Comrade Corbyn

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This book needs to be read, if it needs to be read at all, in the context of the general assault on the left as personified by Jeremy Corbyn. It comes at the more polite end of the scale of these attacks and uses condescension and damning with faint praise as its main weapons.

Prince has been a lobby correspondent for the Daily Mirror and the Daily Telegraph for ten years. It is clear from the tone of the book that she comes to the task with a set of right wing assumptions. The book takes us all the way from Corbyn’s parents and his upbringing to his election as Labour leader and the shadow cabinet splits over the bombing of ISIS in December 2015.

Its main purpose seems to be to undermine Corbyn’s reputation with that layer of people who take a mild interest in politics and see themselves as liberals. Prince needs to present her argument as well informed, fair and unprejudiced if she is to have any influence with this audience and Corbyn presents her with a problem since the more you find out about him the more he appears as a thoroughly decent, honest, consistent and principled politician.

She uses a variety of techniques to achieve her aim. So when Corbyn’s “friends” are quoted their comments are immediately followed by more critical opinions or by a comment from Prince herself; quotes from critics are allowed to speak for themselves. Again, when Corbyn meets with representatives of “unacceptable” organisations, we are reminded that Irish Republicans are “murderers” and ISIS are “barbarous” as though he was unaware of their records.

She also plays to the assumptions of her presumed audience. Great emphasis is laid on the supposed wealth of Corbyn’s parents and the size and location of the rural house he grew up in. It is clear that his family were by no means impoverished but there is no evidence of significant inherited wealth — the money comes from his father being a highly skilled man in a well-paid job.

Behind all this is a failure, perhaps a wilful failure, to demonstrate any understanding of what motivates Corbyn. So we learn that his parents were members of the Labour Party and discussed socialist ideas with him, that as a young man he spent time in South America as a volunteer, and that there are many Irish people living in his constituency. There really is little more than this; no analysis and barely any description of what he thinks and says about Ireland or the Middle East or South America or Trident or any of the other issues to which Corbyn has devoted so much time and energy.

Prince shows no understanding of why hundreds of thousands of people wanted to vote for him and were prepared to join the Labour Party in order to do so.

As a member of the Telegraph team that helped expose the parliamentary expenses scandal, Prince should have some idea of the revulsion that many people feel at the way official politics is conducted, but it seems that the development and expression of political ideas outside parliament has not penetrated the Westminster bubble.

Readers of this magazine may have differences with Corbyn over the way socialism is to be achieved but to have an avowed socialist at the head of a mainstream party is to be welcomed by the entire left and a source of concern for the right. Between now and the next election Corbyn will be the object of a relentless assault from the Tories, the media and the right wing of the Labour Party. This book is a forewarning of one way in which this assault will be conducted.