Jeremy Corbyn refused to say that he would order the police to kill active terrorist gunmen if the Paris attacks were to be repeated in London. Anyone unable to see this stark issue in clear moral terms is unfit to lead the Labour Party, let alone their country
Jeremy Corbyn was asked a very straightforward question today.
While giving an interview to the BBC about the terrorist attacks in Paris, the Labour leader was asked:
“If you were prime minister, would you be happy to order people – police or military – to shoot to kill on Britain’s streets?”
To be clear: this wasn’t about armed robbers, car thieves or crazy people with knives – it was specifically about a future terrorist attack like the bloodbath in Paris on 13 November.
And the Leader of the Opposition – our alternative prime minister in waiting – responded:
“I’m not happy with a shoot to kill policy in general. I think that is quite dangerous, and I think can often be counterproductive. I think you have to have security that prevents people from firing off weapons where you can. There are various degrees of doing things as we know, but the idea you end up with a war on the streets is not a good thing. Surely you have to work to try and prevent these things happening, that’s got to be the priority”.
So that’s a no, then. If armed terrorists killed innocent Londoners having dinner at a restaurant before going on to commit a massacre at a West End theatre, authorising the use of lethal force to subdue the terrorist attack and save the victims would be “counterproductive”.
If a politician equivocates or dodges a simple question, it is usually because they know that giving an honest answer or revealing their true thoughts on a subject will offend or alienate a critical voter bloc, special interest group or audience.
When David Cameron refuses to explicitly say that he might campaign for Brexit if he does not get the concessions he wants from his EU renegotiation, it is because he wants to appear tough to eurosceptics while desperately trying to avoid scaring pro-European Tories and his EU partners.
And when Chuka Umunna says that he supports the junior doctors but opposes their planned strike action, he is willing to endure looking ridiculous on national television is because he is determined to suck up both to NHS workers who want to strike and to his constituents, who do not want to see their health service disrupted. It’s Boris Johnson’s policy on cake all over again.
So what group of people could Jeremy Corbyn possibly be so desperate to avoid offending that he point-blank refused to say that the British police should shoot to kill any hypothetical terrorist gunmen on the rampage in London?
Exactly who is Corbyn trying to appease or placate by twisting himself in such rhetorical knots and avoiding giving the answer that 95% of the British public want and expect to hear? There can only be one answer. And it is a sickening one.
Jeremy Corbyn can’t publicly say that he would definitely order British police to kill armed terrorist gunmen in the middle of carrying out an attack because the people he is desperate to avoid offending – the constituency he is trying to court but cannot do so out in the open – are either those who might themselves one day decide to go on the rampage with a Kalashnikov on Oxford Street, or those who would cheer them on from the couch. Just like his Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell could never find a bad word to say about the IRA, because they were secretly his constituency.
I’ve spent most of the afternoon and evening since that interview in a state of incredulity, trying to think of another possible reason for Corbyn’s long-winded evasion, and I have come up short. There is no other explanation. Jeremy Corbyn’s core constituency – the ones who must never be questioned, insulted or offended – are the people who watched Death shroud the City of Light last weekend while cheering with glee.
I was wrong. I supported Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership contest after a navel-gazing general election campaign focused almost exclusively on domestic policy and lacking any compelling vision for Britain’s future. In that context, it seemed that having a major party leader planted firmly outside the stale, centrist political consensus could only be a good thing.
I hoped that a left wing true-believer at the head of the Labour Party might force David Cameron’s Coke Zero Conservative government to rediscover its ideological backbone and make a real dent in the bloated British state. It was a noble dream, even though I caveated my endorsement of Corbyn at the time by pointing out that Corbyn’s foreign and defence policies were utterly wrong:
For all that Jeremy Corbyn has done to breathe life into a stale political scene, his foreign policy positions are indefensible and often dangerous. Where there should be simplicity – like abhorring the murder of British soldiers by terrorists – Corbyn sees great moral complexity. And where there is genuine complexity – like tackling extremism and radicalisation in modern Britain – Corbyn sees simple solutions which demand nothing of those most likely to forsake their British freedoms and take up arms against us.
