In my blogpost two days ago, Jeremy Corbyn’s appeal is enhanced by united press hostility, I pointed to the relentless negativity about Labour’s leadership frontrunner.
Wednesday’s national newspapers, by contrast, are replete with articles that reveal a growing, if grudging, sympathy for Corbyn and may suggest an acceptance that he is likely to emerge as the winner.
Note first the spread in the Daily Mirror, which has thrown its support behind Andy Burnham’s campaign.
In a piece headlined Corbyn faithful are old Labour & young Labour but what they all want is a new Labour, Brian Reade reported that a crowd of 1,280 at Newcastle’s Tyne Theatre greeted Corbyn “with raucous cheers.”
Outside, some 500 ticketless enthusiasts braved “lashing rain” to hold an open air rally, “waiting with rapt anticipation to hear their bearded, peace-loving messiah JC spread his anti-austerity gospel.”
Reade, conceding that Corbyn “seems set for a landslide win”, explained that he was trying to understand why Labour’s big beasts “are so alarmed by his rise that they predict the break-up of the party.” He wrote:
“Dressed in trademark lecturer chic, he is a paragon of cool and takes to the outdoor stage with a grace defying his 66 years. And he is straight into his message.
‘People want to know how we can make society different and how can we make our party more in touch with ordinary people’s lives… People are crying out for an alternative that should have been put at the last election.’
Each sentence is punctuated with loud roars from the wet, but fixated crowd.”
And who was in that crowd? Reade reported:
“Yes, there are characters from hard left central casting… and plenty of old school trade unionists and socialists… But the crowd is more reminiscent of a student union gig than a collection of dinosaurs of yesteryear.
They’re mostly youthful, mostly disillusioned, traditional Labour voters. They’re old Labour and young Labour but they want a new Labour. Corbyn is energising them. And giving them hope.”
He thought the meeting resembled those held in Scotland during the independence referendum campaign with “an electric buzz in the air.”
He wrote: “The left, the young and the not-so-young who feel for years that they have had to tone down their socialism, or even deny it, feel liberated.”
He pointed out that a Newcastle Chronicle website poll on who should be the next Labour leader resulted in Corbyn being chosen by 75%.
In an apparent diversion from his newspaper’s stance, he concluded:
“This astonishing campaign has changed the party for good – no bad thing. Many on the left feel they have been taken for granted and told to bite their tongue too long.
Told that due to the electoral system it’s no longer about what they want and believe in, but what middle England swing voters, and what their focus groups tell Labour to believe in.
Don’t blame Corbyn for this, or his followers. Blame a party that tried to choke off dissent. Who rather than put local activists up for election, chose Oxbridge-educated advisers for safe seats to give them a route to cabinet.
Blame old Blairites like Tony himself or Peter Mandelson, living on millions they made off the back of being voted in by working-class Labour voters, who now have the gall to tell anyone who warms to Corbyn they need a heart transplant. They have been his best recruiters.”
Reade noted that Corbyn had arrived late in Newcastle because he was delayed at an afternoon meeting in Middlesbrough town hall.
That rally was attended by the Daily Telegraph’s parliamentary sketch writer, Michael Deacon, Snap, crackle, pop. He could have been selling organic breakfast cereal.
Corbyn “shuffled on stage to thrilled applause”, wrote Deacon, “applauded back… beamed bashfully…” and “began by protesting, in his gently frowning way, against ‘the political class, who form their policies at ‘the dining tables of the elite.’”
He attacked bankers, the “very rich” and the government’s “abominable” welfare bill. Deacon observed: “In the past week I’ve watched campaign speeches by Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper. Their audiences, barely a tenth the size of Mr Corbyn’s, clapped dutifully. Mr Corbyn’s thundered.”
The Guardian’s Helen Pidd was also at the Middlesbrough event, Wild applause for even the driest topics on the ‘Jez we can’ campaign trail.
Corbyn drew “more than 1,000 excited supporters”, she wrote, and received “wild applause when discussing the most arid topics – who else could prompt such fervour when outlining his position on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership?”
The audience was composed of “a broad church”, reported Pidd. (Deacon spotted “a fair few teenage faces among the Middlesbrough congregation, waiting pale and eager for their improbable hero”).
Pidd picked out one particular question from a woman who “asked, to thunderous clapping, ‘whether your fellow MPs should not be duty bound to unite behind you if that’s what the majority of your party members want?’”
She wrote: “Corbyn agreed heartily, saying his colleagues needed to understand ‘that the parliamentary Labour party is not the entirety of the Labour party.’”
