For a while, in the early hours of last morning, as millions of votes cast by British voters were being tallied up in counting places by countless faces, it looked as if Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn would be putting on his bicycle clips, glo-vest and helmet and be on his bike.
He’d be cycling through London from his tidy little home, turn into St James’ Park and ride up The Mall. Outside Buckingham Palace, he’d lock up the bike to the black-painted railings with the gold leaf adornments and head inside for an audience with Queen Elizabeth.
The thing is that Corbyn could have been summoned to meet the monarch to be asked to form Her Majesty’s next Government: How beautifully ironic for a member of parliament, the leader of the Labour party, who was an ardent republican and abolitionist to be invited to be Her Majesty’s Prime Minister.
Alas, that won’t happen — at least not yet.
But what the ardent cyclist too has done is peddle a vision for an inclusive Britain, one where those who make better money pay higher taxes; where social services are properly funded; where hospitals have the resources they need; where third-level education is free; and where there’s a minimum wage of £10 (Dh47) and hour for the working poor.
Oh — and that Brexit thing is actually done in a fair and reasoned manner, where the United Kingdom reaches a deal with other 27 members of the European Union to include arrangements on foreign nationals, the environment, a Britain inside the broader European Economic Area.
When Conservative leader and Prime Minister Theresa May called this snap election, Corbyn seemed like a wounded animal — and not for the first or second time either. His Labour party were 20 points adrift in polls.
That was the end of April. This is now June and it’s the end of May and her vision of a Britain banging on the table in Brussels for a hard Brexit. She is the wounded animal now, hoist by her own petard. (For those of you scrambling to google that phrase, translate it as she was too cunning by half setting a trap for Corbyn, only to fall into the trap herself).
And for the anti-Corbynistas within Labour — and before his party won 261 seats or so, up from 229 seats at dissolution — 70 per cent of his MPs fell into those ranks, humble pie is the only dish on the menu.
Corbyn is a glutton for punishment: He’s an Arsenal football supporter and backed other lost causes and left-wing ideologies and causes that made him look, in his early days in the House of Commons from 1987 onwards, like the People’s Commissar of Soviet Socialist Islington.
He has spoken at fringe political gatherings for animal rights, Hamas — Sinn Fein and the Irish Republican Army, when they were blowing up things to break up the kingdom he was dutifully serving. When he became Labour leader in September 2015, at the age of 66, it was one of the biggest upsets in British political history. He began the contest as a 200-1 outsider after scraping on to the ballot paper at the last minute — , thanks to charity nominations from Labour MPs who had wanted a token left-winger to “broaden the debate”. No one, least of all himself, had expected him to win.
But something about the bearded, unassuming socialist apparatchik struck a chord with Labour members in a way that his three younger, more polished — and more obviously careerist — rivals did not.
He seemed able to inspire people who had lost faith in Labour during the years of former British prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and bring hope to young activists fired up by his anti-austerity message. His entry into the contest, according to the BBC, prompted a surge in people — many to the Left of the existing Labour membership — joining the party or paying £3 to become registered supporters, taking advantage of new leadership contest rules.
And his election as leader, by a thumping majority, heralded a remarkable revival in fortunes for a brand of left-wing Labour politics that looked to have been consigned to the dustbin of history by Tony Blair.
It also prompted a battle for the soul of the Labour Party between gras-roots members who adored him and his MPs who regarded him as an electoral liability not up to the job of leading an effective opposition. He has endured fierce criticism from senior party figures and a failed attempt to unseat him through a second leadership election. He and the grass roots had a vision. All of the party’s Blairite “New Way” mumbo jumbo was deleted — instead he led an alt-shift to the Left.
Renationalise railways, water and electricity, and buy the Royal Mail back. These were policies of the 1980s, before Margaret Thatcher took a wrecking ball to public ownership and social programmes. But it struck a chord with young people. And when Corbyn spoke, people nodded their heads. He had answers, was real, listened and seemed reasonable. Not a bit like May, who spoke in clips, appeared in bites and ran from the prospect of meeting and talking to the great unwashed British public — from who she demanded an expanded Tory majority — and refused to debate others live on television. Maybe, in hindsight, that was a wise decision by May — perhaps the only time she exercised such political wisdom from the moment she erred in calling the snap general election. If voters had seen her in a debate, perhaps Corbyn would indeed by cycling through St James’ Park now.
Corbyn would love nothing more than to invite German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a football fan too, to Emirates Stadium to watch an Arsenal game. They’d talk Brexit over the beautiful game. Could you see May do that? Nope, not for a minute. This is a woman who revealed during the campaign that the most exciting daring thing she did as a child was to run through a wheat field. Corbyn is a man who reads Spanish literature for relaxation — that’s when he’s not picking the weeds and watering the vegetables at his little civic allotment, or designing manhole covers as a hobby. Designing manhole covers? Who in their right mind would do that? But Jeremy is not in his right mind. He’s a leftie — pure and simple.