Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

Jeremy Corbyn quotes Enver Hoxha at Labour party Christmas party

The Labour leader quoted the Albanian dictator at the party's Christmas bash, who he dubbed "a tough leader".

Jeremy Corbyn stunned attendees at Labour's staff Christmas party by quoting Enver Hoxha, the Albanian dictator who served as chairman of the Democratic Front of Albania and commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces from 1944 until his death in 1985. 

Dubbing Hoxha a "tough ruler", Corbyn quoted Hoxha's phrase that "this year will be tougher than last year". Hoxha is believed to have imprisoned, tortured or executed at least 100,000 Albanians during his reign. 

The party - thrown for both current staff and veterans of the 2015 election campaign - was stunned by the remarks, which will raise memories of John McDonnell's decision to quote Mao Zedong's Little Red Book in the House of Commons. One attendee described the reaction as "awkward laughter". Others had to Google the autocrat, who is a relatively-obscure figure in Britain. The row over Mao overshadowed Conservative U-Turns on cuts to tax credits and the social security budget.

Others defended Corbyn, however. One staffer said that "he was trying his best to speak to a room of people who he will never like or trust and who will never like or trust him".  The remark is believed to have been in jest.

UPDATE 10/12/2015:

Simon Mirakaj, head of the Albanian Institute of Formerly Persecuted People, has been in touch with the New Statesman. Mirakaj, who was personally imprisoned for 44 years, described Hoxha as leaving an "unhealed wound" on Albanian society, who "filled the streets of Albania with tears and blood" and condemned the joke.

"In my family, the 'tough leader' sentenced us together to 950 years [in aggregate] of prison, forced labour camps and executions. [In Albania] there are 6000 people executed with and without a judicial process and we still haven't found their graves, we have had 30,000 political prisoners and 200,000 people put in labour camps." 

That the remark was intended as a joke recieved short shrift from Mirakaj. He said: "In September 2014 our country was visited by Pope Francis. This was his first visit in Europe. He didn’t choose Albania as a developed country. He chose Albania for the reason this country suffered most during communism."

"There is no bigger insult for the Catholic Church," he added, "That in a Christmas party a name of a dictator such as Enver Hoxha is quoted." 

It remains Labour party policy not to comment on private gatherings. 

I'm grateful to ABC's Vincent Triest, who put Simon Mirakaj in touch with the New Statesman. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

Getty
Show Hide image

Leader: Trump and an age of disorder

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions.

The US presidency has not always been held by men of distinction and honour, but Donald Trump is by some distance its least qualified occupant. The leader of the world’s sole superpower has no record of political or military service and is ignorant of foreign affairs. Throughout his campaign, he repeatedly showed himself to be a racist, a misogynist, a braggart and a narcissist.

The naive hope that Mr Trump’s victory would herald a great moderation was dispelled by his conduct during the transition. He compared his country’s intelligence services to those of Nazi Germany and repeatedly denied Russian interference in the election. He derided Nato as “obsolete” and predicted the demise of the European Union. He reaffirmed his commitment to dismantling Obamacare and to overturning Roe v Wade. He doled out jobs to white nationalists, protectionists and family members. He denounced US citizens for demonstrating against him. Asked whether he regretted any part of his vulgar campaign, he replied: “No, I won.”

Of all his predilections, Mr Trump’s affection for Vladimir Putin is perhaps the most troubling. When the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, warned that Russia was the “number one geopolitical foe” of the US, he was mocked by Barack Obama. Yet his remark proved prescient. Rather than regarding Mr Putin as a foe, however, Mr Trump fetes him as a friend. The Russian president aims to use the US president’s goodwill to secure the removal of American sanctions, recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and respect for the murderous reign of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. He has a worryingly high chance of success.

Whether or not Mr Trump has personal motives for his fealty (as a lurid security dossier alleges), he and Mr Putin share a political outlook. Both men desire a world in which “strongmen” are free to abuse their citizens’ human rights without fear of external rebuke. Mr Trump’s refusal to commit to Nato’s principle of collective defence provides Mr Putin with every incentive to pursue his expansionist desires. The historic achievement of peace and stability in eastern Europe is in danger.

As he seeks reconciliation with Russia, Mr Trump is simultaneously pursuing conflict with China. He broke with precedent by speaking on the telephone with the Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-wen, and used Twitter to berate the Chinese government. Rex Tillerson, Mr Trump’s secretary of state nominee, has threatened an American blockade of the South China Sea islands.

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions. The US constitution, with its separation of powers, was designed to restrain autocrats such as the new president. Yet, in addition to the White House, the Republicans also control Congress and two-thirds of governorships and state houses. Mr Trump’s first Supreme Court appointment will ensure a conservative judicial majority. The decline of established print titles and the growth of “fake news” weaken another source of accountability.

In these circumstances, there is a heightened responsibility on the US’s allies to challenge, rather than to indulge, Mr Trump. Angela Merkel’s warning that co-operation was conditional on his respect for liberal and democratic values was a model of the former. Michael Gove’s obsequious interview with Mr Trump was a dismal example of the latter.

Theresa May has rightly rebuked the president for his treatment of women and has toughened Britain’s stance against Russian revanchism. Yet, although the UK must maintain working relations with the US, she should not allow the prospect of a future trade deal to skew her attitude towards Mr Trump. Any agreement is years away and the president’s protectionist proclivities could yet thwart British hopes of a beneficial outcome.

The diplomatic and political conventions embodied by the “special relationship” have endured for more than seven decades. However, Mr Trump’s election may necessitate their demise. It was the belief that the UK must stand “shoulder to shoulder” with the US that led Tony Blair into the ruinous Iraq War. In this new age of disorder, Western leaders must avoid being willing accomplices to Mr Trump’s agenda. Intense scepticism, rather than sycophancy, should define their response.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era