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Book Review: Dangerous Hero by Tom Bower

I recently read the book Dangerous Hero: Corbyn’s Ruthless Plot For Power, by renowned investigative journalist Tom Bower. Bower has also written books on various people such as Richard Branson, Rupert Murdoch, Robert Maxwell and Tony Blair, with varying degrees of deserved brutality. He now has turned his attention on the leader of Her Majesty’s opposition.

Much of the book is not quite the trove of astonishing revelations that it might have appeared to be, if only because I had realised quite some time ago what Corbyn is and stands for, and read about his involvement in, and support for, hard-Left causes for quite some time. I knew about his support for Hamas, his attendance at a funeral of a killer of Israeli athletes (he initially lied about it), his outreach to Sinn Fein IRA within days of the Brighton bombing of 1984 (I was a student living in Brighton at the time, and it was when the name “Corbyn” first entered my consciousness), his holiday-making in the Soviet satellite states and so on. I knew much of this, and assume that most political junkies who follow UK affairs had a reasonably solid grasp of all this gruesome detail.

What is nonetheless striking about this book is the way it shows that Corbyn’s Marxism was quite possibly formed in a period when – never fully explained in his own accounts – he left Jamaica (in the late 60s) and had, so Bower speculates, gone to Cuba. Corbyn’s hatred of the UK, and the empire it created, is very much at the core of his political credo. Corbyn is incurious in some ways about enterprise – other than loathing it, and has tended to leave the details of how a socialist state will direct our lives to colleagues such as John McDonnell. What really floats Corbyn’s boat is his adversialism towards the UK and West as a whole. Any power and person whom he thinks has the ability to hurt the UK and the West as a whole gets his support, no matter how murderous or malevolent.

This anti-British, anti-Western stance is a coherent strand throughout. It explains Corbyn’s cozying up to Iran (and willingness to appear on Iranian TV and get paid for this) – because he hates Israel (a pro-Western, broadly free nation); it explains, even his anti-semitism (Bower is very clear about this; no sophistry about how Corbyn is anti-Zionist but not anti-semitic); it is the key to his hatred of the US and the UK. It shows why he has been a champion of the cause of a united Ireland, preferring to support the IRA, and attend the funerals of IRA operatives, rather than focus on the messier routes of democratic politics in Northern Ireland. And it also shows why he has more recently praised Venezuela, at least until its recent disasters, because that country was seen as being a pain in the bum for the US. To take another Latin American case, Corbyn was happy, it seems, for the Argentinian junta to invade the Falklands Islands, a UK territory, and never mind the democratic wishes of the island’s locals.

One of the most useful parts of the book was its account, told with moments of unintended humour, of Corbyn’s time as a Labour Party councillor in North London, and of how he worked to remove real/alleged enemies and take control. Bower also shows that while Corbyn obviously craved the approval and circle of senior hard-Left figures such as Tony Benn, he was no real intellectual himself and did not contribute original ideas. What Corbyn was very effective at – and Bower ruefully admits this – was being an organiser of protest. He also had a sort of rubber-ball quality – he seemed able to take all kinds of abuse and setbacks and kept ploughing on. He was and is also fairly immune to straightforward venality and corruption, one of his few positive traits. (That does not mean his views are less unpleasant, but as far as one can tell Corbyn was not motivated by money in the way that Tony Blair seems to have been.) It also seems that he is quite a red-blooded sort of bloke, but also not very easy to get on with for the long haul: three marriages as of the time of writing. Another nugget: One of his former wives said that she never saw him read a book during the time they were together.

It is sobering to think that Corbyn has learned nothing from the past half a century in any way that would affect his thinking away from socialism. The many disasters of socialist states have had no impact on his thinking. The end of the Berlin Wall is, one suspects, a grave sadness to him, and people around him, such as media advisor and unashamed Stalinist, Seamus Milne. This fixity of ideological purpose makes me think that socialism really is, for some, a secular religion. The Bower book contains the nugget that John McDonnell, now shadow Chancellor, once thought of going into the priesthood.

Now, a socialist might scoff and say that libertarians can become a bit dogmatic too (that is correct), but there’s a big difference: a market-based economy has, through the processes of bankruptcy and profit, a feedback system in which bad, mistaken ideas fail, and good ones succeed. With socialism, by contrast, failure (such as the misallocation of resources in Soviet Russia) is taken to mean that the State must do even more socialism, that “beatings will continue until morale improves”, so to speak. The free market is like a sort of constant Karl Popper-style testing of hypotheses (business ideas). Socialism does not have any sort of equivalent process.

