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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  • Charles

    Comparing stalin to Hitler is a statement on Par with Holocaust denial, It should be a Crime If it where not Joseph Stalin we would be Living Under the Jackboot of fascism and again I find the right Wingers spouting absolutely baseless and Falsified truths about Stalin and the USSR , We owe allot to Stalin and the sacrifices of 20 million Soviet citizens to Defeat Fascism.
    You my Freind are a Disgrace.

    • MIke

      Are you deranged?

      • robertsonjames

        He is. Part of the clue is the fact that he asserts that expressing an opinion of Stalin and Stalinism not consistent with hard Left sympathies, like this article does, “should be a crime”. After all, one of the defining features of the hard Left is their radical illiberalism and desire to use state power to crush criticism and stifle dissent from those who refuse to embrace socialism: it’s why they are always the ones making the running with PC campaigns and those odious “no platform” policies designed to shut down debate and silence opposition.

        Charles’s historical awareness is as unreliable as his moral compass. That Stalin happily signed a pact with the Nazis and only ended up fighting Hitler after Germany invaded Russia in 1941 seems to have entirely passed him by. Stalin, in other words, a vile mass-murdering tyrant, ended up as our ally on the “our enemy’s enemy is our friend” basis, as Churchill said. This hardly make him or his regime a moral exemplar.

        But Charles’s notion that it should be unlawful to express criticism of the man speaks volumes about how dangerous as well as deranged so many Corbynistas really are.

    • Biedermeier

      “If it were not [for] Joseph Stalin…”
      He was the leader of the USSR who was Hitler’s ally in the invasion of Poland and kept the job when the Nazis then invaded Russia. It was hardly a surprising fact that the USSR resisted the invasion, so I don’t see that he deserves great credit for that. With someone else in charge, Soviet resistance might well have been more effective, with an officer corps that had not been massacred by its own leadership before the enemy fired a shot. The magnitude of the sacrifice of the Soviet people would have been smaller under a better government. Don’t give Stalin more credit for losing more citizens.

  • Frank

    Well, if people started saying things like ”John McDonnell speaks at May Day rally in front of flag”, they would have to also put in things like ”People travel to massive anti-austerity rally on International Workers Day” which wouldn’t quite fit the narrative which is being pushed.

    Just like the old chestnut of ”Diane Abbot appeared clueless during third-rate radio interview” and not ”Theresa May appeared clueless while meeting with chief EU negotiator and head of European Commission”.

    Or, my personal favourite, ”This flag is a terrible flag and should never be stood in front of as so many people died because of terrible people who marched under it” turns into ”Not that flag, that’s the British flag, do you hate Britain, those genocides were ages ago, be quiet”

    • MIke

      Not the same Frank, and you know it. Some folks are just clueless.

    • robertsonjames

      A wholly irrelevant piece of transparent “whataboutery” that conspicuously refuses to address this article’s argument, convincingly made, that a grotesque moral double-standard is in play in our public discourse depending on whether the mass-murdering totalitarian thugs being routinely embraced or celebrated by our politicians happen to be socialists or not.

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