Donald Macintyre's sketch: Enemies confounded by Jeremy Corbyn's display of respect

There’s something fearless about his willingness to wind up hostile tabloids

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Indy Politics

So he didn’t join in the national anthem. The top button of his shirt looked undone, a bit of a trademark reminder that he prefers going open-necked. The jacket and trousers may not have exactly matched. Was the new Labour leader revelling provocatively in unrespectability? There’s something, if not reckless, at least fearless, about his willingness to wind up the more hostile tabloids.

But hang on. Jeremy Corbyn, at St Paul’s for a Battle of Britain commemoration of the RAF, stood solemnly at all the right moments, including – in what his later statement called “respectful silence” – for “God Save the Queen”. He gracefully got to his feet before the service for his first handshake as Opposition leader with, wait for it, David Cameron.

And above all he wasn’t wearing the donkey jacket that so scandalised the enemies of Michael Foot at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday in 1981. (Nor was Foot, as it turns out. It was a short overcoat on which the Queen Mother breezily complimented him.)

So was Corbyn really committing such a protocol atrocity? Not according to James Gray, ex-Honourable Artillery Company and a Conservative MP on the Commons Defence Select Committee, no less. “The fact is he was there properly dressed, wearing a tie, good on him,” said Gray. “Well done him. He is a pacifist and not a royalist but he has gone along and stood in the front row.”

What’s more, beside revealing that during the Second World War, “My mum served as an air raid warden and my dad in the Home Guard”, Corbyn marked the ceremony with the statement: “The heroism of the Royal Air Force in the Battle of Britain is something to which we all owe an enormous debt of gratitude. The loss of life, both civilian and military, should be commemorated so that we honour their lives and do all that we can to ensure future generations are spared the horrors of war.”

As for the national anthem, Corbyn may be understandably uneasy about the bellicose second verse: “Scatter her enemies and make them fall.” Though when he faces gleeful Tories at Prime Minister’s Questions, he may well feel more like singing: “Confound their politics. Frustrate their knavish tricks.”