One new addition to the House of Lords whose name has surprised many, on the left and on the right, is Claire Fox. Why has Boris Johnson put her name forward? Surely he should have known about her political history in the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP)? Or, as he obviously doesn’t mind that his adviser, Munira Mirza, is ex-RCP, maybe making one of them part of the legislature didn’t seem like such a big deal?
Let me be clear on one point though. I don’t think it would be surprising if a Tory PM put an ex-RCP member into the House of Lords if it was evident that they had renounced their previous views. After all, to take one example, Sir Alfred Sherman was an adviser to Margaret Thatcher despite having been a member of the Communist Party in his youth.
But when someone – in this case Claire Fox – who is utterly unapologetic about their past controversial beliefs and, indeed, confirms that they still hold to them, is ennobled by a Prime Minister who shares neither her past fondness for the IRA’s “struggle” nor her current Lockdown scepticism, well, then something very curious has happened. And almost certainly is going to go on happening until it explodes.
Let’s go back to last year’s EU elections when the Brexit Party announced that Claire Fox was to be their candidate for NW England.
I have written elsewhere several pieces (here and here) on the RCP, with regards to their views on Irish Republicanism and Brexit, and on their present network – or perhaps, “blogging wing” better captures it? – spiked. Before we go on, it might be useful for the non-sectary to try and grasp the mind of the poseur revolutionary. The RCP officially “disbanded” in the late 1990s but as an article in spiked by an ex-member freely admits:
I never left the RCP: the organisation folded in the mid-Nineties, but few of us actually ‘recanted’ our ideas. Instead we resolved to support one another more informally as we pursued our political tradition as individuals, or launched new projects with more general aims that have also engaged people from different traditions, or none. These include spiked and the Institute of Ideas, where I now work.
To coin a phrase, they haven’t gone away you know.
The third piece I wrote (28 April 2019) dealt with the RCP’s attitude to the IRA’s Warrington bomb in April 1993 which killed three year old Johnathan Ball and 12 year old Tim Parry, in the wake of Claire Fox being selected as a candidate for the Brexit Party in the unexpected 2019 European Parliament election. The front page of the RCP’s party newspaper, the next step, stated their “response to Warrington” at the time – ‘we defend the right of the Irish people to take whatever measures are necessary in their struggle for freedom.’
What was Claire Fox’s present view on this atrocity, I wondered? After all, she had been a member of the RCP since the early 1980s (no naïve newcomer then) and Warrington was in the NW England EU constituency where she was standing.
On Tuesday 30 April the issue made it into the local Warrington Guardian. As was stated in the paper, Colin Parry, the father of Tim, asked that Ms Fox explain her comments back at the time (the RCP “response”) and that she should ‘disavow these comments… and say, “I was wrong, I was foolish”.’
Later that evening, Ms Fox sent the following message (highlight mine) to Patrick Hurst of the Press Association –
The key, indeed pointed, thing is Fox did not deny that the RCP’s view on the Warrington atrocity (‘we defend the right of the Irish people to take whatever measures are necessary in their struggle for freedom’) was one that she had disagreed with then or now. As she pointed out, ‘My personal politics and views are well known and I have never sought to deny them, though on this issue they have remained unaired for many years.’ There was no renunciation of the RCP defence of the IRA’s right to carry out the Warrington bomb. It was a confirmation that these were still indeed her views though they had ‘remained unaired for many years.’ I would dispute they were ‘well known’: certainly never, when she was booked to appear on BBC panels, were they ever pointed out by anyone introducing her. It’s unlikely that a right wing voice with attitudes towards terrorism such as hers would have received the same treatment, were such a person to a) exist) and b) be booked on BBC panels. But however badly known they were, they were certainly known to Boris Johnson’s political advisors when they put Fox’s name in front of him to get a peerage.
To go back to the sorrow of Warrington, the day after the story broke in the local press, Colin Parry sent out the following tweet –
In the aftermath of these statements, Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party put out a number of statements designed to muddy the waters on Claire Fox’s views. I wrote about them in this article (19 May 2019). As I said at the time, I prefer to stick to the PA quote and Colin Parry’s reporting of their conversation. If she had straight out said to the PA and Colin Parry, ‘those were my views then, they were wrong and I disavow them now,’ there would not have been such a controversy then about her being a candidate for elected office, not would there be now regarding her ennoblement.
On the announcement of Claire Fox being made a peer, Mr Parry had this to say –
I’ve concentrated here on the shame of anyone seeing the Warrington bombing as being anything other than what it was – the murder of children – but Tory Party members could also wonder what Ms Fox’s present attitude to the IRA’s bombing of the 1984 Tory conference is.
The RCP view was (as I wrote about here) – ‘we support unconditionally the right of the Irish people to carry out their struggle for national liberation in whatever way they choose.’ They defended the right of the IRA to carry out their bombing campaign whether in Brighton or elsewhere.
They held to the same view over the 1974 Birmingham bombings (where left-wing criticism of this atrocity was described as a capitulation to British chauvinism) – ‘we support the right of the Irish people to national self-determination and their right to conduct their struggle against British imperialism by whatever means they choose’ (“The Next Step” page 7, 3 March 1980). These, then, were not one-off aberrations: this was a consistent worldview, rigidly held to by its adherents, and still not disavowed by at least some of them to this day.
The RCP view of the IRA’s bombing campaign is best summed up by here in November 1981 by one of their front organisations, the “Smash the Prevention of Terrorism Act Campaign”.
Another clarification was in “the next step №10 1981” when the editor, a then GP called Mike Freeman, who used the party name Fitzpatrick when writing for the paper, asserted that the time to criticise Sinn Fein’s politics was when large numbers of British workers responded to IRA bombs with ‘jubilation.’
As I have noted, but for whatever reason, Boris Johnson’s political team in NO 10 have opted not to, all during this time Claire Fox was a loyal, long-standing member – ‘I joined the RCP (Revolutionary Communist Party) in the early 80s. I’d be in it still but it was wound up at the end of the nineties.’
It would be interesting to hear what her present views are on Brighton, Birmingham and other scenes of Provisional IRA slaughter. Will they be the same as her quote regarding the Warrington bomb last – ‘My personal politics and views are well known and I have never sought to deny them, though on this issue they have remained unaired for many years’?
As for why Boris Johnson put her name forward for a peerage, it baffles me. I can’t see any political advantage to him for it. Who on the Brexit Right of the Tory Party was calling for Claire Fox to be made a peer? What good does sending someone with her views on the IRA to the Lords do Boris Johnson? It’s hard not to hear a ticking noise here, about why Boris Johnson acquiesced in this otherwise baffling advice to him (‘make Claire a peer’), and to believe that this story has still more harm to do.
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