What to explain how far Corbyn has come despite all this? Bower gives some idea about this. Corbyn is sly and enjoys letting others do the dirty work of knifing colleagues and betraying real/alleged enemies, and likes to appear above it all (he is not unique in this, of course), and play the part of the scruffy, dotty-but-endearing Leftie with his vegetable patch and penchant for photographing street furniture. It is striking how even the joke tag “Magic Marxist Grandpa” is almost an affectionate term, until you realise what Marxism will do. Corbyn shows you can get away with appalling, mistaken views if you speak softly, are bit of a “character” and have good manners (although he can lose his temper when confronted in some cases). And finally, there is Corbyn’s quality of patience. He’s been working away, waiting for his chance. In 2015, when the former Labour leader Ed Milliband stood down, the party’s leadership/voting rules allowed a person such as Corbyn to stand. People voted to let his name go on the ballot. It is proof that random events can really make a difference. (Ironically, it rather undermines the Marxist idea that we are propelled deterministically by economic forces and relations of production. Specific human acts can make a big difference.)

The book, however, for all its pace and verve, is unlikely to convert a lot of people away from Corbyn and what he stands for, although I suppose one or two people might be swayed. I do think that the anti-semitism must have rattled a few even more devoted fans, and his dithering over the EU issue is a delight to watch because Brexit is an issue that doesn’t fall into any obvious map that Corbyn has in his head.

An issue with this book is that Bower has no references or footnotes, a fact that Bower justifies by saying that so much of what he was told was off the record, and that he took legal advice to that effect. The problem with no references is that it is easy therefore for some people to attack the veracity of some of his details. Peter Oborne, who like some right-wingers has a sort of madly odd affection for Corbyn, on the grounds that he is “authenic” (I fail to see what is great about being an authentic nasty piece of work), has attacked the book’s accuracy. Bower hasn’t responded. I remember many years ago, when I wrote pamphlets for libertarian causes, that Brian Micklethwait and other old friends such as the late Chris Tame drummed into me the importance of references and sources, with lots of specific details, in the interests of good scholarship. If a book is going to drive a stake into the heart of Corbyn, I think it would have been more effective had it contained some explicit sources.

Dangerous Hero
is a gripping read – I went through it very fast – and it is gruesome, even chilling, reading. It is a well-paced, angrily written account of the life of a man who, let’s not forget, is still a potential prime minister of this country. As his IRA chums used to say, defenders of freedom have to be eternally vigilant, because for the likes of Corbyn, they need to be lucky just once.

19 comments to Book Review: Dangerous Hero by Tom Bower

  • Julie near Chicago

    Mi Gad, Johnathan, he sounds like Obama’s soul brother!

  • Julie near Chicago

    Agree with you about the importance of sources, references, specific details, and also explanatory footnotes if needed. Otherwise you might love or hate the book, but (going only by the book) you really don’t know whether it’s fact or fiction.

    On the other hand, the poor souls who have sacrificed some portion of their precious lives to read Chomsky (and who haven’t become smitten or otherwise rendered non compos) say that his books are positively top-heavy with footnotes, in the name of simulated scholarliness, but in fact they all end up going back to something Chomsky said in another Chomsky book.

    I haven’t read the man myself.

  • Jim Jones

    Labour voters are driven by class hatred, they would vote for Corbyn precisely because he will cause the maximum damage to Society

  • Mr Ecks

    Jizz needs the noose. But only EU sucking treason could put him in. He has fucked the Labour brand big-style.

  • Runcie Balspune

    I still believe Corbyn is just Old Major, but I am still not sure who Napoleon is (Watson is doing a good Snowball impression tho).

    Its a coincidence of history that we have Brexit happening at the same time as this Marxist threat, which might even rival the militant period ushered in by Foot without a modern Kinnock to opposed it. Had politics still been divided on party lines then Corbyn would probably have had a real chance at becoming PM through sheer numbers of die-hard tribalist/traditional working-class Labour voters, plus the various bandwagoneers of public sector workers and welfare bludgers.

