Jeremy Corbyn’s baptism as Labour Party Leader hasn’t been a bed of bread and roses; but neither has there been the complete implosion (that may yet still happen but shows no sign of happening in the immediate future). What is going on in Brave New Labour? What has Corbyn failed at so far? What has gone right for him? And what does the future hold?
JC’s mandate is huge; he can turn around to his many critics, including this writer, and say ‘Look at my Votes ye mighty and despair’. He is the change candidate who hasn’t changed in 40 years. His faults have been well documented. The accusation of an inability to change his mind or compromise since 1983 – while somewhat unfair – is the main critique for the permanently almost revolutionary Labourite. The margin of his victory may mean that the Moderates in the Party may not be able to mobilise for months or years, posited on ‘Newsnight’ – this is counter to how the narrative should have been. He may not be deposed in a coup; Peter Mandelson’s advice may be canny – let Corbyn be Corbyn and fail as a result.
To start with the negative. His Shadow Cabinet appointments looked shambolic at times. He has had several extremely talented MPs refuse to serve under him; that will be his loss. The spectre of a Bennite-style witch hunt by the Left looms large. Then, there’s his inability or unwillingness to play the media game. This will appear charming or quirky at first but may be leading the party into an electoral cul-de-sac. Business and the Tory Press hate him as do some Labour Social Democrats and people of principle.
And yet…his first few weeks have not been all bad by any means. His risky appointment of John McDonnell as Shadow Chancellor may turn out to be a masterstroke. He is already showing a deftness with the Press that his leader lacks. Corbyn’s first speech as leader was the anti-Blair, ‘what you see is what you get’. While there’s a late breaking story accusing him of lifting some of that text from Ed Miliband, the speech went down well with Conference, the Left Media and even some on the Right. He has been mature enough to recognise that staking his leadership on Trident would be a foolish move. His policy on Rail Nationalisation should be a vote winner and he has already toned down on some of the more anti-Europe rhetoric that he has exhibited in the past. He may look to Tsipras in Greece as a success but look at the 180 degree flip the Man from Athens had to do to get re-elected. Overall though, Corbyn is a man with a plan.
But there is a long way to go and the cliche of a week being a long time in politics applies particularly under this leadership. If Corbyn makes it past Christmas and is able to gain some traction with the electorate, then many commentators will have to eat their hats. But the risks for him completing a full term in opposition are still significant. He will find the next few months draining. To quote again from Jonathan Coe, ‘freaky times on the event horizon’.
Pope Not Idle
That was some tour. Not only has Pope Francis spread the gospel in America for much of the last week, he has been political in a way that only perhaps this Pontiff could be. Francis spoke truth to power on issues such as poverty in the US. The Democrats, while ignoring a lot of Roman Catholic Conservative teaching, loved him. The Republicans were extremely wary of him. There was no holding back for Francis; he visited prisons, met the Homeless, told Congress of their duties. This was an example of how religion can be a force for good. Yes, Richard Dawkins may disagree but not all Religious are bad Religious. The Republican Party has become such a parody of the party of Lincoln that Abe himself would surely be turning in his grave at some of their antics. The Pope spoke of how the Church must reach out to the Poor; no trickledown economics for him. His visit will be remembered for speaking plainly and with conviction and for being a master of the media. It was a version of the Gospel that many Conservatives will feel distinctly uncomfortable with. He spoke as a New Testament witness; forgiveness and compassion being the message. He is a powerful advocate for the dispossessed and disadvantaged.