Despite all the satirical pokery-jiggery that has graced these pages with regard to… well…. you know who, I had resolved to vote Labour on June 8th. As I outlined in my last blog things were looking up for our Jezza. Theresa May had crashed and burned over Social Care – although which did more damage, the ill thought through policy or the screeching U-turn we may never know for sure.
Mr C and his team had woken up to the realpolitik of winning elections: Don’t get tetchy; woo the middle classes; don’t get tetchy; offer lots of free money to people; don’t get tetchy; do up your tie and put on a proper suit like that nice Mr Cameron’s mum suggested; don’t get tetchy; keep offering free money, lots and lots of free money; don’t get tetchy; listen to the very expensive media advisor when he says that carping at the media looks weak and defensive; don’t get tetchy.
All of this is great – it’s genuinely positive stuff. Although I can’t help wondering, if Corbyn Mk I had campaigned for Remain with anything like the vigour and professionalism that the shiny new Corbyn Mk II has finally managed to sum up now he’s campaigning for himself, then without a shadow of a doubt we would still be in the EU and not having this election at all. For all the apologists who bleated: ‘He was campaigning for Remain, honest!’… This, what he’s doing now, this is what turning up for a campaign looks like.
But despite that awful sense of a betrayal confirmed, and despite still being profoundly unconvinced by the competence of the Labour front bench team – and suspicious of some of the movers and shakers lurking in the shadows, such as Seamus Milne, it seemed like a clear choice between a broadly well-intentioned Labour prospectus that would probably go off the rails fairly quickly, and an equally uncertain, but more frightening voyage into Tory darkness.
But then a mass murderer blew himself up in my city taking twenty-two innocent lives with him, and injuring dozens more. Life changing injuries. Young girls murdered for going out and enjoying themselves.
As the father of two daughters, for whom those first trips to the MEN Arena were as much of a Manchester rite of passage as they are for hundreds of thousands of their contemporaries, this felt like a particularly personal attack, a personal violation.
I’m decidedly uninterested in moral relativism. I’m decidedly uninterested blaming anyone other that the perpetrator (who I will not honour by naming on this page).
I find causal links to UK foreign policy largely simplistic and specious. ‘He was of Libyan descent. We intervened in Libya. It’s our fault for bringing down Gaddafi.’ I over simplify for effect, but I’m sure you know the kind of thing I’m talking about. The corollary that if we hadn’t intervened then this wouldn’t have happened doesn’t convince me… although I suppose the proposition that if we had left Gaddafi in place then he could have murdered all the terrorists at source, is quite seductive, albeit not particularly ethical in the Robin Cook model of foreign policy.
Again, I am being simplistically satirical for effect.
But that’s not to say that an event like this shouldn’t be seen in a wider context. Of course foreign policy has ramifications. It’s the binary analysis that’s offensive bollox.
But just as our foreign policy is part of a complex and often unpredictable narrative – so is the history of people aspiring to the highest of office in the UK government who have supported terrorism against the United Kingdom in the past.
On BBC1’s Andrew Marr programme on Sunday morning, prospective Home Secretary, Diane Abbott was challenged about a statement she had made in 1984 – when she was 31 – concerning the IRA: ‘Every defeat of the British state is a victory for all of us’ and that ‘a defeat for the British state would be a great liberation’.
Her response was: ‘I had a rather splendid Afro at the time. I don’t have the same hair style, I don’t have the same views – it is 34 years on.‘
When she said this, I felt physically sick.
One can only imagine that the 22 year old who murdered the young concert goers in our city had a notion somewhere in his head that his act was also an act of liberation.
Now, of course many completely decent people (myself most definitely included) have signed up to some pretty dodgy ideas in our time. That’s not the issue. What is very much the issue is how we use those mistakes, as we get older, to make ourselves into better people. Personally, I have never understood the British left’s love affair with the IRA, but if I had been of that inclination, just like Diane, and I was challenged thirty-seven years later by Andrew Marr, I hope I would have said something like this:
‘Yes, I did say that Andrew. And when I hear it back, or I read it… I am shocked and frankly ashamed of myself. Yes, I supported the idea of united Ireland, but I was immature – a political loudmouth I suppose, as many people are at that age – and the reality of even thinking that the murder of innocent people was in any way an acceptable price to pay for this objective was misguided and horribly wrong. But I have changed – the Diane Abbott of 1984 is a stranger to me now. And in the light of what happened in Manchester I can see that ever more clearly, and my own experience illustrates how easy it is for young minds to be seduced into support for what is little more than simplistic warmongering that results in nothing less than mass murder. But I changed. And my objective as Home Secretary would be to use every sinew in my body to work with families and young people to make sure that these poisonous patterns of thinking have nowhere to take root in the future.’
She could have said something like that.
But she didn’t.
She compared her ideas to an old haircut.
At this point, the character of the core Labour team became a deal breaker to me.
Abbott is the worst, because she is the clumsiest speaker, and the shallowest, most egotistical thinker. McDonnell to his credit apologised publicly for suggesting in 2003 that the IRA should be honoured for the bombings which brought the British government ‘to the negotiating table’ during the Northern Ireland peace process. Corbyn, however, is repeatedly quizzed as to his relationship with Hamas and Hezbollah – and where once he would get tetchy with a bright eyed Krishnan Guru-Murphy, he now has a nicely packaged answer that when he called them ‘friends’ it was simply the use of inclusive vocabulary in the noble cause of encouraging a dialogue. Really? Here’s a much fuller quote from a Stop The War speech in 2009:
Well… I’m sure people reading this will have their own view on the particulars, but to my eye this is at best gobsmackingly naive, and at worst… well… I don’t really want to go into that here.
The point with regard to my vote next Thursday is that I just can’t bring myself to put my cross in their box. Not because of media bias, or the patronising idea that somehow I’ve been brainwashed. Hopefully anyone who reads these pages knows that I fact check everything as best as I am able. I’m really not interested in being told what to think by anybody.
In light of that, I hear and understand the argument that I should think further than the past pronouncements of the core shadow team. ‘There are more immediate things at stake!’ I can see that – but for me – walking around the astonishingly moving floral tributes, balloons, candles, signed guitars in St Ann’s Square – this is something I simply can’t get past.
Some polling suggests that Labour could be in with a chance here and that the choice is very stark – especially with regard to the future of public services, health care, education and elderly care. Yes, I get that, and I would be willing to put my very strong doubts about their ability to fulfil their promises to one side…
…but on this issue, the one of trust, the one of values in terms of human life itself…
…after last week of all weeks…
…I cannot give these people my vote. I’m not seeking to persuade anybody else to do the same as me. I completely respect the other choice – I wish my Labour friends and candidates all the luck in the world – but democracy is, in the end, something intensely personal.
I just can’t do it.
And it hurts.