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30 May 2017updated 31 May 2017 9:49am

7 things we learned from Jeremy Corbyn on the One Show

From manhole covers to the joy of beans, this was the Labour leader's chance to show he is in tune with Middle Britain - and he took it.

By Helen Lewis

There was a moment, about two-thirds of the way into The One Show, where I thought: this is it. The One Show has peaked. This is the One Showiest One Show that has ever been. It came when Alex Jones began a question to Jeremy Corbyn with the words, “We know you love trains, and you have a strong passion for decorative drain and manhole covers…”

There followed a quiz where the questions – “Who’s easier to keep control of, ten-year-olds or the parliamentary Labour party?” – were hidden behind decorative manhole covers.

One was a Crapper. One was from Kyoto. Tragically, we never got to find out what was behind number 3. 

But what else did we learn from Jeremy Corbyn’s solo appearance on the BBC’s flagship early evening natterfest?

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1. Corbyn can do sofa banter

Unlike Theresa May, who looked like a method actor preparing for a role as a replicant pretending to be human during her appearance with husband Philip, Jeremy Corbyn loves sofa banter. He activates his Salty Seadog eyebrow, a kind of benevolent twinkly uncle filter, even while saying the most Partridgean old gubbins.

Within five minutes of the show starting, he was telling an indescribably boring anecdote about how the door to his house is now overgrown because he has plants there, whereas before it was laid with concrete. “It was the devil’s own job to break up that concrete,” he concluded. Later, he told an endless story about how his old camera had light leakage but he would only know about whether it had ruined the pictures once the photos came back from the developing lab. 

A segment on the pedestrianisation of Norwich would have felt completely natural in this context, or Corbyn’s thoughts about how paving over paradise is “a measure which actually would have alleviated traffic congestion on the outskirts of paradise”.

2. His media trainer deserves a raise

Stephen and I have been chatting today about Corbyn’s earlier flame-out on Women’s Hour, and whether “gotcha” questions are a good proxy for assessing competence. You can read the Bushian blog here; I’m mostly convinced by his argument that these questions are illuminating, but I am totally convinced by the casual aside he throws in at the end:

Does it matter that Jeremy Corbyn worked on his tendency to be overcome by a red mist in heated interviews and was a model of calm, while Theresa May’s habit of shooting murderous stares at anyone remained unchecked? Well, as far as the telly goes, that Corbyn didn’t produce pictures of him gritting his teeth while May stared angrily at cameras obviously contributed to the Labour leader’s win last night. But they also speak to what you hear from staff in the leader’s office and civil servants on Whitehall. Corbyn’s aides will talk about how they feel able to speak truth to power without being shouted down – they don’t necessarily get their way but they don’t fear the consequences of dissent. Government officials however, do fear that they will be given a barracking if they go against May. That speaks to far bigger concerns than who looked better on telly – not least the question of who can negotiate Brexit or who should be in the room at moments of crisis.

Throughout the last two years, Corbyn has largely managed to maintain his “Monsieur Zen” attitude to the slings and arrows of public life except when facing journalists. Then, he has shown flashes of temper, along with a high-pitched “willyoujustletmefinish” that we saw only once on last night’s Paxman dust-up. However, this campaign has seen bucket after bucket of ordure poured on him and he’s largely kept his cool.

On the sofa, he managed to sound earnest but nonchalant about media intrusion, which in the past is an area where he has allowed himself to lapse into self-pity. Lord knows, that’s very tempting – and attacks on the MSM certainly fire up his base – but the general public tend to think: if you don’t like it, why are you there? No one forced you to try to be Prime Minister, chum.

Tonight, Corbyn confined his answer on media intrusion to a fairly bland set of platitudes: “Those nearest to me . . . have a totally unreasonable amount of pressure put on them, and they have all my life…. Intrusion in my life is not nice, but I am an elected politician, it goes with the territory… I wish some of our media would draw some boundaries.”

He’s had good advice – don’t moan, don’t get mad – and he appears to have taken it. That reflects well on both him and his team.

3. The One Show film commissioning meetings must be bonkers

Tonight, we had films on a pastor who does micro-loans – “a banker – with a difference”, said Jones, cue Corbyn eyebrow – a train tunnel and a competition for balancing stones. The first one was fairly obviously on-brand for El Corbs, and the second one appealed to one of his hobbies, but I’m struggling to work out the rationale for the stone-balancing. It’s probably a metaphor for Brexit. Everything is.

4. He’s doing humble – convincingly

Jeremy Corbyn is not without ego. He definitely enjoys the selfies and adoring crowds part of his job. But he’s hit a good theme in the last few days – the politician who is willing to listen. Last night, he unconsciously gave the audience the finger while explaining that politicians should use these – pointing to his ears – as much as this – pointing to his mouth. 

Tonight, he repeated the same formulation, saying that “everybody you meet knows something you don’t know” and that the big change in his politics was becoming “less judgemental”, although “my basic attitudes and principles are pretty much as they’ve always been”.

5. His upbringing was also strong and stable

Corbyn talked about his time as a paperboy in rural Shropshire, his rebellious nature as a kid – “I was a bit free-spirited, I kept climbing out of the pram and running off” – and about his grandfather, who was “known as the Poor Man’s lawyer”. (This elicited an “awwww” from Alex Jones.) He also told the story of his parents meeting at Conway Hall at a meeting for Spanish republicanism, although he stressed that his mother had always encouraged her boys to think for herself.

This felt like an attempt to neutralise any attempt to paint him (as Ed Miliband was painted) as the revolutionary son of revolutionary parents. It was cosy and middle-class, but with a social conscience. Which is pretty much the Corbyn brand.

6. His academic background is very different to May’s

Theresa May went to Oxford, where she was involved with the Union. Jeremy Corbyn got two Es and went on VSO to Jamaica.  “I was not an academically successful student,” he told Alex Jones, adding that his mum joked it must have been because the examiner couldn’t read his writing.

7. He’s not above flat-out jam-based bribery

The Partridge-o-meter hit the red zone when Alex Jones asked him, “Why do you love your allotment?” and he offered a long, winding answer which culminated with the phrase: “There’s something magic when you grow your beans…”

Then he whipped out a jar of jam, allegedly made with his own berries, saying: “I would like to present the One Show with a jar of jam.” Again, verrrry Middle England. Short of going on dressed in one of Mary Berry’s floral bomber jackets with a copy of the Lakeland catalogue in the pocket there’s not much more he could have done to communicate his connection to Middle Britain. 

Will it work? It’s probably too late to make a first impression on most voters, but for anyone who has seen Corbyn only through the prism of the right-wing press – friend of the IRA, rabid 70s socialist – his middle-of-the-road, middle-class background and interests might come as a surprise.