You would have to be a dyed in the wool Corbynite to think him a man of great judgement. That cosy chat with IRA bombers shortly after the Brighton bomb? Calling Hamas and Hezbollah “friends”? Describing the death of Bin Laden as a “tragedy”?
Poor judgement (as well as some genuinely unpleasant views) is the reason why so many of his defenders appeal endlessly to “context”. The man isn’t really an apologist for terrorism, they suggest, he just keeps saying things that might sound that way if you actually quote them – therefore please lengthen the quotes as far as is required to dilute the nasty taste until it becomes palatable.
As a result of that record, none of his opponents – within Labour or without – expected him to make excellent decisions as Labour leader. But so far the full scale of his bad judgement has surprised even them. We might have expected the churlish refusal to sing the national anthem, but his choice of team is what has shocked even those who had a low opinion of him in the first place.
Choosing John McDonnell as his Shadow Chancellor was the first such surprise. Had he deliberately set out to find the only member of the Parliamentary Labour Party with a more dubious quotation book than himself, he could not have found a more suitable candidate than McDonnell. Presented with the chance to extend his audience beyond those already listening, or to appoint someone who might have allowed some room to rehabilitate Corbyn’s reputation – particularly on matters of defence and terrorism – he instead opted for someone who speaks to exactly the same people, and says exactly the same things.
Amazingly, the tale has just got worse. The recruitment of Seumas Milne as the Labour leader’s Strategy and Communications Director beggars belief. I’ve met Milne, once, and he was perfectly pleasant to chat to. But if anything his back catalogue is even worse than Corbyn and McDonnell’s – from his apologism for Stalin, and his lamenting of the fall of the Berlin Wall, to his disgusting comments immediately after 9/11 about America’s “responsibility” and his staggering argument that Lee Rigby’s murder “wasn’t terrorism in the normal sense”.
It isn’t controversial to say that it is not generally viewed as a good start for a Director of Communications’ first day in the job to be filled with headlines about his appalling views.
But awful though those views are, there’s a more fundamental point about Corbyn’s misjudgement in hiring Milne. What evidence is there that he is good at either strategy or communications? Writing a column may be an exalted pursuit but it is not the same as running a campaign. Writing in a newspaper is a privileged position, but it does not guarantee that you have PR contacts with people writing for other newspapers – or, if you do, that they will listen to what you say.
Personally, I suspect that Milne will hate the experience. He is going from the public liberty of commentating to the private slavery of advising – he has done so in a cause in which he believes, no doubt, but I doubt that will be enough to keep him enthused about the job for long.