A fortnight ago Jack Straw, the former Labour Former Labour Foreign Secretary, said that the person who was most worried about Jeremy Corbyn becoming leader was Jeremy himself. We have now had a stark illustration of what he meant.
On Thursday Jeremy Corbyn appeared on BBC Radio’s World at One. All four leadership candidates have undergone this process: it involves responding to a mix of easy and demanding question from listeners. Inevitably he faced two tough ones. One concerned using the term ‘friends’ to describe Hamas at a meeting; the second concerned his contact with a Lebanese extremist, Dyab Abou Jahjah.
He could have expected both questions and there are a lot more to come. For over thirty years Jeremy has been a maverick backbench inner–London MP who has drifted from meeting to meeting studiously avoiding responsibility. Over time he will have donated to some daft causes, often by putting a fiver in a collection box; whether by accident or design he has associated with some very unpleasant characters. That is how he is.
What was interesting is the way he handled the World at One questions. On Dyab Abou Jahjah he firmly and repeatedly said he had never heard of him – a statement he was forced to retract. This is not good. What was more serious was the style, rather than the substance, of his reaction to the questions. Adopting a petulant tone he insisted that it was insulting to call him a racist. But what was at issue was his judgment and behaviour not his underlying principles. He will be held to account for his actions in a way he has not experienced before and which evidently makes him profoundly uncomfortable. He is not used to it. As I recall it he reacted with the same petulance when he was first selected in Islington and faced residual challenges from those had opposed him*.
All this is a long way from packed meetings of adoring supporters, a fact that may be starting to penetrate. Jack Straw was right.
Labour’s failure and my small part in it: a memoir for my grandchildren Martyn Sloman
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This short book is based on experiences of 50 year’s activism, despair about the current state of the Labour Party, and the steps that are needed to regain credibility. It is available free of charge as a download on this blog site (above) and on a personal website http://www.martynsloman.co.uk. A Kindle edition, priced 99p., the minimum permissible by the publisher, is also available (details on the personal website).
*See Episode 5 for the circumstances surrounding Jeremy Corbyn’s selection in North Islington.