Alex Massie

The myth of Jeremy Corbyn, a kind and gentle man

Text settings

I am relaxed about Jeremy Corbyn being thicker than mince but draw the line at the assumption, all too evidently held by most of his most devoted supporters, that you must be too. If Corbyn wishes to deny the obvious that is his prerogative; the notion you should be prepared to swallow any and every piece of whitewashing nonsense peddled by his fans is quite a different matter.

“I was present” when the wreath was laid “but I don’t think I was involved in it” is, I suppose, a step forward from the Labour party’s previous suggestion that “The Munich widows are being misled. Jeremy did not honour those responsible for the Munich killings”. (“Killings, incidentally, is an unusually coy way of referring to these things but we may as well agree to let that slide.) Holding a wreath should not be reckoned any kind of endorsement of the wreath; we know Jeremy deplores this kind of thing and, indeed, all other forms of wreath.

Hark, though, at how quickly the approved line may shift. What was a “smear” yesterday is a forgotten truth today, airbrushed from history because, well, because that’s the way these people do these things. Move along, nothing to see here. The old line has been wiped away, the new line is Jeremy wants to see “a fitting memorial to everyone who died in every terrorist incident everywhere”. I dare say he’ll be visiting Enniskillen soon. Of course.

And yet in one sense there really isn’t very much to look at. Or, rather, very little that is new. This is who Corbyn is and who he has always been. He has never previously bothered hiding this, leaving one to assume that he only does so now because there is some small, nagging, part of his brain which accepts it might be sensible to do so since failing to hide it might prove politically inconvenient.

Even so, he cannot change. Anyone who has been at university and paid even the slightest attention to student politics will recognise Corbyn and all his fellow travellers. These were the people – some of them clever but not many of them intelligent – who fouled student politics for everyone else. All universities had them; the chiselling parsers and pedants and revolutionaries whose appetite for procedural minutiae bored everyone else into submission. The revolution, comrades, has a fucking rule book.

And usually that would be that. They could be left to their own devices because, even in the universities, they could be beaten. The promise of cheaper beer was usually enough. And if they did prevail then that only demonstrated the low-stakes for which the game was being played. They would, most of them, grow up eventually.

But not St Jeremy and not his devotional disciples either. They are greyer now but as instantly recognisable as they always were: experts in room-clearing. They ought, by rights, to be confined to dingy rooms above down-at-heel pubs where they could cut and paste their thuddingly dreary newsletters. Instead, mystifyingly, they have been given control of one of Britain’s great political parties. That the other mob are also awful is not the point; the Tories' awfulness is of a different kind and pointing out Labour’s ghastliness connotes no approval of anyone else.

How much will this summer of anti-Semitism really cut through with the average voter? Less than you might think, I suspect. In the first place – and this may be a good thing – Twitter remains a niche platform and political Twitter a niche even there. Secondly, the public have already made up their minds about Corbyn and they think he’s a dud.

Each month YouGov asks whether Jeremy Corbyn or Theresa May seems the best available prime minister and each month Corbyn trails Theresa May. Sometimes he is also beaten by “Don’t know”. And that’s Corbyn: a man who can come third in a two horse race.

But, they splutter, look at what a kind and gentle and decent man he is. Why can’t other people see that he’s a valiant activist for peace? Possibly because growing gourds is not enough to actually qualify as a champion of peace and harmony around the world. Possibly because, for a decent fellow, he spends a startling amount of time with thoroughly indecent people. He keeps falling in with the wrong crowd while never being a member of the wrong crowd himself. There is no need here to document the long list of unsavoury people with whom Corbyn has been happy to associate himself because, really, what is now the point of doing so? He is who he is and we know who he is.

In Corbyn’s world everything has a single, simple, explanation. Colonialism is the root cause of all root causes. That insight – if we can call it that – dictated his views on Ireland just as it dictates his views on the middle east and Cuba and Venezuela and everywhere else. From there it is but a short leap to the kind of deluded wishful thinking that animates what passes for his thinking.

Once you have assumed that Northern Ireland should not exist, you absolve yourself of any and all need to think about what should happen next. You may ignore the inconvenient, and stubborn, reality that Northern Ireland – like, well, Israel – does exist and is not going to disappear. Practical politics means wrestling with things as they are not as you think they should have been decades previously. But if you start with the theory, you may avoid practical reality.

If this leaves you with nothing – precisely nothing – useful to say then so be it. You will at least remain pure in heart. If this means you are no kind of “peace campaigner” at all then that’s fine too because you will be shielded by your own impenetrable sanctimony. As poses go, this is an awfully comfortable one but it’s not serious politics in any way whatsoever.

Perhaps Corbyn really is just unlucky. But it seems more probable that he’s not. And that, far from being the decent man of legend he’s actually thoroughly indecent. The only possible alternative is that he’s thunderously, crushingly, toe-curlingly thick. On balance, however, it seems more probable that he is, in fact, both. Enough of this. Enough, already.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

Topics in this articleSociety