Both Labour and Conservative mandarins told us that a Corbyn victory would be a victory for “this kind of politics”. Or "politics", if you prefer.
Other phrases, such as “dragged back to the 1970s and 80s” were also bandied around – handy, if meaningless memes in an era where political viewpoints are necessarily condensed into 140 characters, a natural evolution of soundbite culture where pithiness is king.
It got me thinking: isn’t all politics the politics of grievance?
The Labour party, at one time, were aggrieved about unemployment, workers’ rights and equality. The Conservatives are aggrieved that you might not have enough money to pay your way in society – and if not, why not? The Lib Dems are aggrieved that both sides can’t calm down and come to a sensible arrangement that suits everyone, but particularly them.
Nowadays, it seems, partisanship, and the natural grievances which fuel political debate, have become blurred. In the past week, the Liberal Democrats, their buttocks still stinging from a thorough skelping administered by the electorate back in May, had the effrontery to suggest Labour MPs unhappy with the direction Corbyn might take them could join their party. You have to admire their optimism.
Pre-Corbyn, Labour seemed to have lots in common with the Tories, with lots of abstentions over legislation which will affect people claiming benefits, and a craven admission from stand-in leader Harriet Harman that the party would go along with the Tories’ austerity plans without a murmur of protest from the frontbenches.
This echoed Ed Miliband’s failure in the lead-up to this year’s election, when he ducked out of fighting the farcical notion that Gordon Brown’s government somehow caused the global financial crisis. It seemed like Labour was happy to mooch along, donkey-like, behind David Cameron’s party, all the way up to the 2020 election. Until Jeremy Corbyn came along.
Say what you like about the Conservatives – and I usually do – but surely no-one can be confused about what that party stands for. Private wealth, private ownership, privatised services – and if you haven’t got the money, hard luck; it’s your own fault. Lurking in the background to this economic belief system, like Satan at the feast, are age-old affectations and traditions, such as respect for monarchy, privilege and military might. Added to that is a natural bias towards all things white, Anglo-Saxon and protestant… the playthings of lower-case conservativism.
Labour might once have opposed some or all of these things, but the recent leadership campaign – and basically everything since Blair – has blurred the lines between left and right to a sometimes absurd degree.
It’s abundantly clear that Tony Blair’s deft work in getting the press on his side was his masterstroke. They must ache for such a smooth operator on their side so badly that I can't altogether rubbish the idea of him making a return.
Miliband never stood a chance with an old media that is pro-Tory to a greater or lesser degree of rabidity. Even the Guardian has fudged what should be its natural support for the Labour Party ever since David Cameron succeeded Michael Howard.
I wonder if the public disaffection with the New Labour project which has resulted in Jeremy Corbyn as leader represents a wider distrust and irritation with the business of politics. I am wary of making political predictions, but I strongly doubt Corbyn will be leading Labour into battle in 2020.
Indeed, if someone was to whisper in my ear that he’ll be out of the door within a year, I shouldn’t be stunned to hear it.
But here’s the thing. Though I’ve long given up support for any one political party (as in many other compartments of my life, there’s no direction home), Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader makes perfect sense in a time when the political landscape, much like the economic structure towering above it, is unstable.
Jeremy Corbyn’s elevation seems like the perfectly logical solution to some vast cosmic mathematical problem. In an era where genuinely divisive political convictions are at best restrained, and most of what comes out of the mouths of our politicians are studies in deflection, here comes a man who states what he believes, openly, clearly and sincerely. Surely even the most stiff-collared conservative must privately welcome this development.
We’ve become so used to dissemblers, outright liars, fraudsters and chancers in politics that, when presented with what seems to be an anomaly, people have flocked to him. Cameron et al’s natural reaction to the idea of Corbyn becoming Labour leader was probably uproarious laughter… but they should pause for thought. Perhaps even sober analysis.
With the economy limping along and wages struggling to rise to the same level they were at a decade ago, it’s starting to look like Cameron and Osborne can’t deliver. The longer that goes on, the more likely it is that someone singing from a different hymn sheet will bring down the Tories.
I don’t see Jeremy Corbyn, or anyone for that matter, as some sort of messianic figure who will return the country to prosperity, equality and happiness. But in a world seemingly ruled by neoliberal vultures, someone going against the grain and standing up for basic decency and fairness in public administration is going to stick out.
For many of us, there is no-one else to root for. There certainly wasn’t in the Labour leadership election. Cooper and Burnham: decent operators, but hopelessly compromised by association with a top team which lost two elections on the bounce. Liz Kendall… well, whatever she is. To be fair, she had no shortage of backers. I suspect we’ll see her on the Labour frontbenches again.
None of them offered an alternative to what the Tories are doing. The best we could hope for is: Trust us, vote us back into power, and we’ll do good things by stealth. Again, you have to contrast that with the Tories. They’re not doing anything unexpected, and they’re not particularly shy about it, either. What do Labour offer in response?
Corbyn can expect a mauling from the press, day in, day out. He’s the equivalent of the kid who comes into school with his own textbooks, or speaks to the class about his entomology hobby, or states his preference for wellington boots over trainers. An individual, for sure, even a person we might quite like, were it not for herding instincts and mob rule. He seems to have come pre-packaged with a great big target slapped on his forehead for a press who wouldn’t have given him a break even if he looked and sounded like Charlton Heston. I suspect The Sunday Sport’s headlines and those of the Sun, Mail, Telegraph and Express will soon elide.
