11 Sep 2015

When Tony Blair nearly ended Jeremy Corbyn’s career

I’ve been taking a look at Tony Benn’s diary, and in particular the entry for 25 September 1996.  Tony Blair had already been Labour leader for two years, and was within months of Labour’s great victory in the 1997 general election.


Benn explains how the Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams was due to hold a press conference at the House of Commons to launch his book Before the Dawn.

The event had been organised by Jeremy Corbyn who had met Adams several times in the past, much to the dismay of Labour bigwigs.

But on this occasion Corbyn was suddenly told by Commons officials that it had to be cancelled because Westminster rules don’t allow commercial activities on the premises.

So Corbyn switched the press conference to the Irish Centre in Islington and arranged to go ahead with a simple meeting with Adams in the Commons at 9am the next day.

The story then exploded on the news, and Labour’s chief whip Donald Dewar issued a statement threatening disciplinary action against Corbyn.  So Benn told Dewar he’d be at the meeting with Adams too.

And later the BBC six o’clock news reported that Dewar would move to withdraw the whip from Corbyn and Benn.  The whole episode was described as “a test” of Blair’s leadership.  Benn accuses Peter Mandelson of stirring the whole issue in the press.

In the end Gerry Adams came to Corbyn’s  – and Benn’s (and arguably Blair’s) – aid and diplomatically withdrew from the meeting at the Commons.

Had Blair withdrawn the whip from Jeremy Corbyn, then he wouldn’t have been allowed to stand as a Labour candidate In Islington at the 1997 election.  He would almost certainly have lost his seat, and it would probably have been the end of his political career.

And ended any chance of taking the leadership himself 19 years later.

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9 reader comments

  1. Alan says:

    Errr….thank you Tony Blair?? What if Mr Corbyn’s mother had decided not to have children??? What an odd article.

    1. steve cooke says:

      alan- bravo that is such a funny comment- Michael crick is a hero by journalist standards-and the story does have entertainment value I think and may be factually accurate and interesting [sort of ] but I thought ughhhh this is a non story then saw your comments and smiled and thought …. he has nailed it -what if what if what if
      great comment alan well done

  2. AW1983 says:

    I’m not sure if I agree with the conclusion. If Corbyn had the whip withdrawn, I think he would have won as an independent and given Blair a bloody nose on his first day in office!

    1. BobW says:

      Islington N has always been a Labour constituency, but it wasn’t until after Iraq that it became a Corbyn constituency, where Corbyn enjoyed more loyalty than the Labour Party. Corbyn would have lost as an independent in 1997.

    2. Nico_rjinders says:

      A nosebleed that would have been slightly lost due to the enormous, generational landslide Blair had just won.

    3. cynical northerner says:

      oh aye, Blair was fantastically popular with mainstream voters rather than political activists moaning about winning three elections on the trot. As Jez stood on the Blair ticker he is either a careerist opportunist who sold his values for an MP’s wage or he was ratter more loyal to Blair than he now admits

  3. Namak says:

    And what would have happened to the Peace Process? Arguably, one of the big achievements of the Blair regime!

  4. John Hill says:

    So much for honesty or values in Politics!

    As Labour meetings still sing the RED FLAG…to those too young to appreciate…the COMMUNIST ANTHEM!!!…..who would have thought that after many Lefty rallies against English forces, and British Interests that a real FAR LEFTY incognito person would have come to represent the Labour Party??
    After all the USSR was defeated by REAGAN…(left hated HIM too by 1990), and Corbyn now appealing to young who have never known just how treacherous the Left have been to GB!
    TRue to form Corbyn refuses to sing OUR national Anthem, but is OK singing the MARXIST COMMUNIST Red Flag!!
    Says it all about Labour who have let down the working class since 1945!! I know, I was there!! Labour were relevant once, long ago when they actually DID represent the workers and the poor!
    Not any more and Mr Corbyn should be ashamed at his peddling of OLD political values that failed first time round. Of course the young will not know this, which makes Corbyn`s stance all the more reprehensible! Still Labour never have been patriotic of bothered about values.
    Beware if you don`t remember the 1970s…you deserve better than what is on offer from the Left today!!

    1. Speedology says:

      Actually John the Red Flag has always been the Labour Party’s anthem since it’s founding. It was actually written by an Irishman (Jim Connell). It is normally sung to the tune of “Lauriger Horatius”, better known as the German carol “O Tannenbaum” (“O Christmas Tree”), though Connell had wanted it sung to the tune of a pro-Jacobite Robert Burns anthem, “The White Cockade”. It is also the official anthem of the Northern Irish Social Democratic and Labour Party and Irish Labour Party. The song is traditionally sung at the close of each party’s national conference.

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