But Corbyn’s foreign and security policies are not just wrong – they are downright dangerous. Never mind the sixth-form naivety behind his desire for unilateral (and unreciprocated) British nuclear disarmament. Never mind his desire to run down the Armed Forces to a degree that would make David Cameron look like a neoconservative defence hawk. Jeremy Corbyn cannot even look the British people in the eye and tell them that he would authorise the use of deadly force to save them from an ongoing terrorist attack. Because he would much rather negotiate with the gunmen instead.
There’s nothing to say in defence of that sentiment, of that ludicrous, naive stance. It blows any and all arguments in favour of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership – and there are some, despite what those who have been against him from day one may say – clean out of the water. It embarrasses and shames those of us who supported Corbyn hoping that an unapologetically left wing voice at the top level of British politics might reinvigorate the domestic debate. And it should make us all very, very angry.
This blog strongly disagrees with Dan Hodges’ call for more government surveillance in the wake of the Paris attacks, but he is dead right in his assessment of the political reality now faced by the Labour Party.
Neither [Jeremy Corbyn or John McDonnell] actively supports terrorism. But their world view, their instincts and their need to appease a constituency that views Isil and “Western imperialism” as different sides of the same coin means that were they ever called on to confront the terrorists practically, they would falter. Reduced surveillance. Reduced global anti-terror cooperation. No airstrikes against Isil in Syria or Iraq. No drone strikes anywhere. Direct Stop The War input into UK security policy.
We have heard a lot from Labour MPs about the difficulties of finding a way of removing Jeremy Corbyn. Tough. They will have to find a way.
Because if they don’t, then it’s not just Corbyn and the terror appeasers who will pay the price. Every member of the shadow cabinet, every Labour MP and every Labour activist will find themselves tainted by the Tory charge that Labour cannot be trusted to keep this country safe. And they will be tainted with it because it will be true.
Nearly every politician can count some unsavoury groups or individuals among their supporters and core constituents, be it Big Tobacco, Big Pharma, media conglomerates, the firearms industy (in America) or others. And to some degree that’s the cost of doing business in our jaded political world – it shouldn’t happen, but it is very difficult to stamp out without draconian campaign finance reform.
It’s bad enough for a politician to legislate in favour of a certain industry when they receive campaign contributions from that group, essentially allowing our democracy to be bought and sold to the highest bidder. But it is even more of an outrage for a senior politician to advocate extreme pacifist policies toward aggressors when that politician already has a reputation for channelling the narrative of the group that most stands to benefit from a weak Britain.
The only public figure who might reasonably suggest – if taken literally – that we should turn the other cheek as we are being mown down in a hail of automatic weapons fire is that other, more famous pacifist and JC – Jesus Christ. But while Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader of the Labour Party was many things, the second coming it certainly was not.
The Lord is allowed take an absolutist position on violence, and we should be inspired by His words as far as we can practically follow them. But Jeremy Corbyn – and British politicians in general – operate not in the spiritual realm, but rather the temporal world. They have a duty to preserve our country and protect our citizens – those of all faiths and none – above everything else.
Jeremy Corbyn is not a rabble-rousing backbencher any more. He is the Leader of the Opposition, and one of the most high profile politicians in the country. And therefore when he says that he is “not happy” with a shoot first policy when it comes to terrorist gunmen, we must take him at his word.
And then, once our shock has abated, we should immediately stop taking seriously anything else that Corbyn and his party have to say on foreign and security policy.
Agree with this article? Violently disagree? Scroll down to leave a comment.
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Remember the last ‘Terrorist’ gunned down on a tube train? He turned out to be an innocent Brazilian workman! This is what happens when hysterical reactions rule the day, are we not supposed to be better than this?
Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.
