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‘Earnest, dull, the antithesis of modern politics – The Life of Jeremy is a smash hit’

‘Earnest, dull, the antithesis of modern politics – The Life of Jeremy is a smash hit’

🕔30.Sep 2015

The Life of Jeremy, which has premiered in Brighton, looks like being the smash hit comedy of the year, writes Paul Dale.

The story is based on a classic British mix-up, with a little eccentricity thrown in for good measure.

A mild-mannered, earnest but dull, elderly politician from north London who has never held public office, or run anything in his life, and has been a thorn in the side of the whips for years, is mistaken for the new Labour leader, ends up on stage at the annual conference and delivers a 59 minute speech which is frequently interrupted by applause and standing ovations.

Boldly putting two fingers up to modern political management, the new leader insists on keeping his beard and wearing his trademark brown jacket, yes a brown jacket, black trousers and a loosely knotted tie, and makes a speech parts of which were offered to and rejected by five of his predecessors.

His delivery, to put it kindly, verges on dullness. He is not familiar with an autocue so ends up reading out prompts such as ‘strong message here’.

But despite the Mr Bean-like innocence, the audience isn’t laughing. It simply laps up Jeremy Corbyn and his “new politics”.

The Labour party is in uncharted waters. Mr Corbyn is so unlike a leader any political party has had in modern times, resolutely un-spun, down to earth, that desperate Labour members believe Jeremy can succeed where Ed, Gordon, Neil and Jim failed.

That’s Ed Miliband, Gordon Brown, Neil Kinnock and Jim Callaghan who, going back to 1979, led the Labour party and did not win a single election, thus rendering their period in charge spectacularly pointless from the point of view of delivering power.

During that 36-year period only one Labour leader has tasted success, and what success that was. Tony Blair led Labour to three General Election victories because he remodelled the party and made it electable in Britain as a centre-left social democratic movement.

Mr Corbyn and his trade union backers, as well as the tens of thousands of mostly young new party members attracted by Jeremy, detest Tony Blair who they regard as closet Tory. Actually, most of them think Blair isn’t even in the closet and would quite like to bring him to trial for “war crimes”.

They believe a policy surge to the left with public ownership, increased borrowing to pay for new infrastructure, high taxes on wealthy individuals and companies, and a sharp dose of inflation to fool people temporarily into feeling wealthier, will make Labour popular again.

Winning the Corbyn way rests on the premise that Britain has swung and will continue to swing sharply to the left over the next five years. That’s what Ed thought, too, but he was wrong.

There is zero evidence to support this and most Labour MPs, who do not want Mr Corbyn to be leader, fear the party has set out on a journey that is certain to end in electoral disaster, but they are helpless to act because the new leader obtained almost 60 per cent backing from party members.

It has been noticeable through social media that even much respected Labour figures from the centre of the party have begun to warm to Mr Corbyn. They like him because he is the antithesis of the sound-bite, stage-managed politics they detest and a throwback to the days when the Labour party really did make policy at hundreds of constituency party meetings across the country.

It is the new members, predominantly young and left wing, who will have the final say on Mr Corbyn’s promise to “renew our policies so we can reach out across the country and win”.

This is how Mr Corbyn put it to the conference:

I am not a leader who wants to impose leadership lines all the time.

I don’t believe anyone of us has a monopoly on wisdom and ideas – we all have ideas and a vision of how things can be better. I want open debate in our party and our movement.

I will listen to everyone. I firmly believe leadership is about listening.

We will reach out to our new members and supporters. Involve people in our debates on policy and then our party as a whole will decide.

A decision has already been taken that a Labour government would nationalise the railways and oppose academy schools. The party has a shadow chancellor committed to wealth redistribution through high taxes, whose past support for the IRA and “jokingly” saying he would like to go back in time and assassinate Lady Thatcher – for which he has apologised – has not disqualified him from becoming the second most important figure in the Corbyn team.

Mr Corbyn has made it clear he would not agree to renew the Trident nuclear weapons deterrent, but is calling for a debate within the party. He knows the newly leftward leaning party will back him on this and consequently Labour will go into the 2020 election on a nuclear disarmament ticket and must hope, surely forlornly, that British public opinion swings behind Mr Corbyn.

Perhaps I am wrong. It may be that the British electorate will applaud Labour’s decision to elect a leader whose political views have not changed much since the 1980s. Perhaps Jeremy really is the Messiah leading his people to the New Jerusalem.

On the other hand, maybe Labour just has to get the next five years out of the way, let the Corbyn experiment run its course, and then start again.

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