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.
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.
The most ridiculous claims made about Jeremy Corbyn
The most ridiculous claims made about Jeremy Corbyn
1/11 He called Hezbollah and Hamas ‘friends’
True. In a speech made to the Stop the War Coalition in 2009, Mr Corbyn called representatives from both groups “friends” after inviting them to Parliament. He later told Channel 4 he wanted both groups, who have factions designated as international terror organisations, to be “part of the debate” for the Middle East peace process. “I use (the word ‘friends’) in a collective way, saying our friends are prepared to talk,” he added. “Does it mean I agree with Hamas and what it does? No. Does it mean I agree with Hezbollah and what they do? No.”
2/11 ‘Jeremy Corbyn thinks the death of Osama bin Laden was a tragedy’
Partly false. David Cameron used this as a line of attack at the Conservative Party conference but appears to have left out all context from Mr Corbyn’s original remarks. In an 2011 interview on Iranian television, the then-backbencher said the fact the al-Qaeda leader was not put on trial was the tragedy, continuing: “The World Trade Center was a tragedy, the attack on Afghanistan was a tragedy, the war in Iraq was a tragedy.”
3/11 He is ‘haunted’ by the legacy of his ‘evil’ great-great-grandfather
False. A Daily Express exposé revealed that the Labour leader’s ancestor, James Sargent, was the “despotic” master of a Victorian workhouse. Addressing the report at the Labour conference, Mr Corbyn said he had never heard of him before, adding: “I want to take this opportunity to apologise for not doing the decent thing and going back in time and having a chat with him about his appalling behaviour.”
4/11 Jeremy Corbyn raised a motion about ‘pigeon bombs’ in Parliament
This one is true. On 21 May 2004, Mr Corbyn raised an early day motion entitled “pigeon bombs”, proposing that the House register being “appalled but barely surprised” that MI5 reportedly proposed to load pigeons with explosives as a weapon. The motion continued: “The House… believes that humans represent the most obscene, perverted, cruel, uncivilised and lethal species ever to inhabit the planet and looks forward to the day when the inevitable asteroid slams into the earth and wipes them out thus giving nature the opportunity to start again.” It was not carried.
5/11 He rides a Communist bicycle
False. A report in The Times referred to Mr Corbyn, known for his cycling, riding a “Chairman Mao-style bicycle” earlier this year. “Less thorough journalists might have referred to it as just a bicycle, but no, so we have to conclude that whenever we see somebody on a bicycle from now on, there goes another supporter of Chairman Mao,” he later joked.
6/11 'Jeremy Corbyn will appoint a special minister for Jews'
False so far. The Sun report in December was allegedly based on a “rumour” passed to the paper by a Daily Express columnist who has written pieces critical of the Labour leader in the past. The minister did not materialise in his shadow cabinet.
7/11 ‘Jeremy Corbyn wishes Britain would abolish its Army’
False. Another gem from The Sun took comments made at a Hiroshima remembrance parade in August 2012 where Mr Corbyn supported Costa Rica’s move to abolish it armed forces. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every politician around the world…abolished the army and took pride in the fact that they don’t have an army,” he added. The caveat that “every politician” must take the step suggests Mr Corbyn does not support UK disarmament just yet.
8/11 Jeremy Corbyn stole sandwiches meant for veterans
False. The Guido Fawkes blog claimed that the Labour leader took sandwiches meant for veterans at at Battle of Britain memorial service in September but a photo later emerged showing him being handed one by Costa volunteers, who later confirmed they were given to all guests.
9/11 He missed the induction into the Queen’s privy council
True. After much speculation about Mr Corbyn’s republican views and willingness to bow to the monarch, his office confirmed that he did not attend the official induction to the privy council because of a prior engagement, but did not rule out joining the body.
10/11 Jeremy Corbyn refuses to sing the national anthem.
Partly true. The Labour leader was filmed standing in silence as God Save the Queen was sung at a Battle of Britain remembrance service but will reportedly sing it in future. Mr Corbyn was elusive on the issue in an interview, saying he would show memorials “respect in the proper way”, but sources said he would sing the anthem at future occasions.
11/11 He is a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Cheese
True. The group lists its purpose as the following: “To increase awareness of issues surrounding the dairy industry and focus on economic issues affecting the dairy industry and producers.”
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.