The five things you need to know on Tuesday September 29, 2015...
1) IT’S A KINDER MAGIC
There’ll be no walk-on music from the Killers, no adoring wife posing mute for the cameras, no hour-long memory test. But when Jeremy Corbyn delivers his first ever party conference speech, the twin aims will be to reassure the voters that he’s not scary and to prove to them that his ‘new politics’ and values are in touch with mainstream Britain.
It may seem strange that a veteran leftwinger like Jeremy Corbyn is echoing George Bush (senior)’s ‘kinder, gentler’ politics plea. But although his politics are a world apart from the former American president, he’s of a similar generation and the new Labour leader’s approach is similarly rooted in what he believes is a fundamental decency.
Bush’s line worked the first time in 1988, but don’t forget it was accompanied by not so kind or gentle attacks on Michael Dukakis (remember Willie Horton anyone?). It didn’t work in 1992 when he faced a younger opponent with a strong economic message.
Corbyn’s overnight line was a far cry from the exhaustive briefings we’re used to from previous Labour leader teams. Some say that’s because the speech isn’t actually finished, some that it’s proof that today will naturally be sketchy given the big task ahead. But like John McDonnell yesterday, will the reasonable tone mask some real radicalism?
Most papers weren’t briefed on the plans for new maternity/paternity/sick pay rights for the army of self-employed Brits. Just how that will be funded is unclear but it’s the sort of Miliband-plus policy we can expect more of.
‘I love my country’ will make at least two appearances as Corbyn tries to reassure the wider public that he’s not a scary figure who hates the Royals and national anthem and threatens our security. Apart from a brief lapse with Krishnan Guru-Murthy this summer, he’s not a Steve Wright-style Mr Angry (tho Mr McDonnell often seems to like that role).
Of course, the bigger question is not how softly spoken or reasonable Corbyn is (as on Marr), but just what he’s proposing to the voters. And while it’s fine to have a debate five years out from an election (he will say today he’s ‘not imposing leadership lines’), every leader has to swiftly offer some policy direction other than ‘reviews’ or ‘healthy disagreements’. As Dan Jarvis and Tristram Hunt pointed out yesterday, the clock is already ticking on next May’s elections test. A kinder politics isn't some kind of magic panacea to crunchy questions like immigration, welfare and trusted financial management.
Lucy Powell was the Today programme choice today, stressing there was “no hurry” to decide firm policy five years from the next general election. But she also put her finger on his main pitch today: “He’ll want to get across that message that people have nothing to fear from him”. Still, the Times YouGov poll today says voters see him as more extreme than Farage.
Pollster Deborah Mattinson last night told a fringe that one of her focus groups had declared that Corbyn ‘looks like the kind of man who doesn’t own an iPad’.
In fact, he was on the conference platform earlier in the day taking a pic from his iPad, a classic American tourist tech faux pas in the eyes of hipsters and millennials. The fact that he’s got one but has a clunky way of using it could endear him to that key demographic Labour needs to win back: pensioners. And the over-65s were the key voter group George Bush Senior won back in 1988….
2) DROPPING THE A-BOMB
Some papers claimed that Diane Abbott’s embrace of Jeremy Corbyn on the conference platform was their ‘first’ since the ‘sexpot Trot’ revelations about their romantic entanglement three decades ago. But Abbott is nothing if not loyal to the Leader and last night’s Labour Assembly Against Austerity fringe saw the A-bomb explode at what she sees as the enemy within. And there was nothing kind or gentle about it.
Abbott claimed that some MPs were plotting to vote for airstrikes in Syria, but with Corbyn their main target rather than ISIL: "I hear that there are Labour MPs, supporters of losing candidates, who think that by voting to support the bombing in Syria, they can strike a blow against our new leader. And I say to them, the Labour movement will never forgive people who vote to put British troops in harms way because of internal Labour politics."
Some centrist MPs were outraged at her outrage (a cycle of verbal violence we’re set to see more of in coming months perhaps). But David Cameron is certainly thinking of bringing a fresh vote before Parliament and some Tories know that would exploit Labour divisions. Dan Jarvis told our HuffPostUK fringe that he wanted a free vote on Syria: “I think its right that every Labour MP be allowed to have their say based on their own conscience”.
