He’s put on his ancient suit of armour and has ventured out into the harsh world of Medieval Spain in search of the leader of the British Labour Party. Harry Mottram is in search of our very own Don Quixote
In a constituency of Islington North, whose name I do not wish to remember, there lived a little while ago one of those gentlemen who are wont to keep a copy of Fo’s Accidental Death of an Anarchist or The Communist Manifesto beside him.
His stew more lentil than meat, his talk more 1970s than 21st century, and his shirt more Help the Aged than Ben Sherman. Our gentleman of some 60 summers or more is of a sturdy constitution, but wizened and gaunt featured, an early riser and devotee of Diane Abbott.
Jeremy Corbyn has something of Don Quixote about him as he tilts at the tormenting windmills of Owen Smith, Hilary Benn and Angela Eagle. Behind him are all the other characters from Cervantes’ novel: his faithful shadow chancellor John McDonnell, his housekeeper Diane Abbott, ancient retainer Dennis Skinner and unreliable stable boy Tom Watson.
Armed with a mandate from members of the Labour Party the leader of the movement has mounted his sturdy steed Rocinante and with his lance Momentum has set out to vanquish the Conservatives. This mixture of the dangerous, reactionary and wicked Tory inn keepers, Toledo traders, Galician pony dealers and muleteers may laugh at him during Prime Minister’s Question Time each Wednesday lunchtime and criticise his archaic view of Britain, but privately are frightened of what he represents and mercilessly attack him because they know that if the economy dips he could become the master of Seville.
David Cameron and Teresa May, The Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph, had ridiculed his ideas but somehow the barbs don’t deter him. In fact armed with his lance, his buckler and home-made visor he is more determined than ever to sally forth and seize the Castile Number 10 Downing Street.
As with Don Quixote it is not so much the Conservatives, the Scottish Nationalists and even the Liberal Democrats who stand in his way but members of his own party (or in Don Quixote’s way those members of his household) who feel he will never win even the most minor battle in his bid for glory.
Those within the Labour Party who wish he would hang up his buckler see him as a misguided and out of date old fool – just like Cervantes’ hero. Mr Corbyn however constantly points to his fans, and to the vast new membership of the Labour Party who joined up to support his two leadership bids. But they are surely the same as those readers who bought Cervantes’ novel when it was published. They supported him from their bedrooms and living rooms as they read of his exploits. Queued up for his book signings (if they had them in Spain’s Golden Age) and if was alive today would hang his every word like someone else with a beard and the look of a Biblical prophet.
His only true fans in Parliament are his faithful servant Diane Sancho Abbott who follows him where he treads. Like Sancho Panza she is often left to clear up the misunderstandings and chaos that Don Quixote leaves in the Inns of Catalonia or the dusty highways of the high Sierra as he comes to blows with herders, traders and members of the clergy.
The duo cross the verdant plains of Middle England in search of electoral victory, tilting at windbags and dreaming of rescuing Princess Maritones or Rebecca Long-Bailey from the back benches. Mistaken as a mystic, a fantasist and a hopeless and ineffectual leader by a large group of goat herders, nevertheless he believes he can heal the wounds of muleteers with his balm of Fierarbras and return them to health in 2020.
Jeremy Corbyn looks like Don Quixote – well like Jean Rochefort in Lost in La Mancha. And he has a passing resemblance to David Threlfall who played the self-proclaimed knight in the RSC production. And there is something attractive about someone who sticks to his principles (or fantasies if you are a cynic) despite all the evidence presented by his critics.
Corbyn it is said rejects the modern world and wishes to turn back the clock to a long lost never was time when the trains were nationalised and ran on time, when the National Health service was fully financed.
It is generally agreed by pundits in America that the equivalent politician Bernie Sanders could have beaten Donald Trump in the presidential election had he won the Democratic nomination. Clearly millions were prepared to give him the chance to run the world’s most powerful economy because of the disappointment felt over the last few administrations. If Teresa May and the Brexit hardliners in UKIP and the conservative party fail to make a success of leaving the EU and the country falls into a recession or worse, then in 2020 Don Corbyn de Islington may not seem such a fantasy.