You’ve got to love head teachers: at least someone should (please!). When people become successes in life later rather than earlier, back-stories frequently emerge about how their schools had written them off as hopeless cases in their youth.
I’ve often been told (though I’ve never been able to verify it) one about Albert Einstein. Surely one of the cleverest and most original people in the history of mankind, he was a failure at school (it didn’t help, of course, that he was dyslexic). As he left school for the last time, so the story goes, his head teacher shouted down the road at him, “You’re a waste of space Einstein. You’ll never amount to anything”.
Now here’s another. When newly-elected Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn left his state grammar school in Shropshire with two Es at A level, his head teacher told him, “You’ll never make anything of your life”. According to The Sunday Times, “Corbyn, as unconfrontational then as now, said thank you.”
I hope we heads have mellowed in the generations since those stories. Certainly I’ve never shouted anything after someone leaving school: if I did, I hope it would be “well done and good luck!”
But this isn’t about me, nor about head teachers.
Maybe Corbyn was a late starter, but he’s certainly not stupid. I don’t share his politics (come to that, I’m not sure I share any party’s politics), but I like the way he speaks: quietly, calmly, coherently and persuasively. His acceptance speech on Saturday was a model of its kind, promising to unite his party (what else could he say?) to get down to work (arguably a good thing) and to campaign for what he thinks is right (surely his job).
The cat was soon among the pigeons. Lord Mandelson, one of the architects of Blairite New Labour, warned that the party would “slide into history” unless Labour had a leader with “policies that people regard as relevant and workable”.
That’s an interesting one. In 1997 Blair and Mandelson cunningly seized the political middle-ground. The Tories were pushed out to the Right once their clothes had been stolen, leaving Labour in power for 13 years. Many who had high hopes of Blair were disappointed: his ostensibly visionary government never delivered much on vision, and the in-fighting with Gordon Brown didn’t help.
Traditionalist Labour voters, particularly party members, have always maintained that the party was hijacked and lost its socialist roots. By the time Gordon Brown lost the 2010 Election, it was clear Labour had lost its way. In electing Corbyn its membership has made a strong statement about where it wants the party to be: on the Left (though not, I think, as far out as some opponents would claim).
Party members who don’t like the shift must make their choices. It speaks volumes when half the old shadow cabinet refuse to serve under Corbyn. Which is the real Labour Party? I suspect it’s the one he now leads.
In many ways the political map becomes easier for us all to read, back to the old certainty of Labour on the left, Tories on the right (Cameron’s right wing will always pull him further than he’d like to go): there might even be space once more for the Lib Dems in the centre.
I’m not wise enough to know whether this is a good thing or not. I suspect Corbyn will provide a more articulate and forceful opposition, and most democrats would agree that a strong opposition is a necessary check and balance to the party in power.
Where will he take his party? What sort of leader will he be? Here it’s tempting to quote the (sadly apocryphal) reference written for a would-be head teacher: “As for his leadership qualities, people will follow him readily. Mainly out of curiosity.”
Well done, Jeremy. It appears you have made something of your life, after all.