The Corbyn Citizen: How it might just work

By - Thursday 1st October, 2015

After Robert Ward’s more pessimistic prediction, unashamed Corbynista Tom Black foretells a year of quiet success for Labour’s new leader, writing from the perspective of 2016

What a difference a year makes. As conference season gears up again, the mood in the various political camps has changed. While Labour looks a lot more optimistic – and certainly more united – than last year, we should not get ahead of ourselves. David Cameron is secure as Prime Minister, George Osborne is looking more and more like a natural successor each day, and the Conservatives’ public-facing decorum over the EU referendum has been astounding. But there’s something different about the Tories this year.

They look a teeny, tiny bit worried.

Maybe it’s the polls. Labour and the Tories both hovering around 38-39% in the polls does not scream ‘unelectable opposition’.

Closer to home, Corbyn may not have been the first choice of any major Croydon Labour figures, but there’s no denying that his leadership has helped them out. His proposals for a ‘People’s Railway’ could not have been better timed – outcry kicked off in early 2016 over Croydon stations losing out from new Southern and Thameslink stopping patterns. Commuters from Norwood Junction to Coulsdon South felt left out in the cold, and the whole franchise system was called into question. This time the Leader of the Opposition followed it up and Croydon Labour was quick to capitalise. If you told someone in September 2015 that city slickers in sharp suits would soon be nodding vigorously and willingly taking leaflets from enthusiastic Labour volunteers outside East Croydon, they’d have probably called you mad.

UKIP’s been seen as a damp squib since 2015

Public ownership of rail was not the only aspect of Corbyn’s leadership that went down well in the borough. Croydon Labour must feel confident that the squeezed Green and Lib Dem vote will give the three Labour councillors in marginal Waddon ward a fighting chance.

There’s evidence that it will: the race to become Mayor of London has traditionally been a multipolar affair, often giving smaller parties bigger exposure than national elections. But in 2016, the election matched the pattern set by politics in general. Minor parties felt their votes squeezed: Greens found traditional left wing policies being advanced by a more successful vehicle. The Liberal Democrats, still licking their wounds and trying to remain relevant after the Armacleggon of 2015, nominated the capable London Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon as their candidate, a respectable choice but one that would deny them the ‘flashiness’ of Brian Paddick’s previous high-profile runs in 2008 and 2012.

UKIP, meanwhile, has been seen as a damp squib since its ’4 million votes, one MP’ performance in 2015. Nigel Farage’s fear of Suzanne Evans as a potential challenger to his leadership meant she was sidelined for the mayoral candidacy in favour of the solid but underwhelming Peter Whittler. The continuing debate over the EU referendum gave the party a small national bounce, but the Kippers were never going to truly capitalise on this in London, by far the most Europhile city in the country.

It was this, perhaps, that sealed Zac Goldsmith’s fate. The son of the man who started the Referendum Party and a man who holds openly Eurosceptic views in his own right, he soon found he was ‘hitting a ceiling’ in cosmopolitan London. Even if that hadn’t been an issue, Zac (what is it with mayoral candidates and first names?) had a bumpy ride. Thanks to the surprising insurgent run of MEP Syed Kamall, he had only won the Conservative nomination by the seat of his pants after months of the press talking him up as the favourite. Smelling blood, the media responded by casting him as the candidate Conservative Londoners “didn’t really want”. Ed Miliband must have enjoyed that. (Incidentally, his memoir is out next month.)

From this poor start, Zac appeared to gain ground, but the ‘optics’ of another blonde Etonian taking on the son of an immigrant bus driver were not helpful for the halting Conservative campaign. Lynton Crosby, the electoral pitbull and hero of ‘Boris 2012′ and Cameron’s majority, was now busy maintaining his reputation in Canada and Australia. His help might have made the difference in what was eventually a close result, but Sadiq Khan, as we all know, pipped Goldsmith to the post by a percentage point and a half.

With a Labour mayor, a Labour-controlled London Assembly and growing poll ratings, the Leader of the Opposition is surely secure in post now. During his tumultuous first weeks in the job, there was some discussion that he would be ousted by Christmas, maybe even before. Cruel whispers suggested he might simply have to resign as his age meant he was not up to his mammoth task. As Jeremy Corbyn prepares his remarks to this year’s Labour conference, though, he has real successes to point to – and, on a superficial level, he’s looking well. A rest over the Christmas period (and, allegedly, a carefully-managed diet and well-regulated sleep pattern) left him reinvigorated and a regular victor at PMQs. True, there was that week where Cameron landed far too many blows regarding Trident, but the public has warmed to Corbyn’s regular (but not constant) ‘people’s question time’ technique. The refugee crisis remains controversial, but the large section of the public that does favour further action sees Corbyn as its leader.

Corbynistas celebrated the anniversary of Jeremy’s election on the 13th of September. Corbyn himself, typically, did nothing of the sort, instead visiting a refugee centre in Folkestone. But after this twelve-month milestone was passed, Jeremy must have felt justifiably good about his leadership. In stark contrast to his first shambolic reshuffle last year, the ‘truth and reconciliation reshuffle’ (as it was known on Twitter) saw various key players from the right and centre of the Labour Party come back into the fold. With Angela Eagle succeeding Andy Burnham as Shadow Home Secretary, Chuka Umunna was able to return to Shadow Business – provided, of course, that he agreed to continue promoting Corbyn’s popular National Investment Bank policy, as well as the ‘one million green jobs’ campaign (still in its early stages).

Croydonians may not care that Tristram Hunt is back at Shadow Education, though his natural inclination to ‘force’ private schools to do more for their local state counterparts made him an easy fit in the end. Similarly, Dan Jarvis quietly beginning to shadow the MoD and Liz Kendall taking a job as a senior whip will not have defined the Croydon zeitgeist. But with Boxpark open and Westfield having broken ground, small businesses and consumers are becoming concerned that capital is shaping Croydon in a manner unseen since the 1960s. Is it any surprise that Jeremy Corbyn is, at last, getting through to people?

For a rather less optimistic prediction of Jeremy Corbyn’s first year as Leader of the Opposition, readers may be interested in Robert Ward’s article last week.

Tom Black

Tom Black

Tom is the Citizen's General Manager, and spent his whole life in Croydon until moving to Balham in 2017. He also writes plays that are occasionally performed and books that are occasionally enjoyed. He's been a Labour Party member since 2007, and in his spare time runs an online publishing house for alternate history books, Sea Lion Press. He is fluent in Danish, but speaks no useful languages. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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  • Anne Giles

    The results of the election for the Conservative candidate for London Mayor will be announced at 9.15 a.m. tomorrow. We shall see!

  • moguloilman

    Both Tom and I have speculated that Zac Goldsmith will be selected as Conservative candidate for Mayor of London. Tomorrow, it seems, will tell, but I would not rule out Syed Kamall being chosen. In fact I think I’ll just check out the odds on BetFair.

    Zac is believed to have a better chance of winning because he is better known and is judged more likely to pick up second preference votes from Greens, LibDems and Kippers.

    Zac or Syed is a little analagous to the head or heart choice of CoopKenBurn or Corbyn for Labour leader. Do you vote for a candidate with a better chance of winning or one who more closely fits what you think being a Conservative is about. I went for Syed.

    • moguloilman

      A fiver on Syed Kamall at 75/1 to be Mayor of London.

    • Anne Giles

      I went for Syed too. Sadly, many Conservatives never received a security code and were unable to vote. I drove everyone mad with e-mails until mine came through at the last minute.