Character matters in politics. The troubled Blair-Brown relationship had a huge impact on the Labour Party and the country. The Dave-Boris Eton rivalry made history in a way neither man expected.
You can play the counterfactual game forever. If Parnell had been more faithful (or at least more discreet) the Ireland Troubles and so many deaths could have been avoided. If Edward VIII hadn’t abdicated for love, Nazis might rule the world. And so on.
Jeremy Corbyn is a nice guy. A real prince. That is, until you ask him a question he doesn’t want to answer, or tell him something he doesn’t want to hear. You can see the change, in tone and demeanour, in his interview with Krishnan Guru-Murphy, and in the Vice documentary (particularly around 23 minutes in when he is questioned about Ken Livingstone’s unfortunate Hitler remarks). A light goes out of his eyes, and there is a sense that the mask has slipped.
Lots of Jeremy Corbyn supporters are nice people. I meet many. It seems that the worse Corbyn does in Westminster, the more people go to his rallies. Political analysts fall over themselves trying to explain Jeremy’s peculiar magnetism. I think Helen Lewis gets it right. People really do want a kinder gentler politics. People are sick of authoritarianism and inequality. There are good, smart, brave, struggling, creative people who are backing him. It’s to them that I’m speaking because I don’t want these people to be lost to politics forever.
Problem is, Jeremy Corbyn is not a nice guy.
I can prove it, and it’s easy to prove, because he’s a public figure, and so much is on record.
Nice guys don’t take money from oppressive regimes, nor appear on their propaganda channels.
Nice guys don’t stand by while colleagues are anti-semitically abused, at the launch of an inquiry into anti-Semitic abuse, and particularly then don’t exchange friendly words with the abuser. And a nicer leader would have thought again about offering the inquiry chair a peerage, after the inquiry more or less declared a clean bill of health.
Nice guys don’t take their staff for granted, blank team members who ask hard questions, or leave people to sink or swim. Nice guys don’t appoint, then fire people without knowledge or consent, particularly not if they are being treated for cancer at the time.
Nice guys don’t use the shocking death of a colleague, as rhetorical weapon to inhibit dissent.
Nice guys don’t preside over a culture of threats, bullying and intimidation, and when challenged, simply tell people to ‘ignore it’.
This last point bears expanding.
‘Ignore it’ is good advice if a drunk shouts abuse at you in the street.
If you’re the leader of a political party, that is an increasingly toxic environment, particularly for women and Jewish people, then you shouldn’t ignore it. You should put a stop to it.
For all the talk of entryism, I suspect a lot of the aggro comes from hardcore and longterm CLP members, as much as the ‘£3 supporters’. What is amazing is that people treat this ugly discourse as if it has nothing to do with Jeremy. It’s like the joke Communist, hearing of some new corruption or atrocity, who complains: ‘What a disgrace – if only Comrade Stalin knew about this!’
I have respect and sympathy for women in the Labour Party struggling to change things. Many of them would make fine leaders of the opposition. Right now, they’d have more chance of landing on the moon.
Such problems are not unique to Labour or the left of course. My point is that politics has got appreciably nastier in my lifetime. And I think Jeremy has been one of the people making that happen.
Jeremy will probably win the leadership. He might even win a general election. But he doesn’t deserve to.