Rebekah Brooks arrives for the first day of the trial at the Old Bailey. Photo: Getty
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Why and how Peter Jukes live-tweeted the entire phonehacking trial

450,000 words, over 2.5m keystrokes, 12,000 followers and about seven months of coverage later, first-time trial live-tweeter Peter Jukes can finally give his fingers a rest.

Every morning for the past seven months, TV drama screenwriter, author, and freelance journalist Peter Jukes has been waking up at 8am, checking his iPad and keyboard are charged, walking 15 minutes from his flat to the Old Bailey, logging on to Twitter, and live-tweeting everything he’s allowed to report from the phonehacking trial.

Before starting, the writer, who has contributed to the Daily Beast, Independent and New Statesman as well as writing copiously for BBC television and radio, only stops for a coffee at Starbucks and a nod to the defendants – including Rebekah and Charlie Brooks, and Andy Coulson – outside the door of the court. He then plunges into the minefield of reporting restrictions and risks of contempt of court while relaying the country’s most high-profile court case to the world.

Now, after around seven months, the jury’s finally out on the trial. I caught up with Jukes towards the end of his coverage – the day his keyboard had to be replaced it was so knackered – to find out exactly how, and why, he decided to report the trial this way.

 

Holding court

As the afternoon sun blasts the obstinate grey brick and colonnades of the Old Bailey, I wait outside for Jukes to appear at the end of another day in court. But before my interviewee arrives, a gaggle of figures come into view at the entrance, through which passersby can usually only catch a glimpse of an airport-style security system.

Two of the trial’s seven defendants, Rebekah and Charlie Brooks, emerge from the building. One lurking cameraman bounces into action. They quickly leave in a cab, but not before the smattering of pedestrians wandering outside has caught sight of the former News of the World and Sun editor who has since featured so heavily on newspaper front pages, before ending up in court to answer charges of conspiracy to phone-hack, commit misconduct in public office and pervert the course of justice.

Jukes explains how so many months covering the phone-hacking trial have meant he is on first-name terms with the defendants. He wished Rebekah Brooks a happy birthday last month, she often says “hi” to him, former Downing Street communications director and ex-editor of News of the World Andy Coulson holds the door open for him, and he’s been lent an umbrella by Cheryl Carter, Brooks’s former assistant. He’s also on chatting terms with fellow journalists, lawyers and police from being such a regular presence at the courtroom, although he’s at pains to assure me that there is “nothing indiscreet” about their familiarity.

“You all rub together. . . It’s not like a family, but it’s people you spend seven months with. You get quite fond of them. You say ‘hi’ every day,” he relates, over a coffee in Starbucks, a two-minute stride from the courtroom that has become his world.

Yet Jukes points out that “getting up every morning and going to the Old Bailey – it’s not a nice environment. It’s kind of grim.

“I call it the Palace of Tears, because people are not in a very happy circumstance when they turn up there. Every day somebody's crying, a relative, a defendant looking fearful, a witness looking fearful. It's not a happy place.”

Jukes has written nearly half a million words, and his last count on his keyboard was 2.5m keystrokes. A database expert has been voluntarily amassing his tweets each night, and indexing them. He shows me his brand new keyboard; his battered old one didn’t quite survive the whole trial.

Have there been any physical implications for Jukes after all this tapping away?

“Slightly, slightly tired fingers when I stop tweeting, but I think playing guitar helps,” Jukes replies. “When I get home, I play guitar and it just relaxes them. People give me all kinds of advice – flick your fingers. In the early days they were a bit stiff, but no physical side-effects. The stress of it means probably my wine consumption went up, and I hate getting up early in the morning, which I've had to do, so that's been the main physical toll.”

Excessive exposure to the trial has meant Jukes has dreamt about it, though. He recalls a dream he had the night before we meet: “I know a bit about dreaming and psychotherapy. I had a whole slow-wave sleep dream about Langdale QC's defence of Andy Coulson, God knows why.”

Screenwriter and author Peter Jukes has live-tweeted the entire phone-hacking trial. Photo: YouTube screengrab

Live-tweeting a living

It’s not possible for Jukes to discuss much of the case’s content until the verdicts conclude the trial, for danger of being in contempt of court. But he can tell me his experience of covering it using such an unorthodox method.

