Labor leader on the horns of a dilemma

Posted By: May 25, 2018

Irish News Editorial.Belfast. Friday, May 25, 2018

Jeremy Corbyn plainly does not appeal to all sections of the party he leads, and has never pretended otherwise, but, as he demonstrated again during his visit to Belfast yesterday, he is a politician of rare gifts.

He sets out his position with considerable passion and undoubted sincerity, and there is something very refreshing about his determination to remain firmly on Labor’s left wing when a subtle shift toward the center ground could take him all the way to Downing Street.

However, Mr. Corbyn’s judgment on key issues can still be open to question, and his approach to the wider EU debate is a case in point.

He is plainly correct to stress that Labor will not support a Brexit deal which involved any suggestion of a hard Border in Ireland, but there are persistent hints that he viewed the EU largely as the creation of big business interests and was far from displeased over the outcome of the 2016 referendum.

Mr. Corbyn has taken a noticeably low-key approach to the upheaval over the UK’s future relationship with the Single Market and the Customs Union, and in many ways let Theresa May off the hook in the process.

When Labor’s respected shadow Stormont secretary Owen Smith put forward the reasonable proposal that a second EU poll on the central questions omitted from the ballot paper on the last occasion could be justified, he was sacked from his post without ceremony in March.

Despite being regularly portrayed by the DUP as a fervent supporter of a united Ireland, Mr. Corbyn managed to avoid any commitment to an early referendum on the issue yesterday and kept his thinking resolutely in line with the spirit and letter of the Good Friday Agreement.

As he enters his 70th year tomorrow, he will be acutely aware that he is only likely to have the chance to take charge of the Labor campaign in one more UK general election.

He must be hugely frustrated that, despite Mrs. May’s growing and well-documented struggles on a range of fronts, he has so far been unable to establish any significant advantage in the opinion polls.

Mr. Corbyn’s effective choice is between toning down his socialist beliefs to grasp the reins of power or standing by his principles and leaving his party on the opposition benches for another prolonged period.

It is not an unfamiliar dilemma for Labour leaders, but few of his predecessors have needed to make their choices at a period of such enormous political threats and opportunities.