPs have become increasingly troubled by the right's attempt to present Thatcher as a figure above and beyond party politics, so David Cameron's declaration on the Today programme that "we're all Thatcherites now" has unsurprisingly provoked a hostile response. 

Stewart Wood, Ed Miliband's chief strategist, who sits in the shadow cabinet as minister without portfolio, tweeted simply: "no we're not". Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson may have made much of their embrace of the Iron Lady's nostrums (indeed, Mandelson himself declared in 2002, "we're all Thatcherites now") but Labour's "new generation", which aspires to move the centre to the left as Thatcher moved it to the right, has less interest in consensus. 

With the local elections just two weeks away and Labour's poll lead at its lowest level for months, there is also concern at the largely free rein Cameron has been given to hail the values of a Conservative prime minister. Shadow immigration minister Chris Bryant tweeted after the interview: "Really surprised that a party leader was allowed on BBC without a single taxing question during local election campaign."

But others, including some in Labour, will accept Cameron's argument that the rest of the world would think it "extraordinary" if the nation did not formally mark the passing of its first (and only) woman prime minister and the first PM to win three elections under universal suffrage. Equally, however, Cameron would be wise to avoid any further hint of Tory triumphalism today. 

David Cameron speaks to employees of energy company E.ON during a PM Direct event in Coventry. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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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