Few more prescient questions have been asked in British politics of late than when Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn asked BBC interviewer Andrew Neil if he could finish on Tuesday evening.
Under fire after Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis laid into the party leadership over antisemitism, accusing it of “spreading a new poison,” Corbyn refused to apologise to British Jews FOUR times and claimed Mirvis had got his facts wrong.
The interview, which included bizarre moments such as when Corbyn wouldn’t say whether Rothschild conspiracies and Holocaust denial were antisemitic, left even died-in-the-wool Corbynites pawing their brows.
Over 30 minutes, the Labour leader disputed that the party’s problem with antisemitism stemmed from his reign, and grew increasingly agitated as Neil (pictured, inset) repeatedly asked if he was sorry.
“Can I finish? Can I finish?” Corbyn asked during the one-to-one at 7pm on BBC One, as British Jews watching at home across the country replied in the affirmative.
Corbyn’s car-crash interview came just hours after the most senior Jewish religious figure in the UK felt he had to write a fiercely party political column attacking the Labour leadership for lying about its success in tackling antisemitism in the party.
Asked about Mirvis’s claim that Corbyn peddled “a mendacious fiction” in claiming that all antisemitism cases had been investigated, the Labour leader said: “He’s not right, because he would have to produce the evidence to say that’s mendacious.”
Asked about Mirvis’s wider claim that Corbyn was unfit for office, Corbyn said: “I look forward to having a conversation with him, because I want to hear why he would say such a thing. So far as I’m concerned, antisemitism is not acceptable anywhere.”
Asked why antisemitism had suddenly become an issue since he became leader, Corbyn said it “didn’t rise after I became leader”.
Asked why a member who questioned the number of Jews who died in the Holocaust had only received a warning, he said he’d strengthened processes since then, with “then” appearing to be 2017.
Asked if someone saying “Rothschild Zionists run Israel and world governments” was antisemitic, he said: “It should not be used.” Yes, Neil said, but is it antisemitic? “I just said it should not be used.”
Asked about the moon landing, Corbyn said it was still to be proved and that he would await the findings of an investigation by notruthundeniable.org.
We jest. He didn’t. But it was that kind of interview.
The 30 minutes of non-answers elicited so much puzzlement and so many questions as to make one stand out: “Are you for real?”
From a purely tactical point of view, refusing the opportunity to apologise to British Jews FOUR times was insane, because he had already done so – in a to-camera video message posted in the summer of last year.
Likewise refusing to acknowledge such blatant antisemitism as that infamous mural was nonsensical because – again – he has already done so, albeit through gritted teeth.
Among the more surprising realisations to emerge from the Neil interview was not the lack of empathy but the grinding truth that Corbyn could actually make this sorry saga worse, for himself and his party.