The hysterical reaction by a significant section of the news media in the United Kingdom to the forthcoming visit by the British Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, to the country’s colonial outpost in the north-east of Ireland is a strong indicator that for some journalists in the UK, the historical Troubles of 1966 to 2005 are far from over. In response to the artificial outrage whipped up by pro-union parties in the contested region, particularly the ultra-right Democratic Unionist Party, the press in London has gone into overdrive, reviving stories of the bloody conflict and Corbyn’s supposed sympathy for Britain’s Irish republican opponents on the island. There is very little substance in the would-be controversy, since the Islington North MP is simply visiting or making a handful of speeches at a few key locations in and around the Six Counties, including at Queens University Belfast. No dramatic policy statements have been signalled or expected.
All this fuss stands in stark contrast to the now muted reaction by the British press to the nation’s current system of government, where a minority Conservative Party administration is reliant on the parliamentary votes of MPs from the DUP. Given the latter’s previous pariah status, this arrangement is the equivalent of the far-right National Front (NF) being given remote access to the levers of state power in France or the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) gaining the same in Germany. For be in no doubt, there are some elected representatives in the pro-union camp in the north of Ireland who sit on the same ideological spectrum as those groupings, albeit in a specifically colonial context.
While the newspapers in the United Kingdom fulminate over the alleged succour given to Irish insurgents by Jeremy Corbyn and his close political or Labour associates during the 1980s and ‘90s, it is worth remembering that the DUP has been closely linked with pro-UK or loyalist terror factions since its emergence as a militant and fundamentalist political party in the early 1970s. A record of support and cooperation which continues up to the present day, as noted during the recent elections in the Six Counties, when known terrorists and terrorist organisations were out campaigning for Democratic Unionist candidates, or during the latest round of failed talks at Stormont when loyalist leaders contributed to the last-minute pro-union collapse of the cross-party negotiations.
Whatever one’s opinions about Jeremy Corbyn, and I’m generally an admirer from afar, his political history cannot be compared to that of the men and women who currently head the anti-peace process DUP, a political grouping which is a by-word for ideologically aggressive bigotry and prejudice. Nor can the reaction of the London press to the Labour Party leader’s opinions on Ireland be seen in isolation from the UK media’s long record of regarding Irish lives of lesser value or import than British lives, especially during the three decades of insurgency and counterinsurgency struggle in the country’s first and last colony.