As Jeremy Corbyn prepares to win his second leadership election in just over a year, the Labour party, and the rest of Britain, must start paying attention to him.
On 15th February 2003, Jeremy Corbyn spoke at a rally in Hyde Park opposing the Iraq War. Corbyn fed off the cheers of appreciation from the mass crowd, growing in confidence as he progressed through his own battle cry. His battle cry was much different to that of George Bush and Tony Blair, as his speech was directed at his own party, with him shouting “no to war, yes to peace.” Corbyn spoke with vigour and passion that day, as his speech stuck two fingers up to Tony Blair and the majority of parliament in his opposition to the war.
Fast forward 13 years, and the story is quite similar. Corbyn still speaks with passion and desire at his rallies, which is highlighted by his recent rally in Liverpool, which attracted thousands of supporters. He still has the same socialist ideals, he still has the same dress sense (make of it what you will), and he still hates the Tories. However, a couple of things have changed in the time since his speech at Hyde Park and his rally in Liverpool. His beard is now fully grey, showing his advanced age. Also, he is now the leader of the Labour Party, and they’re in an absolute mess.
Corbyn has dragged his socialist ideals with him to the top of Labour, with his main aim being to re-establish Labour as a left-wing party who represent the working class. He is on a crusade to dump the New Labour era after Ed Milliband’s humbling defeat at the 2015 general election, and bring back Old Labour. If Corbyn does succeed in bringing back Old Labour, I would love to see him play Eminem’s “Without Me” at a party conference.
Joking aside though, Corbyn does have some huge obstacles in front of him if he is to succeed. Owen Smith, his leadership rival, is one of them, but Smith is by no means the biggest challenge facing him. Corbyn’s biggest challenge is his own party. The MP’s who want Corbyn gone have not held back in their disapproval of him; the brutal mass resignation of MP’s from his shadow cabinet was followed by a no-confidence vote against Jezza in June this year, with it being passed by a vote of 172-40. Corbyn has sparked a civil war within the Labour Party, with it looking like it is still far from over. The ugly slugfest between Corbyn, Labour Party members and Labour MP’s has been rather embarrassing. It has highlighted his lack of elegance and grace, but it has also highlighted his never-say-die attitude, with him refusing to back down from the fight against his own MP’s, the media and the Tories.
My point is rather simple: Jeremy Corbyn, whether he succeeds or not, is a lesson. He is a lesson that Labour need to learn from, and a lesson that the Conservatives should learn from. He has some aspects that Labour need to harness and use to win over voters, whether they are the old working class who have defected to UKIP, or the “Middle England”- to borrow a phrase from Tony Blair- who have become disillusioned with the ongoing fighting that Labour seem to love so much.
It is so easy to dismiss Corbyn as a man who doesn’t have what it takes to lead the country. Whilst I agree with the assumption that he isn’t capable of leading a successful government, I do see some personal traits that any politician would be wise to develop. The one thing that has impressed me the most about Jez is his resilience. He has faced a blitz of attacks, personal and professional. Whilst his reputation has been damaged, his attitude has not faltered, he has not given up. He fights for what he believes in- except for Brexit, but we’ll come back to that.
The “Jez we can” slogan used by Corbyn’s flock of supporters willed the relative outsider into an astonishing 1st place finish in the leadership elections last year. Corbyn’s victory was the equivalent of my hometown team, Wigan Athletic, winning the FA Cup in 2013. Ah, Ben Watson’s last minute header was a thing of beauty. Sheer pandemonium from the Latics and Corbyn supporters when their respective team/MP won. Corbyn listened to his flock, and brought forward a mandate for change, but there has been as little evidence of change so far. The socialists Corbyn represents are blind with the belief that their man will win, and maybe he will win (FYI: it’s highly unlikely that he will win, I wouldn’t be surprised if Labour leadership contests become an annual event whilst Corbyn is sailing the ship.) But after all, we HAVE seen bigger shocks in the political world these past couple of years- THAT businessman from America running for Presidency is an example of one of the wild things that has happened to the world recently.
