Ayesha Hazarika: Corbyn's car crash relaunch is becoming a pile up
It will come as no real loss to Team Corbyn that Tristram Hunt is leaving, but it is yet another sign of how hopeless things are.
The one thing the Labour party has been pretty good and vocal about is the NHS. It’s our number one go to issue and the public care about it too. All good. Last Saturday the Red Cross called the state of the NHS a humanitarian crisis. Yes, you could argue the language was a somewhat hysterical, but what a golden (stop thinking that) opportunity for our leader Jeremy Corbyn to show the public that he meant business and was speaking up for them.
He could have had hours of broadcast coverage but no. Although Jon Ashworth the Shadow Health Secretary valiantly did a heap of tv and radio, the boss Corbyn should have been out there. It would have been free money in terms of connecting with the public on a subject which they still like us on. Something happened at 4pm after the story had raged all day and when anyone had to temerity to ask where was Jeremy – they were of course attacked by Cobyn super fans.
Corbyn’s media spokesman actually tweeted to me to say “delete your tweet”. I know they want to ape a wee bit of the Trump approach, but guys seriously….this is the new media strategy?
So that was Saturday. We then looked forward giddily the big thrusting left wing populist relaunch and it began with promise. Some clear, sensible although difficult lines saying that Labour would be focused on a working people’s Brexit and be prepared to move on freedom of movement. Wowsers, many of us thought. This is a tough message but sensible. By showing that we are alive to people’s concerns, this allows Labour to start having those crucial conversations with the public about what they are really upset about which are things that Labour cares about – pressures on local health and social care services; a lack of local investment and housing; not sharing the wealth and opportunity that London has; systemic inequality; culture; integration.
There is a really important and emotionally intelligent conversation that Labour can and should be having with the public – leavers, remainers and don’t forget the people who didn’t vote - what what kind of community and country they want for themselves and their children, but you have to start by acknowledging that people have some concerns about freedom of movement – not everyone but quite a few.
And for anyone muttering the word racist as they take to Twitter, jog on. I grew up as the daughter of Muslim immigrants in a very white part of Lanarkshire in Scotland and my family experienced the very good, the bad and the ugly so I really don’t need a lecture thankseverso. I know Diane Abbot (who I respect as our first black female MP) and other senior feel it’s racist whenever we talk about immigration – but do we honestly think closing down any discussion has led us to a good place in terms of race relations and tolerance and looking closer to home, how many senior Black or Asian people work in Labour HQ or in Team Corbyn? Come back to me on racism and equality when that needle has moved a bit.
Anyway, that digression is of course all academic because words were had overnight and Corbyn rowed back and the line reverted to “I know we said we could have a discussion about freedom of movement…. Well we can also have a discussion about not having that discussion too” Simples!
We then all enjoyed a crazy adventure into the thorny world of high pay which went a bit like this.
“I want to tackle high pay.”
“A wage cap!!”
“At how much?”
“Erm….. dunno…. think Arsene Wenger might have a view”
“Have you spoken to Arsene Wenger”
“Do you want this to apply to footballers earning over £1m or £2m”
Later that day we had moved away from this clear, lucid, confidence inspiring policy proposal to a rather muted option looking at pay ratios and public procurement.
Now. I don’t think it is mad or bad for Corbyn to be talking about wage, wealth and structural inequality – quite the opposite – I really really want Labour to be on this properly. People are pissed off about the haves and have nots across the country – it was a major factor underpinning Brexit in my view. Like many Labour members, I wince when I recall the Mandleson words about not caring about the rich getting richer.
We should care. Yawning gaps between the top and the bottom are not healthy and do not make for society at ease with itself (just look around). And although we did good stuff with tax credit and the National Minimum Wage, Labour didn’t talk about the top and the bottom enough. At the tail end of our time in Government Harriet Harman as Equalities Minister commissioned an in-depth study on inequality by Prof John Hills and there was huge discomfort from No 10 about even doing that, but we wanted robust evidence to help us shape the Equality Act. And it did. We ended up crafting Clause one of the Equality Act which was a public duty to narrow disadvantage which was called “socialism in one clause” by left leaning commentators. Funnily enough, the Tories never implemented it, so don’t say we did nothing and are all the same.
My point is that it’s great for Corbyn to have these big, noble important ideas. To be fair, Ed Miliband ventured there and saw how tricky they can be, but 100% yes – make a strong choice about whose side you are on. But if you are serious about making people believe that you can fix things and offer solutions and not platitudes, you need to do deep, critical thinking; you need to reach out to those pesky experts that know stuff and can help; and stress test the policy so you know you won’t dissolve in to a shambles on the third question of any interview. Do the work. Properly, over time.
I don’t have a problem with the clichéd Westwing phrase “Let x be x”. I agree with it. Corbyn is his own man. Always has been. He has many ideas and beliefs which could well prove to be popular in the climate we’re in and yes, as I have said before, people grew tired of the old way of the doing things in the Labour party where everything was over managed. His PMQs are getting better against Theresa May who is weak at the despatch box. So let Corbyn be Corbyn in all his glory. Go for it. But do us this favour – try and be good at it. Or at least a wee bit better.
We all get that he is the boss, we need him to step up and stop falling over. I want to see him give his ideas and principles the best shot possible at the next election. We all do. He has no contender on the horizon. He’s been elected twice. His opponents in the PLP who had no confidence in Corbyn have taken the wise decision to shut up and are keeping their head down and of course some are packing their bags and leaving politics. So Team Corbyn probably feel they are winning on the things that matter to them.
It will come as no real loss to Team Corbyn that Jamie Reed and Tristram Hunt are leaving and will allow them to pick new loyalist candidates. His hyper partisan super fans will scream that they were careerists and are disloyal but it is a sign of how hopeless things are. These resignations are not usual. Never underestimate how much people want and fight hard to become MPs, how proud they are to get those two letters after their names and how difficult it is for them to leave of their own free will as it is not considered the done thing. It is not a decision they will have taken lightly and it will probably always haunt them no matter how interesting their new roles are. But for Labour to lose smart, popular and articulate young MPs at this stage in a parliamentary cycle is not a good look.
But relaunches and resignations aside what does the public think because that’s what really matters in the end. Well, we came last in a metropolitan by-election; we came fourth (down from second) in heartland; and last night we lost a council seat in Sunderland to the Lib Dems. Now these by-elections are not the be all and end all and people sometimes use them to vote differently than they would do in a general election, but let’s be honest, the direction of travel is not exactly jazz hands for Labour.
Labour’s new year relaunch has been less car crash, more pile up. Copeland and Stoke will give Corbyn a big opportunity to get out there with a fresh sense of energy and purpose. It would be pretty amazing if he could destroy his opponents in other parties as well as he is doing within the Labour party.
Picture by: Nick Ansell/PA Wire/PA Images.