1st February 2016
Talking to Jeff about Google
Another week passes and we are now less than 100 days from the first real test for a Corbyn-led Labour Party. Already the the briefings have started. From Corbyn’s team it has been suggested that losing 300 council seats in England, slipping back in Wales and losses in Scotland wouldn’t be a bad result, but they expect the race for London Mayor to be close. They are clearly managing expectations. But if they are right we will face a long, hot summer of Labour discontent and the much talked about leadership challenge would not be a case of ‘if’ but when.
But leaving aside elections and predictions it can be argued that Corbyn is on the side of the public on many issues. Building on successful opposition to cuts to police funding and cuts to tax credits he has added a tax avoidance issue to his belt. The row over the tax settlement with Google saw Corbyn champion the cause of us all, especially Jeff, who provided the question for PMQs. Corbyn played his hand well. Cameron blustered and spluttered. It was hard to find anyone on the Prime Minister’s side, apart from his probable successor George Osborne. Corbyn and the public (thank you Jeff) were on the same side.
There was another row at PMQs and Cameron once again showed that he is willing to use provocative language when it comes to refugees. I haven’t met anyone who isn’t concerned by the plight of the people living in harsh conditions in Calais. People have varied opinions on what should be done or how, or if we should help at all. Corbyn had visited the Calais ‘jungle’ and was obviously shocked at what he saw. Cameron saw not squalid conditions or suffering – he saw a political opportunity. That isn’t to say Cameron doesn’t care, it simply shows that he gets politics. So he spat out the word ‘bunch’. Labour benches erupted with fury and Jeff, along with the majority of the electorate, stared at their tax returns and sighed. Another Corbyn victory, downgraded to a non-event.
That isn’t to say that offensive language shouldn’t be challenged but as I was reminded shortly afterwards, for many people, and I guess the Jeffs of this world who were cheering Corbyn’s assault on the Google tax deal, referring to people as a ‘bunch’ even if they are suffering isn’t offensive. It is simple, everyday language. Cameron knew what he was doing; he was playing politics and attempting to win back Jeff. Whether it worked remains to be seen but he played the Labour benches like a seasoned pro.
So as we moved towards the weekend I looked forward to the political agenda being set by Labour, on behalf of Jeff and millions of others. The (People’s) Shadow Chancellor only needed to keep up the pressure. I waited. I made some coffee and waited. He talked. I couldn’t believe it! He talked about open bloody borders! It wasn’t long before the news was over another Labour row! (Sorry Jeff).
This brings me to a question I have struggled with since September. What happens if Corbyn has tapped into something? What if the electorate, away from opinion polls, like him and what he stands for? What then? What if in May Labour gains seats in Scotland, do well in England, hold on in Wales and win the London Mayoralty?
The Corbyn grip on the Party would tighten. Issues like Trident would come and go. Any thoughts about a challenge to his leadership would be laughed at, and attention would turn to the general election in 2020 and the possibility of Corbyn in Number 10.
What if that happens?
But I fear that no matter how many times Corbyn champions the issues that matter and shows the Tories up for what they are; no matter how often he speaks up for people like Jeff, for me, for you – he will revert to type and push us away by shouting about the Falklands, secondary picketing or some other issue that he knows will divide opinion. Perhaps he does it to prove he doesn’t want or need our vote.
Maybe he believes that he can win without us, without Jeff. Maybe he is right. I doubt it.
By Barnabus Howard