Friday 22 March 2019

Stark expose of Labour Party's 'dangerman'

Politics: Dangerous Hero

Tom Bower

William Collins, €28

Making his mark: Jeremy Corbyn arrives to cast his vote in the 2017 General Election at a polling station in Islington, north London
Making his mark: Jeremy Corbyn arrives to cast his vote in the 2017 General Election at a polling station in Islington, north London
Dangerous Hero

Tom Harris

Jeremy Corbyn didn't understand why Labour were regularly defeated in the 1980s. This is arguably the most important revelation in Dangerous Hero, Tom Bower's new biography of the Labour leader.

Even at the time of the 1987 General Election, the causes of the party's unpopularity and lack of credibility were staring politicians in the face. But not Jeremy's face, apparently. Corbyn formed his opinions as a very young man and has seen no reason to change them since.

"He resented the fact that the national debate had ignored his support for immigration and his condemnation of Britain [and its attitude] towards the undeveloped world," writes Bower, explaining in a single line why Corbyn spent the first three decades of his parliamentary career resolutely and comfortably on the back benches.

And yet the author reveals a side of Corbyn's personality that is not at all well known or even acknowledged in today's Labour Party: his love of the limelight.

The book describes, in hilarious detail, Corbyn's determination to be part of the story of the election of Britain's first three black MPs - Diane Abbott, Paul Boateng and Bernie Grant.

Corbyn made sure that when they entered the chamber for their swearing-in ceremony, each dressed in their parents' national costumes, he walked immediately behind, "part-sepoy and part-valet... pleased to have a place as the honorary white man for the black caucus".

"Look at Jeremy," said Brian Wilson, a new Scottish Labour MP, to George Galloway, who had also been newly elected. "He would black up if he could."

Much of Bower's book will be familiar to most political observers: Corbyn's privileged middle-class upbringing, his academic failures, his willingness to sacrifice other people's happiness for the purity of his own political ideology.

But with the help of some entertaining and impressive research, a new layer of detail has been added to the picture.

For example, during the Labour leadership election of 2015, Corbyn's campaign team tried to exaggerate their man's hinterland, suggesting that his reading habits included Yeats and Oscar Wilde, and that he was an avid supporter of Arsenal.

As Bower points out, "[His] attachment to Arsenal was questionable: in 2006 he had urged fans to boycott the club because of its commercial relationship with Israeli tourism."

Bower's description of the 2017 General Election is a reminder that in these Brexit-obsessed days politics moves at a remarkable pace. Viewers who are used to watching a sullen Corbyn emerge from his London home and refuse to engage with reporters outside, offering them only a contemptuous glare before riding off on his bike the wrong way down a one-way street, may well be shocked at the reminder that barely two years ago, on the morning after the election, Corbyn stood outside that same home and declared he had "won the election".

Scottish voters in particular will be intrigued by the revelation that he expected, in the election's aftermath, to be leading a Labour-SNP coalition government.

Corbyn's defence of Russia in the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury in March 2018 is referred to by Bower as a "game changer".

He may well be right, since polls suggest a significant dip in Corbyn's approval ratings at that point. But throughout the book, including in its closing chapters, it is Corbyn's many missteps, associations and compromises with anti-Semitism that dominate the narrative.

Dangerous Hero ends in 2018, asking speculative questions, not just about the fate of Corbyn and his party, but about the government, the prime minister and her Brexit deal. Here again Bower provides a useful service.

In the closing chapter, he relates in painful detail the miserable machinations of Theresa May and her ministers in trying to sort out Brexit, the vote of confidence she endured at the hands of her MPs and the consequent vote of confidence in the chamber itself (both of which she survived). Reading that chapter in isolation would leave anyone scratching their head: how could any opposition not be miles ahead in public esteem?

Which is why Bower's meticulous and highly readable account must be absorbed from start to finish. Funny and devastating, it stands as an indictment of both the Labour Party and a political system that allows an individual such as Jeremy Corbyn to come within shouting distance of the levers of power in the UK.

© Telegraph

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