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24 October 2017

Jeremy Corbyn’s reaction to the Jared O’Mara scandal shows he’s serious about winning next time

The Labour leadership has got faster and sharper since the general election. 

By Stephen Bush

Newly-elected Labour MP Jared O’Mara has resigned from the Women and Equalities select committee after homophobic and sexist forum posts made in his twenties emerged on the Guido Fawkes website. O’Mara, who has also been accused of calling a female constituent  “an ugly bitch”, made a fulsome apology for his internet activity at a meeting of the parliamentary Labour Party last night, which impressed listeners with its sincerity.

Separately, Clive Lewis has issued a full apology after he told a male audience member to “get on your knees bitch” during a panel discussion. In a visit to Lewis’s Norwich constituency, Jeremy Corbyn condemned the remarks as “unacceptable”  – no ifs, no buts.

I don’t want to get into the rights and wrongs of O’Mara and Lewis’s actions at any great length, though I think that both made the right calls in resigning and apologising respectively. It is, however, troubling, that the more recent accusation about O’Mara has been largely ignored by both the press and the Sheffield Hallam MP himself.

The more noteworthy trend as far as the next election and the development of the Labour Party go is the swiftness of the official response on both occasions: quick, unequivocal statements condemning the language and the behaviour. It’s a world away from the incredibly sluggish statements that used to emanate from the leader’s office, particularly when the scandal-hit politicians in particular had displayed a longstanding loyalty to Corbyn in the past.

As I’ve written before, some in the inner circle believe this sluggishness cost the party enough seats at the last election that it lost them the chance of forming a majority government. One of the unremarked trends since the election is an increased sharpening of the Labour leadership’s act, voting through rule-changes that make it easier to kick out anti-Semites, and the swift response in the cases of O’Mara and Lewis.

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Some Corbynites believe that is because, after the election, Corbyn’s ambitions increased from ensuring the survival of the Labour left to victory at the next election. One shadow minister talks of the “glint in Jeremy’s eye” and in general, the prospect of a hugely winnable contest has heightened the leadership’s focus. Among Corbynsceptics, one veteran commented approvingly that the Labour leader has begun to crack the art of PMQs, and is beginning to secure more emphatic victories against Theresa May.

Labour’s opponents and the party’s remaining Corbynsceptics privately argue that the leadership shouldn’t have needed to come within 400 votes of taking Chipping Barnet to realise the importance of getting tough on these issues. Regardless, we know that elections are a verdict on future, rather than past performance. The great hope for the Conservatives is that once they get a new leader in place, they will be able to re-run a better election against the same Labour leader with the same flaws. The unnoticed and important event since 8 June is that “peak Corbyn” may not have been reached, either electorally or in terms of the Labour leader’s performance.