Jukes describes his rather niche calling as “a complete accident”. He initially wanted to cover the opening of the trial potentially for additional material for his book, The Fall of the House of Murdoch(2012).

There were only 12 places available in the actual courtroom to the press – what Jukes calls “gold tickets” – and around 40 available to watch the trial from an annex. Jukes secured the last ticket to the latter. His initial series of tweets proved very popular.

“I had no idea you could live-tweet it. I had no idea I'd get all these followers... I only got in by the skin of my teeth because Nick Davies [Guardian special correspondent] told me you needed a ticket. So I applied and got the last ticket into the annex. None of this had been planned. I had no idea I'd be doing this for seven months.

“It was not clear that you'd be able to live-tweet any evidence. . . I thought I'd be able to do the opening and set bits of evidence, I had no idea he [Justice Saunders] would allow live-tweeting the whole trial. It's quite unusual. It's not a civil case. . . When he suddenly said we could live-tweet the whole trial, I thought, ‘Fuck!’”

So Jukes wrote a blog saying he’d missed a mortgage payment for the first time in his life, and couldn’t afford to cover the trial off his own back. He began a crowd-funding campaign via the site indiegogo and received about £20,000 in total.

He hasn’t made a profit, but the money has sustained Jukes’ coverage of the whole trial, though he admits “my living costs are too high, but that’s my problem!”

This April, his incessant tweeting won him the accolade of “Best UK reporter on social media”  from Press Gazette.

Jukes wants the collection of his tweets to be used as “a kind of book of evidence, so it’s timeline-able, the evidence, from the internal dates. . . It’s not just about breaking news, it’s an actual record, creating an open-sourced database, at some point.”

He is also going to release a tell-all book following the verdicts. It has the provisional title The Inside Story of the Hacking Trial and will include everything Jukes wasn’t allowed to report during the trial, his opinions and, “my story: a newbie, a minefield!” he laughs.

 

Contending with contempt

Jukes’ self-styled “newbie” status did cause some more traditional journalists to be sceptical about how long he could cover the trial without being in contempt of court, or breaking the specific reporting restrictions.

He’s made a few typos and occasionally had to delete a tweet along the way, but has managed to navigate the legal minefield of tweeting a trial remarkably well for someone with no court reporting experience.

“It's kind of routine, tweets got mentioned [in court] every morning for the first six months, the defence would say ‘my lord, there's been a tweet’, and you'd think ‘oh, God, who is it?’ It would put the fear of God in everybody.

“But from the Sun to the Times to the Guardian to the BBC to Reuters, I'm treading on their territory, taking away their work, but journalists, regardless of who they work for, have been lovely to me, very helpful.”

Having his tweets followed by the Attorney General, the police, politicians, the defendants themselves, and most national news desks must be an incredible pressure.

Jukes nods. “With power comes responsibility and you have to be really careful. The defendants are reading it; you don't want to misrepresent their case. I don't want to annoy them, antagonise the lawyers, but you just want to report the case.”

I ask him what the hairiest moment was for him (which he’s allowed to report). He recalls breaking the news of Brooks and Coulson’s affair, one of the trial’s most explosive stories:

“My fingers trembled when I was the first to tweet out the affair. I mean, crass, tabloid reasons, but [it was] quite germane to the case in terms of allegations of conspiracy. And I beat Nick Davies by 16 seconds. We all knew it was coming up but not when. That was the most exciting moment.”

And which tweet has caused the most excitement among his followers?

Jukes pauses. There have been a lot of tweets.

“One that went viral was just a little bit of evidence, a receipt from the News of the World to Glenn Mulcaire [private investigator]: ‘Milly Dowler – paid in full’. It's quite upsetting, actually. Suddenly moments like that you realise, there's this machine that is paying out money. I've never thought that emotional before, this is the first time ever, but that went viral. . . I noticed Alan Rusbridger [Guardian editor] retweeted that. . . It is chilling.”

 

Citizen journalism

Jukes puts his success as a live-tweeter in this context down to his independence. He has been described as a “citizen journalist” and even a “media pioneer”.

“The fact that I'm only letting down myself, only I’d get done for contempt, no news organisation, no newspaper editor, no brand, would be affected by my errors, gives me a freedom and speed of movement, which other journalists – who are brilliant live-tweeters – [may not have], obviously because in their heads [they’re asking], ‘Am I letting down the BBC?’, for example.”

