The Jeremy Corbyn Factor

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A few interesting articles this morning (June 13, 2017), wondering about the extent of the #JeremyCorbyn Factor in Labour’s improved performance in the recent British General Election (#GE2017). The central theme being, did he just get spotlight, or did he actually change?

I begin with an article from The Times, entitled ‘It was Corbyn’s flip-flopping that saved hm.’ Since The Times is now subscription only, I set out the article in full below. Let me do the niceties though. It was written by #HugoRifkind. Oh. That’s it. And here it is:

“If anybody ever tries to tell you that the media smeared Jeremy Corbyn — that he was actually a warm, brilliant, engaging statesman all along, and we all knew, and we lied, because we’re partisan neoliberal bastards — then I’d suggest you refer them to a video from September 2015, in which he walks along a pavement, for ages, in moonlight, furiously saying nothing at all.

That evening, the new leader of the opposition had just appointed his first shadow cabinet and all the senior roles had gone to men. A little earlier, his team had been overheard behind a closed door in parliament saying, quote, “we are taking a fair amount of shit out there about women. We need to do a Mandelson. Let’s make Angela shadow first minister of state.” Outside, does he laugh it off? Admit he’s on a learning curve? No. He scowls, and stares ahead, and walks, and walks. Clop-clop go his shoes, getting faster, and faster, over the occasional muted sound of political journalists asking a politician wholly legitimate political questions. Clop-clop.

The media also did not fabricate Corbyn’s quivering rage over that bizarre fight about whether he did, or didn’t, once have to sit on the floor for a bit on a train from London to Newcastle. It’s still on YouTube. It didn’t go away just because they took Kensington. When an ITV reporter asked him a year ago whether he wanted there to be a general election, nobody forced him to say, irritably, “I’m being harassed!”, before storming off to hide behind what turned out to be, awkwardly, a glass door. This is who Jeremy Corbyn was. He was tetchy and he was incompetent, and if anybody with any sense was going to vote for him, then everything any of us knew about anything was wrong.

Putting charm first was, for him, a major political concession
Well. Forty per cent of the vote later, here we are and, post-election, exactly who those voters were doesn’t really matter. That narrative, pre-election, of the non-Corbyn Labour vote? The whole “I voted for my local candidate, so as to provide moderate internal opposition” line? Expect that to disintegrate, utterly. You cannot be a bit dead, and you cannot be a bit pregnant, and you cannot vote, a bit, for Labour. The anti-Corbyn Labour vote and the pro-Corbyn Labour vote both end up in the same column, piling up as a ringing endorsement of Corbyn’s Labour. Which is probably fair enough. When your coalition of support is so broad as to include people who could tell themselves they were actively voting against you, you have pulled off a pretty damn impressive political coup.

I wonder, though, how many Labour voters really were voting in spite of Corbyn by the end. The man who finished this campaign, in so many ways, was not the man who began it. Katy Brand, the comedian, put it very well on Radio 4 this weekend, when she described seeing him on The One Show. “I ran into the kitchen to get my husband,” she said. “And I said, ‘Come quickly, darling, come look! Something’s happened to Jeremy Corbyn! He’s . . . smiling!’” Where once there had been all the eye-rolling weariness of the substitute teacher with Blu Tack flicked into his hair, now there was a twinkling eye and charm.

Charm isn’t just spin. Charm is political. Unflinching principles and charm do not go together easily, because the logical conclusion of having unflinching principles is disapproval of people with other ones. For Corbyn, who divorced his wife of 12 years because they disagreed over whether their son should go to a grammar school, putting charm first was a major political concession.

For me, thinking back, a pivotal moment in this election came during Corbyn’s interview with Jeremy Paxman, when Paxman, in full Spanish inquisition mode, asked him why the Labour manifesto included nothing on Corbyn’s long-held ambition of scrapping the monarchy. “There’s nothing in there because we’re not going to do it,” retorted Corbyn, visibly amused. Hidden beneath the audience’s guffaws, this was the sound of a man wryly acknowledging the fundamental impracticality of his own radicalism. All of a sudden, Jeremy Corbyn was a moderate.

If compromise was in Jeremy Corbyn’s DNA, then he wouldn’t have spent three decades on the back benches, condemning every effort that a succession of despairing Labour leaders made to make their party more electable. Once electability became his problem, though, he seems to have picked up a taste for it. On the stump, a lifetime’s commitment to unilateral nuclear disarmament (even as a vice-chairman of CND), retreated last year to “I wouldn’t personally use them” and last month, quite astonishingly, to something more like, “I certainly wouldn’t use them first”. Greenham Common it ain’t. More striking still was his response to the London Bridge attack, where having previously quite explicitly opposed a police shoot-to-kill policy, pretty much for ever, he now found himself explicitly supporting one. It was as if he had realised, finally, that to achieve broad electoral support you need to make the odd concession. “Took you long enough, Grandpa,” a generation of Blairites might have said.

For Corbyn’s hard core, the real enemy has never been the Tories. They don’t really notice the Tories. Rather, they see a hated coalition of political and media Corbynsceptics who, they fervently believe, have smeared a good man as cranky and unelectable because it is easier than opposing his policies. This simply isn’t true. Labour didn’t win this election, but Corbyn did far better than almost anybody ever expected, probably including him. He didn’t do well because his critics were wrong but because, belatedly, he realised that they were absolutely right.

Want to stop people deriding you as a disaster? The very best strategy is to stop being one. Look at him now. It really works. Somebody should tell Theresa May.”

Now, if you think Rifkind is being a tad biased. An article posted by #LukeAkehurst on #LabourList adds to this picture of Corbyn the Chameleon (somewhat tarnishing the reputation of Corbyn as solidly authentic).

Luke’s piece is wonderfully honest, focused and coherent. And quite near the top of the list of reasons why Labour won is this paragraph:

“Corbyn brought many existing 2015 Labour supporters back on board by triangulating on areas of policy such as defence and security where he was most under attack. It can’t have been easy for him to square his personal views on nuclear deterrence with party policy to renew Trident, but he tried to. He also ran on positions not dissimilar to previous recent Labour campaigns on benefits and some way to the right of Labour’s 2015 platform on immigration and Europe. Perhaps Corbyn has already become his own version of Neil Kinnock, quietly moving the party towards centre-ground voters and away from some of his own personal beliefs on key policy issues.”

Luke’s prescription? Pretty much to continue moving to the center. Opposed by another writer on LabourList (just to keep the balance), one #CliveEfford, of the somewhat harder-left Labour grouping, #Tribune.

The point is. Bless everyone’s heart. Labour didn’t do as well as they did just because the great British public suddenly recognized Jeremy’s authenticity, and then fell in love with his untarnished, radical policies. Labour went retail in a focused way. They cleaned up Jeremy. Put a smile on his face. And moved him firmly towards the center.

I’m not complaining. I just wish Cameron was still with us. And a few more Tories would look as longingly at Ruth Davidson as I do …

(Facebook comments here.)

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Published in: on June 20, 2017 at 7:53 am  Leave a Comment  

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