New book by Rob Donovan imagines the pilgrim on a journey of rampant inequality in Britain
There has been a lot of speculation about the political and social context in which Jeremy Corbyn came to be leader of the Labour party, despite the opprobrium of the majority of Labour MPs.
Former political editor of The Times, Philip Webster, suggests that it is the result of “one of the biggest blunders” of New Labour following the death of John Smith in 1994: the so-called Granita Pact, in which a ‘gentlemen’s deal’ was done to give Tony Blair uncontested leadership without the need to hold a leadership election. That was fine while Blairism was popular, but the largely unpopular Iraq war and the business-friendly nature of New Labour were to become increasingly despised policies among both traditional Labour supporters and the wider electorate.
Commenting on the Left’s increasing influence in The New European magazine (October 14-20), Webster asserts: “Much of the British Left has always been more interested in winning the Labour party than winning the country… they insist that the country has never had the chance to vote for a diet of true socialism or a leader who really believed in it… Now they have Jeremy Corbyn, a veteran of the Left’s last attempt to take over Labour.”
Author Rob Donovan paints a bigger picture of what he sees as the actual conditions that have resulted in the renewed appeal of socialism, and therefore Corbyn’s coronation, in his new book.
In The Road To Corbyn, Donovan has created what the publishers describe as “the conceit of a dream” – a modern take on one of Christianity’s classic pieces of allegorical literature, The Pilgrim’s Progress. That book, written by John Bunyan in 1678, was detailed as “The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come; Delivered under the Similitude of a Dream”. The central character, Christian, is seen making the journey from this world to the “Celestial City”.
So: what a conceit! For many people of faith, particularly Christian, I suspect the hijacking of a masterpiece on faith and the spiritual journey by a left-wing author will grate, especially as Donovan’s Interpreter points out that Pilgrim’s journey “will be a journey without the support of faith”.
Donovan’s version of the Pilgrim, far from being Bunyan’s earnest believer in God, is an every-man seeker after ‘truth’, in particular during the lifetime of the 2010-2015 UK government. The Pilgrim is aided and abetted in his quest by three key characters: Lady Hope, Charity, “a bird whose colours, crimson red and honey yellow, flamed in the sunlight”, and the Interpreter, who will be Pilgrim’s guide on “the path… that leads to the most content for the many and the least misery for the few.” A Socialist Narnia, then.
There follows an account of Pilgrim’s journey through a Britain of rampant inequality and unjust distribution of wealth – a country run by those who deceive themselves and others to justify the policies and politics that reinforce those perceived inequalities and injustices.
Along the way we meet some of the protagonists such as the Prime Minister (Head Boy), the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Pocket Money), and No Benefit, in charge of Work and Pensions. All are pretty predictable caricatures of the Conservative-led government.
Once the “I saw in my dream” nonsense is abandoned, Donovan gets down to marshalling and quoting an impressive range of political, social and economic commentators. There are numbered footnotes (132 in all) to explain references and support his arguments. He cites some of the obvious, including Thomas Piketty, Dr Ha-Joon Chang, Naomi Klein and Joseph Stiglitz, along with several contributors to the Guardian and The Observer.
The Road To Corbyn is more than a pastiche of Pilgrim’s Progress, however. If you can get past the allegorical characters and concentrate on what the Interpreter (Donovan, obviously) explains, you get a broad picture of the Left in particular, and the renewed appeal of socialism among Labour supporters. There is also much about the nature of democracy and its alleged abuses by the Right, as well as an offer of alternatives to austerity, market forces and the monetising of healthcare, among other references.
Corbyn’s rise, according to Donovan, was inevitable. Inevitable, too, the concerted effort of the Right, bolstered by a largely sympathetic majority of the (capitalist-owned) media, to trash him.
“Jeremy Corbyn is a man who has consistently seen the world as a fundamentally good place filled with people who are shamefully let down by an elite who are half-crazed by power and wealth,” the Interpreter claims – and this impression is what has clearly galvanised not only the Left, but an increasing number of ordinary men and women who believe that real, practical socialism is finally within reach.
If you believe in socialism, then, Donovan is preaching to the converted, and if you are a sympathetic doubter, you might just be persuaded.
Rob Donovan’s The Road To Corbyn: A Modern Day’s Pilgrim’s Progress is published by Matador (2016)
Image from: http://politi.co/1X1ItSA
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