Friday, 2 February 2018

BREAKING: Labour leader leaves national television interview with pants on fire

You could be forgiven for thinking that Andrew Marr’s interview last Sunday was to be an unremarkable one.

The first 16 minutes are fairly anodyne: the leader’s normal waffle on economics and the standard, disingenuous, face-both-ways position on Brexit. Important, but all things we know already.

From 16:25 we get onto Corbyn’s view that transgender people can self-identify, an issue rightly concerning a number of Labour women who see the incorporation of this into the Labour rulebook as a change fraught with opportunities for abuse, at “cis” women’s expense. A fair point. But to be realistic, this is an issue of probably minor importance to the electorate at large.

Then, nearly 19 minutes into a 21-minute interview, Marr, in a Lieutenant-Columbo-like manoeuvre, comes up with “just one more thing”, as he is metaphorically walking out the door, away from the scene of the crime.

“I was reading a poster, about an event celebrating the Iranian revolution, at which you spoke.”

Marr is gently pointing out that he had actively supported the Iranian regime in the past and not merely “engaged” with it.

“What?” The normally genteel Corbyn, for a second, is so startled, he almost snarls.

At this point, Corbyn recomposes himself and explains that he was on a delegation to Iran with other MPs, including former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, discussing nukes and human rights. So that’s all right then.

But it wasn’t all right. It wasn’t at all.

We should first of all explain that Marr – although he was clearly not briefed in enough detail by his researchers to challenge Corbyn – was clearly talking about an entirely different event, in the UK and not Iran.

This is the event that Corbyn actually spoke at (from 1:56 – hat-tip to Dan Hodges, formerly of Labour Uncut):

It was a celebration by pro-Khomeinists in London, 2014, a mere 18 months before becoming party leader. It was nothing to do with the Iran visit at all, and Corbyn did not have the alibi of being one of many MPs on a delegation.

In the clip, Corbyn is effusive in his praise for the regime and, in particular, its “inclusivity, tolerance and acceptance” (subtext for human rights). He predictably blames current tensions on maps drawn up a century or more ago by the Allies. Ironically, he is here expressing his strong desire for disarmament and peace, even as the country he spoke about is building up its nuclear capability and preparing to stymie the inspectors three years later.

All this in mind, in the context of Iran, at least, it is difficult for the phrase “useful idiot” not to spring irresistibly into one’s mind. Rather than confronting them on human rights and nuclear abuses, he is actively complimenting the regime and, to a large extent, in his office as a British MP, legitimising it by his presence at the rally.

But back to the interview. Let us assume, for a moment, that Corbyn is genuinely mistaken and not deliberately evading the issue by answering a different, more benign point from the one Marr made.

Apparently now caught off guard, there then follow, astonishingly, three outright lies in rapid succession from the Labour leader.

While the Guido Fawkes blog is hardly staffed by friendly Labour supporters, it is difficult to argue against the following conclusions they made:

1. Corbyn says he took money from PressTV “a very long time ago” (it was 2012, only three years before becoming leader).

2. He says he stopped when they “treated the Green movement the way that they did” (no, that was 2009, three years before).

3. He says that he had, on each occasion, “made my voice very clear about human rights abuses” (all the appearances are available on YouTube and there is no evidence that Corbyn did any such thing).

After the third lie, it feels as if, somewhere in the studio, there is a cock about to crow.

But the sad thing is this: we barely notice now. This is where politics has got to in 2018, in the era of Trump.

Think about it: the Leader of the Opposition says three things which are easily proved to be untrue on national television in the space of around 20 seconds and the public barely bats an eyelid. And this phenomenon is not at all normal in any historical sense, at least in peacetime.

Ah, but they all do it, we hear someone say in a cynical tone. Tony Blair and the 45 minutes, eh?

But they don’t. At least, not in Britain, up to about 2015, they didn’t. Blair’s message, based on the best intelligence reports available, may have got mangled or exaggerated. You may agree or disagree with military action in Iraq, fair enough. But he never, ever, tried to scramble for an answer, lie and obfuscate because of something embarrassing in his past. Corbyn has no choice: his past is full of embarrassments and this is the age of the internet, where everything is available.

By the same token, Cameron did not make things up about Brexit (although his opponents did, as did David Davis recently over impact analyses), or before that as PM. Neither did Brown, Major or Thatcher. Or their opponents as Leaders of the Opposition, up to and including Miliband. Because British politics is not Russian politics and is, amazingly, one of the most truthful and least corrupt (if not theleast corrupt) in the Western world.

Besides, the media would call you out on it and it would be a big deal. But what Trump, Putin, Fox News, Breitbart and the age of the internet have jointly pulled off is a masterstroke: it’s to weaken confidence in an independent press altogether and, by extension, in democracy.

In short, Trump’s “fake news” is a disastrous meme, cancerous to democracies everywhere. While it may sometimes be true, those who use the words most frequently seem, unsurprisingly, to be the same people who have been caught lying. It’s a get-out-of-jail-free card.

Vladimir Putin, who stands to gain most from this killing off of trust in democratically-elected politicians and the media, must be, as Lou Reed once put it, “laughing till he wets his pants”.

The moral is simple: politicians shouldn’t lie, and British ones mostly don’t or, at least, didn’t. But in this brave new world of fact-free politics, it is desperately sad to see a Labour leader – a Labour leader – put himself at the front of that particular queue.

This post first published at Labour Uncut

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