In Depth

General Election 2019: why are people saying Jeremy Corbyn is ‘unfit’ to govern?

The Labour leader has long faced accusations that he would be a disastrous and even dangerous prime minister

Amid a chaotic start to general election campaigning, the Labour Party appears to be in full damage-limitation mode after Jeremy Corbyn was declared “unfit to govern” by four of his former MPs.

This week, Ian Austin, John Woodcock, Tom Harris and Michael McCann described the Labour leader as “a menace”, as well as “a disgrace to his party and a disgrace to this country”, The Telegraph reports.

The group also suggested that “patriotic” Britons should vote for Boris Johnson in December’s general election.

Corbyn’s leadership has come under fire because of claims of historic anti-Semitism within the party ranks – and the leader’s seeming inability to deal with the issue - and suggestions that Corbyn himself is a threat to national security.

So is Corbyn really unfit to govern?

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The most problematic charge dogging the Labour leader is that he has fostered a climate of anti-Semitism in the party, or that he is an anti-Semite himself. On Wednesday, the Jewish Chronicle devoted its full front page to telling voters that Corbyn has “allied with and supported antisemites”.

Allegations against the party ramped up in April 2016 when Labour MP Naz Shah posted Facebook messages comparing Israel to Nazi Germany and then former London mayor Ken Livingstone sparked controversy during a BBC interview by saying that Adolf Hitler had supported Zionism. 

This was followed by the revelation that in 2012 Corbyn had defended an anti-Semitic mural in London that the local council had wanted to remove.

In response, Corbyn commissioned the Chakrabarti inquiry, which found that Labour was “not overrun by anti-Semitism”. The inquiry made 20 recommendations, most of which have yet to be fully implemented.

Corbyn supporters have rubbished claims that he is an anti-Semite, with general secretary of the Unite union Len McCluskey saying in 2017 that the row “was created by people who were trying to undermine Jeremy Corbyn”. 

Twenty-one public figures, including Noam Chomsky, Yanis Varoufakis, Ken Loach and Brian Eno, also wrote an open letter to The Guardian in 2018 in which they claimed that there have been “inaccuracies, clear distortions and revealing omissions” in the coverage of Labour anti-Semitism.

On Thursday, Corbyn received the support of ex-speaker John Bercow, who told GQ magazine that he does not “believe that Jeremy Corbyn is anti-Semitic”.


Launching the Conservatives’ election campaign this week, Boris Johnson compared Corbyn to Joseph Stalin, writing in The Daily Telegraph that his “hatred” of wealth creators is comparable to the former Soviet leader’s persecution of the kulaks.

“Marxist”, “Trotskyist”, “Leninist” and “Stalinist” have all been used to refer to Corbyn, and he has frequently been touted as a leader that would “take Britain back to the 1970s” - an era of industrial action and fears of communist influence. In February this year, the Daily Mail proclaimed him “the Marxist who wants to be PM”.

The Labour leader has always sat to the far left of the Labour Party, often warring with his more centre-left colleagues and rebelling against the frontbench on key votes. As such, he is frequently derided by Tory MPs and right-wing media publications.

But Robert Griffiths, general secretary of the Communist Party of Britain, says that Corbyn “is not a communist and never has been”, adding that he is a “principled socialist”.

To others, the association with far-left extremes may actually hinder the Conservatives’ fight against him. Tory MP Robert Halfon writes in Conservative Home that people should stop comparing Corbyn to far-left figures “simply because the term doesn’t resonate with the public – certainly not with the younger generation”.

Nuclear weapons and terrorism

According to The Economist, Corbyn “has the most radical views on national security of any leader in the Labour Party’s history” and would lead “the biggest change in Britain’s defence posture since the Second World War” if he became PM.

The newspaper adds that Corbyn’s position on Nato would be a “severe blow to its credibility” if he won the keys to No. 10.

This week, former defence secretary Lord Hutton of Furness, told The Sun that Corbyn’s opposition to nuclear weapons and his “support for Putin’s Russia” is “completely at odds with every postwar Labour leader”. Corbyn has also faced accusations that he is a “terrorist sympathiser” with links to groups including Hamas and the IRA.

The Labour leader has vigorously defended these associations, with Channel 4 reporting that he has “consistently said he is against violence and wanted to see an end to the armed conflict in Northern Ireland”.

The Independent’s Joe Glenton says “far-rights” and “fascists” have denigrated his public image by purposefully misrepresenting his views, adding: “Three years of being falsely accused of being an IRA and Hamas sympathiser both in Parliament and in print” has “dehumanised” Corbyn and other leading figures of the Labour Party.”


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