One of the most persistent myths in British politics is that Jeremy Corbyn is a nice man.
His swaying fanbase speaks of him in the breathless superlatives of a teenage pop crush. Even some of his conservative foes indulge him as a kindly old gent, sentimentalising a far-left demagogue the way the establishment did Tony Benn in his latter years.
Denis Healey, in a line that could have curdled milk at 20 paces, said Benn ‘read Marx for the first time when he was in his fifties and thought he was absolutely marvellous’.
Socialist iconhood has come late for Corbyn too but he shows no sign of mellowing. If anything, he looks like he enjoys it now. I doubt if he’s read much Marx beyond the basics: he left school with two E-grade A-Levels and dropped out of a bolshie London polytechnic after just one year.
I don’t put a lot of stock in academic qualifications — some of the smartest people I know left school at 15 to work in shirt factories and climb telephone poles.
Nonetheless, it is an under-observed fact that Jeremy Corbyn is one of the stupidest men ever to lead the Labour Party. Hugh Gaitskell was an economics maven and Michael Foot a gifted essayist and critic. Corbyn has no analysis, so special insight; his thinking never left the Seventies and hardly got off the ground back then.
But he’s honest, they say. Genuine. He’s the first politician in a generation that people care about and that, his disciples counsel, is because he cares about people. I’m not sure British Jews would share this assessment but many do.
They were burned by the financial crash, the expenses scandal and punishing austerity and want to believe a new breed of politician has come along. Cynicism has never been as injurious to democracy as the voters’ abiding faith that the latest chancer is different.
To understand whether Corbyn cares about people, we must look at the people he claims to care about. The Venezuelans were his cause for a time and Corbyn was an eager apologist for their former strongman leader, the late Hugo Chavez.
Chavez was a populist socialist and saw himself in the grand tradition of Simon Bolivar, the revolutionary who liberated Venezuela and much of South America. To European leftists, Chavez had discovered how to implement socialism effectively, by diverting massive oil revenues into healthcare and education for the rural poor.
For a time, it seemed to work but eventually the system began to implode and as it did Chavez, and his successor Nicolas Maduro, began seizing companies, cracking down on political rivals, and suppressing the media. Journalists were rounded up and opposition parties banned from standing in elections.
Even then, Corbyn and his ilk scarcely wavered in their endorsement of this socialist thugocracy. Upon Chavez’s death, the Labour leader eulogised him as someone who ‘was inspiring, is inspiring, and in his death we will march on to that better, just, peaceful, and hopeful world‘.
Corbyn’s dream has been the Venezuelan people’s nightmare. The country has an unemployment rate almost twice that of Sudan, an infant mortality rate higher than Syria, and the International Monetary Fund forecasts inflation of 10,000,000 per cent this year. Supermarkets lie empty and the food situation has become so desperate that some have resorted to breaking into zoos and eating the animals.
Last week, against this gruesome backdrop, Juan Guaido, leader of the opposition, stepped forward to offer himself as president. The United States and Canada now recognise him as the legitimate head of state and the UK is set to follow.
Predictably, the Maduro apologists in this country and elsewhere have accused Donald Trump of being behind a coup to topple the modern Bolivarian revolution.
Labour has issued a statement denouncing ‘outside interference in Venezuela’ and the Corbyntariat, the class of professional Jeremy cheerleaders who work semi-professionally in journalism, have accused Guaido of being ‘far right’. Guaido’s party is a member of the Socialist International and a sister party to Labour.
Corbyn and other far-leftists could be forgiven their Chavez-Maduro advocacy if they were to hold up their hands and admit they got it wrong. That the experiment had failed and now the Venezuelan people were suffering needlessly for a cruel fantasy.
Instead, the apologists have doubled down, defended Maduro and his authoritarian practices and vilified critics of the regime, including Venezuelans themselves, as puppets of the Trump administration.
That’s despite descriptions of the situation like this one:
‘There were many reports of torture and other ill-treatment, including sexual violence against demonstrators. The judicial system continued to be used to silence dissidents, including using military jurisdiction to prosecute civilians. Human rights defenders were harassed, intimidated and subject to raids.
‘Conditions of detention were extremely harsh. The food and health crises continued to worsen, especially affecting children, people with chronic illness and pregnant women. The number of Venezuelans seeking asylum in other countries increased.’
Not the words of the US State Department but of those well-known Trump lackeys Amnesty International.
A charitable soul might say the coffee bar radicals are just trying to save face. The truth is much more glum and tough to swallow for people whose lives don’t revolve around politics. The Venezuela crisis is not a flaw in the far-left programme; chaos and human misery are intrinsic to this cold worldview.
The up-and-coming generation of radicals like a good crisis — crises after all are essential for revolution. They are openly derisive of political norms and abuse rivals in the most violent, repellent terms on social media. Like the young Corbyn himself, they rush to the gleeful support of any dictator as long as he’s anti-American.
There is something near psychopathic about the strutting poses for thuggery and casual contempt for human rights. It is sheer political sadism. Corbyn and his court of fanatics — and hustlers milking fanatics for a career — cheer on a brutal state from the comfort of Portcullis House and softly furnished London TV studios.
The Venezuelans must suffer so some lads in Shoreditch can get their buzz. Banker or Bolshevik, our drug of choice always seems to cost South America more than it costs us.
Simon Bolivar grieved on his deathbed: ‘All who have served the revolution have plowed the sea.’ Not this time. Those who served the loudest never went near a plow and are happy for Venezuelans to reap a bitter, wretched crop.
Whatever happens now, whether Guaido proves to be a just and effective leader or yet another self-serving jefe, Venezuelans will suffer more years of hardship as they try to get their country back on its feet. Those who provided character references for their oppressors over the past 20 years will be nowhere to be seen in that effort.
Here in the UK, the Tories warn that Corbyn will do to our economy what his hero Chavez did to Venezuela’s. It’s a bold line of attack given their own stewardship of the nation’s finances. Maybe Philip Hammond has a Che Guevara poster up in the bedroom of Number 11. Yes, Corbyn and John McDonnell would probably have us in the poorhouse by week two of a Labour government but that is not all that should worry us.
The man who could be — I fear will be — the next Prime Minister is utterly lacking in empathy. There is no sufferance that real-world people can be put through that will make this man question his ideology, a doctrine that is at once incoherent and stonily rigid.
Jeremy Corbyn is not a nice man. He’s not the messiah. He’s not even a very naughty boy. He is not genuine; he is not different. And does he care — really care — about ordinary people? Ask the Venezuelans.
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Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Contact Stephen at email@example.com. Feature image © Chatham House (cc/nc-nd2.0).