I didn’t do anything even vaguely funny for Comic Relief

We all try to resist the cliché that, as a nation, we're obsessed with failure but it's hard to miss the glee in the papers when a story comes up like this: a woman in Southwark has failed her driving theory test for the 90th time. After a total outlay of almost £3,000, she has yet again been defeated by the kind of troubling questions aspiring drivers face: "You are driving on the motorway when a giraffe appears. Do you a) take steps to avoid it -- ie, brake; or b) plough straight into it?"

And this is just the theory component of the test, only the second most taxing aspect after the bit where you actually have to drive the car. There's a man in the Midlands, incidentally, who's had 36 goes at that. He and the instructor must by now be seeing each other socially, perhaps arranging to take in a movie or have dinner after the next failed test. When he finally passes, both of them will probably experience a strange feeling of emptiness, like those players I wrote about during Wimbledon who played out the longest ever match.

The reason we know this is, according to the papers, "a freedom of information request". In other words, someone thought: I'd love to know who the worst drivers around are -- let's invoke the law to get hold of that data.

This is a very British impulse. Should we be a little ashamed of our prurience on the subject of failure? Perhaps not, because the tone of the reports has been affectionate -- even celebratory -- rather than mocking. We love failure not because of some cruel impulse towards our fellow man or woman but because it's one of the few things that unite us all. Virtually everyone knows what it's like to devote huge amounts of time and money to something that continues to elude us.

Most of us are relieved and surprised when we realise that other people are as incompetent as we are -- for example, arriving at the lost property office to reclaim a wallet, only to find that the office, too, has misplaced it. Failure brings us together in ways success never could. So, long may these people continue not being allowed to drive. Not least because I haven't got a licence myself yet and they're making me look good.

Total mayhem

I'm in Australia at the moment but, as I write, half of my homeland will be gearing up to raise money for Comic Relief. "Do something funny for money" is the slogan this year, as well as being a pretty good approximation of my career brief. By the time you read this, some one will have "won" an eBay auction to have me follow them on Twitter and write a stand-up routine in their honour, courtesy of an initiative called Twit Relief. The top bid for this dubious privilege is, at the time of writing, £310.

Some people have been getting pretty indignant about this idea. Are comedians and actors really so arrogant as to sell, in essence, the chance to have a fleeting friendship with them? Does the general public deserve to be patronised with the idea that -- if it's very lucky -- it might get a tweet from someone who's been in The Thick of It?

This sort of cynicism seems misplaced to me because although it may well be ludicrous to part with hundreds of pounds so that Leona Lewis (or her representatives) will follow you on Twitter, the end more than justifies the means. That end is raising money for the many deserving causes Comic Relief props up and it's important enough to vindicate almost any approach: emotional blackmail, banal sponsored events, even prime-time shows where people dress up as Lady Gaga. Even if you decide to sponsor yourself £20 to watch Channel 4 all Friday night and throw that into the pot, it's been worth it. Twit Relief is going to yield a lot of money for charity and that's really all that matters.

But the complaints about Twit Relief are a useful reminder that people can get charity fatigue. To judge from my Facebook messages alone, there are so many people doing "something funny for money" for Comic Relief that there's almost no one left to perform the unfunny but necessary task of donating.

I imagine the Red Nose Day Britain I've left behind as a place of total mayhem where virtually nothing is accomplished, because everyone is busy having custard pies shoved in their faces or wearing an oversized pair of trousers or lying in a bath of baked beans.

So I'm going to make my contribution by sitting here on the other side of the world, donating online and not doing a single thing that's at all humorous. Or it could be that I'm scared of failing, I suppose.

Mark Watson is a stand-up comedian and novelist. His most recent book, Crap at the Environment, follows his own efforts to halve his carbon footprint over one year.

This article first appeared in the 28 March 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Why Libya? Why now?

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As long as Jeremy Corbyn's Labour opponents are divided, he will rule

The leader's foes have yet to agree on when and how a challenge should take place.

Labour MPs began plotting to remove Jeremy Corbyn as leader before he even held the position. They have not stopped since. From the outset, most regarded him as electorally and morally defective. Nothing has caused them to relinquish this view.

A week before the first major elections of this parliament, Labour found itself conducting a debate normally confined to far-right internet forums: was Hitler a Zionist? For some MPs, the distress lay in how unsurprised they were by all this. Since Corbyn’s election last September, the party has become a mainstream venue for hitherto fringe discussions.