    In effect Corbyn is a stuck pig, he cant abide by his anti-EU principals without attracting the Momentum noose and he can’t act on his nationalization plans without breaking EU law, in fact the biggest danger is when we actually leave and Labour get forced to campaign for a return/remain, Corbyn can just play along until he’s in power and then ignore it when the time comes, at that point the cracks will open between him and his backers and it wont be a pretty sight, if they’ve gone this far to try and unseat Boris they should have no problem defenestrating a pathetic sh*tstain like him.

    Corbyn’s real danger is his inability to resign, he’s already lost a VONC, an election, large numbers of council seats, and an embarrising EU campaign, if none of those have triggered a call for his removal, I don’t know what will. When Chavez got rid of term limits you knew what was on the cards, Corbyn will be no different, he’ll stay until he pops his clogs.

  • Itellyounothing

    Anything about his aiding the cover up paedophilia at Islington Council?

    Converting Old Labour would appear to be an exercise in appealing to / outraging social conservatives….

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Itellyounothing, there are some elements on that subject, yes. Bower gives him a hard time on it.

  • JohnK

    Peter Oborne is a phony and a creep.

    He was strongly pro-Brexit when the Daily Mail was pro-Brexit, and then turned his coat when the new editor made the Mail pro-remain. He is also a notorious piss artist, though I don’t hold that against him.

    If he is critical of this book, it is because he knows he is too gutless to have written it himself.

  • Labour voters are driven by class hatred (Jim Jones, October 10, 2019 at 7:30 am)

    Some indeed yes, but there have always been long-term labour voters who got there by being successfully sold (usually while young) on the idea of the Tories as the nasty party and the left as caring. Once they’re out of their mental teens, some of them can be detached from Labour at those times (like now) when Labour veers to extremism – easily to the LibDems and not so easily to the right – but what keeps them with Labour is less class hatred than self-love and/or self-(mis)understanding. Their ego gets bound up in their ‘caring’ identity.

    There can also be no small amount of genuine misunderstanding, helped, but by no means wholly caused, by the above. They don’t see that their help is hurting. Some of them quite genuinely do not see that. The misunderstanding of how things work can be at a deep-seated, never examined, level, above which their reasoning from those unexamined premises makes sense.

    As of today (i.e. Corbyn), the proportions are more towards your view, with quite a few of my type leaning towards the LibDems, but far from 100%.

    And of course, some vote Labour because Labour promises the most free stuff, while having little actual hatred of those they will nevertheless treat as prey.

  • Johnathan Pearce (London)

    It is also worth noting that there are people who genuinely used to think – and they had a point – that Labour was a party full of people who worked with their hands, who wanted to make life better for such people, and who, however mistakenly, genuinely thought that unions, and better working conditions, etc, were worth supporting. It is also worth remembering that before the middle class Fabians such as the Webbs got involved, there was a strong voluntarist tradition – friendly societies, unions, mutual aid groups. This rich soil of civil society was undermined – deliberately – by the Lloyd George welfare reforms and killed off in many ways by the Attlee ones.

    There is a valuable centre/left tradition of voluntary action, mutual self-help and improvement, that often has roots in Methodism and so forth. It is a tradition that is urgently needed and should be treasured and revived. Ironically, it influenced Margaret Thatcher, and some of the reforming Tories who were in her circle.

    Corbyn, needless to say, has no real interest in this. That is the tragedy of his life. The real socialists I respect are the likes of Labour MP Frank Field.

  • neonsnake

    Once they’re out of their mental teens, some of them can be detached from Labour at those times (like now) when Labour veers to extremism

    Literal teens (and early 20s) on my part, but otherwise you’ve just described me.

    It wasn’t the current Labour extremism that drove me away, it was rather The Smiler’s two-faced-ness in the 2000s; the sense that our Prime Minister wanted to be Prime Minister not of any sense of principle, but because they thought they should be the Prime Minister.

    To be fair, I’ve thought that of every PM since.

  • Paul Marks

    I have read this book – it was on sale at the local supermarket (which rather shocked me as they normally only have leftist books or apolitical books).

    It is written by a man of the moderate LEFT, but J.P. is correct it presents a truthful and damming examination of the evil man who is leader to the Labour Party – Mr Jeremy Corbyn is a total collectivist (he would utterly exterminate liberty) and Mr Corbyn has been a friend and ally of many terrorists groups around the world.