The wrongful killing of Jean Charles de Menezes is not the right comparison, because it did not take place during a live terrorist incident. The scenario that Corbyn was asked about (though not the one he chose to answer) was the case of a live incident where terrorist gunmen were in the middle of an attack. That wasn’t the case with de Menezes, he was the victim of twitchy-fingered armed police in the tense days after 7/7, as I pointed out in my latest piece:
Corbyn was asked specifically about a Paris-style situation, and it was in that context that his worrying comments should be understood.
I am not a Corbin supporter politically, but I have to agree with him that it is better not to have to shoot in the 1st place! I think the point he was making has been lost as people have jumped to the conclusion he wouldn’t defend this country.It’s the police and Army who will be making the decisions about who and when to shoot Political dialog will eventually sort out his mess, once ISIS has been militarily defeated. Sadly the only way to do that is to send in the troops! It looks as though the French and Russians will probably do it for us. Moral in the military is rock bottom and there are so few of them left we really cannot do much in any case! At home we have to set about integrating Muslims and doing away with the poison of multiculturalism that is allowing a two state situation to develop!
Many thanks for reading, and for the comment. Of course I agree that it is better that the awful scenario never happen in the first place – but that much should really go without saying, and Corbyn didn’t need to waste precious seconds of a TV interview stating the obvious. Corbyn was asked specifically about what he would want the police or army to do in their response to a Paris style attack, and his equivocating politician’s answer is, in my view, cause for concern.
I’m increasingly coming to agree with your position on the need for ground troops to defeat ISIS. Of course we must work to defeat the ideology too, but the physical component cannot be ignored. But as you say, swingeing defence cuts by our supposedly conservative government have effectively reduced the strength of our Armed Forces by as much as 30%, making any foreign expeditions exceedingly difficult – and that’s before the political opposition is factored in.
And I totally agree with your point on the head-in-the-sand extreme form of multiculturalism that has been preached for too long. We must do more to promote our common Britishness, so that we do not continue to see radical Islamist communities living parallel but entirely separate lives in our country.
Sometimes I like Corbyn and might even agree with what he has to say, or at least symapthise with some of his rather more rash ideas and approaches to the media. This time… not so sure. When faced with a threat to life and the security of this nation on the magnitude of the sort of thing we have seen in Paris this weekend, I somehow wonder if tear gas, rubber bullets and Tasers will be quite enough. It seems to be stretching to incredulity that one will *not* need to use, in the worst case scenario, potentially lethal force.
Nor will it appeal to a fair chunk of his potential voter base, who if some are anything to go by are very likely to be of the “just shoot the b******s” mindset for far less than this.
Anyone who could answer the question, “If you were prime minister, would you be happy (oh, how I wish for the bold or underline option) to order people – police or military – to shoot to kill on Britain’s streets?” with a ‘yes’ is frankly a far scarier prospect than a man who would look for a less dramatic resolution. He didn’t say he wouldn’t do it. He said he wouldn’t be happy to do it and I, for one wouldn’t want to live in a country where such a huge decision could be easily made. The American police use us as an example of how to defuse and detain. Do not suggest we abandon our liberty in fear of our security. That’s the good old ‘fear the enemy at the gates,’ method of keeping the people down and it’s ugly.
I agree with most things you said, I used to vote labour but not any more, he wants talks with Syria, how can that help! We must take a stance against terrorism! He doesnt respect his country men or the Royal family! Theyve lost my vote now! He talked more about manhole covers than the Paris situation! Hes no leader. Hes a sheep!
“hypothetical terrorist gunmen on the rampage in London”
You mean like the totally innocent Brazilian guy who was gunned down after 7/7?
The tone of this article disgusts me from start to finish. Such a warped mindset, deliberate misinterpretation throughout!
Jean Charles de Menezes was not a terrorist gunman (as tragically turned out to be the case), and his shooting did not take place in the middle of a live terrorist attack, so your comparison is not valid. We’re not talking about twitchy-fingered armed police in the days following an attack, this is about whether the police are entitled to use armed force against the perpetrators *whilst an attack is in progress*.
