Corbyn slapped down over point-scoring reaction to Salisbury

A nerve agent – like Polonium in the Litvinenko case – is the sort of murder weapon used to send a signal. It is the sort of murder you want people to know you are guilty of because it burnishes your “strongman” image. And there are elections due. They will be rigged of course, not because they have to be for Putin to win, but because neglecting to rig the elections would show weakness.

So the Prime Minister’s statement yesterday struck the right tone.

This attempted murder using a weapons-grade nerve agent in a British town was not just a crime against the Skripals, but an indiscriminate and reckless act against the United Kingdom, putting the lives of innocent civilians at risk. We will not tolerate such a brazen attempt to murder innocent civilians on our soil.

The response from Jeremy Corbyn, though largely unremarkable, has attracted condemnation for appearing to believe that “dialogue” will convince Putin of the merits of the rule of law, and for going on the attack on Russian donations to the Conservative Party. (Whether the donations are from supporters of Putin or opponents is left unsaid.) Corbyn:

We are all familiar with the way in which huge fortunes, often acquired in the most dubious circumstances in Russia and sometimes connected with criminal elements, have ended up sheltering in London and trying to buy political influence in British party politics—“meddling in elections”, as the Prime Minister put it. There have been more than £800,000 of donations to the Conservative party from Russian oligarchs and their associates. If that is the evidence before the Government, they could be taking action to introduce new financial sanctions powers even before the investigation into Salisbury is complete. But instead they are currently resisting Labour’s amendments to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill that could introduce the so-called Magnitsky powers…

It appears from subsequent contributions that there is broad agreement on the Magnitsky powers but not on the actual text of Labour’s amendments for technical reasons. If that is the case this is a thoroughly shameful response from Corbyn. And he is slapped down by a number on his own side.

Chris Leslie (Labour)

I say to the Prime Minister that there should be unity across the House on what I feel is the proportionate and sensible approach that she has taken to analysing what has been happening and to coming back to report to the ​House. I also say that there are certain circumstances, as she knows, where we take party political differences of opinion, but when our country is potentially under attack, that is just not appropriate.

Phil Wilson (Labour) takes issue with Corbyn’s position on appearing on Russia Today.

In the light of her comments, which I commend, does the Prime Minister agree that there is no place for hon. Members on either side of the House appearing on Russia Today? It is a propaganda mouthpiece for the Russian state with which no democratic politician should engage, and they should think twice before doing so. We should not be engaging with and giving credibility to such a media outlet.

And is John Woodcock (Labour) putting the boot in here?

The level of resilience voiced by the Prime Minister today has been many years in coming, but it is hugely welcome—indeed, it would put our national security at significant risk if we were led by anyone who did not understand the gravity of the threat that Russia poses to this nation.

Corbyn isn’t completely alone, however.

I can see Prime Minister Corbyn’s robust dialogue now

Jeremy: Now, Vladimir, we really can’t have you murdering people on the streets of Britain with chemical weapons.

Vladimir: It’s all lies, we never did it, we promise we won’t do it again, and anyway you provoked us.

Jeremy: Oh I am so sorry we provoked you. I agree that all conflict in the world is the fault of the West, but what can we do to put things right?

Vladimir: You need to stop your people telling lies about the Russian state that we go round murdering people.

Jeremy: Oh, how do I do that?

Vladimir: Let me introduce my security people. They’ll tell you how we do it.

Jeremy: Why thank you, that is so helpful.

Vladimir: And you aren’t going to let the pesky bourgeois rule of law get in the way of your socialist revolution are you?

Jeremy: That’s a very good point. Thank you Vladimir, this has been very useful. I knew dialogue would do the trick.

* Joe Otten was the candidate for Sheffield Heeley in June 2017 and Doncaster North in December 2019 and is a councillor in Sheffield.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Lorenzo Cherin 13th Mar '18 - 12:43pm

    The reaction of Corbyn, as with his same on the ghastly facebook group he was in, is indicative of a man who is not appropriate for pm of this country.

    His speech was very poor because the only criticism was for the government of this country not Russia. The owner of the Independent newspaper, for years the best in the uk, was Russian, are we saying a donation from such as that is wrong, more so than the attempted murder and actual killing of civilians on the street of this country.

    I, as an ex , though many years ago, Labour member, am fair to his party and him, but enough is enough, the facebook group, like all his other bad associations, is a disgace, the company he keeps is worrying. Far worse to be a salaried presenter, note, not a guest interviewee, of Press TV the Iranian stae television since banned, in the uk, than to accept a donation from a legitimate citizen of Russia, and typical of Corbyn not to see it.

    A good speech from May.

