IMPACT Article of the Month
As Social Democrats and Democratic Socialists wearily saw out one of the bleakest political years in modern times, Jeremy Corbyn’s admirably patient set of ‘media advisors’ were preparing to rebrand Labour’s embattled leader.
Attempting to capitalise on the rich vein of anti-establishment sentiment spanning both sides of the Atlantic, Corbyn was to be styled in the likeness of left wing populist Bernie Sanders. ‘New Year, New Jeremy’ was the dish of the day and his first appearance was scheduled for a speech in Peterborough on January 10th, a strongly Labour constituency, where the majority of the electorate voted to leave the EU.
Labour have been haemorrhaging voters over Brexit, caught between the ardently Pro-Europe Lib Dems and Theresa May’s new ‘Brexit means Brexit’ Tories. In dire need of strong messaging and leadership, Corbyn’s team excitedly briefed the press prior to the speech of how Corbyn was no longer “wedded” to freedom of movement, leading to a raft of speculation over a new populist line on immigration.
What actually transpired when the full text of the speech was released the next day was that “[Labour] is not wedded to freedom of movement for EU citizens as a point of principle, but I don’t want that to be misinterpreted, nor do we rule it out”.
Consider this, not only have Team Corbyn produced an incoherent message that appeals to nobody, but they actively sought to draw specific attention to what is effectively a declaration of uncertainty. Having garnered the attention of the entire British media for a radical transformation, surely this P.R. disaster can only diminish any confidence left in the leader’s already lacklustre performance on the defining political issue of the decade?
Within minutes, Labour was under attack, the Conservatives criticised an immigration policy that “changes daily” and the Lib Dems for a policy indistinguishable from that of the Conservatives. To leave Europe’s largest political party so vulnerable to attack from both left and right is at best indicative of an inability to communicate and at worst gross negligence on the part of a leadership way out of its depth.
This was only the beginning however, as became clear when, on the same day, Corbyn discussed on Radio 4’s ‘Today Programme’ his desire to see a “maximum earning limit” from which he immediately recanted amidst almost universally derisive responses from economists. Amongst them was ex-advisor Prof. Danny Blanchflower who called the idea “1970s gaga economics”. A Corbyn spokesman later claimed he “misspoke” and that Labour’s policy would be for a 20:1 maximum earnings ratio - applied to government contractors - as laid out in his Peterborough speech.
The fact that senior members of his shadow cabinet had no clue that a wage cap was being proposed is deeply worrying. Putting aside the grave economic concerns raised by this ‘wealth cap’, this gaffe presents two scenarios. Either Jeremy Corbyn is unable to remember what he needs to say in an interview or he is creating economic policies off the cuff.
If we are to lend the Labour leadership the benefit of the doubt and assume he ‘misspoke’ then the man has no ability to craft a coherent message, let alone translate that into success at the ballot box. The ‘Mainstream Media’ have been accused of wilfully misrepresenting what are mere suggestions, but this does nothing to account for the simple truth that the Leader of the Opposition should not be brainstorming into a live microphone.
If, however, the excuse that veteran politician and ideologue Jeremy Corbyn ‘got his own ideas wrong’ is as ridiculous as it sounds, then we are faced with the disturbing prospect that current Labour policy is dictated by what will receive the least flak from the press. In which case, what Corbyn has achieved is the seemingly impossible – to conform to a populist agenda whilst staying thoroughly unpopular.
This ineptitude would be amusing if the circumstances weren’t so grave. Hospitals are being declared humanitarian disaster areas as the NHS is starved of funds, a laughably incompetent government holds the tiller as we sail into the political unknown and on the international stage new and complex threats to our safety cast a dark shadow over an uncertain future. Labour has a real opportunity to step up and regain the trust of a frightened and confused electorate.
Instead, the leadership squanders every opportunity with thoughtless words and hasty actions. In doing so a disservice is done not only to the many hard-working, dynamic Labour MPs but also to the tens of thousands of activists across the country who sacrifice countless hours to try to turn the party into a credible force again.
This is not an ideological issue. My reservations about Mr Corbyn are a simple question of competence. This is a man who has stumbled blindly into every media trap, who has failed entirely to communicate his core principles to the general public and who has consistently failed to inform and manage his shadow cabinet.
Having won the support of the membership twice, Mr Corbyn has every right to lead the Labour Party, but with mismanagement of this proportion can this mockery of a performance even be called leadership?
I would hope that the ‘relaunched’ Mr Corbyn might realise that his responsibilities extend not only to his members but to all citizens of this country. Divided and fearful, now more than ever Britain deserves a Labour Party that can promise security and prosperity, save our ailing NHS and focus on the issues that effect their day-to-day lives with equal concern as that afforded to lofty political ideals. However, if Day One is anything to go by, I fear my hope may well be misplaced.
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