The latest opinion polls are likely to have made Jeremy Corbyn’s spirits sink faster than a puncture to his beloved bicycle. His party is eight points behind the Conservatives – its lowest position at this point in the electoral cycle since the Second World War, and far worse than Labour under Ed Miliband at the equivalent time after the 2010 election.
Even if polling companies are nowadays barely more reliable than Hilary Benn’s adherence to collective responsibility, Corbyn still has a significant problem if he aspires to be doing something more than tending to his allotment come 2021. Even if he does manage to hang on as Labour leader until the next election, his best case scenario appears to be avoiding total electoral implosion.
Having spent the last few months writing a satirical play about the Labour leader, Corbyn the Musical, I have spotted what may be the last hope of the otherwise condemned man. Unfortunately for Corbyn, the answer is not so simple as to come and watch the show – he may enjoy the comedy, but it won’t help with the polls.
As I’ve discovered in researching and writing the musical, there appears to be a fascination with Corbyn far greater than the interest in any other politician. This is not necessarily a good sign, of course, particularly if the appeal lies merely in a form of political rubbernecking at the car crash of his time in charge.
However, Corbyn does genuinely engage the public – and in some cases excites them – like no other contemporary politician. People of all political hues have been quick to tell me how excited they are about coming to see the show, and while I’d like to think that’s down to my world-famous comedy writing, in part it’s because people can’t wait to see a play that involves Corbyn as its star.
The obsession with him is odder still given that he, personally, is hardly the liveliest of characters. Compare him even to the much more TV-friendly Diane Abbott, let alone a tub-thumper like Dennis Skinner. Corbyn is the quiet man in the corner, sipping on a glass of water and worrying about which manhole cover he can photograph next. Ed Miliband was Alan Clarke by comparison.
Somehow, though, this doesn’t matter, because Corbyn has the rare ability to energise people with the force of his ideas alone. Granted, the majority of the country doesn’t seem to agree with him, at least for now, but when he speaks, people listen and engage with what he says. How many normal people genuinely cared about Ed Miliband’s views on anything? Similarly, up and down the country, there’s no great clamour to find out what a supposed charisma-politician like Boris Johnson really thinks in his heart of hearts – still less big figures on the left like Yvette Cooper or Alan Johnson.
This interest is all the more remarkable given how similar Corbyn’s views are to those he held some 40 years ago. There is very little that’s hot off the press. That came through very clearly in writing Corbyn the Musical – without spoiling the surprise, the play’s plot revolves around a nuclear crisis between Britain and Russia, that Corbyn has to try to defuse – and the answer lies in the apocryphal motorbike trip taken by Corbyn and Abbott to East Germany when they were lovers in the 1970s. It is surreal enough that one of today’s leading politicians was already politically active more than a decade before the fall of the Berlin Wall, but even odder that the Jeremy Corbyn of the 1970s who we depict holds the same views as the man in charge today. The only different is the thickness of his beard.
The Corbyn factor translates into tremendous recognition amongst members of the public. A YouGov poll just two weeks after he became Labour leader found that 89 per cent of people knew who he was, compared to 34% for other senior members of the Shadow Cabinet – and Corbyn was more recognisable than George Osborne, who had already been Chancellor for more than five years.
This, surely, is Corbyn’s last opportunity. People know him, and they are listening to him. So far, he hasn’t won them over. But, crucially, he still has the window of opportunity to do so. And, if all else fails, well, Jeremy, we’re always willing to offer you a cameo in the show.
Corbyn the Musical by Bobby Friedman and Rupert Myers is at the Waterloo East Theatre from April 12-24, tickets are available at http://waterlooeast.co.uk/