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A Frighteningly Sincere Socialist

The election of Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of the opposition Labour Party in Britain was conducted in a rather peculiar fashion. All one had to do to obtain a vote in it was to declare on-line that one supported the aims of the party and pay £3 ($4.60). It was rumoured that a number of Conservatives had voted for Mr Corbyn in this fashion, in the belief that Mr Corby was so left-wing that he could never be elected, thus assuring a permanent Conservative government.

If any Conservative did in fact behave in this way, they were very foolish (though in the end it made no difference, Mr Corbyn was the choice of the overwhelming majority of Party members anyway). In politics, the whirligig of time always brings in his revenges and it would take only a few disasters, whether the Conservative government was responsible for them or not, for the electorate to conclude that anything, even Mr Corbyn, was better than it. No one in a modern democracy is intrinsically unelectable merely because of his opinions or proposed policies; for people tend to vote against rather than for someone. Whether they are for or against someone depends on circumstances.

In the meantime Mr Corbyn poses a problem for cartoonists because he is so much of a caricature already. He is a sandal-wearing, Palestinian-and-IRA-supporting, vegetarian, teetotal, socialist pacifist (except where foreign terrorists are concerned), who wants to abolish the British monarchy. He divorced his second wife, according to some reports because of disagreement over the schooling of their son. She, a Chilean refugee, wanted their son to attend a selective school because he would get a better education there. Mr Corbyn is against selective schools as a matter of principle and would not compromise, even in the case of his own son.

In the matter of his son’s education, of course, his principles caused an insoluble public relations problem. If he had acceded to his then wife’s wishes, he would have been accused of being a hypocrite: one standard for his own child, another for everyone else’s children. But, by holding to his principles, he stood accused of putting politics before his own son’s interests, in other words of being a ferocious and unfeeling ideologue.

Mr Corbyn, however, is not a man to worry about public relations, he is too honest for that. His scruffy appearance – he recently managed to get the collar of his shirt into a position in which I have rarely seen such a collar get into before, and which I think he will never be able to repeat – is that of a social worker in a down-at-heel industrial town circa 1972. However, this is not a pose on his part: his appearance and manner are definitely not the products of careful consideration by consultants but rather are those of the man himself. Of no one more than Jeremy Corbyn is it truer than that the apparel oft proclaims the man.

This is endearing or at least refreshing in a way, for many people are tired of the patently ersatz or carefully crafted presentation of most other prominent politicians, who seem not to be able to utter a word or appear in public for a moment without having first sought the opinion of focus groups. The next election haunts them like a doppelganger and mostly being of infirm principle or opinion, they live in a state of constant anxiety not to offend. Therefore, in order not to alienate anyone too deeply, they have to oscillate between smart and casual. Not so Mr Corbyn; he is sublimely unaware of or uninterested in the physical impression he is giving. Why should a man whose ruling passion is political self-righteousness (he started very young, at school in fact) adapt to others on so trivial a matter as dress, while there are still people going hungry in the Southern Sudan and unmet national aspirations on every continent?

As with his dress, so with his opinions. He is a stater of, rather than an arguer for, them: any contradiction of his views tends to bring forth a repetition rather than an attempt at persuasion or even explanation. As with his appearance, so with his opinions: and no one could accuse him of hiding them (I will not call them a light) under a bushel. If you dislike Hamas and Hezbollah, Mr Corbyn is not going to change his opinion or stance merely to canvass or capture your vote. He is sincere, terribly and frighteningly sincere. And he even sometimes gets things right, for example in the matter of the high-speed train to be constructed from London to the north of England. This is so patently an unnecessary, uneconomic, ecologically destructive, vastly expensive and, dare I say it, regressive a project (regressive in the taxation sense, a subsidy both to the companies that will build it and to the passengers who will use it, for it will never pay for itself), that almost everyone suspects large-scale corruption to be involved, and Mr Corbyn is one of the few prominent politicians to oppose it.

