For some, watching the Leadership Election results last week was as devastating as watching the General Election results; for others it was the start of a revolution. I fall somewhere in between. Personally I think Jeremy Corbyn is something that HAD to happen to the Labour Party – it is perhaps an inevitable result of a right wing government that the Left pulls further left. I like Jeremy Corbyn. I think he is a decent man, I respect his excellent record as a local MP and I share a lot of his views. He has spent his adult life working tirelessly for his constituents and genuinely wants to improve the lives of vulnerable people. At the hustings he spoke with passion and was very convincing. Will he be able to get his message through the prism of right-wing press? No, of course not. Is he going to win in 2020? Nobody knows on what terms the next election will be fought so, whilst there is is a chance, it is highly unlikely – the public are displaying no appetite for Socialism now nor any sign that they are going to acquire such an appetite any time soon .
From the moment he was elected, we knew Corbyn would do things differently. His first act as Labour leader was to attend the “Solidarity With Refugees” march, We’re a week in now and it’s time to reflect on how Parliament’s’ Best Beard of 2013 is doing. As is conventional for a school leader, I will first feed back on the positives. Here’s what Corbyn did well:
1) He changed the tone of Prime Minister’s Questions
Throughout his campaign Corbyn maintained he didn’t do personal slights and smears. He believes PMQs should be a time when the Prime Minister is held to account and not a theatrical slanging match. He also asked the public to send in THEIR questions for Cameron. I think this was an excellent move – even though the Tories jeered every time a new question was read out it meant Cameron could not attack the question in his usual way as it had come from a member of the public. There is criticism that suggests that using questions from the public meant Corbyn wasn’t able to dig a bit deeper into the Prime Minister’s answers and so all Cameron really had to do was roll out his standard answers. Overall though, the result was a calmer, more reasonable discussion about policies. Cameron was as soundbite-tastic as he always is and Corbyn was just very human.
2)+50% of his Shadow Cabinet are women
It was something both Andy Burnham and Cobyn pledged to do in their leadership campaigns and now it has finally happened. Of the 31 members of the Shadow Cabinet, 16 are women. This should not be the first time this has happened but it is and should be celebrated.
3) Shadow Minister for Mental Health
There is no equivalent in the Conservative Cabinet so she is not really the “Shadow Minister” but the appointment of Luciana Berger was an excellent one. Currently 1 in 4 people suffer from mental health problems every year and yet only a quarter of those people are currently in treatment. It is time Mental Health was valued equally with physical health and this appointment shows the Labour Party are taking the issue seriously.
4) Calling on Neale Coleman
One the reasons for Corbyn’s success in the leadership election was his straight-talking honest manner. At no point did people feel he was reciting a well-rehearsed story or feeding them a line. Unfortunately there is a reason most seasoned high profile politicians speak like robots and that is because the media will twist your every word. Neale Coleman was an adviser to Ken Livingstone who is the only English politician in the age of colour television to win major elections from a socialist platform. Corbyn has appointed him as his Head of Communications.
Corbyn’s first week would have been Even Better If…
1) He had appointed Angela Eagle as Shadow Chancellor
Not because she’s a woman (although at least one woman in the “Top 5” couldn’t have hurt); because she’s better qualified. Whilst I like how passionately John McDonnell has opposed the cuts to welfare, famously announcing he would “swim through vomit” to vote against the welfare bill, he does not have the wider appeal that Eagle has within the party. That said she is now also Shadow First Secretary of State which is arguably the second most senior position in the Shadow Cabinet.
2) He’d just sung the bloody National Anthem
This one is difficult. I don’t sing the National Anthem if I can help it. I have a soft spot for the Queen but I think the idea of a monarchy is massively outdated – the idea that people are in charge because they are born into a particular family is a terrible message. However, I am not the leader of the Labour Party – I don’t need to win the next election so whether I sing the National Anthem is as irrelevant as the Royals themselves. Jeremy Corbyn needs votes from Middle England to win in 2020 whether he likes it or not and Middle England want to see him wearing a suit and singing the National Anthem. Should you have to sell out on all your principles to be in power? No but, sadly, you do have to compromise on some of them. This means picking your battles and the National Anthem battle could definitely been saved for a later date.
3) He’d not cancelled on The Marr
The morning after he won the Leadership Election, Corbyn was booked to go on the Andrew Marr show. He cancelled and instead sent Deputy Leader, Tom Watson, in his place. Again, Corbyn doesn’t have to court the media or flirt with the Murdoch press in the way Blair did but he does need to work with the media. I admire his refusal to speak to The Sun but a Sunday morning BBC Politics show is the sort of platform he needs to take if he wants to get his message out. That morning in particular Corbyn attending a Mental Health fundraising day in Islington, an annual event he has always attended. Sadly as Leader of the Opposition your job is to engage the electorate not just your constituency. That said, I am encouraged by Corbyn’s commitment to raising the profile of Mental Health issues so perhaps I am being too harsh. Also according to the man himself, Corbyn is due to appear on the Marr Show next week.
4) He’d been slightly less irritable with the press
By all accounts, when you meet Jeremy Corbyn, he is the most charming, kind and patient man imaginable but there is already too much footage of him growling with thinly-veiled irritation at the press. Yes, the media are annoying and the press will get in your way and ask ridiculous questions but you’re leader of the opposition you’re going to have to get used it. Most people don’t follow politics avidly; they won’t be at the rallies meeting him or watching interviews on YouTube or attending events with him. Most people will build their judgement of him based entirely on short edited clips on the news. He needs to be more gracious to appeal to them.
Peter Hitchens is not a man I often agree with but he published an article today with the headline: “You wanted honest leaders so stop whinging now we’ve got one.” I won’t link to it because I don’t want to add to the Daily Mail’s traffic but I will hand the last words of this post to him:
“As I survey the smarmy, modernising ranks of Mr Cameron’s rabble, I feel pretty sure that they would abolish the Crown in a moment if they thought it would help them stay in office. Do you prefer liars to honest men?”