Jeremy Corbyn: 10 challenges the Labour leader faces in his first 100 days

Left-winger's battles are only just beginning if he is to secure his position

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Indy Politics

Winning the Labour leadership contest may have been the biggest achievement of Jeremy Corbyn’s political life but a bigger one is yet to come if he is to make his position secure and his party once again a credible alternative to the Conservatives and, in Scotland, the SNP.

For most party leaders the first 100 days are described as the honeymoon period but for Mr Corbyn it is a luxury he will be denied. In the coming weeks and months he has a series of problems that he will have to address and solve. Here, we look at the 10 most pressing.

Dealing with Cameron at Prime Minister’s Questions

PMQs have always had more significance in Westminster than the wider world – but it is still an important event for the new leader because the weekly Parliamentary joust disproportionately influences party morale.

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David Cameron speaking in the House of Commons during PMQs

Mr Corbyn’s tactic appears to be to “democratise” the event by allowing Labour members to select the questions to put to David Cameron. This is potentially a smart move because it makes it harder for Mr Cameron to attack Mr Corbyn without seeming to be dismissive of “ordinary” people.

Mr Corbyn will have to find a way to use the event to unify the party publicly behind his leadership: the last thing he wants is surly silence behind him on the Labour benches as the Tories bay in front.

What to do about military action in Syria

The Tories want to define Mr Corbyn as a dangerous threat to Britain’s national security and bringing a Parliamentary vote on air strikes against Isis is an easy opportunity to test the new leader.

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RAF Tornados (pictured) and unarmed Reaper drones have flown more than 1,000 missions in Iraq and Syria (Getty)

Mr Corbyn is against extending air strikes – a position not shared by many of his own backbenchers. If he is smart he will give Labour MPs a free vote on the issue rather than attempting to impose a whip. But even that is not without risk as it allows the Tories to portray Labour as a unable to deliver a unified line on a matter of national importance.

Keeping the grass roots that elected him alive

Some old Labour hands believe that Mr Corbyn’s success was because he was seen as a blank sheet on which his supporters projected their own values without really knowing what he stood for. Some suspect that he will suffer the same fate as Nick Clegg: that when people discover what he really believes his attraction will dissipate as fast as it appeared.

Appointing a competent team

Mr Corbyn maybe the public face of Labour but his success or failure will be as much down to the team of aides he builds around him as his own performance. At the moment this team looks decidedly shaky: he has no one overseeing policy, no one in charge of communications and no one liaising with MPs and the wider party. All decisions are going through either Mr Corbyn or his former campaign manager Simon Fletcher. This is unsustainable and needs to be fixed quickly.

 

Conservative Party Conference

On the Sunday of the Tory conference, the unions plan to march through central Manchester on an anti-austerity rally. Mr Corbyn is due to speak. The danger is that, like some similar demos in the past, this will end in clashes with the police, from which Mr Corbyn will find it hard to disassociate himself .

Remembrance Sunday

Mr Corbyn will have to decide whether to wear the pacifist white poppy,  which he has done in the past. While this might seem to be a small thing,  the decision is symbolically important. It will help define how is perceived by the wider public who only paid passing attention to the Labour leadership contest. He has already attracted criticism for appearing not to sing the national anthem at a service for veterans yesterday.

Democratising the party without losing control of it

Mr Corbyn has said he wants to give Labour members a direct democratic say on developing specific party policy. This is fraught with danger and could saddle Labour with unworkable, unpopular policies that represent the views of activist interest groups.

Europe

Despite attempts to claim otherwise, Labour’s stance towards the European referendum is in chaos. Mr Corbyn is, at heart, a Eurosceptic – but his party will expect and insist that he is at the forefront of the nascent “In” campaign.

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The European Union flag and the Union Jack hang outside the EU's headquarters in Brussels (Getty)

If Mr Cameron’s renegotiation results in a deal that allows the UK to opt of some EU social and employment protections these tensions will come to the fore.

Managing the media

Some of Mr Corbyn’s supporters argue the nature of his victory shows that he can ignore the mainstream media and create a wide grassroots political movement online. But this is a risky strategy. The danger of relying on social media is that you end up simply preaching to the converted.

Becoming a statesman without losing his brand

If Mr Corbyn has any hope of leading the Labour Party to victory in 2020, voters will have to regard him as a potential Prime Minister and statesman. But the brand that helped propel him to victory in the Labour leadership contest was the opposite of this and based on him cultivating an image as an “outsider”.

How Mr Corbyn manages the transition from insurgent to statesman will be critical to his success. Many people said after  his victory on Saturday that his mandate would make him impossible to unseat. But next May, Labour faces elections for the Scottish Parliament, the Northern Ireland, Welsh and London Assemblies as well as local council elections.

If the party significantly underperforms, what seems impossible now might suddenly seem like a foregone conclusion. Despite what’s being said now, Mr Corbyn’s position as party leader is far from secure.

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