Nick Jones

Jeremy Corbyn has given a flawless demonstration of a politician’s ability to seize a once in a lifetime’s opportunity to ignore all the demands of political packaging, and yet soar in popularity.
Seemingly without even trying he has dominated the campaign to elect a new leader of the Labour Party.

Rarely a day has gone by without him announcing yet another new policy initiative, challenging the legacy of the Blair and Brown years, sweeping away all the control freakery of New Labour.

Corbyn has been the beneficiary of a heady cocktail of political support: Labour’s political opponents have given him every encouragement; he has been egged on by the massed media; he has re-awakened and re-united the broad left; and to his credit has succeeded in attracting the support of previously disillusioned young and radical potential voters.

Newspapers, television and radio – and an online army of admirers – have hung on Corbyn’s every word. Journalists who usually spend the summer silly season regurgitating political dross can hardly believe their good fortune in being presented with what even the Sun has had to concede is a soar-away story that has captured the headlines for weeks on end.

Corbyn is following in the footsteps of the UKIP leader Nigel Farrage who became a media favourite in the long build-up to the 2014 European Parliament elections when UKIP swept the board, topping the poll in a sensational defeat for the mainstream parties.

Farrage was given the easiest possible ride. He was always seen cigarette and pint of beer in hand, the politician with whom the bloke next door would most like to take down to the pub for a chat.
Under his leadership, Farrage inspired and brought together under the UKIP banner voters who were concerned about immigration; disliked the bureaucracy and interventionism of the European Union; and who felt their views had been ignored by the established political parties.

Corbyn has done the same for the left in providing a platform that has appealed to the many splinter groups and factions that over the years have broken away from the Labour Party.

His ideals and passionate defence of social security benefits, state intervention, public housing, and a host of other causes such as withdrawal from Nato and giving up nuclear weapons, have captured the imagination of a young and radical audience.

So far there has been surprisingly scant negative coverage for Corbyn. There has been some hostile reporting with critical headlines about his willingness in the past to share platforms with the Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams or the leaders of Hezbollah and Hamas, but the overall tone has been friendly.

He has been a delight for press photographers and television camera crews, happy to be photographed without fear or favour, arriving on his bicycle or walking along in an open-neck shirt, perhaps even revealing the top of one of his infamous cotton vests.

Corbyn has no wish or intention to be packaged or presented in the controlled photo-opportunities that are so commonplace among today’s politicians.

For his promotional video Corbyn’s leadership rival Andy Burnham was filmed with his wife and daughters in the kitchen of their home, a photo-opportunity that became obligatory in the 2015 general election when Messrs Cameron, Cleg and Miliband – and their respective wives – all invited the news media to join them in what is now considered the hub of the modern family home.

I think the likelihood of Corbyn being interviewed or photographed in his kitchen is remote. Nonetheless if I was one of his media minders, I would suggest a visit to his allotment in East Finchley, not far from his home in Finsbury Park north London.

Footage and photographs of Corbyn on his plot, picking runner beans or digging up potatoes would be must-see material. Perhaps if the Gardeners’ World’s presenter Monty Don and his dog Nigel could be persuaded to pay a visit, Corbyn would be able to garner the support of allotment holders across the country, and win the backing of hitherto Green Party voters.

At some point the news media will turn against Corbyn, as it did against Farrage in the final months leading up to the 2015 general election.

Just as Corbyn is currently a hero for the Tory press, the friendly presentation of the UKIP leader served a purpose for the UK’s media companies. They warmed to UKIP’s anti-European Union stance because it chimed with their dislike of the Brussels’ bureaucracy. Farrage was used to tweak the tail of Prime Minister David Cameron and the then coalition government.

If Corbyn was elected Labour leader – an outcome that would delight the massed ranks of the media – Corbynmania would reach even greater heights. Political journalists would have on their hands full with a story that would run for months, if not years.

No wonder the likes of Alastair Campbell fear the worst. He believes the Conservatives’ “ruthless fighting machine” is already storing up ammunition to explode the “minefield of silly positions and bizarre alliances” that Corbyn and his team have endorsed.

Blair’s former spin supremo predicts that Corbynmania will “evaporate even more quickly than Cleggmania before it”. I agree: the media will at some point turn against Corbyn, but if he wins the leadership the Labour Party faces a roller coaster ride.

Gordon Brown has joined Tony Blair in urging the party to select a credible and electable leader who can win the next election. Unfortunately for the Labour hierarchy their warnings are falling on stony ground.

There is no likelihood of a snap general election. We now have fixed Parliaments and concerns about fighting the 2020 general election are faraway talk for Corbyn’s young and radical supporters who want Labour to make a stand now on cuts in social security benefits and the need for greater state intervention.

Illustrations: I newspaper, 14.8.2015; Independent on Sunday, 9.8.2015; The Times, 29.7.2015; Sun, 12.8.2015.