Sketch: Meet Jeremy Corbyn mark 2
The New Year brought the launch of the new freewheelin' Jeremy Corbyn - so how will it go?
UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has attempted to learn lessons from US President-elect Donald Trump’s successful campaign for the White House. Yet another in a long line of recent sentences that would seem frankly baffling to anyone three years ago.
Which is not to say it makes a tremendous amount of sense now. Especially given recent allegations, or leaks, aimed at Trump, it is tempting to wonder which bits exactly Corbyn intends to copy.
And so naturally the question is what a Corbyn-Trump crossover would look like. Something like a communist Alan Sugar, probably, or some sort of bearded blood orange. But clearly there’s no point speculating, and so it was interesting to see what the new Corbyn mark 2 would be like. Certainly Corbyn mark 1 made some weird moves. In fact, just last month he was arguing that Theresa May is not Henry VIII. Tellingly, Theresa May did not deny it.
Discussing the Brexit deal, he told the Guardian: “It would have to come to parliament. She cannot hide behind Henry VIII and the divine rights of the power of kings on this one.”
When will Theresa May stop hiding behind Henry VIII? Though to be fair, he would be one of the easier historical figures to hide behind.
But the New Year has brought a rebranding, with Labour figures suggesting Corbyn’s problems stemmed from being overly stage-managed in the past. The answer, apparently, is to let Jeremy be Jeremy. And so what did this new, adlibbing Jeremy Corbyn have unplanned? His keynote speech started off on a light-hearted note, with Corbyn singling out newly elected Labour MEP, Alex Mayer. “It is not the easiest time to take on being a Member of the European Parliament,” he said, while pointing directly at her, “but well done you.”
“This government is in disarray over Brexit,” he said. “As the Prime Minister made clear, they didn’t plan for it before the referendum and they still don’t have a plan now.”
To be honest, he looked surprisingly pleased about this for a man who has apparently given up on planning entirely. And certainly, some would question what the difference between Theresa May not having a plan and Jeremy Corbyn not having a plan is – but that would be unfair – because Corbyn has planned to not have a plan, whereas Theresa May’s lack of a plan is unplanned.
The Prime Minister, he said, talks about strengthening mental health care, while cutting funding, adding: “It seems the government’s second language is hypocrisy”. This bodes badly for Brexit negotiations, because the EU’s second language is French.
Moving on, he warned: “Our jobs market is being turned into a sea of uncertainty.” This was unacceptable. Trump is going to drain that swamp. Corbyn should drain the sea of uncertainty.
Attacking zero-hours contracts, rising levels of in-work poverty and what he called “fat-cat Britain”, he promised that “only a Labour government, determined to reshape the economy so it works for all, in every part of the country, can make Brexit work for the people of this country”.
Indeed. Only a Labour government can rule the sea of uncertainty. Continuing, he said: “At no point since the Second World War has Britain’s ruling elite so recklessly put the country in such an exposed position without any plan,” adding: “They are unfit to negotiate Brexit.”
This, presumably, was an attempt to turn the tables on May, by painting her government as the liberal elite – even if they are not particularly liberal, or even, in the qualitative sense of the word, particularly elite.
And the WW2 reference seemed a weird one, seemingly suggesting he believes Britain’s intervention was a mistake. It’s not the sort of thing you would expect as a throwaway line, but that’s the new, sassy Trump-like Corbyn for you. One minute he’s trying to drain the sea, the next he’s attacking Churchill.
Still, there were certainly indications the new impro-Corbyn could work. For example, one section saw him promise: “Unlike the Tories, Labour will not offer false promises on immigration targets or sow division by scapegoating migrants, because we know where that leads. The worrying rise in race hate crime and division we have seen in recent months and how the issue of immigration can be used as a proxy to abuse or intimidate minority communities.”
This was surely a point worth making, but then it is hard to imagine someone pre-planned the sentence which followed. “Labour is not wedded to freedom of movement for EU citizens as a point of principle, but I don’t want that to be misinterpreted, nor do we rule it out.” No matter how many times you read that, it doesn’t really make any more sense. Unless he meant that he didn’t want to rule out being misinterpreted, in which case, he was showing a surprising degree of prescience.
So what did it mean? The answer, it seems, is that Labour “supports fair rules and the reasonable management of migration as part of the post-Brexit relationship with the EU”. So Labour is not so much wedded to free movement as at the resentful end of a formerly happy marriage to it.
What come next? Freewheelin’ Jeremy will cross that bridge when he comes to it.
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