After an hour and a half, “Labour’s heir apparent… was mobbed by supporters. If it was a rock concert he would have been autographing body parts. But they wanted to talk about apartheid and Palestine. For a man who supposedly doesn’t want to be leader, he looked delighted.”
George Monbiot, also writing in the Guardian, viewed Corbyn’s new-found popularity through the prism of New Labour’s lack of radicalism. His analysis was an unsurprising commentary given the paper’s liberal stance.
Much more surprising, however, was an article in the Telegraph by Mary Riddell, Labour’s Torygraph entryist. She dared to write a piece headlined Corbyn is no monster and might even help to regenerate Labour.
“If the Labour leadership election resembles a Gothic horror story,” she wrote, it is the fault of Corbyn’s detractors who have speeded his ascent with their “apocalyptic warnings.” She continued:
“Amid the fracas, no one has identified which evil genius is responsible for creating the Corbyn phenomenon. The answer is George Osborne, whose austerity laboratory brewed up the catalyst for the breakthrough.
As the sole leadership contender to oppose the government’s £12bn welfare cuts, Mr Corbyn owes his success to the chancellor’s unwitting help in reviving a moribund opposition.”
She argued that “the force propelling Mr Corbyn towards the leadership is not simply an upsurge of the far left. While some Trotskyites are surely trying to infiltrate the contest, YouGov polling has shown him as the first choice of 49% of existing members, 67% of trade union sign-ups and 55% of those who paid £3 to vote.”
For Riddell, it is Corbyn’s understanding of how to inspire grassroots loyalty, that is the key to his wide support. While almost certain of his victory she does not think he will survive for long as leader. She contended:
“Even some admirers think a Corbyn leadership would last for two years at most. The hurdles that could finish him include the ‘main gate’ decision on final approval for Trident renewal in 2016 and the EU referendum.
Should Mr Corbyn prove more unilateralist and more Eurosceptic than his party, let alone a mutinous shadow cabinet, then he would most probably be gone.”
But she returned to her main theme by scorning “the absurdity of the Stop Corbyn crusade”. I am “repelled by the crudity of the attacks against him, particularly over Israel,” she wrote, and concluded:
“The party must stop fear-mongering. In its battle to slay an imaginary monster, the Labour hierarchy has wounded only itself. It should turn away from the abyss before it is too late.”
The Telegraph’s leading article, Mr Burnham could be Labour’s ‘useful idiot’, also laid into the Labour party’s “establishment” over its supposed failure “to appreciate the radicalism of their members.”
But, unlike Riddell, it could see no merit in “Corbyn’s student union brand of agitprop socialism” which “represents the Bennite legacy that the party spent many painful years dismantling.”
The Telegraph was withering also about Burnham for “assiduously courting Mr Corbyn’s supporters” and promising Corbyn a position in his shadow cabinet should he win. “The hard-left recognises a useful idiot when it sees one,” said the paper.
Elsewhere, in the news pages of the Daily Mail and the Sun, there was some typical anti-Corbyn material. Both reported that Corbyn hosted a debate in parliament with Dyab Abou Jahjah, a “Muslim firebrand” (Mail) and/or “anti-Semitic Arab extremist” (Sun), each one summoning up some rent-a-quote critics.
But the Mail also ran an interesting op-ed piece by Clare Foges, The obscene greed of City fat cats is playing into Jeremy Corbyn’s hands, in which she argued that the chasm between shop floor pay and boardroom salaries “may be one reason for Jeremy Corbyn’s remarkable progress in the Labour leadership election.” She wrote:
“The veteran socialist’s dreams of creating Cuba in the North Sea may be absurd. He may not seem to grasp that it is only as a result of wealth creation that every statefunded doctor, nurse, teacher, police officer etc is paid for. But his cries of social injustice do chime with a growing public mood.
Not all of those flocking to Corbyn’s red flag can be hard-Left Marxists and agitators with nose rings. Some may simply be those who, in a moderate, British way are profoundly concerned about growing inequality and its effect on our nation.”
And finally, in the Independent, Sarah Solemani, asked readers to forget Corbyn and vote for Yvette Cooper. She wrote:
“It should be blindingly obvious to any sentient being, that Jeremy Corbyn’s politics, rooted and bound within an anti-austerity framework, will and must fail to galvanise the public, win an election and remove the Conservatives from power.
To ignore this logic, and vote Jeremy Corbyn leader, is the work of a delusionist at best and a conscious saboteur at worst.”
Perhaps Solemani should read Riddell, whose argument is altogether more nuanced.