Politics

The Quiet Man II: This time it’s political

It's the quiet ones you have to watch out for.

It’s the quiet ones you have to watch out for.

How was Jeremy Corbyn’s first speech as Labour leader? On first impressions, it was okay. It wasn’t a catastrophe. But then there’s no reason why it should have been.

After all, the man’s made more speeches than probably any other front-line politician in the country (incidentally, that description of him as ‘front-line’ is already seeming quite normal). He’s a fluent, engaging speaker who talks in proper sentences and everything. Yet this was a step up, the biggest stage he has ever trod, and he looked nervous: he stumbled over the autocue, tripped over cadences, threw away some of his jokes – but broadly he carried it off. He projected his essential Corbyn-ness.

Which, of course, may be the problem. There are many, many stones in his passway. And perhaps the three biggest are economic competence, patriotism and Corbyn himself. None of these are easy to deal with – they’ll all take time. But was a start made?

Well, not really. There was nothing to make any difference to public perceptions of his and Labour’s failings on the economy and on patriotism.

During the last Labour leadership election in 2010, the slogan of Ed Miliband’s fans was ‘Ed speaks human’. Actually, he didn’t. Corbyn, on the other hand, does. But that’s about it. This was a somewhat aimless ramble through some of his favourite things, at the better moments of which he sounded like he genuinely understood and cared about those Britons experiencing hardship. As everyone has said for, oh for literally weeks now, he’s a decent man.

It’s just that as a speech, it didn’t really hang together. There was no discernible shape or direction. What was the core message?

He’s anti-austerity, but that doesn’t really mean a great deal. Mostly he gave the impression of a bloke in a north London pub, wondering why we can’t all just be a bit nicer as a society. He wants ‘a kinder, more caring politics’, and that’s lovely, if a bit limited.

For over three decades, Corbyn has been on the sidelines, decrying the state of things. He still sounds like that’s where he is. And he still feels that the media are terribly mean to him and the things that matter to him.

But he was okay. His speech wasn’t a catastrophe. It was better than those of Iain Duncan Smith during his brief tenure as Tory leader. And he’s more convincing than Ed Miliband ever was. Above all, this is what the Labour membership voted for: traditional values in a traditional setting. On that, he delivered what he promised. Nothing more. He warmed the cockles of the hearts of the faithful.

Can he reach out beyond the committed to those who aren’t interested in politics but who will cast a vote in 2020? Probably not, on this evidence. But then, as someone once said, never underestimate the determination of a quiet man.

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