Moment that mattered: Jeremy Corbyn becomes the new labour leader
“I remember watching the leadership results coming in with a sense of disbelief. Not that Jeremy Corbyn’s victory was a shock, as the polls had obviously showed it was likely. What was surprising was the scale of the victory. To win in every group and to absolutely trounce the other candidates was quite extraordinary.
It was a very long campaign, but the moment it dawned on me that it was really going to happen was when I saw ‘Corbynmania’ for myself. He came to Scotland in August and spoke at big venues in Aberdeen and Edinburgh. Seeing them packed out by a political party that was in the absolute doldrums in Scotland and that had lost so much support in the general election was quite remarkable, as was the reception he got.
At the Aberdeen event the crowd went crazy for him even though Corbyn was actually a pretty terrible public speaker. I went along expecting to see a firebrand in the vein of Tommy Sheridan, but it wasn’t that at all – it was dry and quite dull. One of the first things Jeremy mentioned in his speech was the problem of human excrement on railway lines. I have absolutely no doubt that it is an issue, but it is hardly the burning issue of significance I was expecting at a big event like this. The audience lapped it up.
A day later, while Jeremy was speaking at a packed out Edinburgh International Conference Centre – a huge venue – I was in a small local bar near parliament with Liz Kendall. There were maybe five journalists, four supporters and that was it: no members of the public at all. The difference between the two camps couldn’t have been starker. I think even Liz knew then that she was going to lose.
Jeremy Corbyn is a gift for political journalists on right wing publications. Reporting on Andy Burnham or Yvette Cooper would have been more of the same. Whereas with Corbyn, it is fascinating. You never quite know what he’s going to do next. Although he’s not a particularly colourful character himself – he’s quite dry, he doesn’t crack jokes – he brings a colour to politics that the other candidates wouldn’t. In the run-up to the election, stories were coming out thick and fast about comments he’d made, mostly in the ’80s, on foreign policy in particular. Since then we’ve covered his refusal to sing the national anthem and his comment that he’d never press the nuclear button.
Corbyn’s got this slogan about honest politics, and I think to an extent that is true and people like it. He’s not a politician who has been moulded by a spin-doctor like Tony Blair or David Cameron, both of whom I imagine come across as quite fake to some people. It’s hard to deny that with Jeremy Corbyn what you see is what you get.
Obviously, Scotland was a crucial battleground in the 2015 election as the fear of an SNP/Labour alliance drove Middle England into the arms of the Tories. I think I think it will be again in 2020. It would be hard for Labour to get back into power in the UK without recovering to some extent in Scotland. But doing that will be very difficult.
“Jeremy Corbyn is a gift for political journalists on right wing publications”
It is a myth that Scotland is this great left-wing heartland – if that were the case then the Daily Mail clearly wouldn’t be as popular as it is in the country. The SNP is painted as a left-wing party, but it isn’t. They talk left but they certainly don’t act left. And the polls in Scotland aren’t showing any great surge to Labour because of Corbyn’s election. Scotland fell in love with Tony Blair in the same way that the rest of the UK did. Labour don’t need to move to the left, they need to somehow recapture the public’s imagination and that’s going to be an incredibly difficult thing to do.
There’s been a softening of stance towards the SNP under Corbyn. He has shied away from attacking the party, probably because he’s calculated that that isn’t the way to win back their voters. Still, I think an SNP-Labour coalition in 2020 is unlikely. The tribal politics in Scotland are perhaps hard to fathom for English Labour politicians, such as Jeremy Corbyn, who have never seen them up close. It must seem to him that there’s no reason to be tribal against the SNP, and that there’s potential for a working relationship with them, whereas for Nicola Sturgeon – whose entire dream is to crush the Labour party, which she’s almost achieving – the idea of working with Labour is much harder.
I think we are heading towards a situation in next May’s local and national elections where Labour are going to do very badly in Scotland and that could also be the case in the London mayoral elections, the Welsh assembly elections and the council elections in England. I can’t see any of them going Labour’s way. It’s fair to say I’ll never be in the running to be Corbyn’s media advisor, but if I were I’d say that he needs to stop talking to the party which he has won over already – we can see that in the leadership election results – and start trying to win over the rest of the country.
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