The morning after Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the Labour party, I was told that, in five years’ time an apology would be owed for me supporting him. Startled as I was to learn that I controlled the votes of more than 250,000 people, I can’t say that there weren’t moments that have given me pause during Corbyn’s first hundred days at the despatch box.
However, in the spirit of his no-negativity approach, let’s start with Corbyn’s achievements. He’s brought a quiet dignity to PMQs and replaced the sound of MPs braying like drunk ghosts with the voices of voters. His anti-austerity policies have been supported by leading economists. He’s skipped political grandstanding at rugby matches to see his constituents. He has re-gained the support of the FBU. He’s overseen a comprehensive by-election win for Labour. He’s weathered an onslaught of front-page personal attack without at any point ripping off his shirt, punching a table and shrieking “WHY DO YOU DO THIS YOU CRETINOUS IMBECILES” like any other person would.
If we thought Miliband and the Bacon Sandwich was the press acting up, we had no idea what was in store for Corbyn. Bowing, singing, dressing – his every move is picked apart by great swathes of the media, whose collective head is so unmovingly lodged in the fundament of the Conservative Party that Right to Buy is about to kick in. Even if the man had no policies, if he had literally no opinion on any issue whatsoever, he would still be treated as the most dangerous man in Britain.
What is most disheartening about Corbyn’s leadership is that this view seemingly isn’t far off that of most of the PLP. We can expect the Sun to treat Corbyn as some kind of Red Terror fifth columnist, but to hear the same thing bleated by Labour MPs makes the heart sink. During the leadership contest the overwhelming argument from the ABCs – Anyone But Corbyn – was that, above all else, making the Labour party electable was the only issue. It came of something of a surprise then that those who proclaimed this most vocally are those who are doing their best to make Corbyn’s Labour totally unelectable. We are far beyond sour grapes or sore losers as people refuse to work with him; they brief against him in the press, they undermine him at every turn and present a unwholly disunited front. It’s been clear from Day One through to Day One Hundred that the Blair years’ media love-in is but a distant memory to the strains of Champagne Supernova. The best defence Labour has against this, to be the electable party so many stressed they needed to be, is to present a united front – and yet.
Although I freely admit that he does light up the same part of my brain that Bernard Cribbins did on Doctor Who, I am aware that Corbyn does not escape blemish-free. His cabinet, though gender balanced in numbers is not so in power, and the argument that it depends on which roles you think are important is much like being presented with tuppence by someone who says he values it more than a fifty pound note. One wonders if, after appointing his chum John McDonnell, they are engaged in some kind of competitive communist name-drop; with McDonnell waving of Mao’s Little Red Book like a second-rate satire made nightmarishly, ill-conceivedly real, closely followed by Corbyn festively name-checking Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha at the staff Christmas party.
There is a slight sense that Corbyn and John McDonnell are so startled to find themselves Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Chancellor that we should count ourselves lucky it hasn’t completely devolved into a Laurel and Hardy routine. McDonnell is unbelievably lucky: he happened, on the first day of school, to be sat next to the future Head Boy and has skated in on Corbyn’s corduroy coattails. It must take some adjusting to move from backbench to leading PMQs, but the time for that adjustment is over.
The Labour party can’t change their media coverage, but they can change themselves. They started doing so the moment Corbyn got his nominations to be on the leadership ballot. Corbyn may be no centrist, but he and Labour need to find middle ground. He can bring the principles and the Blairites who oppose him can bring the media savvy and the support he needs. There’s plenty there already to work with: unlike a lot of Men of Principle, Corbyn isn’t self-important with it. His remarks at Labour’s press drinks show a level of charm, accessibility and self-awareness that Cameron’s polished PR poise simply can’t compete with.
It’s an uphill battle and at a sharper incline that I’d hoped. We have moved from Jez We Can to Jez We Might Be Able To, but I’m still optimistic. Let Corbyn gain momentum; if he can marry his Old Labour principles with New Labour pizazz, I may not be drafting my apology letter just yet.