Peter Jones

Augustus vs Jeremy Corbyn

Running things as the Labour leader would like will require some radical change…

Jeremy Corbyn has been re-elected leader of the Labour party not by MPs but by his teenage ‘fans’ in Momentum. So what does Corbyn need to do when he wins power? Follow the example of the emperor Augustus, that’s what.

When Rome was a republic, its monuments and military banners proclaimed it as SPQR — Senatus Populusque Romanus, a combination of the senate, mostly consisting of Rome’s elite families, and the people. The Greek historian Polybius greatly admired its clever balancing of powers between senate, people and office-holders.

In the course of the 1st century BC, this system collapsed in bloody civil war. From that final conflict in 31 BC emerged Rome’s first emperor, the revolutionary Augustus (d. AD 14). The first thing he did was to ‘deselect’ the senatorial elites whom he felt to be responsible for the collapse, replacing them with coteries of his own supporters. But in order to do that, he had to deny the people the right to elect officials. So he kept them sweet with ‘bread and circuses’. It was one-man rule, run by the inner court of the emperor. Given the dramatic nature of this change, however, Augustus also took steps to bring the military under his own control. It had brought him to power: it must not remove him from it.

At the moment, lacking power, Corbyn and his ‘fans’ are simply massaging each other’s egos in a Corbyn Wonderland. When he comes to power and fulfils his stated dream of ‘democratic’ power-sharing under the orders and in the interests of these ‘fans’, representative democracy and so parliament will be at an end.

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