“This pudding,” Winston Churchill is said to have remarked, “lacks a theme.” And so it was with Jeremy Corbyn’s first speech as Labour leader.
There were some good policy nuggets: more social housing, extending workplace securities like maternity and paternity pay to the self-employed, and his message to lay off personal attacks – levelled at his supporters and opponents – was a reminder of Corbyn’s class.
But what was the headline? And more importantly, what was the clip? Remember, the next election won’t be decided in the pages of the New Statesman. It’ll be the five-second clips between bits of music on the radio, the pictures on Sky News that play in Wetherspoon’s, and the soundbite on the evening news. With the exception of the final line about not “taking what’s given”, this speech lacked anything that will make those five second clips.
It may be that the attacks on the media and commentariat are the biggest headline from the speech. Journalists are even more disliked than politicians, so that’s not, in theory, all bad news for Corbyn. But it’s not the media that Corbyn has to defeat in 2020, it’s the Conservatives. And if attacking the media is the headline – not the assault on child tax credits, surely the Tories’ glass jaw – and is what’s remembered, that will be a missed opportunity.
Compare and contrast today’s speech with yesterday’s by John McDonnell. Yes, McDonnell’s speech was miles off “the centre ground”. But it had a strong message, confidently delivered, and was hammered home through the use of affecting personal anecdotes and the deployment of Labour’s new all-star-team of academics.
This speech, however, felt more like a shopping list: there were worthy causes aplenty, but it lacked a soundbite or a strong narrative. Next year will have to be a lot better – or in 2020, Labour will do a lot worse.