Jeremy Corbyn is a back-bench Labour member of Parliament, so back-bench that very few people had ever heard of him until this moment. In his mid-sixties, he has made his life in the lower depths of Leftist politics, amid little splinter groups that see themselves taking to the streets under the banner of revolution. The frame of mind of such people is a psychological oddity. Somewhere on their path through this vale of tears they got stuck, becoming unable to distinguish between illusion and reality. At demonstrations, they may have rough encounters with the police but usually they are more of a danger to themselves than to anyone else.
Exceptional circumstances have brought Corbyn forward. The Labour party went into the general election last May under Ed Miliband, and expected to win. An aura of the lower depths of Leftist politics clung to him. Marxist parents had evidently had an enduring influence. The electorate decided that he was too left-wing to be prime-ministerial material. It might be imagined that his successor would draw the conclusion that the party might work out a more central appeal. Not a bit of it. Candidates to succeed Miliband are nonentities whose lack of appeal to anyone or anything is Corbyn’s chance.
The lower depths of socialism are suddenly mainstream. Corbyn would like to abolish the monarchy, leave NATO and scrap the country’s nuclear defense, and end austerity by giving the poor whatever they want. He turns out to be chairman of Stop the War, a misnamed pressure group that was in favor of Iraqis getting British troops out of Iraq by any means, presumably including shooting at them. Among those he has welcomed and praised, as often as not in the House of Commons, are the hate-mongering Islamist Sheikh Raed Salah, and the leaders of the IRA, Hamas, and Hezbollah. The media reveal that he is, or has been, in touch with Paul Eisen, a leading Holocaust denier, and Reverend Stephen Sizer, the Church of England’s most notorious anti-Semite and on top of that a 9/11 conspiracy theorist. The Jewish Chronicle in particular has “deep foreboding” at the prospect of his being elected the Labour leader.
Down the centuries, the British have skillfully thrown oddballs, crazed agitators, and obsessives out of the political life of the country. If Corbyn becomes their leader, former prime minister Blair warns, the party will have civil war. The speed with which this unexpected crisis comes upon reveals how volatile, how ignorant, how frivolous, the electorate is. Corbyn is certainly not a Nazi, but I find myself thinking about the Machtergreifung, the seizure of power in January 1933 that put Germany so light-headedly on the path to disaster.