The coverage of the Labour leadership contest has been exhausting to follow. After a whole summer of hyperbole and grandstanding I felt almost obliged to follow the minute by minute coverage, concerning a group of people that I had nothing in common with; representing a party that I would never vote for. The wild eyed caucus of opinionistas that make up the mainstream media must be wholly sick of hearing the name Jeremy Corbyn.
It was fitting then, that over the past few weeks the right wing press whipped into a crescendo of condemnation of the victorious sexagenarian. This broadsheet broadside has seen Mr Corbyn condemned for not singing the national anthem, dismissed as an ideological lunatic and castigated for his lack of fashion sense. Furthermore, just as damaging are the list of faux pas pinned on Corbyn’s right hand man John McDonnell. Yet despite the media assault, the new Labour leader has shown an almost messianic resistance to the vitriolic lambasts of his critics. His diabolic policy prescriptions aside, there has been something quite refreshing about watching a politician stick to his guns on controversial issues.
Counterintuitively, it would appear that the way to become the Prime Minister, is to desperately delay becoming an MP. David Cameron had a long stint working behind the scenes as a special advisor (SPAD) and only served five years as an MP before becoming the Prime Minister in 2010 his chancellor George Osbourne had slightly longer stint in the House of Commons. Similarly, Cameron’s chief opponents in May, Ed Millliband and the shadow chancellor Ed Balls both had long careers behind the scenes before occupying important positions on the front benches. Importantly the longer someone spends in the shadows, that more the spin doctors and speech writers can do with a potential leader. Jeremy Corbyn’s long stretch in parliament makes him fodder for the press. Positions that he held decades ago are dredged from the parliamentary records and thrust onto front pages and websites. However I find something, pleasingly non-Machiavellian about the Labour leader’s ‘nothing to hide’ ethos. Let us not forget the slew of MPs that have left the House of Commons disgraced over the past five years.
It’s important to add here, however that I by no means support Mr Corbyn, I am also quite aware that the information the press has divulged to us over the past months has certainly been in the public interest. It’s not unfair for the public to be made aware of a senior politician’s position on the economy and foreign affairs. Additionally, I feel little sympathy towards John McDonnell, his statements concerning Northern Ireland and Margret Thatcher (weather or not we agree with him) deserve to be out there for the general population to digest. The virtue of certain media outlets, in haranguing the shadow chancellor over issues over two decades old is quite another matter.
Recently, for the first time in a very long time, I actually watched Prime Minister’s Questions. I found Corbyn’s style easier to watch than the usual semi-political theatre that usually occupies that chamber. In stark contrast to the arch left winger, Cameron looked like a film star. He was immaculately dressed, tanned and had the cheers of his party behind his back. Yet, as we all know film stars are actors, they are anything but genuine. After a brief exchange on mental health, the Prime Minister was sorely let down when the first question by one of his own back benchers was about the immigration status of a tiger, for a wildlife park in his constituency.
Once the media hype dies down there will be little for the right to be complacent about regarding the return of the hard-left to British politics. Five years is more than enough time for a committed public relations team to turn an outsider into a palatable leader. Assuming of course that there isn’t some sort of coup from dissatisfied Blairites, ousting their new leader. I can’t help but have a smile on my face when I think about all the promotions and back hand promises that have been scuppered thanks to Jeremy Corbyn.
Just as serious is the prospect of a Conservative leadership election. If the Tory contest is anything like the fratricidal and vicious slanging match that has dogged Labour over the past few months, it’s hard to imagine them emerging ready for an election. There is also the issue of the EU referendum, that (if poorly managed) has the potential to tear the Conservative party to pieces. When it comes to elections, the Conservative party has shown itself to be staggeringly competent in recent years. It looks likely that when David Cameron steps down, and the baton will be passed (in an orderly fashion) to George Osbourne (a man of even more spin and less substance then the current PM). However if the Conservatives choose a resolute right winger, the prospect of Prime Minister Corbyn would look more likely. Furthermore, if George Osbourne is to carry his party into the 2020 election, he would be hyper sensitive to any economic failure near the time. Any downturn in Britain’s tepid economic growth would ruin Osbourne’s credibility as a leader.
There has been a rumbling debate about whether or not the right should fear Jeremy Corbyn, or celebrate his victory, that debate will soon be over. For all of his ruinous ideas, Corbyn has shown himself not to be a clown. Complacent Tories and Fleet Street commentators should be aware that no ideas (no matter how flawed) stays unpopular forever. John McDonnell’s well met performance at the Labour party conference shows that ‘practical idealism’ has significant support in the party ranks. Despite received wisdom on this matter; the resentment that Mr Corbyn currently faces from his back benches won’t last for long the Blairite ‘old guard’ won’t be able to hold onto their loyal followers for long now that their influence (and ability to hand out prestigious positions in parliament) is diminished. Furthermore, Jeremy Corbyn is right to point out that he has backing from thousands of councillors and student union activists around the country. With his solid grip on the grass roots and front benches of his party, Corbyn won’t have to try too hard to find willing allies amongst his back bench MPs.
We should stop being so ‘shocked’ that Jeremy Corbyn is at the helm of the UK’s main opposition party, instead we should be greatly concerned about the support that his socialist agenda has. Our frame of reference keeps been dragged to the past with regard to the new labour leader, but when faced with a glut of modern, stage managed politicians: a radical message with a cheering crowd behind it could be a powerful force. Besides, Mr Corbyn is a socialist… and when it comes to election time, never underestimate the power of ‘free stuff’ to persuade people to vote for Labour.
Image credit: Maddy Cozins