The irony of his covering a trial involving an established newspaper giant, the Murdoch press, using such “new media” methods isn’t lost on him. He speaks out against old media bureaucracies, championing his decidedly leaner model.

“I've had 25 years of experience of various forms of the media, and my big step was to write about monopoly control of drama at the BBC, in 2009, and how it was ruining the quality. So I wasn't a Murdoch-basher. . .

“I was interested in a kind of open market, free markets in culture. So when the Murdoch thing came out, this was another example like the BBC. . . There must be a better way than these huge, crumbling, old, industrial hierarchies, which are well-intentioned but there are so many layers between the decisions made and the ground that there must be a better way, and I think that's part of the story of what went wrong at the News of the World – it was an industrial machine.”

Another criticism Jukes makes of the mainstream press is the prevalence of opinion amid news reporting. “Unlike the American system, we're very comment-driven in our press journalism. We've mixed it up. The editorialising. To be a court reporter, where that's completely forbidden, is very, very good for the soul.”

Yet Jukes, who is incredibly animated throughout our interview – perhaps with the jury’s verdict now finally in sight – is clearly itching to reveal his opinions and observations. The gossip and drama of a trial that has seen celebrity appearances and exposed an affair between two of its high-powered defendants will be worth watching for a while yet – whether it’s on the front pages or your Twitter feed. But in the meantime, as the jurors put their heads together, Jukes finally has the opportunity to rest his fingers.
 

Pre-order “The Inside Story of the Phone Hacking Trial” by Peter Jukes now at www.hackingtrial.com

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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How Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour leadership election

The revolt against the leader transformed him from an incumbent back into an insurgent. 

On the evening of 12 July, after six hours of talks, Jeremy Corbyn emerged triumphantly from Labour’s headquarters. “I’m on the ballot paper!” he told supporters gathered outside. “We will be campaigning on all the things that matter.”

The contest that Corbyn’s opponents had sought desperately to avoid had begun. Neither a vote of no confidence by 81 per cent of Labour MPs, nor 65 frontbench resignations had persuaded him to stand down. Days of negotiations led by Tom Watson had failed (“For years I’ve been told that I’m a fixer. Well, I tried to fix this and I couldn’t,” Labour’s deputy leader sorrowfully told the parliamentary party). The rebels’ last hope was that the National Executive Committee would force Corbyn to reseek nominations. After being backed by just 40 colleagues in the confidence vote, both sides knew that the leader would struggle to achieve 51 signatures.

But by 18-14, the NEC ruled that Corbyn would be automatically on the ballot (“Watson, Watson, what’s the score?” chanted jubilant aides in the leader’s office). After withstanding a 16-day revolt, Corbyn appeared liberated by the prospect of a summer of campaigning. His confidence prefigured the outcome two months later.

Corbyn did not merely retain the leadership - he won by a greater margin than last time (with 61.8 per cent of the vote to last year's 59.5 per cent) and triumphed among all three sections: party members, affiliated supporters and registered supporters. The rebels had hoped to narrow his mandate and win among at least one group: they did neither. Far from being a curse for Corbyn, the contest proved to be a blessing. 

***

The day before the pivotal NEC meeting, Angela Eagle, who had been preparing to stand for months, launched her leadership bid. The former shadow business secretary was admired by MPs for her experience, tenacity, and economic acumen. Her trade union links and soft left background were further cited in favour of her candidacy.

But after an underwhelming launch, which clashed with Andrea Leadsom’s withdrawal from the Conservative contest (leaving Eagle calling questions from absent journalists), MPs gravitated towards Owen Smith.

Like Eagle, Smith hailed from the party’s soft left and had initially served under Corbyn (two prerequisites in the rebels’ eyes). But unlike her, the former shadow and work pensions secretary did not vote for the Iraq war (having entered parliament in 2010) or the 2015 Syria intervention. “It looks like the war party,” a senior Corbynite said of Eagle’s campaign launch with Hilary Benn. Many Labour MPs feared the same. With the left-leaning Lisa Nandy having ruled herself out, only the ambitious Smith met the criteria.

