Kevin Maguire: Jeremy Corbyn is teeing up a ‘Tango Man’ offensive
The Labour leader has a new-look team and a new strategy to boot.
Jeremy Corbyn is no fan of fizzy sugary drinks but he's pursuing what his team coin a ‘Tango Man’ strategy.
The game plan, nicknamed after a controversial advert for the soft drink in which a fat orange figure surprises victims who're left reeling after they're attacked, is classic hit and run politics.
“We've go to show people we're an effective opposition with genuine Labour values,” says a key adviser. “By landing a few blows on the Tories to move the conversation away from the internal problems we've had.”
The ad with its shout of ‘You've been Tangoed’ was withdrawn amid uproar over copycat attacks in playgrounds and streets, but Labour's desperate to put recent troubles behind the party and regain the initiative since Corbyn's reinstallation with a slightly higher majority.
The huge scale of the electoral challenge was underlined early today by Corbyn's Southern Discomfort in the Witney by-election, Labour slipping from second to third behind the Liberal Democrat candidate and David Cameron's successor Robert Courts.
Corbyn's office was quietly confident of a respectable second as late as Thursday afternoon. The result confirms opinion polls finding Labour nationally as much as 18% behind Theresa May's governing party can't be easily dismissed.
Yet there's renewed optimism in Westminster's Norman Shaw South since Corbyn's victory last month and - according to the leader's calculations - the return of more than half the 63 frontbench rebels.
Corbyn's position is finally settled even if the thorny issue of shadow cabinet elections is not. The latter is to be discussed next month by the party's ruling National Executive Committee. The relative harmony, however, creates space to focus on the Tories.
The Tango Man assaults will see Corbyn going after the Tories on solid Labour ground such as grammar schools and an ailing NHS while capitalising on doubts fast emerging about May's competence over the economy and Brexit. Sprinkle on a string of crowd-pleasing campaigns, picking virtue signalling battles to exploit public unhappiness with specific unfairnesses, and a short and medium-term strategy is indeed emerging.
Persuading the voters to notice is more difficult. Nobody outside a fanatical Corbynista corps privately underestimates the hurdles ahead when first impressions are difficult to change, and in the wider country it wasn't entirely favourable.
Too much talent is still wasted when the likes of Lisa Nandy, Lucy Powell and even leadership challenger, Owen Smith, remain outside the shadow cabinet. But appointing Nick 'Newcastle” Brown as chief whip was a smart move to improve parliamentary discipline. The Newcastle MP is capable of shifting swiftly from iron fist to velvet glove and is trusted by the Corbynistas because he hates Blairites more than they do.
Corbyn's office is investing more effort into personal relationships, evidenced by a ‘tea and cake’ initiative from Corbyn's trade union liaison manager, Nancy Platts. She invited previously shunned shadow cabinet political advisers to meet-and-greet in the leader's boardroom.
The leader is now enjoying rather than hating his role. He has sharpened his act at Prime Minister's Questions – where his performances serve as a barometer of morale in the Parliamentary Labour Party.
A forecast by a member of Corbyn's office that the Tory poll lead will be cut to single figures by Christmas reinforces both the height of the mountain to climb and the strapping on of climbing boots.
But at least the party has a plan, which couldn't be said during much of the past year. We'll discover soon enough if it is Labour or the Tories that are Tangoed, especially is May gambles on calling an early general election that Corbyn's party is ill-prepared to fight. He needs more time. She might not give it.
Kevin Maguire is associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror
Picture by: Isabel Infantes/PA Wire/PA Images