Jeremy Corbyn, the new leader of the Labour Party has become an enigma for everyone. After the slick young leaders that UK has seen, he is a throwback to an era long past, when leaders looked crumpled, aged and wise, not shiny faced and suave. No one quite knows whether it was a masterstroke or a self-goal for the Labour Party, but after five years of the young Ed Miliband, perhaps they needed someone who looked grown up.
But can Mr Corbyn actually encourage a change in the Westminster style of functioning? Perhaps, he actually can. His stamp was clearly visible during Prime Minister’s Questions last week. This piece of high theatre, with both sides shouting and screeching, while the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition hurled barbs and witticisms, suddenly became implausibly dull. Mr Corbyn asked six questions sent to him by ordinary citizens and Prime Minister David Cameron answered them with sobriety.
But according to the BBC it was the most watched PMQs, ever! Mr Corbyn’s elevation to Labour leader, however, is not being taken entirely easily by everyone, not least his own party. There are opinion polls which claim that lurching to the far Left of the ideological spectrum with Mr Corbyn might not be acceptable to a majority of the voters. But all that anyone can say for the leader, for now, is that he is “different”. People who have got used to “spin” will find it tough to deal with “substance”.
The only contrarians, according to the polls, are the Scottish. If Mr Corbyn is popular there, does it mean a split away from England can be averted? With an intriguing politician on the block, can scandal be far behind? So now we get to hear that the “dismissed as dull” Mr Corbyn is thrice married, and his first wife has just given a press interview about how shocked she was when she found out many years back about his affair with another Labour Party colleague, Diane Abbott.
There is also, by the way, a lot of interest in the way American politics is shaping up. In the US, however, it is the rise of right-wingers like Donald Trump which is leading to this alarm. Some of the angst is being articulated by our British-born stars as well. As Emily Blunt, the actress who shot to fame in The Devil Wears Prada, said in an interview, “I became an American citizen recently, and that night, we watched the Republican debate and I thought ‘This was a terrible mistake. What have I done?’”
Of course, it was clarified that her comments were half in jest, but as each country reacts to previous dispensations, it is interesting to see the leadership that is emerging. Unlike in the past, where leaders occupied the ideological central ground, now extremes across the spectrum are emerging. If we get Mr Trump and Mr Corbyn in the same room to discuss policy, I can only think of nuclear options!
The ongoing refugee problem has pushed everyone into rethinking our ideas of humanitarianism, and reflect upon the need to help. To raise awareness, two artists, the Indian born Anish Kapoor and the Chinese Ai Weiwei took a seven-mile walk through London, starting from the Royal Academy of Arts and ending near the 2012 Olympic Park.
They were draped in grey blankets to show “sympathy, empathy and solidarity” with the refugees and they were joined by other like-minded people. It was, of course, a made-for-media moment, but the focus is necessary, as the refugee crisis is fast becoming Europe’s biggest problem.
The initial sympathy, however, might now be turning to suspicion. There are already reports that not all of these refugees flooding into the country are from Syria and that many are taking advantage of the situation to walk through those borders that had been closed to them thus far. Even if the UK had not wanted any intervention in Syria, the situation has become impossible to ignore, any more. As an increasing number of desperate refugees reach British shores, short-term measures will no longer suffice, nor will “blanket” aid.
While Indian art is beginning to attract big bucks all over the world, one celebrated Indian artist, Thota Vaikuntam, is landing in London this week with an exhibition of his unique paintings at the Grosvenor Art Gallery. Curated by Sunaina Anand, this exhibition of select canvases will be the first collection displayed after a gap of 10 years. Considered by some, such as S.H. Raza, to be working in the same tradition as Jamini Roy, Vaikuntam uses only bright primary colours.
The rustic Telangana woman with her large vermilion bindi is his muse. Certainly, the exhibition will provide a welcome spot of colour in London! Do go and drink in the vivid hues. Bestselling author Jackie Collins has just died at 77 of breast cancer. Her illness was something she never spoke about. And, what better note to end the Diary than to point out that she wrote five books since being diagnosed a few years ago.
Kishwar Desai is an award-winning author