Do Jeremy Corbyn’s old remarks on WWI deserve press coverage?

Years-old speeches 'emerge' with strategic timing

 

When newspapers tell you something has ’emerged’ or ‘surfaced’ without saying how or from where, it’s best to be on your guard.

A story in yesterday’s Sunday Times is a case in point. Under the headline ‘Corbyn: Tribute to WWI is pointless’, it begins:

“Jeremy Corbyn has said he can’t see the point of commemorating the First World War.

The Labour leader used a speech to the Morning Star, the newspaper founded by the Communist party of Great Britain, to denounce the government’s decision to spend ‘shed loads of money’ on events last year to mark the one hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of the conflict.

The comments emerged just a week before Remembrance Sunday, where Corbyn is due to lay a wreath at the cenotaph in his role as leader of the opposition.”

From this you would get the impression the Labour party leader has made these remarks recently in relation to the coming Remembrance Day ceremony.

What we learn in paragraph five though is that Corbyn’s quotes are taken from a speech made in April 2013 – that’s to say, over two years ago.

Other papers have taken up the story in similar fashion. The Telegraph‘s headline announces ‘Jeremy Corbyn questions why Britain commemorates the First World War’. Note the present tense word ‘questions’. The Daily Express yelps: ‘Jeremy Corbyn says spending ‘shedloads’ on remembering WWI soldiers is POINTLESS’. Again, the words are ‘says’ and ‘is’.

And the Daily Mail‘s story begins:

“Jeremy Corbyn has sparked criticism for saying he cannot see the point of commemorating the First World War, while also denouncing the ‘shedloads of money’ spent on last year’s centenary events.

The Labour leader’s comments have emerged on the eve of next week’s Remembrance Sunday… [etc.]”

While they make clear when the remarks were made, these stories are potentially misleading, as they could give the impression of this being a new intervention by the leader of the Labour party, rather than old remarks made when the prospect of his achieving that post was remote, to say the least.

As with the Sun‘s front page story on the Monday after Corbyn was elected leader, reporting three-year-old comments by Corbyn about ‘abolishing the army’, these WWI stories have the whiff of premeditation.

Sun Corbyn abolish the army

As it happens, Corbyn was perfectly right to question David Cameron’s pledge to spend £50million marking the war’s centenary in a time of public spending cuts. He was also right to speak against the prevailing wind on the war, with hazy words about ‘sacrifice’ and ‘freedom’ thrown around without going very much deeper.

(Interestingly, the first person to put these reservations in print was Guardian columnist and newly appointed Corbyn spin doctor Seumas Milne. With tedious ideological consistency, Milne lamented how the war ‘laid the ground for the rise of Nazism’ without mentioning the equally disastrous rise of Bolshevism in Russia.)

However, Corbyn’s past remarks and positions are fair game for scrutiny, especially since he presumably still holds these views. (Whether they are Labour party policy or not is another matter.) These stories are really a symptom of Corbyn’s sudden move from backbench freedom to the intense public glare of national politics.

That said, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that the press has gone through his old speeches and is saving them up as part of a slow-drip campaign to damage his reputation. This is as much a political act as Corbyn’s decision to make those speeches in the first place.

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Adam Barnett is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow MediaWatch on Twitter

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24 Responses to “Do Jeremy Corbyn’s old remarks on WWI deserve press coverage?”

  1. Godfrey Paul

    Its good to see the press digging up Corbyn’s old comments and showing us what he really thinks. That’s their job.

    Corbyn is a hard-left extremist and is not fit to run a mainstream political party.

  2. Gary Jarman

    I wonder if you should maybe look at how you define hard-left extremist?

  3. Daniel Sutton

    I can’t see how the principal of adapting the politics of war towards peace time could be considered extreme

  4. S&A

    Corbyn was quoted as saying that ‘I’m not quite sure what there is to commemorate about the First World War, other than the mass slaughter of millions of young men and women – mainly men – on the Western Front and all the other places’.

