POLITICS
24/09/2019 20:35 BST

Can Corbyn Exploit Boris Johnson's Supreme Embarrassment?

If the Labour leader can run a "people versus Johnson” election campaign, he could surprise everyone again.

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Corbyn’s people prose

Everyone in politics loves “the people”. Tony Blair famously hailed the late Princess Diana as “the People’s Princess”. Backers of a second Brexit referendum call it “a People’s Vote”. Even Boris Johnson is pledging to pump cash into “the People’s Priorities” of health, schools and crime. 

And in his Labour conference speech today, Jeremy Corbyn brandished the p-word like a talisman (no fewer than 40 times) as he set out his big message for the coming general election. The “People Before Privilege” slogan may sound like a tongue-twister, but it’s an idea that runs through Labour’s policy platform and Corbyn’s core message to voters on the doorstep.

The Labour leader clearly thinks that Johnson’s privileged background (that seamless conveyor belt of Eton, Oxford, Westminster) can be widened out into an attack on his unfitness for office. “His is a born-to-rule government of the entitled who believe that the rules they set for everyone else don’t apply to them,” was perhaps the emotional core of today’s speech.

Of course, to his critics this sounds like class war, especially when tied to proposals redder in tooth and claw than anything Labour offered even in the radical 2017 manifesto. The plan to abolish private schools has certainly sparked a backlash that saw some assume we were heading for a different kind of people power: the “People’s Republic of Jeremy Corbyn”. 

Corbyn’s team think the schools policy could prove more popular than many assume, and one lesson of the last election was that the voters don’t run in terror from re-nationalisations. Today’s key new policy for a state-run drugs manufacturer was yet another example of his 21st century radicalism that could have retail appeal (cheaper drugs for patients, lower profits for Big Pharma).

And while business chiefs complained about what they called the “us versus them” theme of Corbyn’s speech, his aides said their criticism proved he was doing the right thing. Policies like four-day weeks, no more NHS prescription costs, and free personal care for the elderly could go down well with voters who think their time for payback is long overdue a decade after the global financial crisis.

The Labour leader summed up his policies by saying “we stand not just for the 52 per cent or the 48 per cent, but for the 99 per cent”. That was his way of trying to park Brexit as an issue in this coming election, but as the Supreme Court proved today, our exit from the EU is never far away.

After years of lying to the women in his life, there is almost a poetic justice in the fact that Boris Johnson faces the suspicion that he misled the Queen - and has been finally brought to book by a combination of Lady Hale, Gina Miller and Joanna Cherry.

In fact, the most crucial takeaway from the court ruling was not its impact in getting MPs to sit in the Commons again. It was a strong feeling the court will act swiftly and decisively if Johnson tries to defy or legally challenge the Benn Act that forces him to delay Brexit.

For many voters, the Supreme Court verdict may leave them cold. No matter how much the news intoxicated this Labour conference (“Johnson out!” the crowd cried), for Leave voters and even undecideds, it may just provoke a collective shrug. Parliament is back, but will it do anything other than stage complex procedural gambits?

That’s why Corbyn’s speech today mattered. It was his most relaxed, self-confident speech since becoming leader. And after a conference dominated by infighting, the overall impression was that he was ready for the election fight - and relishing the idea of becoming “a different kind of prime minister”. 

The election will tell us whether 2017 was indeed “Peak Corbyn”. But if he can somehow shift the narrative from a “People versus Parliament” election to a “The People versus Johnson” election, he could surprise everyone again. 

Quote Of The Day

“The Prime Minister’s advice to Her Majesty was unlawful, void and of no effect. 

Lady Hale on Boris Johnson’s five-week prorogation.

Tuesday Cheat Sheet 

In a bombshell announcement, Supreme Court president Lady Hale said it had ruled unanimously that Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend parliament was unlawful. The five-week prorogation would have an “extreme” effect because of “the fundamental change which was due to take place in the Constitution of the United Kingdom on 31st October”.

Commons Speaker John Bercow said MPs needed to return to Westminster and he had “instructed the House of Commons authorities to prepare...for the resumption of business” from 11.30am on Wednesday. He signalled he would grant a range of emergency motions if requested.

Boris Johnson, in New York for the UN General Assembly, is cutting short his trip to fly back to London overnight. He hinted he would try for a fresh prorogation for a Queen’s Speech. 

Johnson said: “I have the utmost respect for our judiciary, I don’t think this was the right decision.” A No.10 source went further, adding: “We think the Supreme Court is wrong and has made a serious mistake in extending its reach to these political matters.” Cue backlash from David Gauke for the attack on the judiciary.

The Attorney General Geoffrey Cox faced calls to quit after Sky News revealed he had advised the PM that it would be lawful to prorogue parliament

Tory chairman James Cleverly said that “of course” the party’s conference in Manchester was still going ahead, despite the recall of parliament. It’s unclear however whether it will be stripped back or speeches rescheduled if MPs insist on the Commons sitting next week.

Jeremy Corbyn unveiled plans for a publicly-owned generic drugs manufacturer to supply cheaper medicines to the NHS.

Labour’s party conference backed a motion calling on the party in government to “work towards a path to net zero carbon emissions by 2030”. Momentum claimed victory, but the GMB union said the motion had been watered down from an explicit commitment to a target on “zero” emissions.

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