  • Laurence Cox 13th Mar '18 - 12:55pm

    Corbyn has failed the statesmanship test. This was a time for all UK politicians to come together and condemn this outrage, but he failed to do so; just as he failed to follow his colleague John McDonnell in telling Labour MPs not to go on Russia Today. We can now expect the Tories to pursue the theme that “Britain is not safe in Corbyn’s hands” relentlessly between now and 2022.

  • Yes we must always back our glorious leaders and condemn the opponents, the questioners, as dissidents. Only in this way can true democracy prevail. Long live the Conservative Party and may they rule forever.

  • @ Lorenzo “His speech was very poor because the only criticism was for the government of this country not Russia”. Not so.

    Have you watched all of it or just read the right wing tabloid headlines ? Yes, in the context it was certainly ill judged. but he certainly criticised Russia.

    @ Joe When are you going to have a go at this hapless government ?

  • Joe Otten 13th Mar ’18 – 1:50pm…..Way to speak up for dissidents, Glenn. Putin will be trembling……

    Whereas your parody of Corbyn/Putin exchange is accurate? If Russia were brazen enough to bungle an attempt using a nerve gas with ‘made in Russia’ stamped on it then I don’t think anything the UK does will cause a tremor in the Kremlin…

    I always tend to ask ‘why’ and ‘who gains’ when such things happen; I’m still confused…

  • Laurence Cox 13th Mar '18 - 3:11pm


    Putin is in the position of Stalin in the 1930s. He has destroyed all his internal opposition and can carry on running Russia until he dies. To the West, all the states are weak so he has nothing to fear from that quarter. He can do whatever he wants, because he knows that no-one will start a nuclear war. My prediction is that he will find a way to swallow up the rest of Ukraine and then start destabilising the Baltic States using the Russian minority as a pretext. We are already seeing the rise of the extreme Left in Europe alongside the extreme Right. With Trump in power he has nothing to fear from NATO and an EU army is just a paper tiger. So, the answer to your question: “who wins” is pretty clear.

  • I was being deadly serious. Putin should be trembling.

  • Malcolm Todd 13th Mar '18 - 3:23pm

    Laurence Cox
    expats didn’t ask “Who wins?” but “Who gains?” and specifically in this context, who gains from this mostly forgotten ex-spy being assassinated and the blame being put on Moscow? It’s not obvious how this advances Putin’s position at home or in eastern Europe. To question whether the official narrative of this event is entirely believable is not to dispute the dangers posed by Putin in the east, much less to be an apologist for him. This conflation of scepticism about the story with some sort of craven support for the Russian dictator is exactly the sort of thing I would expect liberals and rationalists to steer clear of; it is exactly the sort of thing that populists and dictators do to discourage challenge or debate.

  • Laurence Cox 13th Mar ’18 – 3:11pm…@expats. So, the answer to your question: “who wins” is pretty clear…..
    Really? Apart from your diatribe about Putin what would he gain from the murder of an ex-spy who is of no consequence? Why would any nation seek to antagonise another for no reason? Good relations with the west is in Russia’s interest; I can see how he would consider any escalation of action in the Ukraine as an acceptable risk of further sanctions; but to kill one man?????????

  • John Marriott 13th Mar '18 - 4:40pm

    Last night US secretary Rex Tillerson appeared to back the UK. Today Trump fired him. Any connection, do you think?

  • expats – on the contrary, when you understand that Putin’s entire positioning (& popularity) domestically is based on being a populist nationalist, he has everything to gain.

    Being accused of assassinating (attempted or otherwise) a “traitor” allows him a double-whammy: he can argue that the evil West/foreigners are unjustly attacking Mother Russia, but even if Russians believe that the FSB were responsible, the reaction of most of his support base is likely to be “good, that traitor deserved it”.

    And to top all that, however the UK responds, it will look weak by comparison.

    This is a classic from the populist nationalist playbook & we shouldn’t be at all surprised.

  • Ian MacFadyen 13th Mar '18 - 6:31pm

    Why do politicians and the media always talk about “Innocent civilians”, as if there is a bunch who are guilty and so fair game? Of what do they have to be guilty? A couple of parking tickets, or things more serious? In contexts like these, “innocent” is a redundant adjective and should not be used. Murder or attempted murder of anyone on British soil or elsewhere is wrong and the perpetrators should be found and prosecuted. That’s all that needs to be said.

