Last year, Jeremy Corbyn produced this Easter video. There is nothing particularly unusual about that: a feature of recent UK politics has been for politicians of all stripes to produce (generally hideously bland, schmaltzy and self-serving) videos to coincide with the major festivals of each of the major religions. Theresa May, for example, has released videos at Eid, Diwali, Passover and Christmas. Even Vince Cable and Nicola Sturgeon have got in on the act.
In general terms, I’m not convinced it’s the role of politicians to do this. David Hirsh explains why here. Looking more specifically at Jeremy Corbyn’s Easter video, one saying of Jesus – that it’s easier for a camel to enter through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God – is lifted from its original context and used, somewhat tenuously, to justify Corbyn’s political agenda. For those who are interested in the theology, here is a rather more conventional interpretation of that particular saying. (Summary: Jesus is saying that if you’re rich because you love your bank balance – or anything else – more than you love God, you can pretty much kiss goodbye to getting into heaven. He isn’t making a political statement at all.) Moreover, Jesus himself said, “My kingdom is not of this world”. He gave no instruction to his followers to seek political power. Therefore, I don’t think it’s helpful or accurate to turn Jesus into a political campaigner for any one party – be it Labour, Tories or even the SDP.
Overall, though, I guess these sorts of videos do no great harm. So why is this schmaltzy religious festival video featuring a politician different to all the other schmaltzy religious festival videos which feature politicians?
I have recently discovered that the video was not written by Corbyn himself, but by the leader of Christians on the Left (“COTL”, previously known as the Christian Socialist Movement). So what, I hear you ask?
The video was published on 1 April 2018, just a few days after the Jewish community’s unprecedented ‘Enough is Enough’ protest outside Parliament, which condemned Jeremy Corbyn’s failure to deal with antisemitism in the Labour Party. It might have been written before that protest – but probably not long before, and, more likely than not, within the first three months of 2018. That would have been after most, if not all, of the 50 incidents listed in this piece.
In other words, it seems highly likely that it was written for Corbyn, by a Christian leader, at a time when the controversy over antisemitism in Labour, and Corbyn’s role in engendering it, was running high.
Imagine if, in the light of President Trump’s comments about the “very fine people” who paraded around Charlottesville, there had been an unprecedented protest by black Americans outside the White House. Imagine if, for the Christian festival immediately following that protest, a Republican-aligned Christian organisation had produced a video on Trump’s behalf. Imagine if that video took a single saying of Jesus out of context, in order to provide ideological ballast for Trump’s political programme. I suspect the vast majority of neutral observers would take a dim view of that organisation. The parallels with COTL’s involvement in Corbyn’s Easter video should be obvious.
COTL would, no doubt, point to the fact that they produced a strong statement about antisemitism on the day of the “Enough is Enough” protest itself. Yet to also write a promotional message on behalf of the leader at the centre of the storm, seems to be a case of giving with one hand and taking away with the other.
COTL would also, no doubt, respond by saying that the video illustrates how people can have a positive influence from the inside, that it came out of a complaint that Labour’s Christmas message hadn’t mentioned Jesus at all, and that it was an infinitely better Easter message than Seamus Milne would have produced. I cannot for a moment imagine that they would extend the same generosity of spirit to the hypothetical Christian-Republican-produced video I have described above.
Am I missing something?