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British Politics Review – The Corbyn Gamble

November 26, 2015

BPR 4-15 (1)The latest issue of the British Politics Review examines the future (presuming it has one) of the Labour party under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. I have a written a piece titled ‘Jeremy Corbyn, the Spy Genre and a Cold War Prophecy’ which looks at how Labour’s lurch to the left was prophesied in such works as High Treason (1951), A Very British Coup (1982), and The Fourth Protocol (1984). Here’s a taste:

In Roy Boulting’s film High Treason, a group of British radicals plan to sabotage the country’s main power stations, crippling the economy as a precursor to installing a far-left government at Westminster. The plotters of High Treason belong to the respectable skilled working and middle classes, and are deeply embedded in British society, albeit with just enough deluded pomposity to stand out. The social historian Dominic Sandbrook describes the cast of fifth columnists as ‘a pacifist, a cat-loving and therefore clearly homosexual bachelor, two admirers of avant-garde music’ and the most contemptible of all, their leader ‘a well-bred Labour MP with a taste for rare vases’ (p.217). Boulting, a lifelong Liberal, clearly thought British communists were somewhat laughable. And yet, it is from precisely this far-left base that Jeremy Corbyn needs to build an agenda that will have national appeal. Labour have taken a massive gamble on Corbyn, hoping that a significant change in political consensus and a clear differentiation between them and the Tories will be enough to bring them back to power, but it is at the risk, as Tony Blair warned them of ‘annihilation’. High Treason was released in 1951 at a time when fear of communist subversion was a recurring cultural theme, and in succeeding decades, several works prophesied a subversive infiltration of Parliament. The novels A Very British Coup and The Fourth Protocol portrayed a fictional far-left takeover of the Labour Party. The irony is that with the election of Jeremy Corbyn this cultural prophecy has come true over twenty years after the end of the Cold War, and only eight years after Blair, Labour’s most successful leader and moderniser, stood down.

You can read the full issue here.

If you are not familiar with the British Politics Review, then I would heartily recommend it. The brainchild of Norwegian academics who are devoted to the study of British politics, it features political commentary far better than what you find in most broadsheets. In fact back in 2007, when he was still an obscure backbencher unlikely to ever become a parliamentary private secretary let alone leader of the Labour party, Corbyn himself wrote for the BPR:

Prime ministers effectively control Parliament through a system of patronage, where they reward loyal supporters with ministerial office. This influences the behavior of Members of Parliament, and is designed to buy loyalty. Having been a Member of Parliament since 1983 I have observed the way in which patronage operates, and the way in which Parliament can, on some occasions, do the opposite of what the public wants, out of loyalty to a prime minister rather than to a set of beliefs.

One can only hope that if Corbyn is serious about becoming PM he will remember these words. Although judging by his appointment of John McDonnell and Seamus Milne, I rather doubt it.

You can view previous issues of the BPR here.

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