  • Steve Trevethan 13th Mar '18 - 6:47pm

    Is this T. Mays “45 Minutes from Attack” gambit?
    Is the information put forward secure enough to result in a criminal court conviction?
    Anything less is dangerous.
    Would the “WMD” evidence against Saddam H. have passed such a test?
    Is this another example of government- main stream media collusion which resulted in our attack on Iraq with all its subsequent horrors?
    The Soviet Union, not Russia, developed Novichok agents, mainly in Uzbechistan. The US helped to dismantle the laboratory. If the agent used was an organophosphate nurotoxin then such has been produced and used all over the world as insecticides, having been discovered by German scientists in the 1920s.
    So where is the EVIDENCE that the poison was unique to Russia?
    If this stuff is so dangerous and unique, why were extreme precautions in Salisbury not taken immediately using the precautionary principal?
    Why, as citizens and as a political party, do we not cross examine our Prime Minister’s statements at this dangerous time?
    Here are a couple of relevant sources of information and opinion which were used for this comment.

  • Richard Underhill 13th Mar '18 - 6:50pm

    Imagine an old testament quote from the late Ian Paisley MP, MEP, DUP.

  • One can either disagree with Corbyn and not give any more oxygen to his view, one may make brief comment that Corbyn has got it wrong or one may use that Corbyn’s view is against general public opinion and slam Corbyn for playing politics. But doesn’t this third option play politics? Of course, it’s just another example of the hypocrisy of Westminster and other power offices.

    Innocent civilians? There are no innocent people, but equally there is no one deserving of such a gruesome end.

  • Andrew McCaig 14th Mar '18 - 8:06am
  • Steve Trevethan 14th Mar '18 - 8:33am

    Thank you, Mr McCaig, for drawing our attention to a most relevant article!
    Such sources of information from non UK media are vital for personal, group, national and international wellbeing.
    Governmental and mainstream media attacks on “foreign”news sources,as currently being suggested, are attacks on the “Market of Ideas and Information”.
    The most important “Free Market” is the”Market of Ideas and Information.”

  • OnceALibDem 14th Mar '18 - 9:06am

    Citing Craig Murray (basically the David Icke of the left) always makes your case look more credible.

  • ………….Corbyn slapped down over point-scoring reaction to Salisbury……..

    If the phrase ‘Slapped down’ doesn’t count as points scoring I wonder what does?

  • Ronald Murray 14th Mar '18 - 4:15pm

    Sadly Jeremy Corbyn has never been a great supporter of his country. Preferring the IRA and Communist Momentum most of his life. Time the real labour party members got rid of Corbyn and his gang and decent Russians got rid of Putin and his theiving oligarch friends who asset stripped their country.
    Decent labour members could join the Lib Dems.

  • I think we can trust the Russian twitterbots to give the Iraqi 45 minutes WMD comparison all the air it needs.

    It would be an important angle if the attack were out of character for the Putin regime. But we have seen the Litvinenko poisoning, numerous other suspicious deaths of Russians on UK soil, widespread disappearances of journalists and dissidents in Russia itself, the invasions of Georgia and Ukraine, persistent cyber warfare against Estonia, meddling in the US General Election and UK Brexit referendum. There is a consistency here, and we are in danger of normalising and accepting it.

    Putin wants the free world to be weak and divided, and liberal values to be undermined. It is time we started showing some resilience.

  • Richard Underhill 16th Mar '18 - 11:52am

    “We can now expect the Tories to pursue the theme that “Britain is not safe in Corbyn’s hands” relentlessly between now and 2022.” Maybe they will, If so they may be right. With Labour voters try comparing him with Clement Attlee.
    Even when New Labour won an overall majority in 1997 we said that we would vote with them where we agreed and vote against them when we disagreed, which we did.
    They should not assume that Liberal Democrat MPs would be lobby fodder for a Labour minority government.
    Jeremy Corbyn has written an article in the Friday Guardian. Labour frontbencher Keir Starmer already knows what is in it and gave his own views very clearly on BBC Question Time on Thursday.
    Keir Starmer deserves some sympathy and maybe empathy, for his labours as of Sisyphus, who was punished by being compelled to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, repeating this action. Wish him eventual success.
    Mairead McGuinness MEP (Fine Gael, EPP) was also on the panel, talking sense.

  • Richard Underhill 16th Mar '18 - 11:56am
  • Peter Watson 16th Mar '18 - 1:45pm

    @OnceALibDem “Citing Craig Murray (basically the David Icke of the left) always makes your case look more credible.”
    That sounds like sarcasm, so what is the basis for the cryptic ad hominemattack?
    I don’t know anything about the guy, but a quick Google indicates that he was a Liberal and a Lib Dem (who voted for coalition in 2010) with a background in the diplomatic service (during which time he visited the site where Novichok was developed) and then the university sector, and he seems to be aligned with the Lib Dem position on Iraq.
    Your post (and to some extent the article on this page) seems to be about shutting down debate and the questioning of authority in a way that I would have though was anathema to Lib Dems.

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