Tanya Gold

Corbyn’s quest for attention is a kind of wacky performance art

Let him watch Starmer govern, he might learn something


Jeremy Corbyn outside Islington Town Hall after handing in his nomination papers (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

July 09, 2024 13:05

“Tonight, we made history,” Jeremy Corbyn said, the day after Labour won the victory he could not. That’s the reality, but Corbyn is ever impervious to it. “This is just the beginning.” Actually, it isn’t. Hilary Mantel’s dictum that all endings are beginnings doesn’t apply to bourgeois Socialists.

They live in a parallel universe that makes them – alongside their other failings – peculiarly unfit for high office. A dreamland doesn’t need a government, doesn’t even want one of this world. In 2018, a Labour politician told me she tried to discuss domestic policy with Corbyn, then her leader, but he fobbed her off with Cuba, which, to the people of Hartlepool, might as well be Mars. During this campaign I was told that, in 2019, Corbyn would go to a rally, hear the cheers and say: “We’re winning!”

Howard Jacobson says he’s never met a Socialist who didn’t hate his father, and that seems apt to me. Corbynism feels less like a political movement than an unanswerable, and unsolvable, emotional imperative: the kind that comics, the other dreamers who love microphones, have. If you think I am being unkind: well, I met Piers Corbyn campaigning for the Let London Live party in Uxbridge when Boris Johnson left the seat in 2023. He was playing a song through the loudhailer on his car. It was – or it used to be - It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas, but he substituted the word Christmas for “genocide”. “I am the candidate the Establishment fear,” he told me. Piers Corbyn got 101 votes. The other time I met him he was talking about pterodactyls outside Labour Party Conference. I saw Jeremy Corbyn only once: at a rally under balloons that spelt the word S.H.E.E.P., and I make no other comment. But I wonder what their childhood Christmases were like in that drafty Shropshire manor house.

Corbyn won in Islington North, as you know, and declared it a great victory because, in his reality, it is. “This election was never about me,” he said. Really? “It’s about our undying belief that there’s an alternative to inequality, poverty, and war. Tonight’s result…gives us a glimpse of a different future. Tonight, we celebrate. Tomorrow, we organise. The energy we have unleashed will not go to waste. The future we speak of is no pipe dream.” I know he has a dream. But does he have a pipe?

Some people are distressed that he won Islington North as an Independent, beating Labour’s Praful Nargund by a whole 7,247 votes, after his allies circulated the information that the Labour man wanted to privatise the NHS. Actually, he runs IVF clinics; and Corbyn is good at clean hands. Except when he’s holding a wreath, but everyone has off days.

I don’t mind at all: rather, I giggle, because I choose laughter. Since Corbynism has made the majority of Jews feel functionally unsafe in their own country – antisemitism was never a real issue for us until him, as you know – I choose to read his continuing quest for attention as satire, a kind of wacky performance art. Will Corbyn’s eleventh term in parliament be the time he makes it big? Is winning big – though he didn’t – in one constituency out of 650 more meaningful than winning small in 412? (Though Starmer won big, and congratulations to him.) First Islington North, now the world? Victory at last, he shouts, like a man imprisoned in Life of Brian. (The real saviour is elsewhere.) Will he do it in song? Is Mel Brooks available to write the libretto? Will it be crowd-funded?

His allies will call me a monster. I don’t care about the working classes, they will say, ignoring the fact that Corbyn’s advocacy for the working classes has been, through eleven terms, about as meaningful as co-opting an innocent Christmas song to call vaccination genocide. Or they will call me a paedophile – I was photographed with Jimmy Savile in 2004 for an article – because that’s a normal thing to call a Jewish woman who laughs at you. The dreamland swallows all.

How can you win when you don’t know what winning is? They are already talking about national vote share: Labour’s was down because people voted tactically, or didn’t vote, because some people are so politically alienated they fear even hope. How can you seek to govern when the first past the post system baffles you? How can you do anything?

Still, the good people of Islington North have returned Corbyn to power for what might be his fabulous eleventh term. I’m not a fan of Roald Dahl, but I wish he were here to write Corbyn’s story. Let him watch Starmer govern, I say with relish, he might learn something. Because I too live in hope.

July 09, 2024 13:05

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