There was no misinterpretation – I make very clear in the piece and throughout this comments thread that this relates to a live terrorist incident. Yet Jeremy Corbyn was unable to provide a clear, unambiguous statement of how he would respond.
I don’t think the de Menezes case is entirely irrelevant- it does highlight the issues surrounding wha happens when you give police certain powers to use deadly force, and the need to have very stringent guidelines as to how those powers are to be operated. Does it negate the need for deadly force in any eventuality, though? I doubt it.
Thanks as always for the comment, hope you’re well! I agree that the tragedy of the de Menezes case is very instructive in terms of armed police policy and rules of engagement in general, for the reasons that you say. And Britain already has some of the strictest rules about when police can use such force. Any time a police officer discharges their firearm at a suspect a complaint is automatically opened, and it is then incumbent on the officer and police force concerned to demonstrate that the use was proportionate to the risk. Compare that to the United States, where mentally ill people and other unfortunate victims are gunned down with impunity.
However, Corbyn was asked the question in the clear context of the Paris shootings. He may have twisted his interpretation of the question so he could speak about “shoot to kill” more generally, but the question he was asked was about a live terrorist incident with active gunmen attacking civilians. It was clear to Corbyn that that was the question people expected him to answer. And it was in that context that Corbyn was unable to force the words “kill” and “terrorist” from his lips in the same sentence, which I do think is quite telling… I say this as someone who welcomed Corbyn’s election as Labour leader, including prominently on this blog, but who is very disturbed by nearly every one of his pronouncements on foreign policy.
its been pretty clear that a political ideology with revenge at its heart fails every time. In fact, thats what has caused ISIS.
Its easy to be angry or want ‘an eye for an eye’ but we’ll all run out of eyes before you know it, and then what??
What is the debate here? Is Corbyn any good – yes.
Should we shoot our enemies, – well we’d rather not shoot anyone.
What do terrorists do that we think is wrong? Is it the violence to people? Is is the lack of control we then feel? Is it damage to property? Do we just not like being pushed around?
If someone throws a grenade into a crowded room, then someone in the crowded room responds by throwing one back, we’re gonna be killing each other forever.
And why? because we have different views about which end of the egg to break first? Or is this something else.
I do not like this article, as it focuses on someone who was elected by a huge majority, huge. And since more people have joined the labour party than are actually in the conservatives. That tells you he has the support of the people. So I’m guessing that this article is about creating a sense of divide, a sense of confusion, and not respectful of democracy. Sounds a bit like terrorism.
Thanks for the comment Paul.
However, I would point out that Corbyn was elected by a “huge minority” only of that tiny sliver of the population who call themselves Labour Party supporters. That’s not the same thing as having a broad national democratic mandate – indeed, it could hardly be more different.
As for your point about my article being “a bit like terrorism”, we’ll just let other readers decide for themselves whether I wield my keyboard like a Kalashnikov, or whether you are just prone to ridiculous hyperbole.
If Corbyn’s majority was a “huge minority” and a tiny sliver, what does that make Cameron’s majorities? Pick any of them! Your vacuous statements are really quite funny!
Seriously? You don’t need a calculator to work out that rather more people voted Conservative in the general election than voted to make Jeremy Corbyn leader of the Labour Party. Say what you like about the faults and problems with our electoral system, but the respective mandates of the two men could hardly be more different. You may be upset that Cameron won the election and that the Evil Tories are in charge, but Corbyn’s resounding victory over his nonentity rivals for the Labour leadership does not place him in the same league as the prime minister.
This is just an example of rabid anti-Corbynism. Obviously, his statement was taken out of context. He means that when in any kind of doubt, please don’t shoot. However, if someone is pointing a gun at another person and his/her finger is on the trigger, the situation is completely different. As for ‘fumbling’, which is derogatory, I would have said he gave an opinion that was well within the range of his political style, which is the opposite of the bombast spouted by right wing politicians and Blairites.