    That is precisely what the 100th anniversary commemoration was supposed to do.

    It was a reminder to the British public about the costs of the war, and a commemoration of the losses involved. So quite why Corbyn has such a massive problem with this is beyond me.

    I was involved with my local RBL in planning our own contribution to the national commemorations. The direction we got was that centenary services and other related acts had to emphasise the sacrifice of lives made, and also (and this is important) emphasise the theme of reconciliation. It was not to be an exercise in triumphalism, far less the ‘glorification of war’.

    Corbyn and his chums could have found this out by themselves by asking the right questions. The fact that he chose not to do so shows why he’s a problem for Labour. He is just completely dogmatic, he has his beliefs, and he won’t let anything change them, far less the facts.

  5. johnm55

    We are going to have to accept this as long as Corbyn is leader of the party. There is a huge archive of this stuff out there waiting to be selectively quoted at the appropriate time. I’m not quite sure what the party is supposed to do about it. Defending what was said is one option, over to you Seumas. Saying that that is not Labour party policy won’t work, because he is leader of the party and rightly or wrongly the public assume that the leader sets the policy.

    That said, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that the press has gone through his old speeches and is saving them up as part of a slow-drip campaign to damage his reputation. This is as much a political act as Corbyn’s decision to make those speeches in the first place.

    Don’t you think that Labour hasn’t/should have done the same with David Cameron. It’s just that he hasn’t left quite so many hostages to fortune and that we don’t have the bully pulpit of the right wing press.

  6. thruthseeker

    how about digging up the drug taking prostitute association with good old gideon

  7. Australian Inquisitor

    I think that’s unfair criticism.
    In 2013, there was a lot of uncertainty over how the Government wanted to commemorate the 14-18 war. The RBL may have had its own clear ideas, but there was a worry that the taxpayer-funded element would be an exercise in triumphalism, which was clearly never going to float Corbyn’s boat.

    As it was, of the £50 million put aside, £40 million went to refurbishing the IWM, which didn’t really need refurbishing but earned Norman Foster a shedload of money. That’s the same Norman Foster who cares about Britain so little that he chucked in his peerage and resident status in 2012 so he didn’t have to pay tax. Not that such a thing would worry our incumbent PM. Taxes are apparently only for the little people. Avoiding them was what paid for Cameron Snr to pay for little David to go to Eton

  8. S&A

    A ‘lot of uncertainty’ seems to be shorthand for some griping by a bunch of old trots. The solution for Corbyn and anyone else like him was to either try and get involved in the commemorations, or to ask some questions in parliament about how they were to be organised, and how to ensure they didn’t turn into this mythical jingoistic jamboree.

    As for the £40m spent on the IWM, I’m not sure why you think preserving a national resource that educates millions of visitors about the price of war is such a waste. And it did need refurbishing, particularly its library and archive (again, an invaluable resource for national education).

    But then I’m not sure the likes of Corbyn really want us to remember the dead of either of the wars. I’m sure that if he can throw a ton of public money for a PIRA festival, he’d be up for it.

  9. Australian Inquisitor

    I’m not talking about a “bunch of old trots”
    I’m talking about historians and history buffs with a keen interest in 14-18. don’t take my word for it – have a look at some of the archived threads on Great War Forum (free to view) populated in the main by 50something Daily Mail readers, so old maybe but certainly not “trots” by any stretch.
    Questions were asked. The answers were not forthcoming because nobody seemed to know.
    Regarding the IWM – yes, it’s great, but as a regular visitor I can assure you that as military museums go, it was a very low-priority case for £40m funding.
    As for the library and archive, you obviously missed the furore around IWM’s decision to sell off its library despite the 2013 grant in order to “reduce costs”.
    The rest of your post needs some qualification if it’s to be anything more than mud-slinging.

  10. Cole

    Cameron may be repellant, but hasn’t spent decades hanging around with extremists.

  11. Cole

    Probably less harmful than being ‘friends’ with Hamas and Hizbollah.

