How bizarre

While the English like to think they’re mas­ters of irony, two MPs take it to an­other level.

New Zealand Listener - - BULLETIN FROM ABROAD - AN­DREW AN­THONY An­drew An­thony is an Ob­server fea­ture writer who is mar­ried to a New Zealan­der.

What are the English most proud of? Not their history, their cul­ture or their global achieve­ments. In these days of post­colo­nial reap­praisal, all that is tar­nished, com­pro­mised or, at the very least, not some­thing to boast about. No, the one na­tional char­ac­ter­is­tic that is guar­an­teed to swell English hearts is that of irony.

The English like to think of them­selves as mas­ters of the slip­pery form. Yes, the Ger­mans may make re­li­able cars, the Ital­ians stylish clothes and the French fine wine, but they don’t have our ironic way of see­ing the world.

Yet even sea­soned con­nois­seurs of the out­look are be­gin­ning to strug­gle un­der the weight of ironies pil­ing up, like some huge mo­tor­way ac­ci­dent, on the Bri­tish po­lit­i­cal scene.

The most con­spic­u­ous of these was Labour Party leader Jeremy Cor­byn be­ing con­fronted with a speech he made in 2013. Back then, he was still a back­bencher who looked like a bearded ge­og­ra­phy teacher at a folk club, and he told a meet­ing of Pales­tinian ac­tivists that

Zion­ists “don’t un­der­stand

English irony”. This rev­e­la­tion came af­ter he had been caught de­fend­ing an avowedly anti-Semitic mu­ral and had been filmed lay­ing flow­ers at a cer­e­mony to com­mem­o­rate, among oth­ers, lead­ers of the group that or­dered the Mu­nich Olympic mas­sacre of Is­raeli ath­letes.

Cor­byn’s 2013 state­ment has sev­eral strik­ing ironies. The first is that Cor­byn is the least ironic English­man ever to come to pub­lic promi­nence. He is a con­gen­i­tal lit­er­al­ist who doesn’t have the imag­i­na­tion to say any­thing other than what he means. And what he meant was that Zion­ists – that is, peo­ple who sup­port the Jewish state of Is­rael – don’t un­der­stand a key English trait de­spite, as he put it, “hav­ing lived in this coun­try for a very long time”. In other words, these “Zion­ists” weren’t prop­erly as­sim­i­lated to English cul­ture.

The sec­ond irony is that Cor­byn sees him­self not just as an anti-racist but as the great­est anti-racist ever to set foot in Par­lia­ment. Many other ironies flow from this, but the chief one is that Cor­byn is now viewed by a hefty chunk of the Jewish com­mu­nity in Bri­tain as an anti-Semite. What’s more, the Labour Party he leads is riven by ac­cu­sa­tions of anti-Semitism, a charge more tra­di­tion­ally aimed at the far right of Bri­tish pol­i­tics – and, in­deed, Cor­byn has re­ceived the back­ing of the for­mer leader of the fas­cist Bri­tish Na­tion­al­ist Party. And he wasn’t be­ing ironic.

Cor­byn’s ral­ly­ing cry that has brought a surge of pop­u­lar sup­port since he was elected Labour leader is all about equal­ity and jus­tice. “For the many, not the few” is his slo­gan. But as the Jewish nov­el­ist and com­men­ta­tor Howard Ja­cob­son mem­o­rably put it, that has been trans­formed into

“for the many, not the Jew”.

The Labour leader in­sists he’s been misun­der­stood and his op­po­si­tion to Is­rael does not mean he’s anti-Jewish, just as his paid work for the Ira­nian pro­pa­ganda chan­nel Press TV does not mean he’s in favour of the Ira­nian regime. He means it as well.

Mean­while, Boris John­son has been qui­etly or­gan­is­ing his bid for lead­er­ship of the Tory party by in­form­ing the in­cum­bent that her Brexit plan is a “sui­cide vest” wrapped around the Bri­tish con­sti­tu­tion. This came af­ter he an­nounced his im­pend­ing di­vorce from his long-suf­fer­ing wife, who ap­par­ently chucked him out af­ter yet an­other ex­tra­mar­i­tal af­fair.

What John­son has done with his lover, it’s been rightly noted, should be of no con­cern to the vot­ers. But what ought to con­cern us is that with his Brexit cam­paign, he’s done the same to the coun­try. As we say in Eng­land, how ironic.

Cor­byn’s “for the many, not the few” has been trans­formed into “for the many, not the Jew”.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.