Many thanks for your comment – I appreciate your point about the nuance of the question, but I disagree.
Jeremy Corbyn is a big boy and an experienced politician. He knew how his words would be interpreted when he sat down for the interview, and when he gave a long, waffling politician’s answer to a very simple question. If he believed it, Corbyn could have said “of course I would authorise the use of deadly force to prevent a terrorist atrocity in progress, but in general I would not support a shoot first policy” – in which case we would not be having this argument. But he did not say that. We can only judge Corbyn by what he says – and does not say. And with this interview, he has damned himself.
Lol, your suggested answer was about as long as what JC said, and pretty much exactly the same meaning. You Samuel are also a big boy, and perhaps should grow up and stop trying to twist the words of perhaps the most honest politician of modern times.
I twisted no words. I merely made the point that long term terrorism strategy aside, it shouldn’t be that hard for a British politician to make clear that he is not against the use of deadly force where necessary in a live terrorism incident. It strains credulity to think that Corbyn was so ambivalent out of political naivety, so the only option left open is that he was holding back and avoiding saying what he really believes. Anyone who has watched a politician answer a question they don’t want to answer will immediately recognise the evasiveness in Corbyn’s response. I don’t think it is “twisting words” to point that out, and to wonder who Corbyn was trying to avoid offending.
Congratulations, you’ve clearly misunderstood what ‘shoot to kill’ means like half of the other rabid anti-Corbynites. Try reading this: http://averypublicsociologist.blogspot.co.uk/2015/11/jeremy-corbyn-and-shoot-to-kill.html
I appreciate the difference between “shoot to kill” as defined by this article and the armed response we saw in Paris. However, unless Jeremy Corbyn’s political antenna is completely broken – which it isn’t – he understood the thrust and spirit of the question he was being asked, and still gave a waffling politician’s answer. See my response to Anne.
Well I’ll admit his comments weren’t crystal clear, but anyone who doesn’t want to immediately jump on the hating bandwagon could surely see that:
“I think you have to have security that prevents people from firing off weapons where you can. There are various degrees of doing things as we know…”
Does not preclude responding to gun violence with gun violence, but suggests that if at all possible other options should be explored. I appreciate that in the heat of the moment – i.e. the immediate response to what was happening in Paris – required a gunfight, but the point is that it may not always and to rely on that as a first response if it is not entirely necessary sets a bad precedent.
And all of the above ignores the fact that the point you were making in this article was NOT the one you just made in your response to my criticism.
There tends to not be a lot of time for exploring options in the midst of a live terrorist incident like the one in Paris on Friday. You’re absolutely right, that if a terrorist can be taken alive – usually because they are not posing an imminent threat to innocent people at the time – then they should be. But that’s not what the interview was about.
Given that Jeremy Corbyn must know by now how the awful mainstream media love to twist his words, you would think that a seasoned politician like that would have gotten better at giving crisp, clear answers that are not open for deliberate misinterpretation by scurrilous newspapers and bloggers such as myself. In fact, it strains credulity to believe that Corbyn would not have learned that his words will be dissected and twisted, and sharpened his responses accordingly.
Therefore, what other explanation can there be for his waffling answer – even if he was technically right to acknowledge the nuance of the question – than that he was trying to avoid offending a certain constituency? Corbyn knew that anything other than a short, pithy, decisive answer would be taken by the media as a case of Corbynite equivocation and terror apologism, and yet he gave the answer anyway. Either he is the most principled man in the entire world, or he believed that pleasing a certain constituency of his is more important. I’m too cynical to believe the former, so therefore I am left with the latter explanation.
So because he is honest, principled and not the most media-savvy man in the world that makes him unfit to lead?
That’s not quite what I said. The point I was making was that if Corbyn said what he said in full knowledge of the uproar and public anger that it would cause, then he is indeed principled – perhaps to a fault. But having principles does not always make a great or desirable leader. Some of the the most ruthless and terrifying or bumbling and inept leaders in history have been very principled, all the way from Hitler to Michael Foot.