  12. Lamia

    What we learn in paragraph five though is that Corbyn’s quotes are taken from a speech made in April 2013 – that’s to say, over two years ago

    Or put another way:

    ‘that’s to say, only two years ago. In fact, only one and a half years ago.’

    Never mind why Corbyn’s dodgy (recent) past keeps being drawn out. That’s obvious. You might more usefully and honestly apply yourself to asking why this is even possible. It’s because there is so much of it.

    it’s becoming increasingly obvious that the press has gone through his old speeches and is saving them up as part of a slow-drip campaign to damage his reputation. This is as much a political act as Corbyn’s decision to make those speeches in the first place.

    If he’s said and done these stupid and in some cases repellent things – which he has, and which has been known to some of us for years – then of course his opponents are going to bring them up. Why on earth shouldn’t they? It serves him right. No one forced him to say those things.

  13. Lamia

    Why don’t you, then? Was she a terrorist as well, like a number of Jezzer’s chums?

  14. Riversideboy

    When families have to go to food banks to survive and the NHS is being starved to death you dont think its wrong to spend £50 million on a Remembrance parade? Where are you priorities, my father fought in world war two but I know what he would have thought of spending money like that when you (Cameron) are actively making people poor because you claim there is no money in Britain. They dont count is the answer.

  15. S&A

    ‘When families have to go to food banks to survive and the NHS is being starved to death you dont think its wrong to spend £50 million on a Remembrance parade?’

    Firstly, it’s not just £50m on ‘a Remembrance parade’. These were for commemorative events across the country which millions of people took part in of their own accord. Because unlike you they saw it as necessary.

    Secondly, the NHS’s budget for FY 2015-2016 £115.4bn. If you think somehow that it was ‘starved to death’ to pay for the WWI commemorations, then I suggest you need to pay closer attention to your Maths GCSE classes.

    Thirdly, it is an act of pathetic moral blackmail on your part to somehow imply that people who wish to commemorate the war dead are intent on depriving food banks of the means to support the living. Both are supported by charitable means (the RBL and the Trussell Trust), and only an idiot like you can assume that you can’t support both.

    Finally, RBL still does important work to help families of war dead, wounded and veterans from a series of conflicts from WWII to today. Your father would I suspect probably still want to see them supported thanks to the efforts of the RBL to keep their welfare in the public eye (and the WWI commemorations were part of that effort). You clearly do not.

  16. Australian Inquisitor

    Firstly, the commemorative events across the country were not paid for by government. They were mostly self-funded with a few bob from local councils and local businesses thrown in. They would have happened anyway, so let’s not credit the government for something they didn’t do.
    40 mil went to the IWM vanity project, which was then promptly offset by a cut of 4m to the museum’s operating budget
    The rest was spent on sending British kids to the Western Front battlefields and refurbishing HMS Caroline.

    Secondly, your argument here is a strawman. The poster didn’t claim that 50m would solve the NHS defecit. He was pointing out the questionable wisdom of allocating money to a cause of secondary importance whilst witholding funds to an organisation that people depend on for their lives.

    Thirdly, your argument here is a non sequitur. Your conclusion as to what the poster thinks of people who want to commemorate war dead is not supported by the evidence of his post. You are simply ascribing a position to someone so as to make it easier for to wag your finger at him.

    Finally, nobody has mentioned the RBL apart from you, so your puffed-up indignance is a bit misplaced.
    I helped to organise a remembrance event in Epsom. About 200 people turned out at 11pm on a school night. The RBL boycotted the event because they wanted one of their guys to make the key speech, not the mayor. Shameful behaviour.

  17. S&A

    With your first comment, you are basically admitting that there was a public interest in commemoration, rather than it being a Cameron-inspired shindig. So it’s good to see you violently agreeing with me.

    Secondly, ‘Riversideboy’ is whining about the fact that £50m was spent which would – by implication – had been better spent on an NHS that is being ‘starved to death’ or food banks. That is his attempt at an argument, and I am not going to shy away from pointing out how fatuous it is. It’s basically the far left version of all those morons saying that money that should be spent on disabled servicemen is being spent on refugees instead (as if we shouldn’t be supporting both groups_.

