As suggested earlier, Tom Bower’s book about Jeremy Corbyn is not an easy read. It is well written and well researched but Corbyn himself is not a particularly interesting character. If it were not for his unscripted and somewhat accidental rise to Labour party leader he would have been a tiny footnote to UK political history.
Overall conclusions? The man is very limited with what seems like a poor memory, weak analytical abilities and a strong preference for stock phrases over genuine engagement. Although he does appear to have a certain ability to attract political support. From the book we have the view of Corbyn’s first wife.
Among the surprises for Chapman was the absence of books in her husband’s life. Throughout the four years of their marriage, he never read a single book. He did not think deeply about ideology or political philosophy. Her initial judgement that he was ‘bright’ was mistaken.
An obsessive interest in political violence is well known, as are his distaste for argument and tendency to walk away from any attempt to question his underlying motives. As a counterweight to his deficiencies, Corbyn’s biggest asset seems to be a steely determination to maintain the “decent bloke” image he has cultivated for decades. This he does rather well for an inarticulate man who clearly loathes his own social class.
He came to loathe achievers, especially undergraduates with ambitions to get to the top, disdained those who enjoyed material wealth, and showed little respect for religion. Most of all he hated the rich and successful, and identified with losers. In his self-protection he became conspicuously stubborn.
I’m not convinced he has any underlying motives apart from the obvious class malice. Hate is undoubtedly what drives him in spite of his rigidly low-key demeanour. That demeanour seems to be necessary in that he does not have the mental agility to engage with any kind of hostility towards his obvious absurdities, incompetence and apparent lack of interest in the damage he has done in the past. Bower’s book brings this out this dismal aspect of his history very well.
Within Haringey council, everyone knew about Corbyn’s conflict of interest. He was in charge of the employment of NUPE members, and at the same time he was their trade union representative organising a strike against the council. He was also responsible for the housing maintenance department, from which £2 million had gone missing annually for several years in succession. Council employees were both stealing money and inflating their claims for overtime.
Most of his political opponents are likely to be far more articulate than he is and he knows it. As a result the standard seventies rhetoric has barely changed in decades and that also suggests there is nothing more to the man. What you see is all there is. What Bower’s book does well is pull it together. For example, Corbyn has a long history of siding with the most blatant antisemitism.
Corbyn’s antagonism towards Zionism is one of the most notable through lines of his entire career. During the 1980s he sponsored the LMCP’s campaign to ‘eradicate Zionism’ and replace Israel with Palestine. In 1984 he chaired a conference blaming the Labour Party for colonising Palestine. ‘Zionism,’ asserted the LMCP, ‘is inherently racist’, and that same year he sponsored an LMCP newsletter calling for the disaffiliation of the Poale Zion, the only Jewish group attached to the Labour Party. He also supported the expulsion of Jewish societies by student unions.
Apart from the obvious, one conclusion one might draw is that Jeremy Corbyn epitomises a great political divide between simple and pragmatic. In a formidably complex world simple doesn’t work and as we have repeatedly seen, the only way to enforce it is by coercion. As the failures mount so does the coercion until the inevitable disaster. As a direct result, simple attracts those who are also attracted to coercion. Corbyn is one of them.
All in all the book is well worth reading as a forceful reminder of just how poor we are at attracting capable people into national political life.