The man with the microphone: Jeremy Corbyn addressing thousands of his troops in Liverpool
Am I being too harsh on Jezza and his chances of winning in 2020? No? Ok, glad that’s sorted. Even though Corbyn’s chances of winning in 2020 are slimmer than a skeleton’s waistline, he does have a couple of attractive policies that the majority of the public would support such as the renationalisation of the railways and the opposition to Trident. The money we spend on the defence is astonishingly high, with Jezza in favour of getting rid of nuclear weapons altogether. I would advise him to hold his horses with that one, as we kind of need to have the latest toys (nuclear weapons), just like all the other popular kids at school.
After reading the last few paragraphs, you might think that I am some kind of secret Corbyn fan. Let me assure you, I am not. He has too many flaws and downfalls to be considered a real contender for the PM job. Corbyn’s orating skills are well suited to rallies and protests, but they were no match for David Cameron’s elegant and well worded speeches that dominated the commons. At PMQ’s, we would regularly see Corbyn try to launch an attack on the then Prime Minister, only to see it batted away with ease, either by a clever diversion or a joke that would send the backbench Tory MP’s into hysterics. Corbyn, clearly unimpressed with Dave’s answer, would regularly be seen scowling down his glasses at the dispatch box. Whilst Corbyn has had some success at PMQ’s against the new PM Theresa May (the grammar schools debate being a prime example), I don’t seem to remember Corbyn “winning” many PMQ’s against Cameron.
Mr. Corbyn has a certain ring to it. You could easily picture the Islington North MP sat behind the desk at your local High School teaching Geography. If you passed Mr. Corbyn in the street, you wouldn’t think he was an MP, never mind the Leader of the Opposition. Corbyn’s appearance brings him down, literally. Corbyn carries himself as the plucky underdog, he does not carry himself as a leader. Hilary Benn, the former shadow secretary, truthfully stated that Jez “isn’t a leader.” This was in the wake of Corbyn’s decision to sack Benn, one of Labour’s better MP’s.
Jezza’s failure to capitalise on his opponents’ mistakes is rather worrying. He has consistently failed to attack the Tories on a number of issues, being left wondering what could have been after debates. Theresa May has got off to a rather wobbly start, but Corbyn has failed to hold her accountable for many issues, with the hesitation over triggering Article 50 being the biggest one to date. He is known for trying to bring a more serious tone to debates, but this tactic just doesn’t pay off. May is allowed to get away with murder in debates and PMQ’s, which ultimately leaves Labour rather frustrated.
Decision making isn’t one of Corbyn’s best traits. Corbyn’s decision to sack most of his entire shadow cabinet was seen as yet another meltdown from Labour, as the country rolled its eyes at yet another impending civil war. I promised that I would come back to Brexit, so here we are. Corbyn’s decision to not stand for any national TV debates on one of the biggest issues our country has ever faced is the perfect example of shooting yourself in the foot. After reluctantly coming out as a Remainer, Corbyn decided that the months leading to 23rd June would be a good time for him to hibernate, literally. We didn’t see much campaigning to Remain in the destined-to-fail EU from the Labour leader, and you have to wonder if had he really taken his argument for Remaining to the country, then maybe we would have seen a different result. 52% of us voted to leave (including me), so maybe had Jezza not been lying low in the campaigning, we might have seen 52% voting to remain. The lack of action from Corbyn prompted many Labour MP’s, and some supporters, to question his ability to lead the party. The events that then followed led to the forthcoming leadership election, just at a time when the Tories are floundering over their Brexit plans…
It is at this stage where I come back to my point: Jeremy Corbyn is a lesson. We can dismiss him as incapable, but that would be a waste. Labour need to take note of his ability to pull thousands to rallies, his ability to listen to the people, and his ability to care. Politicians are so often seen as outsiders to us. But Jeremy isn’t; he has some policies that are reflected by peoples wishes. Labour must observe these traits and try to find them in their next leader, because these traits could win or lose an election. However, Labour must also take note of where Jez has failed. Labour’s next leader must be able to viciously attack the Tories and hold them accountable, they must be able to deliver inspiring, yet elegant speeches that cannot be defeated by a quick get-out-of-jail free gag, and they must be able to keep the party together.
At Hyde Park in 2003, Jeremy Corbyn famously shouted “no to war, yes to peace.” But in terms of the future of The Labour Party, Corbyn is now silently shouting “yes to war, no to peace.”