    Think about what I just wrote – and why I am quite happy to write it under my own name in a comment. Mr Corbyn could not successfully sue Tom Boyer for libel – because it is true. Mr Corbyn is like this – he is a totalitarian, and is his chief supporter Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell – an Marxist his whole adult life.

    And many people seem not to care – they do not care that the next head of government in the United Kingdom could be Mr Jeremy Corbyn who would create a totalitarian state.

  • Bloke on M4

    Jonathon Pearce,

    Unions were once useful. If you were a worker with little mobility, it was hard to leave and go to another job. In theory, an employer could therefore pay you little. The union, and the power to stop production, was a counterweight to that. It meant workers were rewarded better.

    The decline of unions happened with more mobility. Don’t like the employer? Quit. Work elsewhere. Pay was determined based on a flexible labour market.

    Now, this is a really big thing for Labour. It’s a timebomb that’s been ticking for 40 years. Labour has always had the intellectuals, but in the union days they were largely overruled by the unions. The unions were mostly pragmatic and made up of normal people. They also backed the sort of MPs who were fairly normal, too. Whatever you think of Blair, Straw or Blunkett, they aren’t the Mad Labour people.

    As the unions have shrunk and old members have left and died off, the party is more and more the sort of Glasto/student/ban the bomb/vegan types. People more interested in politics in theory than in practice. They voted for Corbyn, he lost, they voted him back again.

    I think the Lib Dems are well on their way to being the second biggest party. I think across middle England, they’ll take over the 2nd place spot.

  • Jacob

    Good thing you haven’t yet Brexited, so you’re still under EU protection. The admirable M. Jean-Claude Junker is still there to come to your rescue in case Corbyn wins an election and becomes PM.

  • neonsnake

    an Marxist his whole adult life.

    McDonnell, at least, self-describes as Marxist. I read an interview with Corbyn in the NME in, I think, 2017, pre-election, if memory serves, where he was asked if he was still a Marxist. I don’t recall the exact wording of the answer, but it was very much a “yes, well, it’s not something I think about nowadays” – basically, he didn’t flat out say no, which might have well been a yes.

    These guys, I’m comfortable calling them Marxists, in a way I’m normally very uncomfortable with (I don’t like de-fanging the word, basically, else it opens me up to “yeah, you say that about anyone who thinks taxes are needed to pay for police, dude.”)

  • neonsnake

    Good thing you haven’t yet Brexited, so you’re still under EU protection

    Not sure if you’re joking or not, but it’s one of the reasons I’m not full throated about Brexit.

    (The other being that I’m dating someone who is here on an EU passport. If her settled status becomes difficult, which it currently is on the verge of, I’m flipping to Remain and damn the consequences XD )

  • Nullius in Verba

    “Unions were once useful. If you were a worker with little mobility, it was hard to leave and go to another job. In theory, an employer could therefore pay you little. The union, and the power to stop production, was a counterweight to that. It meant workers were rewarded better.”

    It meant union workers got numerically higher wages in money that was worth much less as a result, and it meant non-union workers didn’t get work at all. Everyone got poorer because of them.

    However, if you mean unions were once perceived as being useful by Labour voters, I agree.

    “The admirable M. Jean-Claude Junker is still there to come to your rescue in case Corbyn wins an election and becomes PM.”

    I imagine M. Junker would be rather more supportive of Mr Corbyn should he be lucky enough to take over. Junker did go into coalitions with the Luxembourg Socialist Worker’s Party, after all.

    Upon hearing the news of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro’s death in December 2016, Juncker said, “With the death of Fidel Castro, the world has lost a man who was a hero for many.” On 4 May 2018, Juncker attended and spoke at an event commemorating Karl Marx’s 200th birthday. Does Corbyn not merit a place of honour among such heroes?

  • Jacob

    “With the death of Fidel Castro, the world has lost a man who was a hero for many.”
    That is true.
    For many lefty idiots, millions of them, especially in Latin America.

  • Paul Marks

    Neosnake – the only books that John McDonnell got his union colleagues to read and study were Marxist books. This is his only world view.

    Once upon a time (are you sitting comfortably?) the Jesuits and others justified their study of Marxist works as part of their combating of Marxism – but they read NOTHING that was opposed to Marxist economics (and Marxist history) and so, over time, they became Marxists themselves.