False messiah?

Tom Bower’s bi­og­ra­phy of Jeremy Cor­byn por­trays Labour leader as lack­ing any kind of moral com­pass

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - BOOKS - • COLIN SHINDLER

Tom Bower’s rep­u­ta­tion as a pop­u­lar bi­og­ra­pher re­flects his abil­ity to tear down the ed­i­fice of re­spectabil­ity care­fully con­structed by those who are wellto-do and pow­er­ful. In Dan­ger­ous Hero: Cor­byn’s Ruth­less Plot for Power, he de­con­structs the myth­i­cal Jeremy Cor­byn, the anti-hero who ac­ci­den­tally be­came the Labour Party’s leader in 2015 – due mainly to the role played by his pre­de­ces­sor, Ed Miliband, who he called a “use­ful id­iot.”

Bower’s de­pic­tion of Cor­byn is one of a Marx­ist Wal­ter Mitty who – like Don­ald Trump – does not read books, but is em­bed­ded within his own po­lit­i­cal cer­tainty, a monochrome, quasi-re­li­gious be­lief in his world out­look where in­her­ent ide­o­log­i­cal con­tra­dic­tions are ban­ished. Cor­byn hails from the up­per mid­dle class – he owns a five-bed­room 17th cen­tury farm­house in Mid­dle Eng­land – and has found sal­va­tion in gen­uinely help­ing the poor and dis­pos­sessed. His com­mit­ment has seen him elected time and again for nearly 40 years. But, as Bower doc­u­ments, it has also led the to the as­cetic Cor­byn’s break­down of sev­eral mar­riages and re­la­tion­ships through his thought­less­ness and in­dif­fer­ence.

Un­like his in­ner cir­cle, Cor­byn never at­tached him­self to the Com­mu­nist Party. Un­like his col­leagues, he never joined the myr­iad of Trot­sky­ist groups that pro­lif­er­ated dur­ing the 1960s. In­stead, he worked within the Labour Party and will­ingly acted as a bridge to the far Left. Cor­byn was never “tra­di­tional Labour,” and re­garded its leader in the early 1980s, the left-wing Michael Foot, as a lackey of cap­i­tal­ism. Cor­byn never sup­ported the emer­gence of “so­cial­ism with a hu­man face” dur­ing the Prague Spring in 1968, and was silent on the rise of the Sol­i­dar­ity, a Pol­ish trade union move­ment in the 1980s.

The com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor with the far Left was his sup­port for lib­er­a­tion move­ments in the de­vel­op­ing world, re­gard­less of whether its lead­ers were pro­gres­sives, dur­ing a pe­riod of de­col­o­niza­tion. He of­ten sug­gested re­solv­ing in­ter­na­tional prob­lems through the United Na­tions. Yet when the UN strongly con­demned the Iraqi in­va­sion of Kuwait in Au­gust 1990, Cor­byn in­stead de­fended Sad­dam Hus­sein.

Iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with the Pales­tinian cause be­came a core be­lief for Cor­byn dur­ing the early 1970s, and ac­cord­ing to his first wife, the very ex­is­tence of Is­rael was a fo­cus of vis­ceral ha­tred. In 2006, Cor­byn urged foot­ball fans to boy­cott his lo­cal team, Arse­nal, be­cause it had good re­la­tions with the Is­raeli tourist in­dus­try. A pro­pa­gan­dist for one side only, he never acted as a me­di­a­tor be­tween the Is­raelis and Pales­tini­ans. When asked, Cor­byn was un­able to name even one Is­raeli peace ac­tivist that he had met.

In Cor­byn’s hi­er­ar­chy of the op­pressed, ac­cord­ing to Bower, “the de­scen­dants of slaves were the most vic­tim­ized, while Holo­caust sur­vivors were at the bot­tom of the list. He did not dis­tin­guish be­tween Jews in Lon­don and Zion­ists in Tel Aviv.” In Cor­byn’s eyes, Zion­ism was wrong, not dif­fer­ent, Is­rael is a racist en­deavor and the Bal­four Dec­la­ra­tion was “a his­toric mis­take.”

Moral equiv­a­lence be­came a fea­ture of his re­sponses to dif­fi­cult ques­tions. When told of the mass killings at the Bat­a­clan The­ater in Paris in Novem­ber 2015, he protested that it was get­ting more me­dia cov­er­age than a si­mul­ta­ne­ous bomb blast got in Beirut. Bower re­ports that Cor­byn was un­happy about the French shoot-tokill pol­icy that was di­rected at the as­sailants. He later told a meet­ing of the Labour Party that if faced with a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion in Bri­tain, he would not al­low the po­lice to kill the per­pe­tra­tors.

Cor­byn’s model of so­cial­ism could be seen as for­mer pres­i­dent of Chile Sal­vador Al­lende in 1970, who was killed in the mil­i­tary coup of Au­gusto Pinochet a few years later. Yet Cor­byn’s trade­mark was si­lenced when con­fronted with un­com­fort­able facts, such as then-prime min­is­ter of Is­rael Golda Meir’s wel­com­ing of Al­lende’s vic­tory in the elec­tions and the fact that he was due to visit Is­rael be­fore Pinochet’s British-made jets over­threw the Chilean democ­racy.

Like many, Cor­byn op­posed the hold­ing and pro­lif­er­a­tion of nu­clear weapons, but was silent when the In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency con­firmed that Iran pos­sessed nu­clear ca­pa­bil­ity. In­stead he reg­u­larly ap­peared on Iran’s Press TV, earn­ing badly-needed funds, de­spite the Ay­a­tol­lah’s ju­di­cial ex­e­cu­tion of thou­sands of Iranian so­cial­ists dur­ing the 1980s.

BASED ON in­ter­views, but with­out in­clud­ing any ref­er­ences, Bower’s com­pre­hen­sive and de­tailed book cov­ers fa­mil­iar ground, with one chap­ter en­ti­tled “The Jew-Haters.” He nev­er­the­less fills in the gaps in pub­lic knowl­edge, but his lack of in­ter­est in the ide­o­log­i­cal minu­tiae of far Left groups does lead to mi­nor er­rors and omis­sions. His tar­geted au­di­ence is prob­a­bly more in­ter­ested in Cor­byn’s amassed col­lec­tion of su­per­fi­cial com­ments over the past 40 years. This paints him as a mild-man­nered fig­ure but lack­ing any kind of moral com­pass. How­ever, Bower of­ten fails to dis­tin­guish be­tween be­ing anti-Cor­byn and anti-Labour, be­tween Stal­in­ism and Trot­sky­ism.

Per­haps the real story of the Cor­byn phe­nom­e­non is not his as­cent to power, but that so many peo­ple have been swayed by it. Many British Jews are skep­ti­cal about Cor­byn, not sim­ply due to con­cerns about an­ti­semitism and a dis­torted un­der­stand­ing of Zion­ism. They have learned from Jewish his­tory the dan­ger of false mes­si­ahs, who preach the con­struc­tion of utopias to the im­pres­sion­able and be­lieve in the ab­so­lute ne­ces­sity to de­mol­ish any ob­sta­cle in their path.

(Han­nah Mckay/Reuters)

JEREMY COR­BYN, leader of the Labour Party, gives a speech in Lon­don last month.

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