Reflecting on a dispiriting week for the red team
Corbynâ€™s tent suddenly looks a lot smaller after the loss of policy chief Neale Coleman. Â a big loss.Â
â€œIf you want them to eat chicken, donâ€™t lay out a buffetâ€.Â Thatâ€™s a favourite piece of advice from a Lefty friend who I work with offering training in media skills to progressive folk in the Labour movement and charities.Â The point of the advice is — focus on your key message and donâ€™t get drawn into highways and byways which will provide the media with negative stories.
When he appeared on the Marr show on BBCÂ Â Jeremy Corbynâ€™s â€œchickenâ€ was to put fairness at the centre of Labourâ€™s New Year message to the voters. That had been the key theme of his speech to the Fabian Society the previous day. Â Â
In the event he didnâ€™t so much offer a buffet as a banquet, with musings about repealing anti-strike laws passed in the 1980s, Â Trident submarines going to sea without nuclear warheads and negotiations over the Falkland with Argentina.
Lord Prescott blamed Marr for asking questions designed to get headlines.Â Shadow Minister Chris Bryant and Channel Fourâ€™s Paul Mason took the same line. Â Â Â
Iâ€™m afraid we media trainers will have none of such rubbish. If your day job is Leader of the Labour party you go into a TV studio prepared to focus on the core message you want the voters and determined to avoid anything that will provoke negative headlines.
At best the Corbyn performance was naive. His aides should warned him against naively answering every question as if it was a chat around the kitchen table. Just imagaine what a series of such interviews would do to Labourâ€™s campaign during a General Election.
Hereâ€™s a suggested model answer : â€œAndrew, thatâ€™s not an issue people want to hear about today. Voters want to know what Labour has to offer them on the NHS, housing, and social justice where the Tories are hurting not helping the British people.â€
It was the start of a miserable week for Labour MPs. Despite the fact that most oppose Corbyn they heard David Cameron use Prime Ministerâ€™s Questions to lump them together with their leader. â€œAnyone watching this Labour Party, and it’s not now just the leader, it’s the whole Labour Party. they are a risk to our national security, a risk to our economic security, a risk to our health service and the security of every family in our country.”
Worse was to come with the resignation of head of policy Neal Coleman, after losing a battle for influence with head of strategy and communications Seumas Milne. Most MPs think Corbyn let the wrong man go. Coleman is credited with trying to make a success of the â€œbig tentâ€ reaching out to MPs who didnâ€™t vote for Corbyn. Â Â
It all makes a leadership challenge â€“ donâ€™t ask me when or how â€“ a virtual certainty, which gave added piquancy to the the appearance of Dan Jarvis at a gathering of Labour Women. They were launching a pamphletÂ celebrating five years of the Fabians Womenâ€™s Network. Former SAS officer Major Jarvis is a longstanding supporter of the network and was the only male speaker of the evening. Most of the people in the room â€“ including me would probably prefer Labourâ€™s next leader to be a woman â€“ but a feminist and a war hero wouldnâ€™t be a bad combination. I agree with Henry G Manson about Lisa Nandy’s chances.