Hilary Benn’s own clear criteria on Syrian intervention yesterday were striking mainly because he had to stress just how much he wanted to keep military action as an option. Safe havens would necessarily require strong military protection, not least given memories of the Srebrenica massacre. Whether the party leadership really gets that is unclear.
Meanwhile, over in the US, David Cameron has unveiled a new approach, getting the United Nations to impose sanctions on four British jihadists allegedly fighting for the so-called Islamic State group in Syria.
Some Labour MPs believe the 1,700 steel workers job losses in Redcar underline just how impotent the party now is as it enters its sixth year in Opposition. Those on the soft left and centre say that it proves the overriding importance of being in Government to defend workers jobs, rather than shouting from the sidelines.
Trade unions here certainly believed that the SSI announcement was a much bigger deal than debates on Trident and yesterday on the conference floor there was a moving speech by a man who is set to be made redundant.
Brian Dennis, who started life as a shipbuilder but moved into steel 26 years ago, told the conference: "This morning I was told I'm losing my job. All of us steel workers on Teesside are facing the end of our industry and a very bleak future. Only the government can save us now."
He tells the Mirror how his wife was made redundant last year and now the family are facing life with no work in the house. And Brian’s words will concern all those Labour MPs terrified about UKIP cleaning up in working class heartlands like the North East:
“I would ask why the Germans will help their steel industry, why the French will help their steel industry, why the Italians bought Ilva Steel for £2bn to help their steel industry, yet he [Cameron] hides behind state rules, state aid rules.” Union officials will today start talks on the next steps.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Watch this puppy lose an epic fight with a Minion. Hey, we all need a break
4) DAN THE MAN
The positive feedback from our Dan Jarvis fringe yesterday has been plentiful, with the former Army major having the packed audience eating out of his hand. Jack Monroe, food blogger and anti-austerity campaigner (and a Green party member barred from joining Labour as a £3 supporter) was full of praise, not least as Jarvis invited her and her RAF brother to the Commons to see if he could turn him from being a Tory.
Jarvis didn’t disappoint in terms of news lines for the gathered hacks, with a free vote call on Syria, a warning that the Tories were ‘coming for us’, an attack on McDonnell’s IRA remarks and a strong defence of the monarchy’s role in the armed forces (and the national anthem). He also had some neat anecdotes about Tony Blair and a helicopter in Kosovo and his own brush with a mugger on the Tube.
Yet it was on the key question of leadership that Jarvis was most interesting. He explained why he’d put his kids first this summer: “They had lost their mum [who died of cancer in 2010] and I didn't want them to lose their dad.” He said that was still the right decision, but I couldn’t help feeling that over time he may change his mind as the children get older.
And Jarvis, like Tristram Hunt, warned that next May’s elections would be a huge first test for Corbynism. “Ultimately as politicians we are all judged on elections.” That sounded ominous, not least because he also said Ed Miliband would have been under huge pressure if he’d lost Heywood and Middleton last year. Many MPs think it will take a disastrous by-election loss to UKIP in a safe Labour seat for the party to wake up and decided Corbyn’s reign has to be challenged. Let’s see.
5) NANDY BURN ‘EM
Lisa Nandy is certainly on the up. A key ally of the Corbynistas, she was briefly floated as a possible leader by the Left early in May before agreeing Jezza should go for it (I’m told she has ‘absolutely no desire’ to become leader, especially with such a young family, but maybe a higher profile role could change her mind?).
In her own speech to conference today the new Shadow Energy Secretary will try to square the circle between leftwing demands to take ownership of the Big Six and more realistic moves to outflank them while cutting the amount of fossil fuels the UK burns.
“Jeremy and I don’t want to nationalise energy. We want to do something far more radical. We want to democratise it," she will tell delegates. “There should be nothing to stop every community in this country owning its own clean energy power station. We will work with our local government leaders to push for a clean energy boom in our great cities.”
It’s a more interesting approach and in tune with the small-scale, self-generation approach backed by some on the Right too.
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