Gaffe or Guff: is Jeremy Corbyn messing up, or are the media being unfair?

Jeremy Corbyn is a victim of mainstream media attacks! Yes - sometimes. But he’s made mistakes too. So which is which? 

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Refusing to sing the national anthem

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Just a few days after being elected Labour leader, Corbyn was felled by a toxic combination of pomp and circumstance. His first appointment after being elected was attending a Battle of Britain memorial service. The famously republican Labour MP decided not to sing the national anthem during the service.

He’s sticking to his principles, and who cares anyway, his supporters argued. The newspapers were just trying to catch him out.

But with polling showing 68 per cent of Britain think the monarchy is good for the country, it would have been pragmatic to sing. Something he clearly got wise to, later commenting: “I will show my respect in the proper way at all future events. The proper way is to take a full part in it and I will take a full part.” (A hassled Labour spokesperson clarified: “taking part fully includes singing”).

Ruling: GAFFE

 

Stealing sandwiches from veterans

Screengrab from The Independent

Erm. He didn’t. The sandwiches were freely offered.

Ruling: GUFF

 

Assaulting a BBC cameraman

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A BBC cameraman was injured and had to go to hospital during a media scrum outside Corbyn’s house. It’s unfortunate that it was Corbyn’s driver who hit the cameraman, and it sounds like it was quite an aggressive situation. But just as it wasn’t the media’s fault, it wasn’t the new Labour leader’s fault.

Ruling: GUFF

 

Wearing a tie/not wearing a tie

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Will he wear a tie? Has he sold out by wearing a tie? Will he confirm whether he will wear white tie to a white tie dinner?

Who cares? Tony Blair’s open-necked ease may have attracted a bit of mockery, but it made him distinctive.

Ruling: GUFF

 

Socks ‘n’ Crocs

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Mischievous from the photographer, bold from Corbs. There's nothing wrong with a man showing a little sartorial flair.

Ruling: GUFF

 

Giving top shadow cabinet positions to men

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Soon after he was elected, Corbyn picked his shadow cabinet. Shadow chancellor, shadow foreign secretary, and shadow home secretary – all the great offices of state are shadowed by male politicians.

His defence: this is the first majority female shadow cabinet.

But it doesn’t really count when the women are mainly in more junior positions.

His next defence: your view of which positions are most senior is old-fashioned and arbitrary.

Why appoint and announce the shadow great offices of state first then? And why make your closest ally shadow chancellor if being minister for tiddlywinks is just as important?

Ruling: GAFFE

 

Skipping the first Privy Council meeting

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He SNUBBED the Queen, wailed The Sun. But he didn’t, did he? He missed the first Privy Council meeting because he was on holiday. A break he had planned to take after an exhausting leadership election campaign.

Besides, it’s normal to miss the first opportunity to swear in. David Cameron kept Her Maj waiting twice as long when he became opposition leader.

Ruling: GUFF

 

Plagiarising his party conference speech

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There’s nothing legally wrong with it, but Corbyn should have avoided reciting a large chunk of a speech available for all to read online since August 2011, and previously offered to Ed Miliband and other Labour leaders by the author (They all declined.). This wasn’t a good look under the banner intended to convey Corbyn’s authenticity: “Straight-talking, honest politics”. Unforced error.

Ruling: GAFFE

 

Using a question from a former BNP organiser at PMQs

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Nothing wrong with crowdsourcing, but probably best to check who your questions are from...

Ruling: GAFFE

 

Making Seumas Milne spin doctor

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The press balked at this appointment of the Guardian journalist as head of strategy and communications. Milne, whose lefty columns and opinions have caused controversy, was thought of as a toxic addition to Corbyn’s team.

Come on. No one outside the media really cares about a leader’s backroom team. Not even when the Prime Minister’s former communications chief, Andy Coulson, was sent to prison.

Ruling: GUFF

 

Supporting the scary Momentum conspiracy

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Momentum, the campaign network that has sprung out of Corbyn’s leadership campaign, is scaring MPs and the press alike. It’s all a big conspiracy to take over and hollow out the Labour party!

But it’s not really, is it? It’s run and peopled by those who voted for Corbyn – who won nearly 59.5 per cent of votes in a historic first-round victory. Probably makes sense that members and supporters who voted for him are a significant voice in the party.

Ruling: GUFF

 

Not bowing at the Cenotaph

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He did bow.

Ruling: GUFF

 

"Going soft on Jihadi John"

“It would have been far better for us all if he had been held to account in a court of law,” was Corbyn’s take on killing Jihadi John with a drone strike. Shock! Horror! Politician stresses due process and the rule of law. Incidentally, the relatives of beheaded hostages also had mixed feelings about killing the murderer in an air strike.

Plus, as my colleague George points out, Corbyn has more in common with David Cameron’s stance on Syria than you might expect.

Ruling: GUFF

 

The shoot-to-kill U-turn

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Following the events in Paris, Corbyn gave an interview saying he was “not happy” with UK police operating a shoot-to-kill policy. A big mistake, considering the context of a deadly terrorist attack and the almost universal opposition among his own shadow cabinet.

He soon watered down his remarks: “Of course I support the use of whatever proportionate and strictly necessary force is required to save life in response to attacks of the kind we saw in Paris.”

Ruling: GAFFE

 

Appointing Ken Livingstone to co-chair the defence policy review (without telling the other convenor first)

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An unnecessary error. Livingstone, a divisive figure, is anti-nuclear, whereas Maria Eagle, the shadow defence secretary who Corbyn appointed, supports the renewal of Trident. And Eagle only found out about the appointment on Twitter.

Undermining your own defence spokesperson, and putting a controversial character in such a public position, was never going to end well. And sure enough, Livingstone somehow managed to make insulting remarks about mental ill health all day long following his appointment.

Ruling: GAFFE

 

Growing up in a seven-bed manor house

Screengrab from Daily Mail

I had to put this one in, because I’m an evil member of the mainstream media who enjoys a pun. Are you ready for it? Here goes . . .

Ruling: GAFF

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.