The life of Jeremy
Watching the first week in office of Jeremy Corbyn, the new leader of Britain's Labour Party, I was constantly reminded of a comedy film from 1979: Monty Python's Life of Brian.
I don't mean that in any way disrespectfully to Corbyn, the 66-year-old left-winger who some people joke has voted in parliament against his own party almost as often as he has voted with it.
Indeed, I find Corbyn rather likeable, and none of his fellow MPs seems to have a bad word to say about his personality. (They do, however, have lots of bad things to say about his policies.)
But there are uncanny parallels between Corbyn and the eponymous Brian of Monty Python's film. Brian, you may remember, is a young Jewish man who had been born on the same day as, and next door to, Jesus Christ — and who is therefore mistaken for the Messiah.
Likewise, Corbyn, who has the same initials as Jesus, became Labour leader by accident. When he originally stood as a leadership candidate — following the resignation of Ed Miliband after Labour's drubbing in the general election in May — Corbyn could barely scrape together enough nominations from Labour MPs to take part. Some of these MPs supported his candidature only because they wanted a wider debate within the party. No one believed there was a cat in hell's chance of his being elected leader.
But the unassuming Corbyn stunningly hoovered up nearly 60 per cent of the votes of Labour members and supporters, and attracted many new members to the party. Even he seemed surprised, but Corbyn is now seen by many on the left as the person who, in the next election in 2020, can lead the party out of what will have been ten years of political wilderness.
Whether that happens — and indeed, whether Corbyn remains Labour leader until 2020 — is questionable. But he has certainly set Britain's political system alight with his untraditional style. This included a more serious approach to Prime Minister's Question Time in parliament last week, in which Corbyn posed questions to David Cameron that had come from members of the public.
Many of Corbyn's policy proposals — including the renationalization of the railways and banks, and an end to austerity and benefit cuts — are also likely to find popular support.
On the other hand, almighty battles are certain within the Labour Party about other policy positions that Corbyn supports, including withdrawal from NATO and not renewing Trident, Britain's independent nuclear weapon. Corbyn has already been forced by more moderate members of his party to make clear that Labour will campaign for Britain to stay in the EU in the referendum that is due by 2017. In the last referendum in 1975, Corbyn voted for Britain to leave.
Yet comically — and pathetically — the most heated discussions during Corbyn's first week were not about his policies, but about his satorial style (or lack of it) and about whether he was wrong not to sing the national anthem during a ceremony to celebrate the Batte of Britain in the Second World War.
One could reasonably argue that, as a republican who doesn't believe in God, Corbyn was being consistent and authentic in not singing "God Save the Queen". But the Brits are a sensitive lot when it comes to such issues, and Corbyn was pilloried by most of the media. Maybe, as one of my colleagues joked, he should have said that he's just not a very good singer.
More fun and games is guaranteed over the coming weeks and months. And my advice from a distance to my fellow Brits would be to relax and give the man a chance. Things are unlikely to turn out as badly as you think — or as badly as the right-wing media will suggest.
Indeed, I would argue that the Corbyn leadership is just what British politics needs at the moment, to present the electorate with a genuine choice. In other words, look on the bright side of life!