Sunday 25 September 2016

Radio: 'Jez we can' get ready for some interesting times

Published 20/09/2015 | 02:30

Jeremy Corbyn: British politics is about to get ready to rumble
Jeremy Corbyn: British politics is about to get ready to rumble

Just as the Labour party in Ireland seems to be in tentative recovery, their counterparts on the other side of the Channel may have committed suicide. Then again, they may have resurrected themselves. Or, indeed, both at the same time (politics is funny like that).

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Jeremy Corbyn is the new UK Labour leader - and things are about to get very interesting. I haven't a clue if his ascension to - as phrased by John Pienaar on Pienaar's Politics (BBC Five Live, Sun 10am) - "leader of Her Majesty's Opposition" is a good or bad thing for that party. I don't know enough about British politics to have an opinion; and to be honest, I probably don't care enough to bother forming one anyway.

Indeed I don't know if anyone can make sense of it yet. The Daily Mirror's Kevin Maguire told Pienaar that this was "both a time for celebrations and drowning of sorrows" for Labour supporters.

But one thing is assured: it will make for a more exciting and tumultuous political scene over there.

Yes, yes, I know: all those adjectives usually mean that something is going terribly wrong. As the old Chinese curse goes, "May you live in interesting times."

But still, it is boring when everyone agrees on everything, isn't it? It's good to have furious, spitting dissent and wild clashes of ideologies and a blazing row every now and then.

Life would be intolerable if we all just mooched along, of one mind, thinking the same, acting the same, using the same language, all very pleasant and agreeable and, you know… boring. It'd be a state of existence embalmed in what George Orwell called "a watery sort of melancholy".

Whereas with 'Jez We Can' on one side of the house, and David Cameron on the other, British politics is about ready to rumble. Already the Tories have launched pre-emptive shots across the Labour bows; meanwhile Labour is at odds with itself, as several senior figures refuse to serve under Corbyn.

Pienaar described Corbyn's victory as "this extraordinary story", which promised the return of things that "used to be fantasy in the world we thought of as normal…until normal changed its meaning".

Actually, even aside from this latest development, there's always been something flamboyant, melodramatic, even operatic about British politics. Our mob are so humdrum and lumpen by comparison. Even our villains are dull - metaphorical "fumblers in the greasy till".

Whereas your classic British political villain is an Old Etonian, distantly related to the queen, married to the heir of a Greek shipping family, who's already faced parliamentary enquiry for instigating a coup d'état in some small African country, and is about to be exposed by the tabloids for a hilarious sexual indiscretion involving a rent-boy and an illegal opium den. (I may have exaggerated a little there… though not much.)

And this larger-than-life aspect to UK politics is perfectly captured by Pienaar. Dutch-born but long-domiciled in England, and a veteran of current affairs media, he sounds exactly like someone covering this stuff should sound.

A deep, rich voice and big, big personality, very lively, engaged, passionate, clattering on at a rate of knots, his discourse full of colourful expressions. "Yes, you are awake," Pienaar boomed in his intro, "it's not a dream." Then he joked that "the sound of sobbing in the background is a number of mainstream Labour MPs who can only wish it was all a nightmare".

His guests, for discussing Corbyn, included pol corrs Dan Hodges, Tom Newton Dunn, Maguire, and General Secretary of the Unite trade union Len McCluskey. All of them were grand, but the show belonged to Pienaar.

Another man always in command of his brief is Pat Kenny (Newstalk, Mon-Fri 10am), especially when it's current affairs. This week we had a fine interview with Dessie O'Malley, to mark the paperback release of his memoir, Conduct Unbecoming.

He is one of few Irish politicians whose life in politics reached that sort of grandiose level mentioned earlier. As Pat outlined in his introduction, O'Malley's career "coincided with one of the most intense periods in Irish political life: the Arms Crisis, the Troubles, the Beef Tribunal. He was appointed Minister for Justice at just 32 years of age. His rows with Charles Haughey led to the founding of the Progressive Democrats".

And there was more, much more, to the story of Dessie O'Malley, as explored in a very engaging piece. I'd forgotten just how eventful his life has been; it was almost like listening to a radio version of a Reeling in the Years anthology.

And surprisingly - apologies to Dessie - he came across as a good sort, making a few jokes and having a bit of craic with Kenny. I'd always pictured O'Malley as a real grump: strident and principled, but a grump nonetheless.

Not a bit of it. Although retiring from politics would presumably cheer anyone up.

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