John McDonnell’s May Day speech was a moral disgrace

James Bickerton May 2, 2017 9
John McDonnell’s May Day speech was a moral disgrace

Allow me, briefly, to describe a scene. A Tory Minister addresses a rally in Trafalgar Square. He thanks the assembled crowd for their dedication, and assures them of his support for their cause. Above him flutters the flag of fascist Italy. Below him the applauding crowd, several thousand strong, bears a number of ultra-nationalist and fascist icons. Several attendees carry an enormous poster depicting Adolf Hitler. The crowd has already marched across Central London, coming South from Clerkenwell Green. During the march a range of chants rang out, but there was one in particular which lingers in the mind. In praise of a number of far-right leaders the crowd had chanted ‘Mosley, Mussolini, Franco, Hitler’.

Now of course the above event didn’t taken place. I’m not revealing the political scandal of the decade. But something very similar did occur yesterday. John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor and hence the person Labour wants running the British economy, gave a speech to a May Day rally by Nelson’s Column. He did so under two communist flags, specifically those of the satirically named Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist), bearing the hammer and sickle. Some of the rally attendees carried a giant poster of Joseph Stalin, whilst a section of the crowd had earlier repeatedly chanted ‘Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin’, in reference to Marxist thinkers and dictators.

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell addresses London May Day march under a communist flag. Also in shot is the flag of the Syrian Ba’ath Party, recently accused of using chemical weapons against its own people. 

What really struck me about this, apart from the sheer vileness of speaking under a banner which was responsible for so much death, was how little controversy it provoked. Sure conservatives were angry on Twitter, and it got picked up by a few right-wing bloggers, but it was continents away from being a national scandal. Labour MPs weren’t demanding McDonnell’s sacking, or threatening to resign the Labour whip. The reaction of left-wing commentators was defined by its near non-existence.

The double standards are awe-inspiring. Had a Conservative politician of equivalent, or much lower, standing given a speech under a fascist flag it would have been a top news story for days. It would be on the front page of papers from across the political spectrum, and a leading item on television news bulletins. Add in posters of a right-wing dictator who killed as many as Stalin and the story becomes a political atomic bomb. Either way the politician responsible would have lost any Government posts they held, and had the Conservative whip withdrawn with no possibility of its reinstatement. In all probability Theresa May would have felt compelled to make a grovelling apology on behalf of the Conservative Party.

Footage from the London May Day march. Chants of ‘Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin’ can be heard whilst some in the crowd carry portraits of Stalin. 

McDonnell’s actions illustrate a broader point, beyond his obvious unsuitability for high office. In Britain, despite the alleged right-wing bias of our print media, it’s vastly less controversial to defend a dictator of the far-left than the far-right. If a British public figure wants to defend some historic tyrant, they should ensure that their crimes were carried out below a red flag rather than a national one. Take for example the comment by Diane Abbott, now Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary, that Chinese dictator Chairman Mao did more ‘good than harm’. This is the same Chairman Mao whose policies resulted in the deaths of North of 45 million people, making him the most destructive individual in human history. If a Conservative politician made the same remark about Mussolini, an individual who, ghastly though he was, was responsible for only a small fraction of Mao’s butchers bill, it would have been a major scandal. I was tempted, for this piece, to make a list of current senior Labour party figures who have previously addressed groups (or their fronts) which could reasonably be described as communist. This includes those, such as the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), which are openly anti-democratic. I changed my mind only because it became clear that the amount of keyboard contact such a list would entail might erode chunks of my fingers.

There’s a rather brilliant Mitchell and Webb comedy sketch, in which David Mitchell and Robert Webb play Nazi SS officers. One of them notices that the SS badge depicts a human skull, an image conventionally associated with evil, and asks the other ‘are we the bad guys?’ I wonder if there are some within the Labour movement, whilst watching the party’s Shadow Chancellor giving a speech below a communist banner to a crowd which includes portraits of Stalin, who are starting to ask themselves some variant of the same question. Maybe not ‘are we the bad guys?’, but certainly considering how many dictatorial and brutish groups the present leadership has associated with, is backing the Labour Party starting to become actively immoral?

 

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