Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Life in Wonderland - Corbyn's conference speech

For the Daily Record

Party conferences are locked-off, Alice in Wonderland places cut off from the real world.

If someone arrives from outside declaring  scientists have found life-giving water on Mars, delegates shrug their shoulders at the irrelevance of the news.

Conferences are altered reality, where anything can happen. That's why Jeremy Corbyn's first speech to the Labour conference was such a barnstormer in the hall. 

In here the drumbeat of socialist principles, the defiant challenge to Tory austerity, and the promise of a different way of doing politics drew ovation after ovation

The trouble is that as the testament of the Islington messiah reaches the outside world voters may shrug their shoulders collectively in return.

This was a speech aimed at soothing a bruised party, not convincing a sceptical voter who blames Labour for the economic crash

In his comfort zone it was a warm and witty speech, a wish list for a kinder world that offered few solutions to hard choices of the real world. We can assume these will be sent to policy reviews.

At its core was nothing less than a challenge to the historic order of capitalism. That passage turned out to be a rethread of a speechwriter's script that Ed Miliband rejected in 2011.

On issues he is passionate about, the injustice of poverty, the despot Saudi regime, the rhetoric  drew on Corbyn's own leadership speeches, but was not quite so mediocre as they were.

On Scotland it was a tick box affair, reading the lines from an unfamiliar autocue and what sounded like the script direction - "strong message here" - as he promised Labour would be back as the fighting force it once was. Not much for Nicola Sturgeon to lose sleep over.

He insisted on taking Trident out of the box that the party boss, sorry Unite union boss Len McCluskey, packed it into earlier in the week. Labour may not be debating Trident renewal yet but Corbyn insisted his mandate to is to scrap it and that means there will be division down the road. 

Though he submitted to convention and wore a tie, awkwardly, Corbyn clearly thinks he has changed the rules of politics.

In conventional terms he does not work, an unspun politician,  unstructured speeches, policy discussions not proclamations, it just shouldn't fly in a 24/7 news cycle and a digital world. 

But he told the media it is they who are on the wrong page. 

"No, media commentariat you've got it wrong," he declared, and that telt us. 

Much of the media has already dismissed this rebel who came in from the allotment as a disaster for Labour who will not connect with the public. 

But there is a Corbyn effect out there,  160,000 new members have signed up. He is reaching out with the Good Samaritan politics of kindness.

The speech played to his strengths, his unorthodox approach to politics and defiance of the accepted style of business.

But conventionally voters like leaders to have other strengths, to take decisions not seek compromises, and to be trusted with the economy.  

The political village cannot decide if Corbyn has genuinely tapped the anti-politics mood or how deep that well is. In Wonderland it is hard to tell.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Corbyn connects, but can he reach out in Scotland?

The lesson from that phenomenal result - Corbyn connects.

Certainly he does in the Labour party where six in ten members backed him as their first choice.

That is a call for a different way of doing politics and for a different Labour Party.

A mandate like that is unassailable from within and resistant to the many setbacks and traps external opponents will put in the way of the new Labour leader.

It’s clear now that this summer politics in the left in Britain has undergone the same transformation as the nationalist politics in Scotland experienced last year.

Defeat has spurred political activists to express their core values, nationalism in Scotland, socialism within the Labour party.

The anti-politics surge that gifted the SNP with over 100,000 members after the referendum has left Labour with over 500,000 across the UK.

But be careful, the SNP membership still outnumbers Labour by five to one in Scotland.

Will Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-establishment credentials, his principled socialism and left-wing values connect with voters better than Nicola Strugeon’s assured, groomed and polished nationalist operation?

Although amazed by the result Corbyn looks like taking leadership in same straight-talking style as he won the contest with.

Mind you, it was noticeable that his powerful victory speech was aimed at the Labour support in the hall and not at the TV nation looking in who he must introduce himself to connect to with the same vigour.

In Scotland the test of Corbynism will be if his policies pull back votes from the SNP.

If they do not then what is happening in Scotland is not about politics at all, it is all about identity.