Donald Macintyre Sketch: Zen and the art of Labour Party maintenance

Corbyn seemed imperturbably relaxed on the Andrew Marr Show, alarmingly so from the point of view of his many detractors - and that’s just inside the Labour Party

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Pressed by Andrew Marr on whether he’d like to do away with the monarchy, Jeremy Corbyn eventually tried to switch the discussion to weightier matters, like “the million people who rely on food banks.”  I understand your irritation at endless …” apologised Marr only to be interrupted .by the Labour leader“ “No, no, no. I don’t do irritation.” 

How long Corbyn remains in this commendably Zen state is a matter of conjecture. But it certainly lasted on 27 September. Open necked as usual, he seemed imperturbably relaxed, alarmingly so from the point of view of his many detractors - and that’s just inside the Labour Party.  

True, some answers were mildly idiosyncratic. On Trident, Marr asked whether Labour MPs would be required to do what the conference decided or what the shadow cabinet decided, or  be free to vote as they wished. “You’re asking the most fundamental philosophical question that’s ever been asked …” replied Corbyn. Really, Jeremy?  More than “why can’t something be red and green all over?”  Or “what is the meaning of life?” 

The leader pointed out that the sudden Labour membership growth since he stood as leader  “bucked the trend” of declining party membership throughout Europe. “It’s a British achievement,” he announced proudly as if describing an Olympic swimming success  or the decipherment of Linear B.

But was he concerned that the new members might include some from “revolutionary organisations” Well, he had met “many” of the members,  said Corbyn blandly.  “I’m not concerned in the slightest. A big, open, democratic party – surely that’s something to be proud of and pleased about?” Well, persisted Marr,  Neil Kinnock, one time scourge of what the BBC presenter called  “the Trotskyists and communists” of the old Labour Party wouldn’t have that been pleased. “Neil is one of my constituents” said Corbyn,  We get along just fine.” For all the “Straight Talking: Honest Politics”  conference mantra this was a model  politician's  answer: Irrelevant if true. 

For all that he survived wholly intact. He managed –just—to navigate his way round reported  past  remarks by his shadow Chancellor John McDonnell,  apparently condoning “insurrection.” He was effectively  excoriating about the abyss-like  gap between  the SNP’s anti-austerity  “badge” and its actual policies. .”Flags don’t build houses,” he  declared in something  uncharacteristically  like a soundbite.   

Meanwhile in the hall  we seemed to be travelling back in time. A card vote on the references back of the Conference  Arrangements Committee report!  This was surely the Labour conference we once knew and loved. Except that then there were worrying signs of  fudges  to paper over some of the divisions. Come on Jeremy: if you can’t return the Labour conference to its theatrical 1970s and 1980s peak, who can? 

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