“I’d been in hospital for two days with my brother, who was unwell, in south Wales,” he recalled when I interviewed him.  “I came out having literally been in A&E at Cardiff Heath hospital for 29 hours, looking after him, to have my phone light up with 30, 40, 50 colleagues, MPs and members, ringing up saying ‘there’s going to be a contest, Angela Eagle has thrown her hat into the ring, you should do likewise.’ And at that point, on the Wednesday night, I started ringing people to test opinion and found that there was a huge amount of support for me.”

On 19 July, after Smith won 90 MP/MEP nominations to Eagle’s 72, the latter withdrew in favour of the Welshman. A week after the Conservatives achieved their second female prime minister, Labour’s 116-year record of all-male leaders endured. Though Smith vowed that Eagle would be “at my right hand throughout this contest”, she went on to appear at just one campaign event.

Corbyn’s challenger was embraced by MPs as a “clean skin”, untainted by service during the New Labour years. But Smith’s non-parliamentary past was swiftly - and ruthlessly - exploited by his opponents. His time at the US drugs firm Pfizer was cited as evidence of his closeness to big business. Corbyn’s supporters also seized on interviews given by Smith as a by-election candidate in 2006.

The man pitching to the left was found to have defended Tony Blair (suggesting that they differed only over the Iraq war), supported private sector involvement in the NHS and praised city academies. “I'm not someone, frankly, who gets terribly wound up about some of the ideological nuances,” he told Wales Online. Such lines were rapidly disseminated by Corbyn supporters through social media.

“Getting out early and framing Owen was crucial,” a Corbyn source told me. A Smith aide echoed this assessment: “It helped secure their base, it took a load of people out of contention.”

Throughout the campaign, Smith would struggle to reconcile his past stances with his increasingly left-wing programme: opposing private provision in the NHS, returning academy schools to local authority control, banning zero-hours contracts and imposing a wealth tax of 1 per cent. “It was easy for us to go for the jugular over his background when he portrayed himself as a left candidate,” a Corbyn source said.

Smith insisted that the charge of opportunism was unmerited. “To be honest, my opponents have extrapolated rather a lot in an attempt to brand me as a ‘Blairite wolf in sheep’s clothing,’” he told me in August. “Well, I’m nothing of the sort, I’ve always been a democratic socialist and I always will be.” He added: “I’m someone who’s been surrounded by people who’ve been on the left of the Labour movement all their lives. It should come as no surprise that I’ve come out of that background and I’m pretty red. Because I am.”

But a former shadow cabinet colleague said that Smith did not stand out as “a radical” in meetings. “The only time that I remember him becoming really animated was over further tax-raising powers for Scotland and the implications for Wales.”

As well as Smith’s ambiguous past, Corbyn’s allies believe the breadth of his political coalition hindered him from the start. “He was trying to bring together Blairites, Brownites and every other -ite in between,” a campaign source said. “That was never going to hold, we knew that and from the moment there were splits it was easy to point out.”

Jon Trickett, the shadow business secretary and one of Corbyn’s early supporters, told me: “They tried to pretend that there was no distinction between them and Jeremy on policy grounds, they tried to narrow down the areas of difference to electability. But, frankly, it didn’t seem credible since some of the people behind it were absolutely ideologically opposed to Jeremy. Peter Mandelson and people like that.”

A frequently expressed charge was that Smith’s left-wing pledges would be overturned by Blairite figures if he won. John McGeechan, a 22-year-old postgraduate student who joined Labour after “self-indulgent, self-serving MPs initiated their corridor coup”, told me of Smith: “He’s just another mealy-mouthed careerist who says whatever he thinks is going to get him elected. I don’t believe at all that he means what he says about creating a radical socialist government given that he’s got the backing of Peter Mandelson, Alastair Campbell and Tony Blair, people who’ve disagreed with Corbyn on pretty much all his socialist policies. I don’t believe that he’s going to stand up to these people.”

Whether believable or not, Smith’s programme showed how Corbyn had shifted Labour’s centre of gravity radically leftwards - his original aim in June 2015.

