Has anyone else noticed the uncanny resemblance between Jeremy Corbyn, the new leader of the Labour Party – and Maximilien Robespierre?
(Robespierre, that is, before the Terror, I don’t mean to imply that Jeremy Corbyn is going to support the guillotining of counter-revolutionaries!).
Jeremy Corbyn is known as a man of authentic principle. He is a committed democratic. He states his key principles are justice, freedom (liberty), equality, and solidarity (fraternity). He has never held a significant public office, always in opposition, until the moment when people – tired of political leaders who mouthed their commitment to the public good, but who so often fell short in reality – turn to a man who means what he says, and abides by it. A man who is frugal – not to say austere – in his private life. At least one of Corbyn’s supporters has spoken of him being a man of ‘virtue’ – not a word one often hears in connection with politics now, but its meaning – integrity and commitment to the public good – is as potent now as it was in 1789. And of course, Corbyn is ‘incorruptible’. It emerged during the MPs’ expenses’ claims scandal of 2009 that Jeremy Corbyn had claimed the least public money of any of the 650 MPs. Oh yes, and Jeremy Corbyn was adamant and very vocal in his opposition to an international war launched by a man on his own side, a war that had consequences Blair (like Brissot in 1792) never imagined.
There are differences though. Jeremy Corbyn makes jokes. Robespierre didn’t have much of a sense of humour. This is not as frivolous a point as it sounds. It doesn’t do to take oneself too seriously in politics.
Corbyn’s spectacular success in becoming leader of his party on an overwhelmingly high popular mandate, and against the wishes of many of the professional politicians in his own party, has other resonances with the French Revolution. It shows the importance of emotion in politics, of authenticity, of the need to believe that politics has the potential to change people’s lives for the better.
As to the consequences of Corbyn’s election – like the consequences of the French Revolution, it is too soon to tell. But a change is coming.