Not long into the Labour leadership contest I made a decision. I decided to stop writing about politics and, by extension, about anything. Scroll down and you’ll see the evidence of that. The election of a new Labour leader was dominating a lot of my spare thinking time, but there were a whole brigade of writer who, through contacts, experience or skill (and often all three), were much better suited to write about it than I was. So I simply sat back and watched the chaos unfold.
Now I guess I can start again? Is that ok?
In the last three days, Jeremy Corbyn has managed to preside over possibly the shortest honeymoon period in political history. One day, Saturday, was all he got. After that, calamity.
Two cancelled national media appearances (at a time when everyone under the sun seems to recognise the need for Corbyn to ‘define’ himself before the Tories do it for him), a bungled Shadow Cabinet announcement, a quiet first PLP meeting and an incomprehensible speech to the TUC. The new Labour leader is scoring own goals in places it should be impossible to do so and he’s making the Tories’ job far easier than it should be.
It was always going to be problematic to have a man who has called members of Hamas and Hezbollah his ‘friends’, invited the IRA to Parliament during the Troubles and has a strong belief in homeopathy leading Labour. Disregarding any context or the views you, the reader, might have on these subject, there is a lot of ammunition to be presented in a way that makes Corbyn look, at best, like a far left eccentric. This was never going to be easy. What is baffling is how simple Team Corbyn is making it for their man to be mocked.
Corbyn, and those around him, have presumably known for weeks that he would win. The polling, the massed rallies, the lethargic campaigns from this opponents. They all suggested he was on course for victory. Perhaps there was an understandable wish to avoid looking arrogant (this is a ‘new brand’ of politics after all). But the chaos that has greeted his first days in power suggests that no one near Corbyn was prepared for victory.
Why was the Shadow Cabinet seemingly formulated on the back of am envelope, with the Labour leader having to call MPs late into Sunday to persuade them to take important jobs? Why was there no thought as to how failing to appoint any women to shadow one of the four ‘great offices’ of state might not square with the campaign pledge for the most diverse Shadow Cabinet ever? Why did someone apparently decide that briefing the press about a mooted ‘Minister for Jews’ would be a great way to tackle the accusations of anti-semitism that have dogged Corbyn’s campaign?
I don’t have answers to any of these questions and I suspect there are many within the Labour Party who share my bafflement.
I’m also baffled by another aspect of Corbyn’s disastrous three days. He appears to be making no attempt to really challenge the image of a one dimensional, bearded bogeyman he is being painted as.
I’m not talking about politics here, just simple PR. Getting lost while walking onstage at the TUC (and coming on after a rendition of ‘Hey Big Spender’…), failing to sing, or even mumble, the national anthem at a service commemorating the Battle of Britain and struggling to do up his tie properly for his first appearance on the Labour front bench. These may all seem petty or trivial, but they are very basic own goals that only reinforce the negative messaging being broadcast by the Conservatives and the more right wing press. No wonder he is being begged to hire a Press Officer…
So, ignoring his policies (which I am, in many ways, far more inclined to approve of than the way he is going about them), Jeremy Corbyn is in trouble. Perhaps it is harsh to judge him after only a few days, but considering how long he had to plan for this moment, I feel dubious that he’ll improve over time. He is making it far too easy for his political enemies to define him and he doesn’t seem to care. Admirable, in many ways, but having a serious ‘brand’ is part and parcel of winning in politics. So far, Jeremy Corbyn’s new brand of politics has no brand at all.