***

On the night Corbyn made the leadership ballot, the rebels still found cause for hope. Unlike in 2015, the NEC imposed a freeze date of six months on voting (excluding 130,000 new members) and increased the registered supporter fee from £3 to £25 (while reducing the sign-up period to two days). “It’s game on!” a senior figure told me. By narrowing the selectorate, Corbyn’s opponents hoped to achieve a path to victory. With fewer registered supporters (84 per cent of whom voted for Corbyn last year), they believed full party members and affiliated trade unionists could carry Smith over the line.

But when 183,000 paid £25 to vote, their expectations were confounded. Far from being “game on”, it looked to many rebels like game over. Once again, Corbyn’s opponents had underestimated the left’s recruiting capacity. Smith’s lack of name recognition and undistinctive pitch meant he could not compete.

Alongside the main contest were increasingly fractious legal battles over voting rights. On 28 July, the high court rejected Labour donor Michael Foster’s challenge to Corbyn’s automatic inclusion on the ballot. Then on 8 August, a judge ruled that the party had wrongly excluded new members from voting, only for the decision to be overturned on appeal.

In the view of Corbyn’s allies, such legal manevoures unwittingly aided him. “They turned Jeremy, who was an incumbent, back into an insurgent,” Trickett told me. “The proponents of the challenge made it seem like he was the underdog being attacked by the establishment.”

Smith, who repeatedly framed himself as the “unity candidate”, struggled to escape the shadow of the “corridor coup”. That many of his supporters had never accepted Corbyn’s leadership rendered him guilty by association.

“The coup had an enormous galvanising effect and an enormous politicising effect,” a Corbyn source told me. “For a great number of people who supported Jeremy last year, there was a feeling, ‘well, we’ve done the work, that’s happened, now over to him.’ What the coup meant for a lot of people was that this isn’t about Jeremy Corbyn, this is a people’s movement, which we all need to lead.” The Corbyn campaign signed up 40,000 volunteers and raised £300,000 in small donations from 19,000 people (with an average donation of £16). Against this activist army, their rivals’ fledgling effort stood no chance.

“At the launch rally, we had 12 simultaneous events going on round the country, livestreamed to each other,” a Corbyn source said. “We had a lot of communication with people who were big in the Sanders campaign. In the UK context, it’s trailblazing.”

On 12 August, after previously equivocating, Smith ruled out returning to the shadow cabinet under Corbyn. “I've lost confidence in you. I will serve Labour on the backbenches,” he declared at a hustings in Gateshead. In the view of Corbyn’s team, it was a fatal error. “He shot apart his whole unity message,” a source said.

Smith, who initially offered Corbyn the post of party president, was rarely booed more than when he lamented Labour’s divisions. As one of the 172 MPs who voted against the leader, he was regarded as part of the problem, rather than the solution. By the end, Smith was reduced to insisting “I wasn’t in favour of there being a challenge” - a statement that appeared absurd to most.

As well as his leftist credentials and unifying abilities, Smith’s other main boast was his competence and articulacy. “HIs USP was that he was this media-savvy guy,” a Corbyn source said. “As a result, he threw himself up for any and every media opportunity and made tons of gaffes. We just made sure people were aware of them.”

The most enduring gaffe came early in the campaign, on 27 July, when he spoke of wanting mto “smash” Theresa May “back on her heels”. Though Smith initially defended his “robust rhetoric” (“you’ll be getting that from me”), by the afternoon his campaign had apologised. What was explained as a “rugby reference” dogged them for weeks. “It played into the hands of how Corbyn wanted to depict us,” a Smith source told me. “It was really hard to shake off.”

More unforced errors followed. Smith suggested getting Isis “round the table”, in anticipation, many believed, of Corbyn agreeing. But the Labour leader baulked at the proposal: “No, they are not going to be round the table”. Corbyn’s communications team, more organised and agile than in 2015, denounced Smith’s remarks as “hasty and ill-considered”. As with “smashed”, the Labour challenger had achieved rare cut-through - but for the wrong reasons.

Smith’s rhetorical looseness became a recurring problem. At a rally on 23 August, he appeared to refer to Corbyn as a “lunatic”. In an interview with the Daily Mirror, he said of meeting his wife: “1,200 boys, three girls and I pulled Liz. So I must have something going on. That must be leadership.”

Earlier in the campaign, Smith’s team denied that the candidate referred to the size of his penis when he quipped of his height: "5ft 6. 29 inches - inside leg!” The guffaws from his supporters suggested otherwise.

