James Barrowman notes that while Jeremy Corbyn has repeatedly said he’s opposed to intimidation and bullying, there’s a mismatch between his words and his actions.
It’s not every day that the leader of a major political party alights on the eccentric disciplinary technique of phoning one of his MPs’ dads. So it’s hardly surprising that the allegation that Jeremy Corbyn did so in relation to Conor McGinn squeezed out the rest of Mr McGinn’s statement on the Labour leader. That was regrettable, because McGinn’s statement contained another allegation which appears to be just as revealing about Mr Corbyn’s attitude to intimidation.
On 17th July, a Twitter user with the username @frankryan1936 tweeted:
Camlough, in County Armagh, is Conor McGinn’s home village. The Twitter account which posted this message was apparently named after the IRA member pictured on the profile, which may be thought to give a more sinister slant to the implied threat.
Anonymous Twitter trolls are, of course, an unfortunate fact of modern life, even when they don’t adopt the guise of deceased paramilitaries. What made the tweet noteworthy was that, four days before it was sent, the same individual had tweeted this photo and text:
The NEC meeting in question, of course, would have been that which decided to put Mr Corbyn on the leadership ballot without requiring nominations. The obvious implication is that the individual behind @frankryan1936 is pictured in the photograph, alongside Mr Corbyn.
Both tweets were copied by Mr McGinn to Mr Corbyn, along with the perfectly reasonable request that he would like to be made aware of the responsible party. If the photo was what it appeared to be, after all, it would seem reasonable to assume that Mr Corbyn either knew who was in it, or could find out without too much difficulty. Both tweets were then deleted by @frankryan1936, although they can still easily be retrieved online.
Now, it may be that Mr Corbyn was genuinely unable to help. It may be that he was an innocent bystander in a photograph relating to something else entirely. It may be that @frankryan1936 was lying about being in the photograph, perhaps because he was one of those MI5 agents so beloved of Len McCluskey. Any of these explanations would be fair enough, although they would beg the question of why, therefore, the tweets had been deleted.
If one of those explanations had applied, though, you would have expected Mr Corbyn to have at least indicated to Mr McGinn (who remains, let us remember, one of Mr Corbyn’s whips) that this was the case. In his recent statement, however, Mr McGinn notes in relation to the episode that “I have not had any answer from Jeremy about his relationship with this person or an explanation about how s/he obtained the photograph”. So, clearly, Mr Corbyn has not bothered to assist Mr McGinn in any way whatsoever.
A pattern seems to be emerging. Fellow anoraks will recall that, at the recent launch of the party’s report on anti-semitism and racism, Marc Wadsworth, then a Labour party member, made an intervention implying that Ruth Smeeth, a Jewish Labour MP, was colluding with a journalist from the Daily Telegraph. Opinions differ as to whether his remarks were actually anti-semitic, or merely offensive and inappropriate. In any event, they prompted Ms Smeeth to get up and leave the event: reports stated that she was in tears.
Video of the press conference shows that all of this happened in front of Mr Corbyn, while he had a microphone. But rather than standing up for his MP, or condemning Mr Wadsworth, Mr Corbyn instead answered his question as if nothing had happened. Further footage of the event shows that, once it had come to an end, Mr Wadsworth gleefully made a beeline for Mr Corbyn, who smilingly chatted away to him, again as if nothing had happened, with Mr Corbyn at one point noting that he’d sent Wadsworth a text.
So, there have been two recent occasions where Labour MPs have been subject to unacceptable conduct in a public forum by one of Mr Corbyn’s supporters, where he could have done something about it, but where he actually did nothing at all, and indeed gave no indication that he saw it as a problem.
Mr Corbyn is perfectly entitled to protest that he is unable to control all of those who dish out intimidation and abuse in his name. To be fair, it would be unrealistic to expect that he could. Members are, though, equally entitled to place more weight on his actions than on his words. They may ask why, when Mr Corbyn was in a position to personally do something about intimidation and abuse, he chose not to, not once, but twice. And they may well conclude that he is either insincere about addressing intimidation and abuse, or that he rather lacks the will to do so when he has the chance. For a leader, I’m not sure which is worse.