Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Jeremy Corbyn as champion of White Van Man – what next?

The delegates got what they wanted after a crushing electoral defeat: a speech which spoke triumphantly to their hearts

Click to follow
Indy Politics

In an almost lyrical passage, Jeremy Corbyn described how on “one of the proudest days of my life” he had cycled home from Parliament at 5am “having voted for the national minimum wage legislation”.

For a nanosecond it seemed as if he might be about to acknowledge the Blair/Brown government that had brought it in. 

This was fantasy, of course. Despite his genuinely warm tributes to his leadership rivals, including the Blairite Liz Kendall, that would have been a unity pitch too far. 

Indeed, the only Labour leaders he praised – apart from the interim leader Harriet Harman – were the first and the most recent: Keir Hardie and Ed Miliband. Even Clement Attlee, who unlike the other two won elections, was not in the pantheon.

But having queued patiently for two hours, the delegates got what they wanted after a crushing electoral defeat, which Corbyn didn’t mention, let alone analyse: a speech which spoke triumphantly to their hearts. 

OK, there were a few scrambled metaphors. Declaring that young and old alike were “fizzing” with ideas, he suggested: “Let’s give them the space for that fizz to explode into the joy we want of a better society.” This was hard to follow, possibly because generally the more space fizz has, the less likely it is to explode. 

And then there was “autocuegate”! In a well-deserved sideswipe at the SNP Scottish government for cutting college places to pay for free tuition, he declared: “STRONG MESSAGE HERE.” Since this faintly jarring phrase wasn’t in the printed text, it was hard to escape the conclusion that it had been a stage direction on the teleprompter. 

But his occasional stumbles with this engine of modern politics – which Miliband had eschewed at his peril – made zero difference to his ecstatic reception. It was if he had finally liberated the delegates from the collective straitjacket that had stifled them for two decades.

Some of his strongest lines, resonating in the hall and maybe beyond, served up, if not the old-time religion, then at least its “modern left” version. As in “isn’t it curious that globalisation always means low wages for poor people, but is used to justify massive payments to top chief executives?” And the “kinder, more inclusive” politics”.

He got a mid-speech ovation for vigorously denouncing misogynistic “cyber-bullying” – a point originally raised by Yvette Cooper. 

Though quite when the endless internal debate he envisages will produce firm policies is less clear. Maybe there was a clue in the last three words of his “I am not leader who wants to impose leadership lines all the time.” 

For all his already famous unspunness he was not wholly, well, unspun. He wore a tie if not a suit. There were a couple of OKish pre-scripted jokes – including at the expense of his “Chairman Mao-style bicycle”, as the press had described it.

And he skilfully made a naked pitch to the “self-employed” and “entrepreneurs”. Of all the unpredictable twists of recent months, this was among the most unpredictable: Corbyn as champion of White Van Man.