We used to have a gaffe counter,” a Corbyn source told me. “I think it got up to 30 by the end.”

Smith’s team, meanwhile, despaired at how the Labour leader’s own missteps failed to dent him. The discovery that Corbyn had in fact secured a seat on a Virgin train, contrary to initial impressions, did little lasting damage. “It’s priced in, the bar is much lower for him,” a Smith source complained.

Incorrect claims, such as Labour being level in the polls before the coup attempt and Corbyn giving 122 speeches during the EU referendum campaign, were believed by many of his supporters. “How do you rebut bullshit?” a Smith aide asked. “If you respond, it becomes a story.”

So frequently had Labour MPs condemned their leader that extraordinary charges were soon forgotten. On 22 August, shadow business minister Chi Onwurah wrote in the New Statesman that Corbyn’s treatment of her and Thangam Debbonaire could constitute “racial discrimination”.

If this had been any of my previous employers in the public and private sectors Jeremy might well have found himself before an industrial tribunal for constructive dismissal, probably with racial discrimination thrown in,” she argued. But within a day, the story had moved on.  

For Smith, fleeting momentum was achieved through significant endorsements. On 10 August, the GMB backed his campaign after becoming the only trade union to ballot its members. The following week, Labour’s most senior elected politician, Sadiq Khan, endorsed Smith. Unlike Andy Burnham, the London mayor believed he could not remain neutral during this profound schism. Smith was subsequently also backed by the Scottish Labour leader, Kezia Dugdale. Neil Kinnock and Ed Miliband trumpeted his cause. Yet such declarations counted for little. “It’s like the Remain campaign and the Archbishop of Canterbury,” one Smith ally told me, suggesting that Labour members, like Leave voters, ”weren’t listening” to such grandees.

But in the view of Corbyn’s team, the rebels profoundly “underestimated” their opponent. “He’s a nice guy but he also has an inner steel and won't flinch from a challenge. The Obi-Wan Kenobi comparison is very accurate when you work up close with him. He’s also extremely intelligent and has a great grasp and retention of detail. It showed in the debates.”

“I have to say, I felt pretty sorry for Owen at several points,” another Corbyn source reflected. “Whatever it was, his ambition or being pushed into it, it didn’t seem like it was the right time for him. He hadn’t worked out what he was about and why that fitted with the times.”

***

Those Labour MPs who long warned that an early challenge to Corbyn would prove futile have been vindicated. “Party members are always loyal to the incumbent,” a senior source astutely noted. In the case of Corbyn, a lifelong campaigner, who many contended was “never given a chance”, this traditional fealty was intensified.

“Most of the people backing and funding him didn’t think Owen was going to win,” a Corbyn source said. “Their aim was, one, to reduce Jeremy’s mandate and, secondly, to map the selectorate.”

Having won a second leadership contest - an unprecedented achievement for the Labour left - the leader’s supporters insist their ambitions do not end here. “We’ve got to think incredibly seriously about how we win a general election in a totally changed landscape,” a Corbyn source told me. “This campaign has been showing how to do it.” But a Smith aide warned that it was a “massive strategic error” to make electability, rather than principle, the defining test of Corbyn. The leader, he suggested, could withstand a general election defeat provided he simply affirmed his values.

Beyond regarding a split as worthless, Labour MPs are divided on how to proceed. Some want another leadership challenge as early as next year. Rather than seeking to narrow the selectorate, they speak of recruiting hundreds of thousands of new members to overpower the left. “There are lots of people out there who want a credible, electable, centre-left proposition and we have not given them enough of a reason to sign up,” a former shadow cabinet minister told me. “Who has an offer and the charisma to be able to bring in new people? That has to be the question the next time round.”

Others believe that backbenchers should follow Thumper’s law: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”  A senior MP argued that MPs should “just shut up” and “let Jeremy crack on with it.” The imperative, he said, was to avoid MPs “taking the blame for us getting thumped in a snap election”. Some are prepared to move beyond neutrality to outright support by serving under Corbyn.

The Labour left and their most recalcitrant opponents both confront challenges of electability. The former must demonstrate a path to victory despite Corbyn’s subterranean poll ratings. The latter, who boast so often of their superior appeal, must face a remorseless truth. Until they are electable in the party, they will never be electable in the country.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.