Bowered Senseless


Corbyn’s Ruthless Plot for Power
By Tom Bower

I have written before about Jeremy Corbyn, a man that people often praise for his ‘authenticity.’ I don’t understand this. I find him unusually false and affected, as well as inclined towards slogan or bumper-sticker politics: in short, an old narcissist who has yet to change his mind on anything. But as a guide to the dark recesses of the man himself, do we really need Tom Bower (exposer of the private life of Simon Cowell, raker of muck on Richard Branson, and tabloid hatchet-for-hire whose previous attempts at polemic are generally agreed to have been wet, limp, under-researched, and hysterical)? Either way we now have Bower, who takes as his point of departure the charged, febrile atmosphere of 1968.

In 1968 the radical left had a radical purpose: an alternative model for a world economy based on socialist principles was not yet unthinkable. Electric guitars, morning after pills, posters of Che Guevara, rumours and reports of atrocity being perpetrated against Vietnam – ‘hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids have you killed today?’ – peace symbols, ban the bomb marches, and high-profile assassinations. Where was Jeremy Corbyn in all this?

Bower tells us nothing about his political convictions, breezing loftily over the labyrinthine complexities of anti-capitalism – and to be fair, perhaps this matters less than it used to – preferring to deploy words like ‘socialist’ and ‘communist’ in their modern declensions (i.e. pejorative but meaningless, in the grand tabloid style), and to talk, instead, about the more easily digestible details of Corbyn’s private life.

So, for anyone who didn’t know already, Corbyn went to Jamaica to become a trainee teacher in 1968: he let the kids run amok, was renowned for his impotent temper (nicknamed ‘Fire Red’ in memory of a desperate attempt to chase after some kid who stole his hat), and in the evenings became a convinced (gasp) Communist. For anyone under the impression that Jeremy Corbyn is the Duke of Wellington this will come as a genuine surprise. But for those of us who already know about his fondness for redistributive policies, there is the beginning of a nagging question that will continue for another 350 pages: So what?

Bower is on familiar territory when he gets on to the sex life of his unhappy victim: he pounces with the salacious information that Corbyn once had an affair with a member of his inner circle. Is it Dianne Abbot? Yes. Is it that one about how he brought his friends round to reveal her splayed out naked on his bed? Yes. Arguably this does reveal something sick and unfulfilled about the man but the details are all known to us in advance and anyway, in his summary style, Bower reels past this graphic footage with voracious speed and is already on to his next Woodward and Bernstein moment.

It turns out that Jeremy Corbyn always harboured the furtive desire to become an MP (the black lust for power that can only, apparently, be termed ‘Machiavellian’). Never mind that Machiavelli had no political ambitions of his own, who seriously didn’t know that Jeremy Corbyn was an MP? And of all the criticisms that have come his way, surely the least persuasive is that all those years spent on the backbenches and in union meetings were all a choreographed and planned pupation, a biding of time, a steepling of fingers, that was meant as a prelude to his election in 2016? I found myself glancing at the page numbers around here (p.55) and readying myself for the news that JC is also grey-haired, a vegetarian, and that he was once a child. 316 pages to go.

From there it’s on to local politics where JC is presented in an unintentionally flattering light: ‘People thought he was a nice bloke’ is a quote that somehow made it on to page 84, and other similar admissions are to be found throughout the book, somewhat dampening the image of the cynical careerist that Bower has worked to establish. In his typically power-obsessed style, Corbyn took up residence above a pub and spent long hours hearing the concerns of local residents:

Corbyn’s door was open to a tide of misery: Cypriots, Jamaicans, Indians, Palestinians, South Africans…

And if I stopped the quotation there, it would be bad enough (the collective non-human noun ‘tide’ says, in a way, all that needs to be said about Bower’s attitude to immigration). But I may as well go on:

…all sought his help. In his opinion, all immigrant communities were victims of white imperialists…

If this is meant as a critique of Corbyn then it fails on two counts: one, all the countries listed above are celebrated examples of colonial victimisation, and two, he seems to be doing no more than his job in offering to ‘help’ them. What would be the alternative? Anyway, the quotation is still not done:

…To achieve a fair and equal society, [Corbyn thought] they should be provided with their basic needs, rather than the state expecting them to take personal responsibility for their fate.

One of the implications here is that poor immigrant families are poor because they lack ‘personal responsibility’: another is, weirdly, that the richer someone is, the more personal responsibility they must have. And this from a biographer of Prince Charles. Instead of helping to provide for those ‘basic needs’ mentioned earlier, Corbyn should have abandoned them. But the quotation still isn’t over:

He despised [Thatcher’s] gospel of ‘reward for success.’ As an enemy of aspiration, he championed losers. Not being successful was a sign of moral probity.

For Bower, ‘not being successful’ is a sign of moral degradation. Poor migrants are ‘losers.’ Quite apart from the blimpish racism of this remark, it distracts attention from JC, who is beginning to look refined and charitable next to his biographer (an impression that’s altered a bit when we learn that, according to Tony Allcock, all those appeals for help ‘went in the bin.’) 287 pages to go.

Bower slides into his kaki trousers for a bit of foreign correspondence in the ensuing chapters. Corbyn, he says, ‘[was forever] banging on about parts of the world irrelevant to most Britons.’ On closer inspection these parts of the world turn out to be Ireland, Palestine, Cuba, Nicaragua, Iraq and, a personal favourite, Grenada, where perhaps the most ludicrous episode of human military history unfolded as the US attempted to invade an island with a population of ten people. Corbyn opposed it, like everyone else, everywhere. But not Bower, who reads this opposition as support for the military junta:

He [Corbyn] blasted Geoffrey Howe, the foreign secretary, as ‘pathetic’ for supporting America rather than the Grenadan murderers.

Bower’s antithesis is false of course: plenty of people were calling at the time for a raid on the model of Entebbe, or for diplomatic negotiations, rather than an invasion of the country to affect regime change. So it would be wrong to claim, or to imply, that any opponent of the war was ipso facto a supporter of the regime. But Bower repeats the same charge a few times and goes further in the case of Iraq: JC was not merely against the Gulf War, he was actually in favour of Saddam Hussein’s annexation of Kuwait. A bold claim, that one, especially given the general evidence-drought that seems to prevail. 253 pages to go.

You know what? Life is too short, and 253 pages is too long: in this case, 3 pages would be too long. No new information obtains from a reading of the first 118 pages, anyway, beyond telescopic glimpses into the bedroom and whispered rumours about the workplace. So I simply refuse to read on. Instead I am going to find a computer and read about it on Blinkist, where presumably it has been neatly summarised in a single bullet point.

Dangerous Hero
(UK: William Collins, 2019)
Hardback, pp. 371