There can’t be a single figure in British politics about whom more has been written in the past 12 months than Jeremy Corbyn. His views, his history, his followers, his detractors have all been catalogued exhaustively, but I wonder how it must look from Corbyn’s own point of view.
He became an MP at the 1983 General Election, where Michael Foot’s Labour was deafeated by Margaret Thatcher’s conservatives party, losing a further 52 seats and getting its lowest share of the vote for 65 years. The message that Labour took from this defeat was that Foot’s left-wing views were unpopular with the electorate, and so it began moving away from them, stranding Corbyn in a Labour party increasingly different from the one he’d joined.
He then spent 32 years on the back-bench, eating his liver (to borrow a phrase from Joseph Heller) until an unlikely victory last year propelled him to the leadership of the party and the chance to finally return it to the Labour party he dreamed of.
How terrible then to find that he cannot re-shape it effectively because of the cloud of irony that surrounds him. His rebelliousness (he’s the 2nd most rebellious MP in Labour’s history) means that he’s never left the back-benches, which means that he has no idea how to run a political party. Because he has only ever been loyal to his own personal vision of Labour he has no idea how to instil loyalty in others. He spent so long opposing the leadership, backing every challenge to it that came along, that he never saw the valuable lessons they learned about handling the media or propagating a message. The freedom he enjoyed as a perpetual back-bencher – that of being able to support every right-on cause he saw – now forms millstones around his neck as, time and again, words he must have imagined unheeded find their way home to him. He is the career politician who has achieve the dream of being seen as a man of the people, only to find that he really is…that he can’t politic.
Forget being a politician, he’s a one-man Greek tragedy.
Except perhaps in reverse.
He is Prometheus, released after 30 years of liver-eating, only to find that his fire brand is no longer the hot thing.
Or Cassandra – who was cursed to speak true prophesies, only to have no-one ever believe her. Corbyn’s lifetime of protest politics give him huge crowds who believe every word he speaks, but he has only empty slogans to deliver and promises of power he can’t hope to achieve.
Maybe he’s Orpheus who has never taken his eyes off the love of his life, only to find that the pair of them have wandered into Hell.
He’s a Midas who finds everything he touches most definitely does not turn to gold.
Most fittingly of all he’s Pandora, wanting to box all the ills of the world, but crushing the hope from those who face them.
Although…you do wonder what he thinks when he looks at Theresa May standing at the dispatch box. Thanks to Andrea Leadsom she’s famously not a mother, but she’s going to fuck him anyway.