Jeremy Corbyn praised College’s readiness to examine its “colonial past” in an address to the University Philosophical Society (the Phil) yesterday evening.
The former leader of the UK Labour Party said that Trinity “has been prepared to examine itself and its colonial past” in a way in which most British universities “have not been prepared to examine their past and the amount of money they made out of the slave trade”.
College last year announced the launch of a historical investigation of its colonial ties and links to empire, the Colonial Legacies Project, and yesterday announced that it would be accepting submissions for the renaming of the Berkeley Library.
“If we don’t face up to the institutional history of the organisations we’re part of, then we’re denying ourselves some understanding for the future,” Corbyn added.
“This period of the 21st century is going to be remembered for many things, one of which I think, will be the power of rediscovery of historical processes occasioned largely by Black Lives Matter and what it has achieved awakening people’s attitude towards history, and the slave trade.”
The British MP was speaking to members of the Phil, having been awarded the society’s Gold Medal for Honorary Patronage for “outstanding contributions” to politics.
Asked if there was a way forward for pro-Palestinian anti-apartheid activism in the UK, Corbyn answered “there has to be”.
He continued: “I think the occupation of Palestine is completely wrong. The settlement policy is completely wrong, and actually the creation of apartheid on the West Bank, (not my words, Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s words is equally to be deplored.”
Referring to the removal of the president of the National Union of Students (NUS) last month over claims of antisemitism, Corbyn said: “It is perfectly possible to discuss the issue facing Palestinian people and should support the Palestinian people, which is exactly what the president is doing, without descending into anti semitic arguments or language.”
Corbyn also addressed claims of antisemitism within the Labour Party in the UK, which became a topic of widespread controversy under his leadership.
“Antisemitism is an evil. It is totally wrong [under] any circumstances at any time. I made that very clear from the very beginning. I received complaints about a small number of people and I said ‘this is absolutely unacceptable’.”
Corbyn emphasised that “the number of people who were accused of antisemitism in the party was very, very small. And that Labour was not an institutionally racist organisation”.
An admiration for Irish history and literature was a recurring theme of Corbyn’s address, which began by referencing the society’s link to poet Oscar Wilde.
Corbyn praised Irish writers for their ability to “challenge established institutions”.
“We can always learn a lot from those who have written during a time of adversity, that have shown what the brutality of it was,” he said, referring to Wilde’s writings while imprisoned in Reading Gaol.
Corbyn also referenced President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins, who also received the Phil’s Honorary Patronage earlier this month, saying that “he and I get along very well”.
Other points of Corbyn’s address focused on climate change, migration, and global inequality.
The Phil’s Gold Medal of Honorary Patronage is the highest honour awarded by the society. Previous recipients include then-Vice President Joe Biden, First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Al Pacino, Martin Scorcese, Conan O’Brien, Tim Cook, Dame Helen Mirren and Whoopi Goldberg.
Recipients of the award this year have included President Michael D. Higgins, Daisy Edgar-Jones, the Happy Pear, Lucy Dacus, and Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason.