We could all write screeds on why left of labour groupings have not managed to expand even as people were angry about the status quo but the truth is that none of them have ever been able to bring together the enthusiasm and direction that Corbyn has managed.
Michael Rosen – 4 September 2015
Brian: I am NOT the Messiah!
Arthur: I say you are Lord, and I should know. I’ve followed a few.
Monty Python’s Life of Brian
Some time in the early 1960s something happened to the schoolboy Jeremy Corbyn that caused him to join the Wrekin Constituency Young Socialists.
In others we might call that something a ‘political awakening’ – but it bore only a superficial resemblance to one of those commonplace mishaps. Rather, it was a catastrophic neurovascular accident, perhaps of the type that the late, great Oliver Sacks was so good at sensitively dissecting.
Since that event, robbed of certain basic human cognitive functions such as empirical reasoning, Jeremy Corbyn has lived in a slightly different universe to nearly everyone else. Every day he wakes up and opens the curtains onto exactly the same world he first glimpsed in the early 1960s, and nothing that has happened to the rest of us in the intervening years – not the fall of the Berlin Wall, not the decline of mass industry, not the invention of the internet and the digital revolution – not a single thing has made the slightest impression upon it.
It is therefore not Jeremy Corbyn’s fault that he is what he is. A dolt. A cretin. A plonking lunkhead. A stupendous, award-winning bore. A finger-jabbing cloth-eared binbag of unshakeable opinions, all of them wrong. A man who has spent his life in ‘politics’ without learning the first thing about what it is or who it is for. An MP whose idea of representing his north London constituents is to spend the entirety of his time writing letters to Israel and condemning US foreign policy to small rooms of people who agree with him.
It is not his fault that he is, essentially, George Galloway without the charisma. Nor that his views fall into four categories: Implausible, Discredited, Batshit Crazy and Beyond the Pale. Nor that when he is asked by a newspaper to tell a joke, he gives an answer that no satirist could top: “I believe there’s an entire Twitter account dedicated to telling jokes on my behalf, @corbynjokes I’m told, though I can’t guarantee its quality. But if you want a good laugh, read my good friend Mark Steel’s columns.”
Not his fault that he’s Mark Steel without the wit. Michael Rosen without the books. Billy Bragg without the hits. Russell Brand without the looks.
Not his fault that he is in all aspects a perfect archetype, one which Charles Dickens would have nailed in a paragraph and a recurring catchphrase (perhaps ‘I’m told..’?). Every single thing he says or does or thinks can be fully imagined and, with the right software, predicted. He claims to write poetry on the train – and by God we can be certain, as we picture him scratching his beard with a biro, that he is wracking his broken brain for something that rhymes with ‘hegemonic’.
Such is Corbyn. And though he is no tabula rasa, on to him the Faithful have greedily projected all their political fantasies. ‘We’ve never had a Messiah like Jeremy before’, says Michael Rosen, and he should know, he’s followed a few.
The young people are being Engaged! Town halls are being packed out! (Sometimes with almost a third of the average attendance at Dartford Town FC in the Vanarama Conference Premier!) They sell badges and secondhand books to one another. It’s a Movement! Owen Jones opens the show, Billy Bragg cracks out the guitar. This time it really is going to happen!
None of this is Jeremy Corbyn’s fault, any more than it was poor Brian’s fault that he acquired his followers in Monty Python’s most piercing moment of satire. The madness of small crowds is a fact of human nature.
It’s Ed Miliband’s fault.
Never open the door to the Politically Engaged. Here is how British politics works: there are tribal Labour voters and tribal Tory voters, and there are Politically Engaged people who vote based on their principles for silly parties. Finally, there are Unengaged voters, who don’t give two hoots about politics but just before every General Election they take a good, hard, serious look at the candidates and vote for whoever they think would make the least bad government. Thankfully, there are just enough constituencies where such people are in the majority. The rest of the country free-rides on their good sense.
Edmund Burke would never have allowed entryists to pay £3 to elect a Labour leader. He understood the danger of the Politically Engaged. In a speech to the voters of Bristol he patiently explained that the point of representative democracy was that as their elected member for Parliament he didn’t actually need to do anything they asked him to.
In a truly open democracy organised factions of the Engaged can railroad through their Corbynish crackpot fantasies. This is one reason I’m glad that that preening crank Steve Hilton has sodded off to America – he didn’t get Burke at all and nearly persuaded David Cameron to introduce mass localism and thereby subject the country to the madness of small crowds.
There is a statue of Edmund Burke in the middle of Colston Avenue, though he only lived in Bristol for a few years and his voters mostly disagreed with him.
Now this is a leader. ‘No, Geoffrey, No…’
In Foyles bookshop I noticed that an entire bookshelf was dedicated to ‘Colouring Books for Adults’. I wandered over and was slightly disappointed with its contents (I’d imagined something that would require a lot of pink crayon, but they were just books of intricate line drawings, for adults to colour in).
At this stage, knowing what a cranky misanthropist I’ve become, you will be expecting me to rail against adult colouring books and make some biting satirical remarks about the infantilisation of our culture, but I won’t. From crochet to jigsaws to sudoku, there is a fine tradition of crazes for harmless ways to occupy fingers and certain restless parts of the brain during long, alcohol-free evenings now that electrical appliances take care of most of the chores.
If only Jeremy Corbyn had spent his nights colouring in pictures of jellyfish instead of photocopying pamphlets the world would be a better place, and that twenty quid I put on Yvette Cooper at sevens would be looking a great deal wiser, too.