THE world’s most widely read African novel may be considered a strange place to start when considering Frank Field resigning the Labour whip over the antisemitism crisis.
The reason lies in the title of Chinua Achebe’s acclaimed novel, widely read perhaps, but not by me (an oversight to correct). Another reason, perhaps, lies in Theresa May having just visited Nigeria, where Achebe was born in 1930, on her pre-Brexit dance tour of three African countries.
That slightly desperate trip has already been discussed on this ledge, although that was before those shameful moves. Mrs Maybe being terrible at dancing will do her no harm, as many people are similarly afflicted. Her robotic shuffle and weird jerking of the arms will be familiar to dancefloor refuseniks everywhere.
The title of the novel by Achebe is Things Fall Apart. It was there in a corner of the mental attic, and a quick Google pulled the name from the dust.
The novel is set at the end of the 19th century and offers an insight on life in pre-colonial Nigeria and the cataclysmic changes brought about by the British. More widely, it also considers the “falling apart” of indigenous cultures in other countries.
Anyway, Frank Field. The veteran Labour MP has resigned his party’s whip over the antisemitism crisis. He says he was pushed over the edge by the former chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks saying Jeremy Corbyn’s comment about Zionists not understanding irony was as offensive as Enoch Powell’s “rivers of blood” speech.
Labour dismissed the comparison with Powell as “absurd and offensive”.
Let’s agree that it is just that. But a smouldering fire that should have been put out months ago has carried on burning. Those flames have been fanned by Corbyn’s enemies, for sure: by those opposed to him within Labour, and by old external foes such as the Daily Mail.
Whatever you think of this row, and it still seems unfathomable, Jeremy Corbyn hasn’t put out that fire.
Frank Field says his resignation of the whip should be a wake-up call about antisemitism within Labour, and about a culture of nastiness in his party.
Dip your toe into the Twitter pool and you will find plenty of disobliging comments about Field, who is nearly 80 and has been a Labour MP for 40 years.
Instead of passing on anything like that, here is a thought from fellow Labour MP Mary Creagh: “Frank Field gave 40 years’ service to Labour, got £280m off Philip Green for BHS pensioners, fights child poverty & hunger. That his local party want to deselect him speaks volumes about the state of our Party.”
Field has often seemed an odd fit, as a devout Christian, admirer of Margaret Thatcher, and the man once charged by Tony Blair to “think the unthinkable” about the welfare state.
Oh, but I don’t wish to delve deeper into that pool. Let’s just say that the mention of Blair – a trigger insult to the Corbyn crew – should at least remind us that in the early days New Labour was brutally efficient in its media strategy. Not something you could say about Corbyn.
Blair arrived shiny and new, and all his faults lay before him; Corbyn arrived wrinkled with experience, and his faults, as well as his good points, lay behind him, waiting to be discovered.
Things Fall Apart. That should be the worry for Labour. The tiles are slipping from the roof and blaming and shouting and factionalism won’t do anything to appeal to ordinary voters. And in the end, they are more important than the ardent disciples.
Things Fall Apart is also a fitting image for Brexit Britain, as the tiles crash around us, and the barmy Brixiteers shout ever louder for what looks more and more like a post-apocalyptic future, rather than the green pastures as once so falsely advertised.