At the beginning of the Labour leadership campaign I heard a most curious interview with Andy Burnham. He was bowled a long slow ball:
‘Do you think, given the financial crisis, the last Labour government spent too much. And knowing what you know now would you have spent less?’
The answer was a form of strangled yelp which avoided saying anything at all. It was an interview that said all that was wrong with politics today – the sheer inability to answer a question with a straight ‘yes’ or ‘no’. How refreshing it was to hear Jeremy Corbyn actually use those words in his own answers. Surely one of the key reasons Corbyn won was because he ‘spoke human’. And as well as speaking human he understood (as only the SNP have understood up until now) the power of social media.
What do we know of Jeremy Corbyn? He has the highest of reputations as a constituency MP, he has consistently voted with his conscience, he never expected to be in this position and for the party hierarchy he represents the profoundest of shocks. He has consistently spoken a language of decency and humanity. And as for those who point out his meetings with Hamas or representatives of the IRA, well, he has done no more than Tony Blair or John Major.
None of this means to say that I agree with Jeremy Corbyn, but will it not be a refreshing breath of fresh air to hear the Labour party actually start to articulate something again? Of course Corbyn is ‘on the left’ but he is on the left of what the Labour party has become and not what it was. In his support for refugees, in his first visit to a mental health trust in his constituency, he has made order keflex statements about decency, respect and humanity which Labour has long seemed to forget.
For the Conservative party and indeed for the Scottish National Party, he represents perhaps more of a threat than might appear. What the SNP realised earlier than most was that the organs that attack them were already subject to decreasing trust. The more hysterical the Daily Mail becomes the more it validates Corbyn and his views. There is no question that the Conservatives used media manipulation with malign brilliance against Ed Milliband, and he fell into every trap they set. Indeed he often seemed to be a puppet dancing to their media tune. With Corbyn the attacks are far more difficult because he responds ‘they would say that wouldn’t they’. And in any case the average Daily Mail reader is hardly likely to be a fanatical Corbynite anyway. For the SNP the obvious reconnection of Labour with what it once was is a problem in that much of the support for the nationalists comes from disillusioned Labour voters. The last months have seen Labour start to become a mass movement again.
The pundits are busy punditting away, the same pundits who said David Cameron would never be Prime Minister, that the winner of the 2010 election would have a poisoned chalice and be doomed in 2015, that 2015 would see Labour as the largest party and that the SNP would never break through as it has done. They have been wrong before, they may well be wrong again. Jeremy Corbyn was written-off from the start and won with an astonishing majority. His victory is neither that of a rank amateur or a fool. To write him off now as many will try and do would be an act of astonishing arrogance.