I’ve seen some staunch Labour supporters denounce Corbyn as “unelectable”. A lot of this is to do with his appearance; the unbuttoned collar, the aversion to neck ties, the colour of his hair, his beard, his age. In most cases, they wanted Burnham, or Kendall. More photogenic people, in a nutshell.
This is as close as we get to an admission that Britain isn’t a democracy.
Sure, we can cast a vote and stick it in the box in your constituency, but in terms of who could actually become Prime Minister – the face at the end of Westminster’s ultimate game of Guess Who? - the field is narrow indeed.
This means that ideas, policy and principles are secondary to surface appearances. It effectively means that only someone the right side of 50 who takes a nice photograph can lead the country. We say “let’s not judge by appearances”, but I’m inclined to wonder: who actually makes good on this?
That’s why I felt the tiniest flicker of hope in recent months: Corbyn’s victory hints at something else. A growing surge of opinion which rejects hackneyed ideas and staid thinking among the political elite; an electorate which might just seek something better from its public servants.
Like that other target for the WASPish press, the SNP, Corbyn was elected on a popular landslide, and as such, his mandate deserves respect. Also like the SNP, Jeremy Corbyn represents a clear split between the political narratives we’ve been offered time and time again by Westminster and the media and what the people of this country actually want from those in power.
The Tories won a majority in May, but not a big one – certainly nothing compared to what Tony Blair enjoyed in his three victories, 1997-2005. Like New Labour, the Tories have haemorrhaged votes to fringe parties and new voices in the clamour of public debate – the SNP, Ukip, and don’t forget the increasingly popular Greens.
How the news is presented to us could be a factor in this, too. While the new media offers a lot of bunk and nonsense, there’s also plenty of scope for comment, debate and information-sharing which newspapers and television cannot keep up with. Think about the 1992 election, and the breadth of coverage we were offered, compared to the 2015 vote.
The old ways are slowly coming to an end. As proof, consider daily newspaper sales from as recently as 10 years ago compared to today’s – and then contrast those with hit counts on even occasionally ephemeral fluff like Buzzfeed (though in total fairness, there's some good writers there. Perhaps they're seizing their chance?).
As the old Fleet Street dinosaurs plod towards doom, media control and manipulation isn’t as easy today as it was for Alastair Campbell around 15 years ago – a blink of an eye, in historical terms.
As these ancient information edifices crumble, perhaps their ingrained political convictions will fall, too. Strange temples will spring up in their stead. We might one day see the rise of compassionate conservativism – who knows, you might even vote for it.
I’ve always wondered when David Icke will make a bid for parliament. A laughable kook, to be sure, but the man can comfortably fill concert arenas. Remember, Ukip didn’t even exist in 1997. Nothing is off the table – and I include the more extreme voices in that. Ignore them at your peril.
I’m sure Labour plotters will find some mechanism for removing Jeremy Corbyn before too long. They can then go back to that happy place which has seen them beaten twice in the polls – more photogenic, but still unsuccessful; and perhaps more palatable to people with no personality, no conviction, and perhaps no imagination. The kind of people who need a blaring front page – literature’s village idiot – to tell them what to think.
The spin machine will chew the new Labour leader up before long. There are too many pitfalls for Jeremy Corbyn, and for that reason I don’t think he is electable. But then, neither were the Milibands - and as it turned out, nor was poor old Gordon Brown. But Corbyn has something in the locker. He displays something that those three didn’t have, something that makes him an extremely difficult opponent.
The political stardust this unlikely leader has is conviction – and he isn’t afraid to show it.
Gordon Brown might have had it, but he never let it show, worrying instead about how he might be seen, and left dizzy by the machinations of party spin doctors. Ultimately, they spun him right out office.
The natural competitor in us might cringe at some of Corbyn’s pronouncements (“I don’t like cars…” Think it through, Jeremy, for god’s sake. Are you going to campaign in 2020 on a charabanc?). But we know what he stands for. Public ownership, equality, better pay and conditions for ordinary working men and women, and an end to austerity – which he has quite correctly labelled as a political choice, and not an economic necessity.
How many Labour leaders since John Smith could you safely say that about?
Corbyn has already proven lots of people wrong. I smiled when he wrong-footed lobby reporters in his first week, declining to give out briefings. This must have caused some consternation among people used to getting speeches under embargo, often hours in advance, giving them plenty of time to work out their angles.
I also smiled when these reporters blustered that this development was “interesting”; that somehow they were happy with the norm being challenged. No you bloody weren’t!
There’s something a wee bit punk rock about this. Shaking things up needn’t be a negative. Actively trying to take us out of modern politics’ boring, repetitive, clanky old spin machine seems refreshing, even daring.
And let’s not forget – with every passing year, it gets harder for the Tories to keep harping on about the Blair/Brown years. They will have to take ownership of their mistakes, as well as shouldering the responsibility for the faltering recovery. They’ve barely shut up about their predecessors since 2010.
Quid pro quo. They’ve had plenty of time to fix it.
And then, of course, there’s the simple fact that governments have a sell-by date. Regardless of policy, or even all-too-rare periods of success, I think people simply get bored with their leaders.
Look no further than the SNP’s continued dominance of the landscape north of the border. At the risk of repeating myself, the idea of Scotland’s political map being anything other than Labour-red, with a wee spattering of Lib Dem yellow, would have been laughed at less than a decade ago.
It will be the same with the SNP, given time.
Things change. Even in this largely conservative island. We should assume nothing – everything is on the table, and that includes a Tory government leaning even further to the right. Or the public finally growing sick of excuses over a stagnant economy and stifled prospects, and giving Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour a chance.
We live in politically interesting times. Let’s hope it all works out for us.