    Thirdly, it is clear from his remarks that he thinks commemorating the war dead is a waste of time and money. That is as clear as crystal in his comments, and your attempt to imply otherwise is preposterous.

    Fourthly, I have done a Google search for the Epsom event you say was ‘shamefully’ boycotted by the RBL, and can see no reference to it anywhere online. So I think you could do with posting some proof before you throw around allegations like that.

  18. Australian Inquisitor

    Of course there was a public interest in the Centenary commemorations. There is public interest in all sorts of things. The question isn’t whether a commemoration had the public’s interest, but whether or not public money should be spent on it in such times of enforced austerity and public service cuts and precisely how that money should be spent.
    You seemed to be labouring under the illusion that the government paid for things which it didn’t, whilst being blissfully unaware of where £50m actually went (remember your gaffe about it funding the IWM library?)

    “Secondly, ‘Riversideboy’ is whining about the fact that £50m was spent which would – by implication – had been better spent on an NHS that is being ‘starved to death’ or food banks”

    Correct. It would have been better spent on the NHS. That’s completely different from your previous accusation that he thought 50M would somehow fill the NHS budget deficit. You’re slipping up on your own bile I’m afraid.

    “That is his attempt at an argument”

    No, that IS his argument. The only “attempts” have been you trying to mis-represent him.

    “I am not going to shy away from pointing out how fatuous”

    Good for you, but if you accuse someone of something, you generally have to accurately cite them or provide evidence of some kind. I know it’s a chore for you and you’d be much happier churning out rhetoric, but it’s sort of a rule.

    “it is clear from his remarks that he thinks commemorating the war dead is a waste of time and money”

    He questions the value to society of spending £50m on the Centenary. The idea that he thinks commemorating the war dead is a waste of time and money hasn’t come from him, it’s come from you. You brought it with you so that you could get all huffy about it and use the word “preposterous”
    £40m being paid to Norman “TAXES?? I’M OUTTA HERE” Foster does not commemorate the war dead BTW.

    This is the event I mentioned:

    epsomguardian co uk/ww1/11387806.Hundreds_gather_for_symbolic_lights_out/

    You’ll notice nobody from the RBL here. The gentlemen of the press were not informed of the reasons for its absence, but don’t take my word for it, get it from the horse’s mouth: The Epsom RBL can be contacted on 01372720064. You might also try the Mayor of Epsom and Ewell’s secretary on 01372732000

  19. S&A

    ‘The question isn’t whether a commemoration had the public’s interest, but whether or not public money should be spent on it in such times of enforced austerity and public service cuts and precisely how that money should be spent’.

    So despite the fact that the majority of taxpayers are getting involved, it’s not a sign that they see any intrinsic worth in a small portion of their taxes being paid to support it.

    Riiiiiight.

    ‘You seemed to be labouring under the illusion that the government paid for things which it didn’t, whilst being blissfully unaware of where £50m actually went (remember your gaffe about it funding the IWM library?)’

    The decision to close the library (which was a stupid one) was made before the influx of funding for the WWI commemorations. It has since been reversed, partly as a result of money being available, but also because of public pressure.

    See my point above.

    As for ‘Riversideboy’s remark, you first decided to have a go at me for saying that he said the money spent on commemoration was a waste that could have been better spent on the ‘starved’ NHS or food banks (which are funded largely by private charity), and now you are saying that his ‘argument’ is spot on.

    Would you care to make your mind up one way or the other?

    ‘He questions the value to society of spending £50m on the Centenary. The idea that he thinks commemorating the war dead is a waste of time and money hasn’t come from him, it’s come from you’.

    There’s a contradiction in there somewhere if you want to look for it …

    ‘You’ll notice nobody from the RBL here. The gentlemen of the press were not informed of the reasons for its absence, but don’t take my word for it, get it from the horse’s mouth’.

