I have just read Left Out: The Inside Story of Labour Under Corbyn,
by Gabriel Pogrund and Patrick Maguire (published by Vintage) and have concluded that reviewers have failed to spot the book's real intent scattered across the 376 pages. The main theme is not so much factionalism as food. The constant references to the role of his chief of staff could give you the wrong impression that this was a book ready to provide the screenplay for Karrie on Murphy
, but really it's the inside story of the role played by food.
The first mention is at the 'victory party' after the 2019 election defeat: the unopened crates of Corbynista Victory Ale and a sole Victoria sponge decorated with a No 10 candle.
Some may want to dwell on the book's exposé of deputy leader, Tom Watson's character flaws, but I think readers will want to know that his eight stone weight loss was helped by 'bullet proof' coffee stirred through with butter to stave off hunger.
The meetings of the Corbynsceptic MPs at Fair Oak Farm read not so much like a plot to leave the party as an episode of Come Dine with Me
. Gavin Shuker passes round the home-made profiteroles and has a local chef come in to prepare dinner. On another occasion, they dine on Shuker's version of a Nigel Slater recipe of smoked mackerel, panzanella salad and chicken supreme. On yet another occasion, Shuker entertains Chris Leslie in a mansion on the edge of his constituency, serving up sea bass before working on Plan B to leave the party. Those who attended the final meeting of the Fair Oak Farm rebel brigade had been given an ultimatum: it was time for them to make a decision on their futures over a barbecue of beef burgers, peri-peri chicken fillets and salads prepared by Shuker. You have to wonder if the leadership fully realised that when Shuker left he would be taking all his recipes with him.
Then, in the chapter describing the disastrous 'Labour Lives' concert thought up by Ian Lavery, we have a mind-blowing picture of Len McCluskey serving ice cream to the masses from Unite's Mr Whippy van to the chimes of The Red Flag
It would be easy to get bogged down in the detail of the many pages focusing on the antisemitism rows. Instead, just consider the Seder dinner hosted by radical left-wing Jewish group, Jewdas. At this, a 'pickled anti capitalist beetroot' was blessed by Jeremy Corbyn and later put up for auction on eBay.
Then we learn that Keir Starmer and journalist Tom Baldwin held a clandestine meeting on a 'Peoples Vote' in a Kentish Town café over avocado on toast and orange juice.
It was a source of some amusement that Seumas Milne (executive director of strategy and communications) used to arrive at work late, often emerging with pastries or a steaming full English breakfast from the Debate cafeteria in Portcullis House. At the other end of the Labour political spectrum, we are invited to visualise a warm July evening and a barbecue in the garden of Peter Mandelson's Regent's Park mansion. The two tribes of anti-Corbynites – pro-remain and pro-Brexit – are at one in scoffing everything in sight.
Food came between Corbyn and a crucial planned prerecording of a TV statement on Labour's final Brexit stance. Corbyn turned up for the briefing on what he was to say 50 minutes late and with only 10 to go before his statement was to be committed to film. 'He did not rush the group but instead ordered a breakfast quiche, which he munched peaceably throughout a briefing from aide Anjula Singh, who appeared not to be fully aware of the script.' We are not told any details of the quiche.
Addressing staff at Labour HQ just before parliament set the date for the 2019 General Election, Jeremy announced his secret weapon for the battle ahead: 'I've been doing extra training for this election campaign. I'm eating more porridge every morning to make sure I can get through even longer days'. However, it seems that the leadership already knew their fate three months earlier at a breakfast briefing in a meeting room in the bowels of the Metropole Hotel, on Brighton's promenade. The inner circle munched Danish pastries, pinched from a nearby fringe meeting, as they tried to digest dire predictions of defeat from their private YouGov polling. Asked how they might recapture the spirit of the 2017 campaign, Marcus Roberts, a YouGov pollster, summed up Corbyn's chances with this food metaphor: 'The soufflé never rises twice'.
With the campaign now under way, deputy leader, Tom Watson, had a brief meeting with Jeremy to let him know he had had enough and was standing down. They then discussed at greater length the challenges of growing horseradishes. A week later, Jeremy sent him a horseradish plant as a peace offering.
On the morning of his campaign visit to Stoke, Jeremy began the day's activities at a canal boat serving home-made Staffordshire oatcakes.
In another passage, we read that the Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, 'fuelled by Appletiser and artisan crisps along with a coterie of trusted friends deliberated over what, if anything, he should say about the possibility of a Jeremy Corbyn premiership'.
Finally, in a touching postscript, as Jeremy's wife Laura packs up the bits and pieces from her husband's office, we are told they include a jar of Marmite bearing his name (love it or hate it).
I've now read the book cover to cover and it is clear to me that it sets out to tell the Corbyn story in a culinary context. Here's a list: Victoria sponge; home-made profiteroles; smoked mackerel; panzanella salad; chicken supreme; sea bass; Mr Whippy cones; pickled beetroot; avocado on toast; beef burgers; peri peri chicken; porridge; Danish pastries; soufflé; horseradish; oatcakes; Appletiser; artisan crisps; Marmite. To paraphrase Napoleon: 'The Labour movement marches on its stomach'.