Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 15 December 2019

Writing book about Corbyn in Downing Street would be riveting, says historian

Biographer Sir Anthony Seldon, whose latest book is about Theresa May, also says it would be 'enormous fun' to write about PM Boris Johnson

Sir Anthony Seldon, the educationalist and biographer of UK prime ministers, speaks with students during his visit to the GEMS Wellington International School in Dubai on Sunday. Pawan Singh / The National
Sir Anthony Seldon, the educationalist and biographer of UK prime ministers, speaks with students during his visit to the GEMS Wellington International School in Dubai on Sunday. Pawan Singh / The National

A prolific biographer of British prime ministers said he would find it “fascinating” to write a book about Jeremy Corbyn if the socialist politician becomes UK leader in next month’s election.

Sir Anthony Seldon, a educationalist, political commentator and author, has written political biographies of each of the last six British prime ministers, going back to Margaret Thatcher, who won the keys to 10 Downing Street more than 40 years ago.

During a visit to the UAE, he said the UK was facing the most unpredictable general election in living memory on December 12.

But whether Boris Johnson, incumbent PM and Conservative Party leader, or Mr Corbyn, leader of the opposition Labour party, emerges victorious, he is looking forward to his next project.

His latest book, a study of Theresa May and her ill-fated premiership, was released last week. It has been praised by critics and provoked a string of newspaper headlines in the UK for the insights it revealed about Mrs May’s three years of leadership, which were dominated by Brexit.

“Corbyn would be absolutely fascinating because it’s 95 years since the first Labour government and Labour has never had a left-wing socialist as Prime Minister,” Sir Anthony said.

“They’ve always had people who have been much more in the centre. Blair was, Brown was, going all the way back.

“Corbyn would be absolutely riveting to write about, because if he goes ahead with his policies, internationally and at home, it will be incredibly game-changing.”

Discussing a book about the current prime minister, he said: “Boris adds to the gaiety of nations. He’s a very ebullient, charismatic, colourful figure, leaving Brexit to one side, and he’s also a very compelling speaker with huge self-belief.

"He would be enormous fun to write about. Mrs May was a natural introvert, more like Gordon Brown, whereas Johnson is more like Tony Blair.”

Jeremy Corbyn, left, and Boris Johnson, right, will face off next month in a general election. EPA  
Jeremy Corbyn, left, and Boris Johnson, right, will face off next month in a general election. EPA  

Both Mr Johnson and Mr Corbyn are controversial figures. Mr Johnson, whose party is ahead in opinion polls, is regularly attacked over accusations of dishonesty and embracing populism as well as past comments which opponents say are racist.

Mr Corbyn, meanwhile, has been accused of regularly siding with terrorist groups over a near 40-year career in public life, and has radical plans to redistribute wealth and renationalise large industries. He has also presided over an anti-Semitism scandal in his party.

However, under the UK’s electoral system, it is almost certain that one of them will emerge as prime minister following the election.

It’s the hardest general election in living memory to call

Sir Anthony Seldon

The emergence of new groups such as the Brexit Party, as well as electoral pacts between smaller parties and a potential increase in tactical voting, had contributed to make the coming election highly unpredictable, said Sir Anthony, who donates the proceeds of his books to good causes.

However, he said there are no guarantees that the election would resolve the issue of Brexit, which has consumed UK politics since the vote to leave the EU in 2016.

Mr Johnson is hoping to win a mandate for a deal he has negotiated with the EU, while Mr Corbyn favours negotiating his own deal then putting it to the people in a new referendum, which would include the option to remain in the EU after all.

“It’s the hardest general election in living memory to call because people are voting less on party labels and more on Brexit,” Sir Anthony said. “we don’t know how that’s going to play.

“We had a general election in 2017 when everyone got the polls completely wrong. So there is a significant prospect that we’ll have another hung parliament and again, no clarity on what to do on Brexit.

“It’s easiest if the Conservatives win, that will produce clarity, although there will still be an awful lot up for grabs because we’re only just at the first hurdle on Brexit and there are going to be many more hurdles down the line before the relationship with the EU is worked out.

“But if it’s not Boris, it’s will be very, very unclear what’s going to happen. More uncertainty is bad for the economy and bad for the world, actually.”

Updated: November 11, 2019 09:07 PM

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