    Oh, that’s very convenient.

    By the way, the RBL were supporting the ‘Lights Out’ campaign you refer to, but we are led to believe that somehow the Epsom branch threw a fit because the ex-mayor was going to address the crowd. And that didn’t become a press story at all.

    I will be sure to contact the Epsom branch to get their side of the story. I will not be entirely surprised if it differs from yours.

  20. Australian Inquisitor

    “So despite the fact that the majority of taxpayers are getting involved, it’s not a sign that they see any intrinsic worth in a small portion of their taxes being paid to support it”

    Again, you are muddling people’s involvement in, and their enthusiasm for, the various non-government funded Centenary events with what the government actually spent our money on.
    Do you have any hard evidence to show that the majority of taxpayers consider £50m better spent on an IWM vanity project than on the NHS or food banks? If so, please share it. If not, then admit that you are only voicing your personal opinion – which you are entitled to just as Riversideboy is entitled to his.

    “Riiiiiight.”
    Sarcasm doesn’t absolve you from actually having to put forward an argument I’m afraid.

    “The decision to close the library (which was a stupid one) was made before the influx of funding for the WWI commemorations”

    Wrong again. The IWM announced its intended sell-off of the library in October 2014 as a result of that year’s budget cut by the government. The money for the re-furb was awarded in 2010. This information is all in the public domain y’know…

    “As for ‘Riversideboy’s remark, you first decided to have a go at me for saying that he said the money spent on commemoration was a waste that could have been better spent on the ‘starved’ NHS or food banks (which are funded largely by private charity), and now you are saying that his ‘argument’ is spot on.
    Would you care to make your mind up one way or the other?”
    Nah-ah. Nice try, but a simple re-read of our posts reveals the truth.
    Your “Outraged of Milton Keynes” act was based on stuff which wasn’t actually written…was it??
    Instead you ascribed a moral position to someone else, so that you could have some fun tearing it apart in your usual bellicose style. Y’all got busted campadre.

    “There’s a contradiction in there somewhere if you want to look for it …”
    No contradiction at all. Unless you care to specifically point it out (which you can’t)

    “Oh, that’s very convenient”

    LOL. OK, then don’t do your own due diligence and accept my version of events instead.
    Happy?

    “By the way, the RBL were supporting the ‘Lights Out’ campaign you refer to”

    Probably. But they still changed their mind about attending a couple of days beforehand.

    “we are led to believe that somehow the Epsom branch threw a fit because the ex-mayor was going to address the crowd. And that didn’t become a press story at all.”
    And again you get the key facts wrong. Do you have short attention span?
    The Epsom RBL threw a hissy fit because the key speech was not going to be given by a Legion member, not because the mayor was going to address the crowd. The RBL claimed intellectual property rights on the poppy motif in 2000 and this particular bunch presumably see that as the right to have dibs on any event which uses it. It was all rather undignified and I presume neither party wanted to publicise that sort of shameful behavior.

    “I will be sure to contact the Epsom branch to get their side of the story. I will not be entirely surprised if it differs from yours.”

    You do that. Make sure you speak to E&E mayor’s office as well.

  21. S&A

    I think I’m dealing with a troll here. Either that, or someone who is hopelessly confused.

    First you complain about taxpayer’s money being spent on commemoration, then you say that the amount of money the Tories spent on the centenary is not what it’s cracked up to be.

    Then you try and lecture me about misrepresenting another posters’ views, and follow that by saying that you agree with them fully. You cap that by simultaneously admitting and denying that in the main Joe and Joanna Public wanted to commemorate the centenary of the WWI (and cap that all by claiming that you helped organise your own part in the process).

    All in all, more flipflops than you can find by the side of a hotel swimming pool, and more nitpicking than you can see in a bonobo enclosure at the zoo.