Many MPs believe that Labour will be incapable of rebuilding its standing among the Jewish community as long as Corbyn remains leader. In the 1930s, Jewish support for the party was as high as 80 per cent. “They handed you your . . . membership just after your circumcision,” quipped the father in the 1976 television play Bar Mitzvah Boy. By the time of the last general election, a poll found that support had fallen to a mere 22 per cent. It now stands at just 8.5 per cent.

Corbyn’s critics cite his rejection of anti-Semitism and "all forms of racism" (as if unable to condemn the former in isolation), his defence of a tweet sent by his brother, Piers (“Zionists can’t cope with anyone supporting rights for Palestine”), and his description of Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends”. The Lab­our leader dismissed the latter remark as a diplomatic nicety but such courtesy was not displayed when he addressed Labour Friends of Israel and failed to mention the country’s name. When challenged on his record of combating anti-Semitism, Corbyn frequently invokes his parents’ presence at the Battle of Cable Street, a reference that does not provide the reassurance intended. The Jewish community does not doubt that Labour has stood with it in the past. It questions whether it is prepared to stand with it in the present.

MPs say that Labour’s inept response to anti-Semitism has strengthened the moral case for challenging Corbyn. One shadow cabinet minister spoke of how the fear of “enormous reputational damage” had pushed him to the brink of resignation. As the New Statesman went to press, Corbyn’s first electoral test was looming. Every forecast showed the party on course to become the first opposition to lose council seats in a non-general-election year since 1985. Yet Corbyn appeared to insist on 3 May that this would not happen, gifting his opponents a benchmark by which to judge him.

Sadiq Khan was projected to become the party’s first successful London mayoral candidate since 2004. But having distanced himself from Corbyn throughout the race, he intends to deny him any credit if he wins. Regardless of the results on 5 May, there will be no challenge to the Labour leader before the EU referendum on 23 June. Many of the party’s most Corbyn-phobic MPs are also among its most Europhile. No cause, they stress, should distract from the defence of the UK’s 43-year EU membership.

Whether Corbyn should be challenged in the four weeks between the referendum and the summer recess is a matter of dispute among even his most committed opponents. Some contend that MPs have nothing to lose from trying and should be prepared to “grind him down” through multiple attempts, if necessary. Others fear that he would be empowered by winning a larger mandate than he did last September and argue that he must be given “longer to fail”. Still more hope that Corbyn will instigate a midterm handover to the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, his closest ally, whom they regard as a beatable opponent.

Those who are familiar with members’ thinking describe many as “anxious” and in need of “reassurance” but determined that Corbyn receives adequate time to “set out his stall”. One shadow cabinet minister spoke of being “caught between Scylla and Charybdis” – that is, “a Labour Party membership which is ardently Corbynista and a British electorate which is ardently anti-Corbynista”. In their most pessimistic moments, some MPs gloomily wonder which group will deselect them first. The possibility that a new Conservative leader could trigger an early general election is cited by some as cause for haste and by others as the only means by which Corbynism can be definitively discredited.

The enduring debate over whether the Labour leader would automatically make the ballot if challenged (the party’s rules are ambiguous) is dismissed by most as irrelevant. Shadow cabinet members believe that Corbyn would achieve the requisite nominations. Momentum, the Labour leader’s praetorian guard, has privately instructed its members to be prepared to lobby MPs for this purpose.

There is no agreement on who should face Corbyn if his removal is attempted. The veteran MP Margaret Hodge has been touted as a “stalking horse” to lead the charge before making way for a figure such as the former paratrooper Dan Jarvis or the shadow business secretary, Angela Eagle. But in the view of a large number of shadow cabinet members, no challenge will materialise. They cite the high bar for putative leaders – the endorsement of 20 per cent of Labour MPs and MEPs – and the likelihood of failure. Many have long regarded mass front-bench resignations and trade union support as ­essential preconditions for a successful challenge, conditions they believe will not be met less than a year after Corbyn’s victory.

When Tony Blair resigned as Labour leader in 2007, he had already agreed not to fight the next general election and faced a pre-eminent rival in Gordon Brown. Neither situation exists today. The last Labour leader to be constitutionally deposed was J R Clynes in 1922 – when MPs, not members, were sovereign. Politics past and present militate against Corbyn’s opponents. There is but one man who can remove the leader: himself.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 06 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The longest hatred