Does anyone remember that old Panorama episode about Scientology?
I’m thinking particularly of the clip in which, having spent the past few months following these guys around, BBC hack John Sweeney finally loses his shit and starts screaming in the face of Scientology spokesdrone Tommy Davis.
Sweeney later remarked that it was the eerie composure of the man – the way he’d calmly reel off bare-faced, demonstrable falsehoods as though they were gospel – that finally made him snap.
Most deranged cult apparatchiks, it seems, have the good grace to run around, wild-eyed and tangle-haired, machine-gunning spittle and raving about lizard people or how much god hates fags (lots). In short, to look deranged.
But this one, rather unsportingly, concealed his crazy beneath a veneer of halcyon serenity. An unwavering, lobotomised smile and an oiled, modulated voice. The metronomic nodding of a head tilted in ersatz empathy as if to say: ‘Gosh, you are getting into a frightful state about all this aren’t you? That’s ok though, I forgive you. God forgives you.’
Confronted with the unruffled and unassailable certainty of the man, invulnerable to reason and deaf to all the entreaties of logic, Sweeney started to wonder if he was the unhinged one. If he was the lunatic.
Then, suddenly, he was.
Whenever I see Jeremy Corbyn give an interview, I’m reminded of that encounter – that calm, measured delivery of delusion. The reasonableness of unreason. And I wonder how close to Sweeney-grade apoplexy any watching Labour MPs must be getting.
You’ve only got to look at Ed Balls who, as the Jurassic dents in the Strictly dance floor and the oversized, sweat-sodden garments in wardrobe will doubtless attest, has clearly been prised apart from what questionable sanity he once had.
And it’s the calm of Corbyn wot done it. As political biographer John Campbell wrote of Hugh Gaitskell: ‘by his very reasonableness [he] had a knack for rubbing people up the wrong way.’
I mean leaving aside the policy vacuums and terminal party disunity, the worrying and recurrent anti-Semitism, and the barely perfunctory referendum remain ‘campaign’. Leaving aside only the third mid-term local election since 1974 in which the opposition has failed to gain seats from the government* and the hard left, social media trolling personality cult, Momentum, whose idea of ‘reaching out’ is writing ‘unity’ on a bit of paper, wrapping it around a brick and lobbing it through Angela Eagles’ constituency office window.
Leaving aside poll ratings that make Ed Miliband look like a bona fide bacon sandwich-eating, “touch enough”-pronouncing, election-winning machine, and leaving aside, finally, the fact that all this is being played out in opposition to what is arguably one of the weakest governments in recent memory. One which – to its own surprise as much as anyone’s – staggered into office in 2015 with a majority smaller than the number of ministers Theresa May has now sacked from the front bench. One whose leading lights have, in the time since, divided their efforts fairly evenly between missing economic targets and dredging the party’s septic tank of four decades’ worth of festering Eurosceptical ordure. An exercise which resulted in the mid-term resignation of their prime minister and precipitated a leadership election where not a single member cast a single vote, but characterised by the largest number of back-stabbings since Edward Scissorhands slashed his way to victory at the All-American Conga Championships in the early 90s.
Yes, for heaven’s sake, leaving aside all that, reckon what must really razz off the Parliamentary Labour Party is Jeremy’s confounded reasonableness.
The way that, while the party teeters on the verge of an existential abyss, its leader shuffles beatifically from bake sale to Bolshevik knitwear symposium looking like an exceptionally zen rescue dog and intoning pointless, pacific platitudes about ‘reaching out’, ‘coming together’ and ‘a new style of politics.’
“But, but… that means even less than the gibberish arse-whiffle I used to come out with!” one can almost hear Ed Balls bawl.
And he’s right. It means absolutely nothing. But to the only voters Jezza seems keen to court (namely the ones who already agree with him), that doesn’t matter. They see his potting shed chic and soggy owl grooming and think such a deliberate lack of style must bespeak some sort of substance.
It’s an understandable (if idiotic) conflation. And it’s accompanied by another, more important one. One which I believe goes some way towards explaining why Corbyn is so calm and why the Labour Party is so fucked.
Corbynistas, you understand, don’t look at powerlessness and see inadequacy or incompetence. They see integrity.
It’s not just that they don’t care about winning elections; they don’t want to. To them, ‘power’ – like ‘Zionism’, ‘Blairite’ or ‘compromise’ – is a dirty word. Their movement – their very identity – is predicated on protest, vivified by victimhood and built on a moral high ground whose residents have never been burdened by even the slimmest prospect of influence or responsibility. To them, power doesn’t just corrupt; it is corruption. And trying to gain it entails an abandonment of principle; the unthinkable dilution of ideological purity.
Moreover, these are people to whom merely being relevant – just having their tweedy arses in the driving seat of the clown car – is a giddying novelty. So even if they have to drive that car off an electoral cliff to retain the wheel (by which I mean that Labour is slashed back to fewer than, say, 100 seats at the next election), that’ll still be a vast improvement on what they’re used to. Namely, being gagged and bound in the boot.
I mean it’ll effectively disenfranchise millions of people who, for generations, have depended on Labour to stop the Tories extending slavery to anyone without a knighthood, but give a shit, right? They don’t live in Islington and wouldn’t know ethically-sourced quinoa if they were choking on it.
But until then, St Jeremy – the movement and the man, the movement in the man, more feminist than any mere woman, more sensitive to anti-Semitism than any mere Jew – can continue to waft about the place intoxicated by his own self-possession, muttering about miners and marmalade to ineffably jolly but utterly humourless rallies of his own personality cult.
Another epithet of Gaitskell – this time by Roy Jenkins – described him as a man on a mission ‘to lead his party towards rational, responsible and philosophically coherent socialism.’ It seems Jez has decided to lead his party towards rational, responsible and philosophically coherent extinction.
I just hope Ed Balls can get the care he so desperately needs.
*The first two were presided over by Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock respectively, neither of whom has ever been seen anywhere near Downing Street without a tour guide.
Also posted on the Huffington Post.