Jeremy Corbyn – a literary comparison
Before I begin on that, here is a PS to a previous post.
On 8th Jan, I mentioned Anthony Trollope’s Barsetshire series, and one of his most famous characters, Mrs Proudie. Some of my readers may be old enough to recall the 1982 BBC TV series, “The Barchester Chronicles”, in which she was played by Geraldine McEwan. The odious clergyman Obadiah Slope was played by one Alan Rickman. Forget “Die Hard” – surely as far as British audiences went, that was the performance that put him on the map, unforgettably slimy as it was. When he was sacked as bishop’s chaplain by the bullying Mrs Proudie and her woefully henpecked husband, he said, “May you both live forever…” with the most sinister smirk imaginable.
RIP a great actor. By Grabthar’s hammer, he will not be easily forgotten.
JEREMY CORBYN – A LITERARY COMPARISON
I am a member of the Labour Party, and I am not going to reveal which of the four candidates for leader benefited from my vote last summer. But I think we can all agree that Jeremy Corbyn has tried to introduce a fresh approach to politics – not claiming to know or have decided all the answers at the start, wanting to listen to other people, promoting a kinder and more involving version of public debate. (Of course it is also true that he is engaged in a fight in his own party, and his own side has been accused of some of the nastiness. Part of it is a debate about the meaning of “loyalty” which is probably familiar to all politicians.)
We have heard some of this call for niceness and decency in public life before, especially after Princess Diana died, and one can be cynical, but it seems to be a truth universally acknowledged that he is (on the whole) likeable, consistent, honest and idealistic.
An honourable man.
I could quote Mark Antony in Julius Caesar, but instead I will recall an equally cynical political operative. In a well-known modern novel, a likeable, consistent, honest and idealistic man is dragged into politics, and it doesn’t end well. He is visited in prison by someone who tells him “You are an honest and honourable man… Ofttimes I forget that. I have met so few of them in my life… When I see what honesty and honour have won you, I understand why.” (my italics)
People often complain about politicians – that they won’t answer questions, that they toe the party line, that they are out of touch. Some of this is surely unfair. We live in a world where journalists and political opponents jump on any slip of tongue or body language. The mockery heaped on would-be leaders who cannot eat a bacon sandwich neatly, who stumble on stage, who wear the wrong clothes on Remembrance Day, or who forget in the heat of the moment how to spell “potato”, is unreasonable. And we all know the impossible questions (on live TV or radio). “The opinion polls are telling us that you’re going to lose. You are, aren’t you?” or “Given what X and Y in your Cabinet have been quoted as saying, can you really claim to be leading a united team?” What would happen to any politician who answered such questions honestly? (“I hope not,” and “We agree on a lot of things, but yes, we have had a few rows, and I could cheerfully kill X sometimes…”)
I am old enough to remember the leadership of Michael Foot, a good and intelligent man, who would surely have been far more kindly remembered by history if he had not become Labour leader. This is not a party political point. Surely Iain Duncan Smith and William Hague also were and are decent and intelligent men, who had little chance after the media decided they were uncharismatic.
We make it impossible for politicians to be honest and normal, and then criticise them for it.
Back to the honourable man in prison, whom you may have identified as Lord Eddard Stark, in Game of Thrones. One of the reasons for continuing to read/watch this bleak and very violent series (I have not yet seen series 5, but I’ve heard unpleasant rumours…) is to look for the author’s answer to the question posed in that dark cell. In a very imperfect world, is honour worth the risk?
Will it be worth it for Jeremy?
We all know what happened to Ned Stark. (If you don’t, try Google. The books and the TV series are all rather long.) Let us hope that Jeremy Corbyn meets a kinder fate.
Partial, Prejudiced and Ignorant Blogger