    As for your account of the supposed ‘boycott’ by Epson RBL, I think we can judge the veracity of this given that you’ve got no evidence, and that this one branch chose to snub a commemorative event that it was this charity’s national policy to back just because they couldn’t provide the main speaker. We are also supposed to assume that the reporter covering the event didn’t ask ‘Hey, where are the RBL?’, and that no one from the ex-mayor’s party sought to tell them.

    Maybe you’re relaying this story in good faith, but it stinks of BS to me. Be assured I will check up on it.

    As for your snide remark about the RBL copyrighting the poppy, the main reason why that has been done is to stop it being used as a symbol by the far right. The Legion has after all already had run-ins with UKIP about it (they’ve used it on their electoral material) and also Britain First. I’m assuming that even you would think it fair do’s to stop extremists from misusing this symbol.

  22. Australian Inquisitor

    I’m guessing that relentlessly mis-representing arguments is your M.O?

    “First you complain about taxpayer’s money being spent on commemoration”

    Sigh…once again….the commemorations weren’t paid for by the taxpayer and the Centenary budget didn’t go on commemoration – it went on refurbing a museum, a ship and sending some kids to Belgium for the weekend. I thought we’d covered that already.

    “then you say that the amount of money the Tories spent on the centenary is not what it’s cracked up to be”

    Nope. That’s just something else you’ve invented.

    “Then you try and lecture me about misrepresenting another posters’ views”

    Yup, cos that’s exactly what you did.

    “and follow that by saying that you agree with them fully”
    Yup. The NHS and food banks are more deserving of money than museums and ships – in my opinion.

    “You cap that by simultaneously admitting and denying that in the main Joe and Joanna Public wanted to commemorate the centenary of the WWI”

    Where did I deny that Joe Public wanted to commemorate WW1?
    Try an actual quote for a change…

    “and cap that all by claiming that you helped organise your own part in the process”

    Which I did. Irritating for you that a loony leftie did such a thing, but there ya go…

    “more nitpicking than you can see in a bonobo enclosure at the zoo”
    I don’t consider calling you out on bald-faced lies to be nitpicking, but maybe you’re more precious than I am.

    “I think we can judge the veracity of this given that you’ve got no evidence”

    I thought you were going to call them to verify my claims?
    Did their answer not fit with what you wanted to hear then??

    “and that this one branch chose to snub a commemorative event that it was this charity’s national policy to back just because they couldn’t provide the main speaker”

    Yup. Pretty much. And that’s coming from someone with many friends in the Legion and who has collected for them, for Combat Stress and for ABF numerous times.

    “We are also supposed to assume that the reporter covering the event didn’t ask ‘Hey, where are the RBL?”
    Why don’t you ask the local rag about it?

    “and that no one from the ex-mayor’s party sought to tell them”

    Because showing a couple of ex-servicemen up to be self serving dicks at an event commemorating fallen soldiers of WW1 isn’t a very nice thing to do maybe?

    “As for your snide remark about the RBL copyrighting the poppy, the main reason why that has been done is to stop it being used as a symbol by the far right.”
    That’s you isn’t it???

  23. S&A

    I emailed the secretary of the Mayor of E and E last night about your allegations. Until I get a reply, I will not engage with your trolling and dissembling.

    Aside from the fact that your arguments keep changing with each post, I think I should add here that there is something rather twisted about your remarks (particularly that snide little aside about the RBL copywriting the poppy).

    You remind me very much of that ‘Daily Mail’ journalist who tried to smear the Trussell Trust last year. The politics may differ, but your motives stay the same.

  24. Australian Inquisitor

    My arguments have remained constant throughout.
    The fact that you have trouble understanding things is not my problem.
    You accidentally or intentionally get the wrong end of the stick about 50% of the time, which is not a good number if you want to try your luck debating outside of your preferred online echo chambers.

    As with so many of you hard-charging, “call a spade a spade” types, your overly sensitive nature is noted.

    The RBL did copyright the red poppy in 2000. That’s a documented point of fact. If you think that stating incontrovertible facts is “snide”, then maybe you’d be happier elsewhere?

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