Three faces peered out of the screen. At noon, last Saturday, Facebook hosted a digital debate between a trio of grandees from the Stop the War Coalition. Former Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, appeared in a plain white room that matched his open-necked shirt. The novelist Arundhati Roy spoke from Delhi. And the veteran activist, Tariq Ali, began the session by telling viewers that thousands were watching all around the globe. The great campaigners spent 70 minutes trying to create world peace from their kitchen tables.
Tariq Ali is no longer the dashing figure of the 1960s who won fame protesting against the Vietnam war. A snowy mane now crowns his head. And he wears a copiously sprouting white moustache which makes him resemble a retired gunfighter in a Dodge City saloon. His voice is still a rich, mellow drawl. And he carries himself with a certain air of magnificence as if he were a great statesman whose public appearances are marked by the release of doves.
He began with George Floyd’s death, and he applied the ‘I can’t breathe’ motif to disputes in Kashmir and Palestine. ‘They can’t breathe because of what [Narendra] Modi and [Benyamin] Netanyahu are doing.’ He alleged that American police forces are routinely trained in Israel where they learn to compress a detainee’s throat. And he claimed to have seen images of Palestinian prisoners being given this brutal treatment. Israel, he implied, is responsible for the method used to kill George Floyd. His animus against Israel’s tactics in Palestine is deeply-rooted but he now believes the cause is lost. ‘The Palestinians, let's not beat around the bush, have suffered a huge defeat. It's not even a secret, their leaders who are partially responsible for the defeat have admitted so.'
He recalled asking a Palestinian friend in the 1970s why he refused even to negotiate with the Israelis.
‘It is very difficult for the neck to enter into discussions with the sword,’ said his friend. Later he was shot dead by the Israelis.
Arundhati Roy gave alarming testimony from Delhi. The disease reached India on 20 January but the government ‘did nothing’ for two months and then forced the country’s entire population into lockdown with ‘four hours’ notice.’ She said the virus has become a pretext for religious violence. Muslims are being given labels like ‘corona jihadi' and 'human bombs'. She continued: 'In the way that the Nazis used to associate Jews with the spreading typhus.’ She seemed to believe that deliberate government orchestration is at work.
She also claimed that Donald Trump uses loose rhetoric to send secret signals to white supremacists.
Jeremy Corbyn couldn’t wait to open up his favourite subject, Boris. He hasn’t taken a swing at the prime minister since he retired as Labour leader in March. So he staged a re-match. And this time he won. Boris’s ‘herd immunity’ strategy was ‘nonsense,’ he said. 'It actually has its origins in eugenic theories... It is dangerous’. He suggested that the recent increases to NHS funding vindicated the policies that had lost Labour the last election. And he offered a curious recollection from earlier in the year when the contagion first began to spread.
‘We had a meeting with the Prime Minister, myself and a number of colleagues. We put it to him that the government would have to intervene to protect jobs and would have to intervene to protect services and would have to provide a support package. Eventually, we got the furlough scheme and the 80 per cent of wages being paid to people.’
Corbyn specifically credited John McDonnell with pushing 'really, really hard' to bring that about. The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, may dispute that anecdote.
Corbyn still believes he was robbed of victory at the election. The Labour party, he reminded us, had grown under his leadership into Europe’s largest political movement with a membership of 600,000. And the opinion polls suggested that his policies on welfare, education and the public ownership of utilities were wildly popular. So why did he lose? Two reasons. ‘Perceptions about Brexit but also because of the attacks on us,’ he said, ‘the destruction of those that were speaking out on this compendium of issues.’
So it was nothing do with Corbyn. It was the wicked right-wing press.