Tom Bower on Jeremy Corbyn

Dangerous Hero: Corbyn’s Ruthless Plot for Power

By Tom Bower

Published by William Collins 2019, pp. 371 price 20 pounds

Tom Bower’s reputation as a popular biographer reflects his ability to tear down the edifice of respectability, carefully constructed by the well-to-do and powerful. In this book, he deconstructs the mythical Jeremy Corbyn, the anti-hero who accidentally became Labour’s leader in 2015 – due mainly to the role played by his predecessor, Ed Miliband, of ‘useful idiot’.

Bower’s depiction of Corbyn is one of a Marxist Walter Mitty who like Donald Trump does not read books, but is embedded within his own political certainty. A monochrome, quasi-religious belief in his world outlook where inherent ideological contradictions are banished. Corbyn hails from the upper middle class – a five bedroom seventeenth century farmhouse in Middle England – and has found salvation in genuinely helping the poor and dispossessed. His commitment has seen him elected time and again for nearly forty years. But as Bower documents, it has also led the ascetic Corbyn to the breakdown of several marriages and relationships through thoughtlessness and indifference.

Unlike his inner circle, he never attached himself to the Communist party. Unlike his colleagues, he never joined the myriad of Trotskyist groups that proliferated during the 1960s. Instead he worked within the Labour party and willingly acted as a bridge to the far Left. Corbyn was never ‘Traditional Labour’ and regarded its leader in the early 1980s, the left wing Michael Foot, as a lackey of capitalism. Corbyn never supported the emergence of ‘socialism with a human face’ during the Prague Spring in 1968 and was silent on the rise of the Solidarity trade union movement in Poland in the 1980s.

The common denominator with the far Left was support for liberation movements in the developing world, regardless of whether its leaders were progressives, during a period of decolonisation. He often suggested resolution of international problems through the United Nations. Yet when the UN strongly condemned the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, Corbyn defended Saddam Hussein instead.

Identification with the Palestinian cause became a core belief during the early 1970s and the very existence of Israel a focus of visceral hatred – according to his first wife. Indeed in 2006, Corbyn urged football fans to boycott his local team, Arsenal, because it had good relations with the Israeli tourist industry. A propagandist for one side only, he never acted as a mediator between Israelis and Palestinians. When asked, Corbyn was unable to name even one Israeli peace activist that he had met.

In Corbyn’s hierarchy of the oppressed, according to Bower, ‘the descendants of slaves were the most victimised while Holocaust survivors were at the bottom of the list. He did not distinguish between Jews in London and Zionists in Tel Aviv.’ In Corbyn’s eyes, Zionism was wrong, not different Israel, a racist endeavour and the Balfour Declaration ‘a historic mistake’.

Moral equivalence became a feature of his responses to difficult questions. When told of the mass killings at the Bataclan theatre in Paris in November 2015, he protested that it was getting more media coverage than a simultaneous bomb blast in Beirut. Bower reports that Corbyn was distinctly unhappy about the French shoot-to-kill policy, directed at the assailants. He later told a meeting of the parliamentary Labour party that if faced with a similar situation in Britain, he would refuse to authorise the police to kill the perpetrators.  

Corbyn’s model of socialism through the ballot box was Salvador Allende in Chile in 1970, killed in the military coup of Augusto Pinochet a few years later. Yet Corbyn’s trademark is silence when confronted with uncomfortable facts such as Golda Meir’s welcoming Allende’s election and the fact that he was due to visit Israel before Pinochet’s British-made jets overthrew Chilean democracy.

Like many, Corbyn opposed the holding and proliferation of nuclear weapons, but was silent when the International Atomic Energy Authority confirmed that Iran possessed nuclear capability. Instead he regularly appeared on Iran’s Press TV, earning badly needed funds, despite the Ayatollahs’ judicial execution of thousands of Iranian socialists during the 1980s. 

Based on interviews, but without any references, Bower’s comprehensive and detailed book covers familiar ground with one chapter entitled ‘The Jew-Haters’. He nevertheless fills in the gaps in public knowledge, but his lack of interest in the ideological minutiae of the different far Left groups does lead to minor errors and omissions. His targeted audience probably does not require this and is more interested in Corbyn’s amassed collection of superficial comments over the last forty years – this paints him as a mild-mannered figure, but lacking any kind of moral compass. Bower however often fails to distinguish between being anti-Corbyn and anti-Labour, between Stalinism and Trotskyism.

Tom Perhaps the real story of the Corbyn phenomenon is not his ascendency to power, but that so many people have been taken in by it. Many British Jews are sceptical about Corbyn not simply out of concern about anti-Jewish racism and a distorted understanding of Zionism, but because they have learned from Jewish history the danger of false messiahs who preach the construction of utopias to the impressionable including the absolute necessity to demolish any obstacle in their path.

Jerusalem Post 13 March 2019

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