PUBLISHED: 14:00 17 November 2018
PA Wire/PA Images
Mitch Benn explains why Jeremy Corbyn is no different from any other politician.
Letâs get one thing straight right away: there was nothing remotely wrong with the coat Jeremy Corbyn was wearing at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday.
It was a perfectly presentable dark grey raincoat, and the fact that it had a hood was not only of no consequence but possibly a sound bit of forethought on Corbynâs part given how weirdly susceptible to rainfall our current political âleadersâ appear to be.
For those of us of a certain vintage, itâs immediately apparent whatâs happening here. Back in 1981 the then Labour leader Michael Foot was eviscerated in the tabloid press for turning up to that yearâs ceremony wearing what the papers described as a âdonkey jacketâ, although a quick Google image search of the incident reveals the garment in question to have been a dark green wool overcoat; not perhaps as understated as the black Crombies politicians more typically turn out in for such occasions but not quite as shabby as the coverage suggested.
Nonetheless, the criticism (and the implied disloyalty to the dead of two world wars, and, by extension, Britain) hit its mark and helped cement theâ¨image of Foot as unpatriotic and shambolic.
Another 18 months of this narrative (and the burst of somewhat queasy patriotism which followed the Falklands War in 1982) and Labourâs crushing defeat in the 1983 general election (the election in which Jeremy Corbyn first won his seat, incidentally) was assured. This weekâs attempt to turn Corbynâs anorak into âCoatgateâ is merely the Tory press trying the same thing again.
It is never easy to keep the memory of Foot entirely absent from oneâs thoughts when contemplating Corbyn; the left-wing intellectual elevated to the leadership after the party loses the centre ground; the presiding over (while seeming to be only dimly aware of) the Partyâs gradual absorption by a hardline (sometimes thuggishly so) insurgency, purging âcentristsâ and anyone else considered ideologically impure… the questionable affiliations with, if not necessarily terrorists themselves, organisations which have taken a very relaxed attitude to terrorism when they consider it âjustifiedâ.
Itâs only Corbynâs surprisingly strong showing in 2017âs snap election which spoils the analogy. If heâd been up against the real Margaret Thatcher (rather than Mayâs paltry Thatcher tribute act) and the country had been flushed with post-military victory pride rather than riven with post-EU referendum jitters, who knows how heâd have fared.
But you can drive yourself crazy with this sort of counter-factual conjecture. By the same token, if Grenfell Tower had burned down two weeks earlier, Corbyn would probably be prime minister now.
There are far more pressing concerns where Corbyn is concerned than his choice of outerwear.
Whenever I express (or retweet) any misgivings about Corbyn Iâm immediately rounded upon by his followers, outraged that I dare cast aspersions on âa man of principleâ. In the same way that Corbynâs detractors will seize upon his âshabbyâ coat as evidence of his lack of patriotism and decorum, his fans trumpet it as evidence of how heâs ânot really a politicianâ, how heâs more âauthentic and unfilteredâ and, as such, âhonest and trustworthyâ.
Thereâs an old showbiz adage, which depending on the kind of books you read was either coined by French novelist Jean Giraudoux or George Burns: âSincerity is everything, and once you can fake that, youâve got it made.â
In politics, especially left-wing politics, authenticity is everything and once you can fake that, youâve got it made.
Corbyn was recently interviewed on German television where he opined that âwe canât stop Brexitâ. When Remainers pointed out that this is untrue, that Article 50 can be simply and legally revoked (whether permanently or pending a final deal vote) Corbynâs supporters weighed in to the effect that by âweâ he simply meant the Labour Party; that, as the powerless minority, Labour is unable to prevent Brexit.
By this rationale, Labour is powerless to do, or indeed pledge, anything. If being in opposition means âwe canât stop Brexitâ, it similarly means âwe canât end austerityâ, âwe canât renationalise the railwaysâ and âwe canât fund the NHSâ and yet Corbyn promises all these things on a regular basis. So heâs dissembling when he makes such promises, or heâs dissembling when he claims he canât stop Brexit. Either way, at some point, he is not being honest.
Itâs increasingly apparent that not only did the Leave campaign break electoral finance laws, now where the moneyâ¨came from is also under investigation. Yet we find Corbyn, John McDonnell and their loyal spokesman Owen Jones laughing off the importance or significance of the possibility that our countryâs future has been (perhaps irreparably) damaged.
Corbyn is a politician. Heâs no more honest and principled than any other politician.
Heâs just better than most at faking it.
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