Boris Johnson has conjured up an image of Jeremy Corbyn that could literally have come from the pages of JK Rowling's Harry Potter series. In his column in The Sun newspaper yesterday 26th April he referred to the leader of the opposition as a "mutton headed old mugwump" who posed an "enormous threat" to Britain if elected as Prime Minister. However, by choosing this term of abuse for his political adversary, Boris has brought to mind a character who has cast a spell over a whole generation of children and adults alike. In JK Rowling's series, the character of Albus Dumblefore held the position of supreme Mugwump in the Potterverse until Machiavellian efforts to discredit him succeeded briefly in The Order of the Phoenix.
In the popular imagination, though Boris may have shown himself to once again be as Machiavellian as the UK Ministry of Magic who tried to thwart Dumbledore in his preparations for the return of the Dark Lord Voldermort. Therefore because of Dumbledore having been proven correct in the end about the threat posed by Lord Voldermort, the connotations of "mugwump" are generally favourable within 'the Potterverse' as commonky referred to by fans.
Dumbledore the grizzled ageing wizard was headmaster at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and is viewed as a figure of authority, compassion, wisdom, guidance, and high standing in the magical world. If Ed Milliband was castigated by the slogan 'Vote Ed, get Nicola' perhaps Boris has given Jeremy a potion to capture the popular vote; especially amongst those people we might call the fence sitters, not quite ready to swing their wands one way or another at the ballot box. 'Vote Jeremy, get Dumbledore' can be our new mantra.
Ironically the very word 'Mugwump' originates from this very sense of sitting on the fence. Deriving from a Native American dialect in what is now Massachusetts, it has evolved from its original Algonquian translation as a war leader detached from everyday affairs, to a more pejorative term for somebody who sits on the fence, or holds themselves aloof from party politics. Here too, Boris seems to have misdirected his meaning, because throughout Jeremy Corbyn's career he can never be accused of sitting on the fence in either ideological or practical terms. By his own admission at times and the Tories constant castigation he has been a lifelong rebel and advocate of unpopular causes, throwing himself into the front line of protest where required.
Of course, as with the etymology of all words, there have been changes to the meaning of Mugwump over time. In the 1880s it evolved to a synonym for 'turncoat' after Charles Anderson Dana, editor of The New York Sun, coined the phrase for a new political grouping in American politics. These were supporters of the Republican Party who switched sides to support the Democratic candidate in a presidential election. Their more famous members are said to have included the authors mark Twain and Henry Adams. The basic idea was that they were fence sitters with their mug on one side of the divide and their rump on the other, according to a definition by the then President of Princeton University. Again, amongst the many accusations levelled at Jeremy from white poppies to republicanism, he can rarely be accused of turning his coat. Throughout his lifetime he has consistently been a card carrying union member and proud socialist fighting the underdog's corner. Even as a thorn in the Blairites' side, Jeremy never thought of switching sides, going over to the dark side of voicing support for the Conservatives. Indeed the only area where he might be accused of changing his cloak is around the issue of the European Union but then Boris can hardly cry foul in that game of Quidditch!
A further problem with calling Corbyn a Mugwump is that the original Mugwumps within the Republican Party held views akin to certain members of today's Conservatives - particularly the upper class, public school variety. Many of these were the Old Anglo-Saxon Protestant elite of nineteenth century America, inheritors of wealth and resistant to change. Deeply rooted in a sense of elitism, the word then evolved further to its present day accepted meaning of one who is aloof from or sees themselves as above party politics. Again Jeremy Corbyn can hardly be deemed as part of any elite although sometimes portrayed as aloof in the personal rather than political sense.
Jeremy may well have the last laugh though because life sometimes can be stranger than fiction. Just as Dumbledore got reinstated to his position by the end of The Order of the Phoenix, so too might Jeremy one day assume the equivalence of presiding over the International Confederation of Wizards. Until that day I am sure he would rather be called a mugwump than a modern day Machiavelli as Boris has once again proven himself to be. As a vegetarian though Jeremy might take more offence at the mutton headed reference. Still, there are plenty of pressing political issues to get his teeth stuck into in these coming weeks in the hoping of casting a spell on Britain's voting public.Suggest a correction