On Thursday 12 November 2015 Mohammed Emwazi — ‘Jihadi John’ — was killed in a US airstrike. By the next morning Jeremy Corbyn had issued a statement regretting Emwazi’s death and wishing he had been given a fair trial. As a fan of justice but opponent of beheading charity workers I lay in bed that morning and felt conflicted about whether I agreed with Corbyn. By the time I was laying in bed on Friday night 129 people were dead in Paris and my own qualms about the morality of the US strike were gone.
It seems almost pointless to add to the outpouring of grief in response to that terrible attack. There are no words sufficient in strength which are yet unsaid. The world was united in pain and love. It is hard to think that this will not prove to be an event which shapes our culture. It has posed questions about who we are and the answers we are yet to find will define what we become.
Many will now accept that we are at war with ISIS (let’s call them Daesh — an acronym of their full name similar to the Arabic for sowing discord and crushing underfoot). To those who do not I would ask how many attacks need happen before we pluck our head from the sand. Their argument is akin to Roosevelt denying a state of war following the Pearl Harbor attack. Ultimately a war does not require the semantic consent of the victim.
Nobody wants war. Only Daesh glorify death and suffering. We all would prefer not to be in this situation. But it is reality and we must accept it.
Jeremy Corbyn denies that reality and betrays millions of people across the UK in so doing.
It is true that in an ideal world Emwazi would have been arrested and brought to trial. It is also true that in the real world there was absolutely no prospect of that happening. How would we effect such an arrest? I’m not certain smuggling a few PCSOs over the Syrian border would’ve achieved much. In the mean time, Emwazi and the other criminals of Daesh would continue to butcher and oppress. The price for milksoppish handwringing is more death and misery to the undeserving.
Corbyn can call for due process because he has the luxury of not being in power. This is circular, by the way. For as long as he fails to behave like a leader the public will ensure he is never put in a position which requires it. Being Prime Minister does require leadership. So does being the leader of the Labour Party.
Amongst those in that party who are most keenly aware of the burdens of leadership — its MPs — Corbyn has never enjoyed support. This is not, as many Corbynites would have it, evidence of some monstrous right-wing bias within the parliamentary party. Instead, MPs have had first hand experience of Corbyn’s failure to support the Labour leader in some of the most difficult decisions they have faced. Corbyn has enjoyed tremendous luxury in being allowed to plough his own furrow and only ever vote in accordance with what he thinks. Practicality has never tempered principle. People often say they wish for principled politicians but when something important is on the line they would prefer to be safe, comfortably-off and happy. Sometimes achieving that means doing things that you’d prefer you didn’t have to. It can involve hard decisions that you might make with the greatest reluctance for the greater good. And when previous leaders have done this, Corbyn has eschewed solidarity and comradeship and denounced the leadership.
Anyone can rebel. It’s easy to always choose the easiest path to walk down. It takes courage to make hard choices, integrity to show solidarity in difficult circumstances. Corbyn has never done this, and his response to the events of the last week have made his inexperience blaze brightly for all to see.
On Monday this inexperience reached a crescendo. Corbyn said in situations like Paris he would not support a shoot-to-kill policy. For many, myself included, this was utterly beyond belief and clearly exposed Corbyn as being unfit to lead this country. His sentiment was that of an academic or a philosopher, not of a Prime Minister or the leader of a mainstream political party. Would I want Jeremy Corbyn in charge of a crisis? Would you?
The answer amongst much of the country is likely to be ‘no’. Even amongst young people, his most supportive demographic, only 15% think he’s doing a good job as leader. His own MPs, though unpolled, are likely less favourable than that. On Monday night during one of the parliamentary party’s regular meetings Corbyn was the subject of huge derision. Furious MPs, echoing the country’s own disbelief, asked if he was really suggesting that he would refuse to authorise police to shoot dead a Kalashnikov-wielding terrorist. His allies in the Shadow Cabinet reportedly spent the meeting, which discussed vital national security issues at length, writing out a stack of Christmas cards.
We return to the question of experience. There is a clear demarcation emerging in the Shadow Cabinet between those who have it, and Corbyn and his allies who do not. Hilary Benn denounced Daesh as being “without a doubt, fascists”. As a mainstream left-wing party it is surely Labour’s duty to fight fascism in this new form, in solidarity with people across the world. Daesh are a murderous, barbaric death cult. There is no peace settlement with a group who thinks everyone should die.
Corbyn should have seized on this chance to uphold our principles. Instead he demurred, backtracking on his letter to Francois Hollande in which he promised to “support every effort to bring [the perpetrators] to justice” and insisting on a UN Security Council Resolution before he would back the targeted French airstrikes against Daesh strongholds in Syria. He will also attend the Christmas party of a group which says that the murder of 129 people in Paris was France reaping what it had sown by supporting previous airstrikes in Syria.
If by some miracle Jeremy Corbyn was elected as Prime Minister in 2020 the United Kingdom would be less safe. You would be less safe. Corbyn is a man suited to the backbenches, to attending protest groups and writing excoriatory letters to newspapers. He is not a man who has the bravery to do the right thing when it also happens to be the hard thing. After this week, I cannot defend Jeremy Corbyn on the doorstep, and across the country I know that thousands of other Labour activists will now find themselves in that same position.
For this reason he has let me down. He has let the party down. He has let his many supporters down. And by failing to offer a realistic alternative to the Conservatives he has let down millions of working and middle-class people across the country.
Corbyn should go. It is strictly necessary.