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Jeremy Corbyn: the old man who must focus on the young

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I don’t think Jeremy Corbyn has yet been asked whether he expected he’d ever be leader of the Labour Party six months ago, but the rather silly question is bound to present itself soon.

No, of course Corbyn didn’t know he’d be where he is now - nor did anyone else. Before the summer began, most people had never heard of him. But then those same people never expected the Tories to get a majority, and now everyone – Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall especially – all like to think they know why it happened.

Of the three of them, Burnham’s face looked the grimmest when the result was finally announced. They all knew the name of the winner shortly beforehand, but Cooper and Kendall took it quite well, the latter smiling as if Corbyn were her dad and had just won first prize in a beard competition.

But Burnham looked genuinely pained. I suppose this is because he entered the campaign, the second Labour leadership contest he has participated in, as the favourite. It has always been hard to tell what Burnham actually believes, but I would give a lot to know what he privately thinks of this whole glorious fiasco. Is there any resentment at all, at the way Corbyn seemingly snatched the golden crown from his hands?

I have long thought Corbyn deserved to win because he was the most sincere and eloquent candidate, but his victory speech was a disappointment. He didn’t seem to have all that much to say on what is – presumably – the happiest/oddest day of his life. There were a few applause-worthy attacks on the Tories, but in his multiple and thinly-disguised diatribes about the right-wing press he really did just seem like a grumpy old man. It wasn’t very long or coherent either, in fact Tom Watson’s warm-up act was, in retrospect, a bit more impressive. Against that, he did go out of his way to praise the three losers for their respective qualities, which was nice.

Ever since he left the podium at the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre in Westminster early on Saturday afternoon it has been difficult to keep count of all the centrist MPs who have handed in their resignation letters, and amusing to watch their visible distress when asked by journalist what it all ‘means’ for the future of the party. But had the result been any different, the overriding emotion would’ve been relief, not euphoria. Thus it must me asked: who would really have felt better if Andy Burnham or Yvette Cooper had bounced back and sneakily won at the last minute? Kendall can be left out of this, because she was quite bold and showed some muscle at times, but Cooper and Burnham were two look-a-like and sound-a-like figures who talked a lot but said very little. With them as the frontrunners, it's little wonder the debate felt so lacklustre. Let this be a warning: Labour can never be the party of safety-first and blandness. Nothing but irrelevance lies that way.

Jeremy Corbyn has now been chosen for what many call ‘the worst job in politics’, a gruelling position which, as his most recent predecessor demonstrated, doesn’t always end in glory. Whatever the make-up of his team, he must hit the ground running and start the attack on the Tories now, because they’ve already started themselves. One of Ed Miliband’s biggest mistakes was that he spent the first three years as leader almost entirely without policy, and thus other forces overwhelmed him. There also needs to be a conscious effort to make sure Labour talks about ‘the future’ and ‘the young’, with an emphasis on issues such as tuition fees, education opportunities and breaks for first-time buyers. The old man is where he is because of young people, and now he must show he appreciates it. Also he must bat away the criticism that it is all ‘back to the 1980s’, one of the most tiresome clichés of this leadership campaign.

I still have my doubts about Jeremy Corbyn, especially regarding his foreign policy. It doesn’t bother me so much that he has taken tea with Hamas or was pals with Jerry Adams before it was cool. I’m rather more worried at the way in which he regards all military intervention to be utterly unjustifiable, even when there is a strong case for it. I also seriously doubt he can win a general election, and am not even too sure he will actually be in charge at the next one.

‘Unelectable’ though the newly-elected Labour leader may be, Corbyn’s victory will delight those who maintain that it isn’t all about winning. Labour needs to sort itself out. It has been in and out of a semi-moribund state ever since Tony Blair stood down as Prime Minister in 2007. Since then it has walked dozily through two huge election defeats. There needs to be a shake-up. Jeremy Corbyn won because he put shake-up at the top of the agenda.




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