On Jeremy Corbyn, E.P Thompson & the Rule of Law
I was at the T20 cricket in Cardiff on Monday (of which more anon) so the latest ‘controversy’ to engulf Labour leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn passed just briefly through my twitter feed.
Essentially Corbyn had said that the death of Bin Laden was a tragedy. This was not some kind of fraternal support for a fellow beard wearer, or support for terrorism, as the usual corbynphobics were of course quick to claim.
He meant that it would have been better to have put Bin Laden on trial for his alleged crimes (remembering that though these may be obvious there is a principle of innocence until guilt is proven or confessed) than just kill him.
It is an historical what if question since Bin Laden is dead and it may well not have been possible to put him on trial, although the Allies did a good job (parallels are clearly not exact) with many leading Nazis after 1945.
I noticed however a significant twitter support for just killing Bin Laden and not putting him on trial from people who I take it were Labour supporters.
Now I’m an old Marxist with a beard so I know and can deploy arguments about the class nature of justice, victor’s justice and so on. The democracies of the West are keen enough on the rule of law, except when it doesn’t suit them. That after all is partly what the CIA, secret prisoners and all that are about.
Usually it is the very people who were criticising Corbyn for suggesting a trial who attack people like myself for suggesting that justice isn’t always what is cracked up to be.
We could just leave it there but I believe (and have said before) that I think EP Thompson in Whigs and Hunters had a point about the importance of due process and the rule of law. It may be that those officially charged with operating such things don’t take it as seriously as they should all the time.
Given things like the Gulag however(for which far from all the left was responsible for clearly but guilt by supposed association weighs strongly) the left really does need to take it seriously even if it is complex and contradictory.
So I agree with Jeremy Corbyn that if it had been possible it would have been a good idea to put Bin Laden on trial. It would have shut up at least some of the conspiracy theorists who argue all kinds of things if an open and reasonably transparent process of justice had been followed.
It might well be argued (certainly by those in some way sympathetic to whatever he claimed to believe in) that Bin Laden could never have got justice but he, and anyone else famous or obscure, still deserve their day in Court.
I might expect some Tories at least to disagree. That people who back Labour think that bumping people off rather than due process might be Ok does suggest the need on their part to have a read of EP Thompson’s Making of the English Working Class again and ponder some of the principles that underwrote the formation of the modern labour movement.