Few could’ve predicted then the political turmoil Britain would experience following the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum and the 2015 election. In little over a year the UK would vote for Brexit, David Cameron would also resign. A year after that, we’d have a hung parliament. Just two years later, we’d have yet another Prime Minister and another general election in an attempt to break the Brexit deadlock.
But perhaps the unlikeliest political journey throughout the whole five year saga was the rise and fall of Jeremy Corbyn. A mild mannered left-wing MP from Islington took control of the UK Labour Party, created a political movement, almost won power in a general election and then catastrophically lost another. He even had his own football chant.
Owen Jones was at the centre of this journey. A left-wing journalist for the Guardian, Jones has been close with key members of the Corbyn team for years, and was offered a job with them early on. Unlike ‘Left Out’, Gabriel Pogrund and Patrick Maguir’s take on the Corbyn years, this is very much an insider’s story, with all the biases that come with that.
But it is a fascinating take. Starting from the beginning, we hear how Corbyn ended up clinching a spot on the leadership ballot, even when many thought it was a hopeless long-shot. We hear about the disasters of organisation that plagued his top team, and the toxic internal divisions that split both the parliamentary Labour Party and the membership in the wake of the 2016 referendum result.
There was good times – the 2017 was an undeniable success which caused a realignment in British politics. Corbyn became a national figure, with crowds chanting his name as he stood on stage at Glastonbury. Then, there was the bad times; Brexit politicking cost him his reputation as a populist outsider, and the failures in leadership that led to his election defeat.
Jones doesn’t shy away from Corbyn’s weaknesses. His tendency to shy away from conflict. A dislike of going through the political motions, of not apologising even when an apology is inevitable and will be politically helpful. Jones also does not shy away from critiquing the other top people in Corbyn’s team, even when they are close friends of his.
But this is largely a sympathetic account. Jones covers the right wing media’s attack on Corbyn in detail, and denounces Corbyn’s internal critics. His passionate belief socialism and the ideas Corbyn represents are clear throughout the narrative, which gives a different and arguably important perspective compared with less partisan accounts of this period.
Whatever your views on Corbyn, this is an interesting and engaging read. For politicians and activists there are important lessons to be learned from Corbyn, both in terms of lessons and values to follow, and political traps to avoid. If you’re interested in British politics and especially those of the left, I’d recommend this book, it may just challenge your preconceived notions of what went wrong, and how Labour can win power again.