Reportage

Will Jeremy Corbyn Wear a Donkey Jacket?

New Labour leader’s election stirs up old passions (and falsehoods)…

footThe British Labour Party have elected a new leader, the Far-Left candidate Jeremy Corbyn in what many in the media are likening to a return to the 1980s and in particular the tenure of Michael Foot.

Now we all understand partisan media coverage, both major parties benefit to some degree from press support but shoddy journalism is unforgivable. As news spread of Corbyn’s considerable victory so the rush to demonize him began. Again, for the record I have no particular political allegiance but do stand for fair and proper recording of the facts.

The vilification of Michael Foot during his three year term as Labour leader knew no bounds, his staunchly held left-wing policies fell on many a deaf ear during Margaret Thatcher’s political dominance from 1980 to 1983 and he presided over a deeply troubled period of his party’s history. Yet despite the crude jokes about his age and appearance he was a decent man, widely regarded as being intellectually superior to Thatcher it was his refusal to modernise economic principles founded in the 1930s in particular that proved his great undoing. He was a deeply thoughtful man, a passionate bibliophile and one of the great orators the House of Commons has seen. His love for the labour Party and its founding values was unquestionable and history will remember him as a man who, on a personal level, would have fared better had he lost the leadership contest to Denis Healey.

But he beat Healey and he beat Tony Benn, both heavyweight politicians in their own right and so Thatcher’s domination of British politics in the 1980s was assured. Jeremy Corbyn’s rise to the top has drawn its inevitable comparisons, both fiercely anti-nuclear and anti-war it was only a matter of time before the newspapers mentioned Corbyn’s republican views and how he would conduct himself on state occasions such as Remembrance Sunday.

We have been reminded by one broadsheet of that infamous Remembrance Sunday of 1981 when Michael Foot appeared alongside Thatcher wearing a donkey jacket even though he didn’t. Yes, thirty four years on and they still cannot get it right. In fact he wore a green overcoat from Harrods, an expensive gift from his wife bought especially for the occasion. Despite being lambasted for it by the media, Foot declined to tell them the complimentary remark made by the Queen Mother to him about it being ‘a smart and sensible coat’ and it proved to be an unfitting legacy for a brilliant parliamentarian.

And so as the press rip Corbyn to shreds about his choice of jacket, satchel and beard so I am reminded of Michael Foot. Corbyn’s politics may well be outdated and unworkable but still the press and the Westminster bubble do not get it. Corbyn won because he was a break from the banal norm of British politics for the past decade. I am not a Corbyn fan but I appreciate anyone who forgoes the image consultants in favour of belief and hard work. Corbyn has always been a hard working MP, as was Foot and if his election serves as a return to politics ‘proper’ with thoughtful debate replacing the mud-slinging then so much the better.

As for the coat, Michael Foot donated it to the People’s History Museum in 2003.

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