LONDON — It’s a good and a bad time to be Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition Labour Party in Britain.
Good, in the political sense, because Prime Minister Theresa May is flailing away at Brexit without a deal that can pass Parliament — and so some of the hopeful have turned to the 69-year-old vegetarian and bicycle commuter to break the impasse.
Bad in that nine lawmakers abruptly resigned the Labour party last week, in frustration with Corbyn’s lack of leadership on Brexit and his inability to rid his party of anti-Semitic bullies.
Supporters believe Labour should be soaring in the opinion polls, but no, they’re stuck in solid second place. Many blame Corbyn for the lackluster showing.
Into the fray, Tom Bower, a veteran investigative journalist, released his unauthorized biography, “Dangerous Hero: Corbyn’s Ruthless Plot for Power.” The anti-Corbyn Daily Mail on Sunday published a long excerpt. The pro-Corbyn Mirror called it a hatchet job.
It is not a nice book, for sure. It is a tough book, even a mean one. Bower’s main points are that Corbyn is a Communist and untidy, somehow both bland and dangerous, and unfit to govern.
A Labour Party spokesman called the book a “poorly researched and tawdry hatchet job . . . packed with obvious falsehoods and laughable claims.”
The book is filled with mini-reveals — gathered from Corbyn’s ex-wives — about the leader’s lack of domestic acumen. An example from the Independent: When a former spouse cooked a vegetarian Christmas dinner for Corbyn and his brother Piers, “they stuffed it down their gullets, and never said thanks.”
Gaby Hinsliff in a review in the Guardian said while Bower may overreach — condemning Corbyn for eating cold beans out of a can — his book nonetheless is “the most compelling in-depth study so far of a man whose head is unusually difficult to get inside.”
David Aaronovitch, writing his review in the Times, wonders whether Corbyn is a red devil with a master plan — or an accident of history. “The problem for Bower is that little can be done to allay the fact that Corbyn the man is spectacularly dull,” Aaronovitch writes.
Bower has written unauthorized biographies of Robert Maxwell, Mohamed Al-Fayed, Conrad Black, Richard Branson and Prince Charles, among others.
The Washington Post went for a chat at Bower’s home in north London, which features a large painting of Vladimir Lenin addressing the proletariat on the eve of the Russian Revolution.
These interview excerpts have been edited for clarity.
WP: How would you describe Jeremy Corbyn to an American? From afar, he seems like a mild-mannered do-gooder. A Bernie Sanders sort, your basic socialist granddad. You write that this is not true at all. That he is quite scary.
TB: The reason you should be frightened of him is because he’s a communist. Not slightly left, but a fully fledged Trotskyist communist and has been for many years. His agenda is to pursue a policy in Britain similar to Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. He believes in the confiscation of wealth, he doesn’t believe in equality or opportunity. He believes in the equality of poverty, if anything. He wants to create a nonmaterialistic, equal society. He’s against success. He would gladly see the end of the City of London [the financial sector] and see it sent off to Singapore, New York, wherever. He would gladly see the departure of the middle class. So the wealth would go to the poor. He intensely dislikes capitalism and competition and wealth creation, except by the state.
WP: From reading your book, I see we both attended the Labour Party convention in Liverpool in September last year. Onstage, Corbyn didn’t sound as if he wanted to be Hugo Chávez on the Thames. He sounded reasonable. He spoke about wind farms, if I recall. I don’t think he even uttered the word “socialism” in his speech.
TB: He did use the word “socialism,” but just once. That was deliberate, because he is trying to woo the middle class. Corbyn, when he was active in Haringey [a north London suburb], before he became leader — he pursued very, very far-left politics, communist politics. But once he became leader and had the surprise result he had in 2017 elections, he was persuaded by John McDonnell and Seumas Milne [his top lieutenants] that the only thing to do to get power was to mitigate in his speech his communist platform. But he’s too stubborn, too purist, to be able to conceal it. It often leaks out. These are people who for more than 50 years have been Trotskyites.
WP: You’re saying Corybn is fighting under a false flag?
TB: No, I don’t think he is. It’s the delusion by the electorate, by especially young people who don’t understand what communism meant, before, because it ended in Europe in 1989. Because he doesn’t promote it, because he wants to be elected. But once he’s elected, in the history of Marxism, there’s no Marxist government that once elected has ever been removed by another democratic election. They change the rules to stay in power.
WP: So, if elected, it is Dear Leader forever and ever?