At the moment, he poses more of a problem for the Labour Party than for Mr Cameron. The parliamentary Labour Party, which has the right to nominate candidates for leader of the party but not to elect him, never wanted him, and he was nominated not in the expectation that he would win but only to show that the party still had some real left-wing credentials. Even those Members of Parliament who nominated him – and there had to be thirty of them for him to be on the list – did not want him to win. His subsequent landslide victory in the leadership election shows how little the political class knows even of its own parties’ activist membership, let alone of the country as a whole. The parliamentary party can now only hope that Mr Corbyn, who never really sought the leadership before he was nominated, will grow tired of a position for which he is ill-suited and will resign, for he has great democratic legitimacy (at 60 per cent of the votes cast, winning half as many again as all the other candidates combined) and a palace coup by the parliamentary party would tear apart the party as a whole.

Mr Cameron has little to fear from Mr Corbyn for now. But the resentment to which Mr Corbyn’s socialism appeals, already quite widespread, could spread yet further if there were a deepening of Britain’s economic problems, which is far from impossible. Complacency rather than Corbyn, the belief that they are home and dry, is the greatest threat to Cameron and the Conservatives. Who would have thought that a ridiculous little house painter could have become the leader of the best educated nation in Europe? Why, then, should an absurd, intellectually-limited, puritanical ideologue not become Prime Minister of one of the most ill-educated nations in Europe?

Reader Discussion

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on October 19, 2015 at 10:49:10 am

In the matter of his son’s education, of course, his principles caused an insoluble public relations problem. If he had acceded to his then wife’s wishes, he would have been accused of being a hypocrite: one standard for his own child, another for everyone else’s children. But, by holding to his principles, he stood accused of putting politics before his own son’s interests, in other words of being a ferocious and unfeeling ideologue.

Really? Is that how you perceive it?

I grew up in a toney white US suburb with well-regarded schools – and my parents put me and my siblings into the voluntary desegregation schools in the black part of town. It had never occurred to me to regard my parents as ferocious and unfeeling ideologues.

Years later I worked on my father’s campaign to serve a co-chairman of the local Democratic Party subdivision – and we won! I can only surmise that no one remembered this insoluble public relations problem of his….

And for what it’s worth, my parents are also quite pro-IRA. They’ve also got a Roth IRA.

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nobody.really
on October 19, 2015 at 12:09:45 pm

Nobody:

Good for you AND your parents!!! - courage of their convictions and all that!!

Two minor things:

1) I'm not certain that Dalrymple was "saying" that - only acknowledging that it could be used against him. Recall some instances in D.C and politicians choice of schools.

2) "Years later......"
I think the operative phrase here is precisely that..."years later" - who remembered?

But again Kudos to you and your folks. It is clear that their choice did not adversely affect your learning / educational opportunities.

Some of us who grew up in "non"-toney neighborhoods would, of course, have preferred movement in the other direction, and, at considerable expense, make all efforts to so arrange their childrens' educational opportunities to improve their lot.

Ultimately, it IS the choice of the parents - and it a'int for others to question.

take care

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gabe
on October 20, 2015 at 18:20:50 pm

For those commenting from the USA it may be more helpful to examine the grammar school/comprehensive debate that exists here in the UK. That would clear up the confusion surrounding Corbyn's decision of where to send his son to school.

Also the IRA that the author refers to is the Irish Republican Army, a terrorist organisation responsible for a great number of deaths.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_Republican_Army

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JJ
on October 20, 2015 at 23:42:07 pm

A typically thoughtful piece from Dr Dalrymple.

I have been saying for some time that the election of Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister of Britain is not beyond the realms of possibility. And that one or two disasters could bring about the superficially unthinkable. The left wingers where I live (that is, most of the people where I live) look rejuvenated - they are utterly convinced Comrade Corbyn's going to go all the way; and they are quite open about their intentions to fight dirty to help get him there.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, dropping a conservative point of view into this atmosphere is a sure way to ensure you don't get invited to parties, and probably won't get that job promotion either, for that matter. Conservatives keep their heads down and their opinions to themselves where I live. And they cross their fingers and prepare for the worst too. Comrade Corbyn of Hezbollah made it this far; and there's the inescapable sense that western civilisation is on the edge of a cliff; that relative freedom is on its way out and the new (old) way of doing things is about to take centre stage. I could be just indulging in doomsaying, I confess...but all the ingredients are in place...

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Ronayne
on October 21, 2015 at 11:10:44 am

JJ:

Re: IRA:

What you may be missing is the warped sense of humor of an adherent of the American equivalent of the British Labour Party - our own dear little Democrat Party, struggling as they are to further European-ize the USA.

