Jeremy Corbyn has to put up with a lot. It’s bad enough having Eamonn Holmes asking about your tie, The Daily Mail wanting to know if you screwed Diane Abbott in a field and the BBC asking puerile questions about nuclear buttons and sandals when the more left-leaning media is intent on creating divisions between you and Tom Watson, between unilateralists and multilateralists, between everybody over Syria and anything else they can manufacture a story from. I’m coming to the conclusion that people in the politics business simply don’t get Jeremy Corbyn, where he has come from, what gives him the appeal and what is possible.
First off, that was a populist election victory. It wasn’t expected and it wasn’t well-managed by the Labour Party. Jeremy Corbyn won because a lot of people, a huge majority actually, liked what he stood for. They liked his ideals, his appropriation of the moral high ground and an appeal to human values where austerity is concerned, and they liked his critique of modern politics and politicians. I think it’s fair to say they didn’t particularly focus on personality and in politics we do far too much of that although some people who ought to know better are still doing it. That is going to bemuse the electorate who supported him. How bizarre to go on about him being unelectable when he’s just been elected?
A lot of people gave him a week once the Labour Party split apart and the conservative press dumped on him. It didn’t happen and that’s because the Jeremy Corbyn who people think is unelectable proved himself to be a canny leader. Offered a succession of absurd baits, he ignored the lot and focused on the issues. He hasn’t not addressed the will I push the button question but he has capably defused it and John Humphrys is not untypical when he sounds increasingly weedy and desperate and, possibly, a little perplexed. It has to be said that Jeremy Corbyn is beginning to sound like an astute politician confirming what he stands for, marshalling his allies, offering invitations to those who perceive him as a threat and maintaining his persona as honest and inclusive. We haven’t seen these unnamed shadow cabinet members or anyone else for that matter rushing off to join the Lib Dems!
Everyone reckoned that the Labour Party conference would involve a lot of people tearing each other apart. It didn’t happen. The unions played the sensible card because they like what is being said about workplace rights, poverty and business. The party did well too in focusing on issues like poverty and welfare which not only unite people but are currently more important than our ageing nuclear deterrent. In the end, we saw the beginnings of a new politics in practice and people like that too. It seems that Jeremy Corbyn is able to deliver.
So, where do we go from here? It’s hard to see Jeremy Corbyn being unpopular in making a remorseless attack on austerity and supporting the poor. Another thing that people ‘in politics’ have missed is that there are a lot of middle-aged people in middle England who feel a bit guilty about their current levels of prosperity and are well aware of the wealth gap every time they go to Waitrose. They may not have the answers but they didn’t like the xenophobic tone the government encouraged about refugees and migrants or the pictures of the food banks. Most people are a bit more decent than the Daily Mail imagines and that can create a groundswell of support beyond the Labour Party.
Then, all we need are a couple of by-elections in the right places and I think – although you can disagree with me on this – there will be a significant swing towards Labour. I also think Sadiq Khan will stroll to victory in London next year because he is another excellent candidate who ‘the party’ might not have wanted.
Meanwhile, it will be good to watch the Conservatives fighting over Europe which is another place where Jeremy Corbyn has neatly positioned himself in ways which Gordon Brown or Ed Balls could never have done. Then, we need a few tight votes on issues where the SNP really has no choice and this government will start to look, as it is, unelected by the majority and out of touch with the people. Murdoch won’t stop having a go and there will be more muck and division thrown around but it’s time now for the BBC, The New Statesman and, even perhaps, the Guardian to be a bit more positive. We don’t need to see somebody who once used to be an adviser and has never been elected to anything being given space to snipe and we don’t need old Blairites mouthing off about back to the bad old days because that isn’t what the current offer is. The Labour Party, given the extent of its crushing defeat only a few months ago, should be delighted to be on a roll and in a position to do so much more and that is largely down to Jeremy Corbyn.