10 Sep 2015

The road to Corbyn

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I hear that Team Corbyn has started ringing round senior Labour MPs to check whether they are willing to serve in a Jeremy Corbyn-led Shadow Cabinet. They may not be measuring the curtains, but they are leafing through the catalogues.

On tonight’s Channel 4 News, with the giant caveat that we don’t yet have the result, we take a look at the staging posts towards this moment: the change in party leader election rules, the nomination of Jeremy Corbyn, and the Welfare vote in July.

Ed Miliband’s rule changes have been vilified by Jeremy Corbyn’s opponents as the root cause of Mr Corbyn’s success. They were devised in hurried talks over the first weekend of July two years ago in Ed Miliband’s north London home. Aides came and went, drafts of a speech were wrenched this way and that.

Tom Baldwin, who advised Ed Miliband throughout his leadership, says those who oppose Jeremy Corbyn should’ve seized the opportunity – as he did – to recruit members of the public to join in the process. Critics of the system say that Ed Miliband and his team accidentally devised a system that allowed a candidate like Jeremy Corbyn to choose his electorate.

What does strike you going back through the coverage in July 2013 is that no-one spotted (myself very much included) the potential of the registered supporters element of the reforms. This was a bit of an afterthought, a slightly moribund remnant of an earlier reform effort by Peter Hain. The focus of coverage and of talk in the Labour Party in 2013 was the trade union affiliated supporters innovation which, when we see the results on Saturday, may prove to have been much less influential. Turnout in that section could be quite low and Jeremy Corbyn’s majority looks like being much bigger in the registered supporters section.

Another milestone was the Socialist Campaign Group meeting that nominated Jeremy Corbyn in June this year. MPs had already tried to persuade Shadow Cabinet member Jon Trickett, ex-miner Ian Lavery and Wigan MP Lisa Nandy to try to stand. In a small meeting room off Westminster Hall (this is not a group that needs a large room) Diane Abbott recalls they had another try at persuading her to stand. Finally, she says, they turned to Jeremy.

There was something especially appealing about the bicycling, unselfconscious Corbyn that particularly appealed to people tired of the suited professional political classes.

It was also Mr Corbyn’s benign demeanour that helped him to get through the next milestone: getting the 35 nominations required to get on the ballot paper. Frank Field, a Blairite before Blair, is unrepentant about his nomination for Jeremy Corbyn saying it has brought Labour to a much-needed crisis point which will force it to address its poverty of ideas.

Well a lot of his colleagues would certainly agree there’s a crisis.

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Harriet Harman’s decision to call for an abstention on the welfare reforms vote in the Commons in July is for some another critical milestone. Andy Burnham discussed walking out of the Shadow Cabinet over it and taking his supporters with him. A mass resignation would’ve caught the headlines and might’ve changed the narrative of the election. It might have backfired and made him look hypocritical and opportunistic. He decided against.

No matter how much the other candidates tried to define themselves, they seemed to be lumped together.

Read more: Labour leadership hustings: the key moments

Andy Burnham had a position to the left though he’d started his campaign with a bow to business. Liz Kendall was portrayed by her critics as prostrate before business. Yvette Cooper was positioning herself as somewhere in the middle. Although Yvette Cooper’s campaign broke through in the final weeks with a speech on equality, flicks at Jeremy Corbyn and then the refugee intervention, it may well have been too late. But in the critical period of Jeremy Corbyn’s summer surge these three were seen as much of a muchness and not that charismatic either. It sometimes felt as if they were three aides, tapping the microphones before the real candidates came onto the stage.

Tomorrow we’ll hear the result of the vote for Labour candidate for the Mayor of London, which will give clues as to whether Jeremy Corbyn has pulled it off.

Saturday we discover the actual result.

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