24 Sep 2015

Corbyn, conference and the sand-pit

Jeremy Corbyn’s office is bracing itself for his first Party Conference as leader. This afternoon he was due to have his first encounter with an autocue machine. It’s far from clear he’ll take to it. Mr Corbyn tends to write down several headings and ad lib on them.  But on Tuesday in Brighton his team hopes he will read out a prepared script – possibly for the first time ever. His new head of policy, Neale Colman, recently joined from Boris Johnson’s office at the GLA (where he previously worked for Ken Livingstone), has written a first draft of the speech.

Predecessors to Mr Corbyn have started working on their speeches months in advance and sometimes gone through dozens of drafts before the final product is delivered. There’s no danger of getting through that many drafts in the time allowed and there’s some risk that Mr Corbyn simply feels he can’t read out long paragraphs and will revert to impromptu thoughts.

We will have to wait until Sunday to discover if the conference in Brighton will get the chance to debate Trident. The biggest unions are obliged to back their memberships in the defence industry not their ideological instincts. That wouldn’t be comfortable and backroom efforts will probably go into trying to make sure it doesn’t happen.

Yesterday saw some in the Shadow Cabinet using the meeting to outline what they could and couldn’t tolerate in policy change. One Shadow Cabinet member complained to the room that it was the wrong way to behave.

Around Westminster you hear of an interesting distinction that’s being drawn by critics of Jeremy Corbyn. There will be policy areas he’s allowed to meddle with, they say, and some that are “no go” areas that could spur walk-outs from his team – there will be “sandbox” issues he can play with (like housing, attacking Spending Round cuts, some though not all welfare changes) and issues like Trident, defence, Northern Ireland and Europe that are deemed amongst those outside the sandbox.

That language will goad Jeremy Corbyn’s many supporters. Some of them have already looked at the frontbench appointments and muttered that it doesn’t look radical enough. Others say, knowing her favourites, that it looks exactly like the frontbench team Rosie Winterton, the Chief Whip, would like to appoint and probably is exactly that.

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