Jeremy Corbyn is retreating further into the Corbynmania bubble just when he should be reaching out

Why isn’t Corbyn hosting rallies in Middle England, home of the four out of five extra votes Labour needs to gain marginal seats in the general election? 

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The Independent Online

Jeremy Corbyn is in his element. He is speaking to 2,000 adoring supporters in Leeds, with another 1,000 locked outside the packed hall.  As in last year’s Labour leadership campaign, he usually does an impromptu speech to the overflow group. Corbynmania is still alive.

In the main hall, Corbyn’s words are drowned out as he attacks the mainstream media, citing last month’s study by the Media Reform Coalition and Birkbeck College that found “clear and consistent bias” against the Labour leader. He says that almost 80 per cent of the newspaper coverage is “downright hostile to what we have been trying to do”, adding: “The level of abuse and denigration that has been thrown at us is unprecedented in modern political times in this country.” With the BBC in his sights, Corbyn argues that the major broadcasting channels “to varying degrees” following the newspapers’ agenda.

Corbyn has a point. Perhaps the media as a whole has been slow to see that the centre of political gravity has shifted. But I don’t think the BBC is biased. I have seen lots of interviews in recent days with Corbynistas who are standing by their man in the leadership contest. It is hardly surprising that some coverage is “downright hostile” when 80 per cent of Labour MPs have declared that they have no confidence in Corbyn. That is an inconvenient truth that cannot be wished away.

Jeremy Corbyn supporters out in full force in Liverpool

Corbyn denies that he is enjoying a “remote bubble of adulation”. But he is. “He is buoyed up by his reception; it puts fuel in his tank,” said one ally. But he is preaching to the converted, not reaching out to the voters Labour has to convert to have any sniff of power.mTrue, the leadership election is not of his making. But if it wasn’t happening, would Corbyn be holding public meetings in Middle England this summer, to recognise that four out of five of the extra votes Labour needs to gain in marginal seats next time will be people who backed the Tories last year? I doubt it.

You can’t blame Corbyn for re-running his remarkably successful campaign of a year ago. And yet it feels different this time. He is not the outsider with nothing to lose but a leader with a pretty limp performance to defend. Among his followers, there is anger at Labour MPs for their attempted coup. There is a feeling that the enemies within will do everything to get him. His allies feel the Labour HQ machine is now working against him and with Tom Watson, the elected deputy leader, who tried to broker a deal under which Corbyn would stand down before the 2020 election. 

There is paranoia, exemplified by the claim by the Unite leader Len McCluskey that the intelligence services might be behind attacks on Corbyn’s critics on social media in order to “stir up trouble” for the Labour leader. I don’t think the spooks need to bother; there are enough attacks by genuine Corbynistas.

There are cries of betrayal at those who backed Corbyn last year and are having second thoughts, or who dare to say the party is in crisis because he has made no headway. There are signs that Corbyn’s support base among London members is crumbling, partly because of his feeble performance in the EU referendum. This matters because about half of Labour’s members are in London and the South. The Islington effect may be wearing off.

But it doesn’t feel like that inside the warm bubble. Aides insist that Corbynmania is not about a cult. But Corbyn has more followers on Facebook than the Labour Party does. Social media can help him win the leadership election. But it reaches a tiny proportion of the electorate and so would not enable him to win a general election. He would need the hated mainstream media then. Which is where his challenger Owen Smith comes in – or hopes to – by offering the prospect of socialism plus the chance to implement it.  Although Team Corbyn is confident, the result could be closer than many think. Corbyn seems wary of going head to head with Smith. There will be five hustings but only one will be televised and Corbyn has not yet agreed to any other TV debates.

Smith’s problem is that most Labour members may prefer the purity of Corbynism than the unpalatable medicine required to regain power – for example, a tougher line on immigration to learn a lesson from the EU referendum.

Momentum, the 100,000-strong grassroots Corbyn fan club accused of being a party within the party, is not interested in such compromises. A survey of one Facebook group showed that 80 per cent  of people believed Corbyn would win a general election – fittingly, the mirror image of Labour MPs, who do not think he can (by definition, they know something about winning elections). Revealingly, some who backed Corbyn last year now suspect that Momentum is really about a takeover to ensure that Labour remains a socialist party, even if government is 20 or 30 years away or never comes. “I am starting to think that Momentum is the project,” said one MP.