He has not changed his mind in 30 years. That is rigidity, not consistencyby Philip Collins / February 18, 2016 / Leave a comment
Published in March 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
The Jeremy Corbyn conundrum is best explained by Thomas More’s only recorded joke. The title of More’s Utopia is a play on Greek words. Does More mean eutopia, the good society, or outopia, nowhere, the impossible society? It is the challenge to every socialist dreamer that ever was. Can they really imagine the nation voting for their revolutionary nirvana? The Corbyn of Rosa Prince’s necessarily provisional biography is a man who appears to be heading for the same place whence he came, which is to say nowhere.
The character study written at pace while events are still unfolding is a form that is bound to be unsatisfying. Poised precariously between journalism and scholarship, it can never quite be sure which draft of history it is. At times, Corbyn is too small a figure to bear the weight placed on him. The chapter on Iraq, for example, reads as if it is has been scripted by Spike Milligan: “Iraq—Jeremy Corbyn’s Role in its Downfall.” The text is heavily reliant on a few interviewees of the second rank and Corbyn himself declined to help and apparently encouraged his supporters and friends to be similarly disobliging.
The form, though, is flourishing. There is now a minor cottage industry in the memoirs of attendant lords in politics and instant biographies. Within the inescapable limits of this unpromising genre, Prince has done a fine job. Her prose is pacey but, unlike almost every other similar book, more or less devoid of cliché. The tone is studied and the judgements cool. Her intention is to explain Corbyn and, as someone convinced that he will prove to be the least successful Labour leader since the wretched George Lansbury, I appreciate the intelligent neutrality.