Labour 2015: pic.twitter.com/dpX31o2ykt
— Harry Cole (@MrHarryCole) November 8, 2015
Next March the 100th anniversary of the Irish Easter uprising
A few years ago, when Labour were the natural party of government, Tony Blair ran his administration on what was known as the Grid. In essence, the Grid was a timetable of upcoming events which was used to make sure that eyecatching initiatives would not clash, be overshadowed by other events or, worse, be sabotaged by an unflattering and off-message juxtaposition. You can find a detailed explanation of how it worked here:
It is unclear whether this model continues to be followed by the Labour leadership or whether it has now been discarded along with other Blairite heresies but perhaps we can try to construct a grid of our own for Jeremy Corbyn. We should not restrict ourselves to things like the budget and the local election round in May. We should include significant cultural events and anniversaries as well.
Here we immediately find a dangerous corner that Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell should be thinking about right now. In the middle of the 2016 election round we have the 100 year anniversary of the Easter uprising that led ultimately to Irish independence. Just how are they going to mark this?
We know that Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t think much of marking some mainstream anniversaries. He spoke out against the extensive commemoration of the 100 year anniversary of the First World War. Equally, however, we know that he does not object to using the idea of commemoration to raise the profile of causes that he believes in. One of his early media tangles centred on his involvement with Deir Yassin Remembered.
Jeremy Corbyn’s and John McDonnell’s enthusiasm for the Irish republican cause is well-documented. So will they choose to pass over this particular anniversary, which is likely to get considerable publicity, in silence? And if they don’t, just what are they going to say? Do they risk seeming to lack conviction or do they decide to fill with passionate intensity on the subject?
Labour can ill afford a full-blown controversy about its leadership’s connections with Sinn Fein in the midst of an important round of elections. So they will need to maintain rigid discipline in the face of likely goading from political opponents, however they decide to handle this.
Since Jeremy Corbyn has been elected he has been caught flat-footed on several occasions by the mismatch between his principles and public expectations of a leader of the opposition. Precisely because his views on many subjects are outside the mainstream, Labour need a grid to plan well in advance how to avoid crashing onto rocks ahead. I have given a single example and there will be many others. This week marks the 20th anniversary of the Dayton Accords. Jeremy Corbyn opposed western intervention against Slobodan Milosevic so this is another subject where his take is very much minority opinion in Britain. These tripwires are going to be coming up week in and week out for him.
Forward planning is important for any political leader. It is especially important for one who is seeking to make us rethink his role. Jeremy Corbyn needs to start getting on the front foot by spotting these well in advance.
Antifrank is part of PB’s team of guest writers