Jeremy Corbyn's emergence is a strange phenomenon. A man well into his sixties, his political appeal to the under-25s more than any other age group, who has taken on the worst job in politics after 32 years contentedly avoiding responsibility of any kind. In theory, he is due to go to the country a few days before his 71st birthday to ask them to choose him as their Prime Minister.
A new leader of a major political party usually merits a serious biography that assesses the subject's political record and early influences, with a glimpse into the future to assess how this person might handle the pressures of high political office. So Corbyn is a worthy subject for a book, and Rosa Prince's publisher has done well to bring one out so quickly – but what sort of book?
Though she is too polite to say so, I do not suppose Prince ever thought she was writing about a prime minister in waiting. How else to explain the book's wistfully retrospective final sentence, in which she speculates what it meant to Corbyn to find himself delivering the leader's speech at a Labour Party conference – "All those rainy days spent knocking on doors and delivering leaflets, all those endless meetings and fratricidal arguments, the thousands of miles marched, the speeches given to crowds large and small, the broken relationships, the late nights, the early starts; it all came down to this moment."
The most ridiculous claims made about Jeremy Corbyn
The most ridiculous claims made about Jeremy Corbyn
1/11 He called Hezbollah and Hamas ‘friends’
True. In a speech made to the Stop the War Coalition in 2009, Mr Corbyn called representatives from both groups “friends” after inviting them to Parliament. He later told Channel 4 he wanted both groups, who have factions designated as international terror organisations, to be “part of the debate” for the Middle East peace process. “I use (the word ‘friends’) in a collective way, saying our friends are prepared to talk,” he added. “Does it mean I agree with Hamas and what it does? No. Does it mean I agree with Hezbollah and what they do? No.”
2/11 ‘Jeremy Corbyn thinks the death of Osama bin Laden was a tragedy’
Partly false. David Cameron used this as a line of attack at the Conservative Party conference but appears to have left out all context from Mr Corbyn’s original remarks. In an 2011 interview on Iranian television, the then-backbencher said the fact the al-Qaeda leader was not put on trial was the tragedy, continuing: “The World Trade Center was a tragedy, the attack on Afghanistan was a tragedy, the war in Iraq was a tragedy.”
3/11 He is ‘haunted’ by the legacy of his ‘evil’ great-great-grandfather
False. A Daily Express exposé revealed that the Labour leader’s ancestor, James Sargent, was the “despotic” master of a Victorian workhouse. Addressing the report at the Labour conference, Mr Corbyn said he had never heard of him before, adding: “I want to take this opportunity to apologise for not doing the decent thing and going back in time and having a chat with him about his appalling behaviour.”
4/11 Jeremy Corbyn raised a motion about ‘pigeon bombs’ in Parliament
This one is true. On 21 May 2004, Mr Corbyn raised an early day motion entitled “pigeon bombs”, proposing that the House register being “appalled but barely surprised” that MI5 reportedly proposed to load pigeons with explosives as a weapon. The motion continued: “The House… believes that humans represent the most obscene, perverted, cruel, uncivilised and lethal species ever to inhabit the planet and looks forward to the day when the inevitable asteroid slams into the earth and wipes them out thus giving nature the opportunity to start again.” It was not carried.
5/11 He rides a Communist bicycle
False. A report in The Times referred to Mr Corbyn, known for his cycling, riding a “Chairman Mao-style bicycle” earlier this year. “Less thorough journalists might have referred to it as just a bicycle, but no, so we have to conclude that whenever we see somebody on a bicycle from now on, there goes another supporter of Chairman Mao,” he later joked.
6/11 'Jeremy Corbyn will appoint a special minister for Jews'
False so far. The Sun report in December was allegedly based on a “rumour” passed to the paper by a Daily Express columnist who has written pieces critical of the Labour leader in the past. The minister did not materialise in his shadow cabinet.
7/11 ‘Jeremy Corbyn wishes Britain would abolish its Army’
False. Another gem from The Sun took comments made at a Hiroshima remembrance parade in August 2012 where Mr Corbyn supported Costa Rica’s move to abolish it armed forces. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every politician around the world…abolished the army and took pride in the fact that they don’t have an army,” he added. The caveat that “every politician” must take the step suggests Mr Corbyn does not support UK disarmament just yet.
8/11 Jeremy Corbyn stole sandwiches meant for veterans
False. The Guido Fawkes blog claimed that the Labour leader took sandwiches meant for veterans at at Battle of Britain memorial service in September but a photo later emerged showing him being handed one by Costa volunteers, who later confirmed they were given to all guests.
9/11 He missed the induction into the Queen’s privy council
True. After much speculation about Mr Corbyn’s republican views and willingness to bow to the monarch, his office confirmed that he did not attend the official induction to the privy council because of a prior engagement, but did not rule out joining the body.
10/11 Jeremy Corbyn refuses to sing the national anthem.
Partly true. The Labour leader was filmed standing in silence as God Save the Queen was sung at a Battle of Britain remembrance service but will reportedly sing it in future. Mr Corbyn was elusive on the issue in an interview, saying he would show memorials “respect in the proper way”, but sources said he would sing the anthem at future occasions.
11/11 He is a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Cheese
True. The group lists its purpose as the following: “To increase awareness of issues surrounding the dairy industry and focus on economic issues affecting the dairy industry and producers.”
She has been denounced for her "spiteful analysis" and had her personal integrity called into question by the JeremyCorbyn4PM Twitter feed, so I assume she is off the Corbyn Christmas card list, but – with all due respect to Corbyn-loving acolytes – this is not a hatchet job. It is an affectionate portrait of a man she obviously thinks has landed himself in the wrong job.
Between her and her detractors, there is a clash of political cultures. The clue is in that phrase "endless meetings and fratricidal arguments". There are people for whom those meetings and arguments are a vital part of our political life: they are what has prevented the flickering torch of socialism from being extinguished during the New Labour years.
That flame burns a little brighter now that Corbyn is on the national stage.
But Prince writes as an observer of Westminster politics. To the Westminster observer, Corbyn was a fringe figure who is interesting now, but only because he won the Labour leadership unexpectedly, and will therefore have an impact on the outcome of the 2020 general election, for better or worse. Her account of the leadership campaign is detailed and well researched. In her account of the first 66 years of Corbyn's life, there is a mismatch between the scant importance she attaches to endless meetings and fratricidal arguments and the huge part they have played in Corbyn's life.
But when the Corbyn era is over, and students looking back on how it impacted on the fortunes of the Labour Party consult this book, I doubt if its author will be accused of being "spiteful". I think the verdict will be that she was rather kind.
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