Mail’s Corbyn exposé is pathetic

Front page from the Mail on Sunday, with the headline "Dangerous. Incompetent. Chaotic with money. A devastating book reveals why Corbyn is totally ... Unfit for Office". At the top there are pictures of two white women with the words: "Married to a joyless fanatic: astonishing story of his two ex-wives that reveals the REAL Jeremy Corbyn".

Today, the Mail on Sunday devoted more than a dozen pages to a new ‘exposé’ of Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, in a feature which declares him “unfit for office”, most of it culled from a new biography, Dangerous Hero by the investigative reporter Tom Bowen, to be published on 21st February. Labour’s press office have already dismissed the material in the Mail today as a “poorly researched and tawdry hatchet job … packed with obvious falsehoods and laughable claims: from events that never took place to invented conversations and elementary errors of fact” which reminded me of the saying of the actor Hugh Grant after he won a libel suit against various British newspapers including the Mail: that the “close friends” and “close sources” referred to in these exposés almost never exist.

In this case, though, the people quoted by name do exist. However, all the material I’ve read concentrates on his marriages in the 1970s and 80s and portrays him as a bit of a wet blanket, more interested in politics than his private life and a bit socially inept. It’s no secret that he is on his third wife and had affairs in the 1980s. So what? The ‘fact’ that he appeared uninterested in his first wife is presented as if it may be assumed that this was the cause of the relationship breaking down rather than the symptom; he may have just fallen out of love with her and used politics to give himself a bit of room. It’s also ironic that the same people who accuse him of basing his economic policies on a “magic money tree” also ridicule him for personal habits that are rather austere and frugal. His politics are also presented as if they could not have changed in 40 years; they say he was uninterested in visiting grand buildings in Vienna because they were ‘royal’; again, even assuming the claim is true, so what? That’s quite mild by European standards, compared to beheading or shooting them.

Very little of the Mail’s exposé is about his politics, at least his politics now. That’s perhaps because he has long been associated with withdrawing from the European Union and the EEC before it, even at times when it was Tory policy to remain in so that business could benefit and Britain could push it in a neoliberal direction. Frankly I can’t think of any policy more likely to cause chaos in this country than a no-deal Brexit, yet this is the direction in which this rudderless Tory government is dragging us. Whoever inherits that mess, especially if it’s held this coming May or June soon after we go over the edge, is likely to be blamed for the consequences especially if they were always suspected of wanting it. But clearly the Mail believes a general election is only months away, which explains why they are ‘frit’ (Lincolnshire slang for afraid, famous for having been used in the Commons by Thatcher in the 80s, and since then used whenever a loss of nerve, especially among the Tories, is perceived).

But really, does anyone care about the unflattering anecdotes about his personality or his love life? No. Theresa May has also been portrayed as a boring, lifeless character (remember her saying that her most outrageous act was running through a field of wheat) and Tony Blair was caricatured as too smooth and polished; the Americans passed over Hilary Clinton, a woman not known to have had any love interests beside her husband since she was at college, despite his infidelities, in favour of a reality TV star known for his vulgar misogyny. An engaging or media-friendly personality does not always translate into a connection with the public or with competence in office. Corbyn is going to have some tough questions to answer in the run-up to any general election (his fondness for nominally socialist dictators or autocrats, and that of some of his associates, among them) but there was really nothing in this apart from some stale old personal anecdotes and some amateur psychology to interpret them. Tories will vote Tory, of course, but if they are hoping to panic people into voting Tory, they will have to come up with something more relevant and more recent than any of this.

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