The only people that are unfit are the Tories! I don’t think people should underestimate Mr Corbyn he is a very principled man who will do the right thing for everyone, we dont want another Blair now do we.
I can’t respond to your final post for some reason – but I guess there’s no point as Godwin’s Law has been fufilled
It’s not really an example of Godwin’s Law though, as I did not make – and never would make – a *comparison* between corbyn and Hitler:
You made a point about principled leadership. I made a point that not all principles are good ones.
No doubt this post will create an interesting debate Sam. It’s truly sad what an awful world we live in these days and although I’m not a huge fan of violence, I admit, this response from Mr Corbyn did scare me quite a lot and such a stance would certainly mean I would never vote for him.
That’s not to say I’ll cheer at the thought of the use of lethal violence on the streets, but to know he wouldn’t be prepared to take that action if required, as was the case in Paris, is very frightening in my view. Perhaps as a Londoner, where the threat is always more likely, this is more of an issue for me, but I too cannot understand his answer. The question was badly phrased – “would you be happy?” I doubt anyone is happy to give such an order, unless a terrorist themselves, but I’m sensing that perhaps that’s not the reason for his response.
I would love nothing more than a peaceful resolution to the tensions in the world, but I certainly need to be secure in the knowledge that if my life was at risk, the leader of my country would do everything in their power to save it. It would appear that that is not the current leader of the Labour Party.
Thanks for that contribution – you make a very eloquent point. As you say, given that we do not live in a world of peace, we must demand that our leaders possess the moral compass and decisiveness to ensure the safety of British citizens as best they can.
You’re right that the question could have been phrased better, as nobody should be happy ordering death, even where it is justified. But Corbyn understood the spirit of the question and was still unable to give an unequivocal answer, and that’s just appalling.
I disagree with nearly everything Jeremy Corbyn believes, but I have always given him the benefit of the doubt until now, believing that his widening of the political debate outweighed his naive views on security and foreign policy. But these comments go too far.
A great summary. I too have pondered not only why Corbyn should take a stance like this but also his incompetence in thinking it is a shrewd political move. If he is so determined to better the lives of the poor in this country why does he seem so determined to not get elected?
If he is so enamored with debate I suggest he go away and debate this with his Labour colleagues and come back when he’s been convinced of the correct answer.
Many thanks for reading, and for your comment. The politics of Corbyn’s comment is an interesting angle, as you say. Surely Corbyn knew that his fumbling response would go down like a lead balloon with the majority of people, and yet he chose to give it anyway. Either he is so full of messianic self belief that he thinks he can use atrocities like this to steer the British people toward pacifism without losing public support, or he believes that his constituency of anti-Westerners and terror apologists is so important that he will take a major political hit to avoid offending them.
Neither scenario does much to recommend Corbyn as a politician, let alone a potential leader-in-waiting.
I only partly agree. I’m starting to think that Corbyn genuinely doesn’t know his comments will go down like a lead balloon. He’s not the sharpest man in the world after all and has appalling judgement when it comes to his advisers.
As hard as it is to believe I think he may have thought his comments would be greeted with a chorus of “isn’t he a calm, wise man” rather than “what a plonker”.
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Perhaps you’re right – but after his roastings in the media over so many other issues, he would have to be the most naive politician in modern British politics to have expected a warm reception to his latest comments!
But then maybe Corbyn has spent so long in the left-wing bubble, and become so accustomed to only speaking to other fellow travellers, that he genuinely cannot read the public mood. If so, we can expect a lot more clangers like this during his stewardship of the Labour Party – great for journalists and commentators, awful for moderate Labour supporters.
Very pleased to have discovered your blog too – great to see someone else taking a stand against the “chrome plated automatons” who make up too much of our current political class, and against the shallow virtue signalling that passes for political activism today.