TB: Look at the way the Labour Party has gone. After winning, they immediately changed the rules, they changed the personalities, and so the center-left is leaving because they have lost control of the party. It’s a classic communist way.
WP: How so?
TB: I spent my life among communists. I grew up in the London School of Economics with them. I traveled all the communist countries. I’ve seen it. There’s nothing unusual in what I’ve said. But in the 30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, people have forgotten. They’re shocked by what I say now, that they don’t get a second chance. It’s exactly what is playing out in Venezuela. Chávez won democratically. He won a second election democratically, and then the rules change. That’s the bottom line.
WP: Labour led by Corbyn did quite well in the last election. They denied Theresa May and the Tories a majority government. They must be saying something that people like?
TB: They didn’t win. They did better than expected. They’ve gained because May was a disaster. Has been a disaster. Is a disaster. Appalling. And the second thing is they were very adept at their social media stuff. They appealed to young people by promising the abolition of student loans, which, of course, they then admitted they couldn’t do. They made promises they couldn’t keep. But essentially, it was May, being a rather stupid woman, uneducated and unintelligent, who was unable to engage with him in a debate about the advantages of capitalism versus communism. She refused to debate with him. Because she’s incapable of debate. And the only way to expose what Corbyn did stand for, does stand for, is to debate him. To show people what he actually believes in. But because May was silent, he got away with it.
WP: Why did the nine Labour lawmakers leave the party?
TB: They wanted to jump before they were pushed. None of them had a chance of staying. They would be deselected. They hope they will force Corbyn to support a second referendum.
WP: They would have been “purged"?
TB: Corbyn lets others do the dirty work for him, but he is as vicious as they come.
WP: A second referendum has a lot of support among Labour members. The biggest applause at the party convention came for a second referendum, the so-called People’s Vote. But Corbyn barely mentioned it. He seems very cold to the idea of another vote. Could Corbyn be pushed into supporting another go? [After the interview, Corbyn said he would support another referendum to deny May “a damaging Tory Brexit.”]
TB: No, because if you understand Marxist-Leninism, the route to get to power in a capitalist society is to create chaos. And his tactic is that he hopes to crash out of Europe because that would be a catastrophe to the British economy and politics. May is clearly very weak, and so, at that moment, they would emerge as the new leaders. That is their hope. Because electorally, he can never win. Because he would need 60 Tory seats to switch to Labour and even the Labour people say they can’t find 60. His only hope is chaos. Classic Trotsky. You have to agitate, always agitate. They’ve spent their lives forever voting against.
WP: Is it true Corbyn never reads books?
TB: He likes leaflets, not books. His speech is always the same speech. He is a very uneducated, uninspired man. He’s a failure and he hates success.
WP: He’s not such a failure now.
TB: The man who is really responsible for Jeremy Corbyn now is Tony Blair, who left a vacuum. Blair destroyed the Labour Party with the Iraq War. And did not nurture a successor because he thought he would be leader forever and ever. That always ends in disaster.
WP: There’s been some criticism that your book dings Corbyn for trivial, domestic failings. He has been known to eat beans right from the can. He didn’t clean out his garage, as promised, before he moved. He was 30,000 pounds in debt. So what?
TB: The thing about Corbyn is he is not a materialist. He doesn’t spend any money on himself. But he doesn’t mind not spending any money on his wife and children, either. He’s a very selfish person.
WP: And you write, a dull person.
TB: Very dull. It’s not an irritating dullness. He’s not aggressive or nasty. He’s sort of bland. Unchallenging blandness.
WB: Cold beans from a can.
TB: Nothing to make you feel angry, unless you live with him.
WP: So I don’t understand how Labour is a threat. You could argue that Labour — if forever unelectable — is actually useful to the Conservatives, as it provides a threat, but a threat that will never come to power, an eternal opposition.
TB: Unless we crash out [of the European Union without a trade deal] ...
WP: Could happen?
TB: Of course. That’s what he’s waiting for. The Tory party splits. You have to have an election. Only party with unity is the Labour party. The rebels have gone. That’s why he doesn’t care. It is the classic Trotskyist formula. You just wait for catastrophe, and then you step in. And so the only way to save Britain from communism is to dump May, elect a proper government, and then hopefully this new independent group will somehow flourish.
WP: So, how did Corbyn enjoy your exchanges?
TB: I’ve never met him.
WP: There’s a photo of the two of you on the dust jacket of your book.
TB: I was staying at the Pullman hotel. He was standing by the lift, and I went up there and gave my camera to his assistant.