The rest of us "colonials" do get and accept the reference.

take care

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gabe
on October 24, 2015 at 18:06:04 pm

"Mr Corbyn poses a problem for cartoonists because he is so much of a caricature already."

Has a whiff of Churchillian cigar smoke, don't you think - "Mr. Attlee is a very modest man. Indeed he has a lot to be modest about."

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John Hutchinson
on October 26, 2015 at 07:57:46 am

Another fine piece by Mr. Dalrymple.

The only objection is that Hitler was not a house painter; he was a (pretty poor) art painter (and in that regard not much different from Churchill). While one is at it: Hitler also was not a coward; but a recipient of high military honors for his bravery in WW1 (on the recommendation of his Jewish lieutenant). Moreover, there is no reason to believe that Hitler was particularly deficient in the testicular department.

All Hitler was a tyrant who degraded one of the most advanced peoples on earth onto a rampage of mass murder with few parallels in history, all in order to spread a vile ideology. Is that not sufficient bad to be said about Hitler without adding trivialities, often false?

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Sub Specie Æternitatis
on October 26, 2015 at 08:19:30 am

Mr. Dalrymple's warning against complacency is timely. In Canada, we have just elected our own Jeremy Corbyn to a majority government. His appearance is considerably more trendy, but his ideology is equally deranged. In a democracy, there is no fool who cannot be elected.

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Brian
on October 30, 2015 at 13:20:03 pm

The idea of a protest vote brought to my mind the Justin Trudeau election in Canada as well but I think it is ultimately a false parallel. The upcoming Canadian PM is about as far from the Labour leader as possible in many of the respects highlighted in this carefully respectful article. The author of this article emphasized sincerity, intellectual purity, and lack of polish in Mr. Corbyn. It remains to be seen, but the future Canadian PM seems to share far more in common with the current Prime Minister of UK; a polished, elite, an artful compromise, with little serious conviction (his support for anti-terrorism legislation, something Mr. Corbyn would never do) who has a long list of advisers (or sycophants or puppet-masters depending on your cynicism) carefully crafting his decisions and every choice he makes. Mr. Trudeau reads a carefully crafted script whereas Mr. Corbyn does everything off-the-cuff. Neither Mr. Trudeau, nor his children, will blink an eye at accepting the finest of private education and nor would I expect it to bother Trudeau's base even though in my estimation, private education seems be more exclusive in Canada than the United States or the UK. This article highlights how Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Corbyn have very different deficiencies.

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Strawman
on October 30, 2015 at 22:36:56 pm

Mr Strawman.. It would be terribly ironic if you were not a Canadian, since you have a better understanding of its politics than Brian. Junior Trudeau is no Jeremy Corbyn.And Canada, in contrast to the U.S. and U.K plays much more to the middle. And the Liberal Party of Canada, of which Jr. Trudeau is fine representative, has lacked any genuine core convictions since Senior Trudeau except for their right to be the National Governing Party.

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John Hutchinson
on November 01, 2015 at 17:35:51 pm

In all likelihood, Mr Daniels is aware of the fact that Hitler was an unsuccessful artist and no house painter. He will probably also know that it was Bertolt Brecht who referred to him as an Anstreicher. It's a dated joke, and it was quite cheap even when it was still fresh.

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R. M.
on November 08, 2015 at 15:44:41 pm

Also the IRA that the author refers to is the Irish Republican Army, a terrorist organisation responsible for a great number of deaths.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_Republican_Army

I would imagine the Americans would be only too aware of this. Google NORAID.

Senator Peter King, a man who once called the pro-Palestinian socialist Gerry Adams 'the next George Washington' is chairman of the;' powerful House Homeland Security Committee'.

And they say these people have no sense of irony..

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Applebaum
on November 10, 2015 at 11:19:55 am

'@Applebaum, it is understandable that there should be confusion on this issue, but please rest assured that the sort of yank you are likely to be encounter in this forum is familiar with the IRA and its bloody history. Statements to the contrary are self-mocking.

Also Peter King is fortunately only a member of the House (as a NY US Republican he has no chance at the Senate). But there is a great deal of irony in his status as homeland security muckity muck. For example, he regularly denounces Sen Paul--who has some objection to mass surveillance--as a "terrorist sympathizer."

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Sub Specie Æternitatis

Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.