Originally written for the Chat Politics website back in 2015, this piece looks at how Jeremy Corbyn faced during his first week as Labour Leader.
By Will Barber Taylor
Jeremy Corbyn, the outsider, the renegade of British politics is now the Leader of the Opposition. To type that sentence isn’t as shocking as it might have been had I typed it last year. Corbyn’s rise has, in some ways like Blair, been meteoric in its assent. The building of personal support from the bottom up has seen Corbyn to victory and helped him win a landslide victory at the leadership election. However, merely getting elected was the least of Corbyn’s troubles.
In his first week Corbyn had to prove himself able to lead a major political party not only into a new way of thinking but also, eventually, into a general election. Until polling day the battle will rage about whether Tony Benn’s successor will be able to win over the electorate but until that day arrives, we can get some indication of whether Corbyn will succeed or fail in his ultimate mission – to become Prime Minister of Great Britain.
Following on from his winning speech and brief visit to a local pub to talk to party workers, Corbyn’s first important action as Leader of the Labour Party was to attend a rally in Trafalgar Square. By making such an obvious and quick break with Labour’s recent past, Corbyn is clearly showing that he is a distinctive and independent leader. This could, in the long term, work for and against him. While the performance at the rally featured some intelligent and humane rhetoric, his point about welcoming migrants with “open arms” may put off some of the UKIP and “Middle England” supporters he might need to get into a position of power, whose own thoughts about the matter would vary from Corbyn’s, to say the least. Both the Trafalgar Speech and his previous acceptance speech at the Labour conference had two things in common – he didn’t try to appeal to anyone. He merely set out his own agenda. An agenda which, based on his wanting the input of as many people as possible, may be troublesome. Both the Trafalgar Speech and the Acceptance Speech are key signposts as to the policies he would like if everyone in the electorate was like him. Yet they also show the difference that he has between his own personal view of Britain and the view that those he needs to vote for him have.
The other major event of Corbyn’s first week as leader was, of course, PMQs. Having promised to do them in a “less theatrical way” and to have his questions more accountable to the Labour movement that elected him, Corbyn delivered all of these things. His first PMQs appearance as Leader was a low key affair with the exception of the Prime Minister making a jab at Labour back benchers for not following the “new type of Prime Minister’s Questions”. The central idea of using questions from the public as the basis for PMQs is not a bad idea. In fact, it was an idea that Cameron himself had toyed with before, as his opposite number wryly pointed out, forgetting about it. The idea of the Leader being a truly democratic force and being the voice of his movement is a genuinely revolutionary idea. However, the only set back to this method is that it could suggest to some that the Executive of the Party prefers picking questions from the public for Corbyn to ask, rather than letting him air his own views and possibly weaken his chances of getting elected.
Another setback to Corbyn’s first week is the manner in which he opened PMQs. The idea of making it far more civilised is an excellent ambition and a noble idea but it rather plays into the Tories’ hands. As the latest issue of Private Eye pointed out, what is the point of an opposition if it doesn’t kick up a fuss about the government? By being wholly civil and attempting to be awfully polite leaves The Labour Party without its strongest weapon; being able to make killer and cutting points about the government’s failings. By spending too much time worrying about appearing too civil and adult, the political spark and firestorm that should be there evaporates into a cloud of electorate defeat.
Corbyn’s first week as Labour Leader has been marked by a tug of war between the new Leader’s natural views and a sense within the Labour movement of having to make their new leader electable. Whether the party will be able to achieve this goal is something that has yet to be seen. While Corbyn’s first week in charge may not have gone as well as it could, he can at least rest easy that he hasn’t had to endure the weeks of problems, accusations and failings that have beset Britain’s unluckiest politician: David Cameron.