Paul Mason has gotten himself into a bit of a pickle, after he was recorded in a bar saying that “Corbyn doesn’t appeal to the mainstream working class vote” and that “he has no cultural references to the way they live”. He continued by saying that the movement surrounding Jeremy Corbyn is a “cultural thing about London”, which alienates the northern voters with whom he apparently has nothing in common.
Now, I’ve never been the biggest fan of Mason’s views (well, not actually a fan at all – but he is entitled to have private conversations without fear of being recorded), but I have to agree with him on this – there is a distinct rift between Corbyn’s movement and the views of the working class, particularly in the north. Corbyn has lived in the London borough of Islington for most of his life and those who occupy the top jobs in his shadow cabinet – the Shadow Foreign Secretary, the Shadow Chancellor and the Shadow Home Secretary – all now live in the surrounding north London boroughs. There may be 10 members of the shadow cabinet who represent northern constituencies, but none of them have been put into the most prominent positions. Corbyn has nothing in common with vast swathes of the country, and neither do his closest political allies.
James Schneider has joined Labour’s comms team from Momentum this week – a capable, friendly man, but he is exceedingly priviledged (having grown up in a £7m mansion), white, privately educated and attended Oxford (oh, and used to support the Liberal Democrats, lest we forget). Milne, still in the top comms position for the past year, is privately educated at Winchester College (having also attended a prep school in his infancy, meaning he has never set foot in a state school at any point during his life), and obscenely posh.
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.”
The prevalence of rich white men in the top communications positions is disconcerting – the point of their job is to engage with the electorate, but their appointment screams “rich white blokes tell you what’s best for you while they live in mansions and see your annual salary as spare cash”. I personally don’t need rich men telling me how to live my life – we’ve dealt with that for too many years under the Tories, and it isn’t really change to replace one elite administration with another. When a good chunk of Labour’s team had more selective and expensive educations than the Tory prime minister, you do start to wonder who they’re really representing.
Mason is correct – too much of what Corbyn represents is a “London culture thing”, a bunch of super-privileged people who feel bad about their opportunities but at the same time want to use them to climb the political ladder. Forgive me if I don’t believe people like that will “change the world”. I don’t doubt that their efforts come from a good place, but it’s difficult to remedy the problems of society when you’ve never experienced hardship yourself.
For too many people at the top of Labour, the problems of poverty-stricken people in the UK have never been more than interesting sociological studies to read about and shake their heads over. I feel much more comfortable listening to people like Angela Rayner kick off, because she has experienced a tough life and can bring that knowledge forward to suggest useful and relatable policy. Why aren’t there more people like her getting promotions?
This is where the dangerous disconnect arises from, the one between the working classes and the Labour Party that Paul Mason diagnoses. The intentions may be pure, but the knowledge, experience and emotional connections are lacking – hence why Mason’s call for Clive Lewis to take over in the future is sound if the party wishes to engage with the wider electorate, and not just 300,000 members.
Lewis grew up on a council estate in Northampton, attended Bradford University (not Oxford or Cambridge, unlike a third of MPs, which is refreshing) and spent time in the TA, serving a term in Afghanistan. Mason is right: that is a man who can engage with the wider electorate. He is one of us, while Corbyn and his team sit on a pedestal above.Reuse content