It’s a long way from Westminster to the banks of the Zambesi. But last week, for me, they linked up. I was lolling on my bed in the Sausage Tree Safari Camp, writing up notes for a travel article. Then a single, iridescent, rather delicate green wasp buzzed into my room and settled on my mosquito net. I folded my laptop. Looked at the wasp. And I got a sudden vision of Jeremy Corbyn and the fate of the Labour party.
To explain. The reason I was able to identify the wasp so quickly — and assure myself that it was no threat — is because this wasp is one of the 200,000 species of wasp which are parasitic. And I once spent a year researching parasites for a thriller (my conceit was that religion might be a cerebral parasite).
If I’m honest, the researching of the book was more fun than the writing. Because parasites are gruesomely fascinating — from the tongue-eating louse, which drills into fishes through their gills and physically replaces the tongue, to toxoplasmosis, which apparently infects half of humanity, might cause eccentricity in women who keep cats, and is thus arguably responsible for the witch-burning craze of the 16th and 17th centuries.
It was the bizarre ‘mindbending’ parasites such as toxoplasmosis — apparently able to subvert instincts and direct thoughts — which intrigued me the most. Which brings us to the emerald jewel wasp. And Labour.
To hear the echoes of Labour’s death rattle in the sultry buzz of the jewel wasp — Ampulex compressa — you have to know more about its reproductive cycle. First researched in the 1940s, and even now not entirely understood, it is quite something.
It starts the process by stinging a cockroach. It always stings twice. And it always attacks cockroaches much larger than itself. First the wasp stings the roach in its thoracic ganglia, i.e. around the ‘neck’. The initial sting will mildly paralyse the victim, buckling its front legs. The loss of mobility allows a second sting at a precise spot in the roach’s brain. This is where the wasp works its dark magic. By injecting its mind-altering venom directly into the nervous system, it induces the larger, more powerful roach to become a doomed yet unresisting slave.
With the neurovenom doing its job, the wasp can manipulate the roach to accept anything. It will not fight back. So the wasp laboriously bites off segments of the cockroach’s antennae. Scientists believe that this replenishes the wasp’s own fluids and regulates the amount of toxins in the roach. The reproductive cycle is nearing its end. Slowly, deliberately, the wasp steers the cockroach to the wasp’s own burrow: tugging the much bigger insect by its amputated antennae. Inside the nest, the wasp lays a glistening white egg on top of the roach’s abdomen; then the wasp departs.
With its escape reflex still numbed, the zombie roach will simply rest in the burrow as the little egg hatches out. Over the next eight days, the newborn wasp-larva chews deep into the passive cockroach, and consumes the internal organs in a macabre and purposeful order which ensures the cockroach will stay alive as long as possible. At the end, the fully grown wasp gnaws its way out of the cockroach’s hollowed corpse and begins its adult life.
If you’re still with me, you’ve surely guessed my analogy. Over the past few months, in British politics, we’ve seen exactly this kind of parasitism take place: where a much larger entity, the Labour party, has been steadily taken over — paralysed, attacked, disfigured — by a smaller but more aggressive predator. A predator which has used the body of the prey to fatten its progeny.
To be even more exact: I suggest the election of Corbyn was the first sting of the jewel wasp. The creation of Momentum was the second sting. The role of the neurovenom has been played by John McDonnell and Seumas Milne and their sinister pals: manipulating Labour’s own rules to menacing ends.
Meanwhile the snipped antennae are the useless ‘Blairite’ Labour MPs, waggling in the wind, unable to defend the party from the takeover. The NEC is the cockroach’s abdomen, devoured from the inside out by Trotskyist hatchlings.
And the Labour party? Well that, of course, is the fat, torpid, delusional cockroach, gormlessly waiting in the burrow, even as the pretty green wasp lays the eggs of electoral death on its exoskeleton.
If you’re a Labour supporter, I’m afraid the next stages are not very cheering. Because the lesson of entomology is that the outcome is inevitable. Once the parasitism begins, there is no escape. The wasp always wins and the cockroach always dies.
The only way Labour could have eluded this fate was by avoiding the wasp in the first place. Instead, Ed Miliband had his brilliant £3 membership wheeze, allowing lots of bug-eyed Trots and angry, buzzing Marxists to get close to the vulnerable thoracic ganglia.
There is, perhaps, just one excuse for Labour’s lunacy: they’re not the only ones. Because once you’ve spotted your first example of parasitism in socio-politics, you start to see similar zoological analogies everywhere.
It is arguable, for instance, that the BBC parasitises the centre-left media in Britain. Even though it eats the lunch of newspapers like the Guardian (by giving away the same centre-left opinions and features free), these papers ardently nurture, protect and feed the BBC. It’s an echo of the way meadow pipits nurse a massive cuckoo chick even as the chick kills off the pipits’ real offspring and reduces its flustered hosts to starvation.
Likewise, it’s arguable that Islamism is parasitic of western liberalism, whose tolerant tenets allow it a place to flourish. Eventually Islamism will alter the behaviour of the host as the liberal state realises, too late, that it must self-mutilate and become much less liberal to survive. This is what is happening in France with the burkini ban.
What’s the best zoological analogy to this last political parasitism? As I lay on my African safari bed I remembered that scientists have recently discovered a close relative of Ampulex compressa in Thailand. We don’t know much about this new jewel wasp. We know it lives in jungles. Some think its mind-bending powers are even more profound, and disturbing, than the jewel wasp. Hence, perhaps, its name: Ampulex dementor. The soul-sucking wasp.