Let’s treasure Corbyn

“We’re so lucky to have him.” These words were spoken by a knight of the shire standing at the back of the Conservative Conference some time in the mid-1980s. The speaker on the platform was busy denouncing the miners’ leader, Arthur Scargill. But the knight appeared to hold Scargill in considerable affection: he beamed as he spoke of him.

This week, Jeremy Corbyn will quite often be denounced from the platform, and will quite often provoke smiles of pleasure in the hall. He is the kind of enemy who is so helpful he almost becomes a friend. But how exactly should one speak of Corbyn? There is a danger that in mocking him, one may sound as if one is mocking the large number of people who voted for him in the Labour leadership election. David Cameron was quite right to be polite to Corbyn at Prime Minister’s Questions, for to do anything else would have looked like an insult to the many people who want a new kind of politics.

Corbyn in fact should be treasured. Unlike Scargill, who refused to hold a ballot before taking the miners out on strike, Corbyn has a democratic mandate. Long live Corbyn: that must be the message. Labour has a perfect right to be led by Corbyn for many years to come. The knight of the shire, by the way, was Sir John Page, MP for Harrow West. So perhaps that genial man should more accurately be called a knight of the suburbs.

Talking about Boris

“Would you like to come on to talk about Boris?” My first reaction, on being asked this question by a television producer, is to say yes, for we biographers like to feel we can speak with authority on our subjects. But that is followed, a moment later, by the reflection that I haven’t the faintest idea what Boris has been doing for the last three weeks, or indeed what he is going to do in the next 36 hours. I usually tell the producer this: it is better than getting on air and finding oneself following the tiresome journalistic convention that one can see into the future.

One of my excuses for not knowing what Boris will do is that he himself does not know. He possesses the gift of reacting with exceptional speed to unexpected events. As he said when Michael Cockerell asked him if he wants to be Prime Minister: “If the ball came loose from back of the scrum, which it won’t of course, it would be a great, great thing to have a crack at.” Rugby, as we have seen, is not entirely predictable. Nor is politics.

This vintage year

Some years ago, a tiresome edict went out that Conservatives must not be seen drinking champagne at the party conference. As far as possible, I ignored this edict. But the Conservative Party is a broad church or it is nothing. We must also drink red wine, and during these arduous days, the reviving effects of a pint of Guinness should not be forgotten.