There was plenty of Christmas cheer when Jeremy Corbyn held his first press drinks as Labour leader last night. Introduced as “the defendant” by John McDonnell, he quipped: “This gathering is unexpected and unusual, and on one level yours and my worst nightmare”. Unlike at Labour’s staff party, he declined to quote any Communist leaders, joking that “there’s a number of things I’ve been told not to say: not to mention Karl Marx, Mao Tse-tung or Enver Hoxha, so I haven’t.”
The laughs continued as Corbyn thanked hacks “for all the coverage I’ve been given in the papers over the last few months — I’ve kept you going”. But while seeking to build bridges by noting his membership of the NUJ (“because I believe in the freedom of speech, I believe that we’ve got to support journalists wherever they are around the world and whatever attack they’re under”), he pointedly stated: “I don’t do any interviews whatsoever – never ever – outside my front door, so if you wish to come there that’s absolutely fine, don’t tread on the bulbs out front, they’re growing well”. He ended by joking that he had to “leave early” for “bowing lessons” in reference to the hostile coverage of his Cenotaph appearance.
Corbyn was followed by McDonnell (“he’s about to spend all our money,” said the Labour leader by way of introduction), who thanked the Eastern Daily Press for publishing a letter from a former classmate who revealed that he used to “whisper the maths answers to me to avoid me being caned”. He joked of the Daily Mail headline he expected: “Chancellor cheats at maths again”.
It was Tom Watson who rounded off the cabaret, noting that he was described by the Mail as “the most odious man in politics” (giving Corbyn “a day off”). “The Sun are more succinct,” he continued. “They just call me a fat twat. But I want you to know: I don’t take it personally.”
Ahead of his EU trip today, Corbyn departed shortly afterwards but not before playing barman, joking of the wine: “We only do red”.