Abi Wilkinson: I was rooting for Corbyn, but he has let me down

Written by Abi Wilkinson on 2 June 2016 in Opinion

As I watched the Vice News documentary on the Labour leadership, it felt like the final nail in the coffin.

Any hope I once held about Jeremy Corbyn's ability to steer the party in a more positive direction has been well and truly extinguished by this week's Vice News documentary.

Though I’d not been enough of a believer to back him in the leadership contest, when Corbyn swept to victory with a massive 60% of first preference votes I couldn’t help but get caught up in the excitement. As someone whose own opinions place me firmly towards the left of Labour’s broad church, it felt exhilarating to see that reflected at the top of the party.

Possibly, I thought, this really is what Labour needs to shake it out of its post-general election slump. Perhaps we actually will be able to change the terms of the debate. Maybe, just maybe, this is the beginning of something big.

Sure, it was going to be a long shot, but not everything that happens in politics is predictable. Ten years ago, who expected that the SNP would turn almost the entirety of Scotland yellow? How many serious commentators foresaw Syriza’s victory or Ukip’s rise to prominence? Besides, Corbyn had already beaten the odds just by getting elected leader in the first place. In a vague but powerful way, it made the unlikely feel possible.

Fast forward nine months and it’s fair to say that things have not gone well. Opinion poll after opinion poll has placed Labour behind or barely breaking even with the Conservatives, less than encouraging when you consider that Miliband was 11 points ahead at this juncture in the electoral cycle. In the recent local elections, Labour managed to lose seats. Historically, whenever the opposition party has been outperformed by the government in council elections it has tended to also suffer a general election defeat.

Admittedly, not all of this is Corbyn’s own fault. He’s faced challenges more centrist leaders wouldn’t have — beginning with the preemptive, public refusal of several senior MPs to serve in his shadow cabinet. What’s more, I don’t think his team are entirely delusional when they claim he’s faced unusual levels of media scrutiny and hostility. True, Ed Miliband had to endure bacon sandwich-gate, but he received far more support from commentators aligned broadly with the left.

At the same time, the situation is what it is. Complaining about the perceived injustice of it all won’t deliver Labour electoral success. Corbyn has a duty to perform as well as possible under the conditions he’s actually faced with. What the Vice News documentary demonstrated, at least in my mind, is that he’s failing even in this regard.

It’s not that it showed anything unexpected, as such, but rather that it simply confirmed my worst expectations. I think part of me had been clinging to the idea that there could be more going on behind the scenes. That many of the current difficulties were teething problems that could be solved over time. After all, it’s not surprising that an outspoken, veteran backbencher might struggle to adjust to the new requirements of a leadership role.

Watching the documentary, it became clear that the issue runs deeper than I’d hoped. It’s about far more than just basic competency. Fundamentally, Corbyn considers the mainstream media the enemy. His goal seems to be to engage with journalists as little as possible. He has little interest in using newspapers and television as tools to communicate with the electorate and actively resists his advisors’ efforts to secure more positive coverage — by dressing more smartly or capitalising on Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation to attack the Conservatives.

Unless something changes, it’s hard to see how Labour’s fortunes are possibly going to improve. What Corbyn doesn’t seem to understand is that few senior politicians have a deep-rooted passion for public relations - they cooperate with the media because that’s what works. Refusing to play by the rules isn’t brave, it’s arrogant and negligent. As someone who was rooting for him to succeed, I feel let down.



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