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Sunday, September 20, 2015

Chaos and despair - Corbyn's first week nightmare

He may have attracted thousands of new members to Labour but Jeremy Corbin has hardly got off to a dream start. As the Sunday Times reveals, his landslide election as leader of the opposition has triggered despair and, in some cases outright rebellion amongst his Parliamentary Party, whilst the rest of us watch on in bemusement:

Earlier on Monday, Corbyn had given a lacklustre performance to his first meeting of the parliamentary Labour party (PLP), in which he had been forced to defend his opposition to Trident and Nato, and his Euroscepticism. He even refused to rule out wearing a white pacifist’s poppy to the Cenotaph.

By Thursday, senior figures on Corbyn’s front bench were phoning each other to discuss who the next leader of the party should be. A group of senior figures has started planning how to “groom” a “clean skin” to take over when he falls.

What has gone wrong? What can the MPs do to stop Corbyn? Who can replace him and when?

The questions would have surprised Corbyn’s closest allies last Saturday as he toasted victory in the leadership election with a rare glass of red wine at Troia, a restaurant specialising in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine just across Westminster Bridge from parliament.

The new leader’s wife and sons joined his campaign team, including McDonnell and fellow MPs Cat Smith, Clive Lewis, Richard Burgon and Kate Osamor. “The hard work starts here,” he told them.

The portents of trouble were easier to identify across the Thames, where supporters of the defeated candidates Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper joined Labour HQ staff for a “wake” in the Greencoat Boy pub, near Victoria station. Many had been drinking since the result was announced at 11.45am. Several were in tears.

At one point some of them clung together in a group hug and jumped up and down as they chanted “Labour, Labour, Labour. Do you believe? I believe.” Then people peeled off and declared: “We are f***ed.”

The view amongst his own MPs is quite scathing: 

A senior frontbencher said: “He’s like a badge collector who has collected causes. He’s pro-Palestinian, he’s anti- nuclear but if you ask him what his policy is on the Middle East, he can’t tell you. He has collected his lapel badges but he hasn’t got a programme.”

Tempers boiled over as a new MP, Jess Phillips, said she felt “alienated” by his failure to appoint women to senior posts. Diane Abbott, Corbyn’s political ally and one-time lover, told Phillips she was “not the only feminist” in the room. Phillips told her to “f*** off”.

Corbyn said to Phillips that all the jobs were equal in importance. She replied: “In which case why don’t you just swap them all around?”

The frontbencher said: “He didn’t know what to do. He’d had his ‘I am a feminist’ badge torn off his lapel.”

One MP who watched him at the PLP said: “People keep saying this is our Iain Duncan Smith moment, but it’s much worse than that.”

Corbyn seemed little better prepared at the shadow cabinet meeting. Questions on how he wanted the party to vote on Commons amendments and statutory instruments were met with a “blank stare” and the words: “We’ll have to think about that.”

One member said: “We’re used to having leaders who are forensically focused on campaigning, who think constantly about strategy, the message they want to deliver and how they want to deliver it. All that stuff is completely alien to him.

“He has spent 30 years speaking to audiences that agree with him. He has never once had to think about how you persuade voters who don’t agree with you to support you or like you.”

When frontbenchers demanded Corbyn agree to sing the national anthem, smarten himself up and hire a spin doctor, Corbyn was irritated. “He believes that to think about that stuff is positively demeaning,” a shadow minister said. “When you talk to him about these things you feel it’s confirming his view that we’re all sellout merchants. He associates all that with Tony Blair.”

It is still early days of course and Corbin has time to properly establish himself but effectively losing control of his own Shadow Cabinet, for whom collective responsibility has now become an optional extra, is not helping.

The Sunday Times speculates that Corbyn's big mission is to give the left long-term control of the Labour Party. If that is the case then it could well presage a string of reselection battles and potential civil war within the party. We will see.
"One member said: “We’re used to having leaders who are forensically focused on campaigning, who think constantly about strategy, the message they want to deliver and how they want to deliver it. All that stuff is completely alien to him."

Isn't that Corbyn's appeal, though? That he isn't obsessed with spin and "delivery"? Is it any surprise that the spin fans are "delivering" negative messages about him to journalists?
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