Jeremy Corbyn is preparing to wrap himself in the Union flag for his first conference speech as Labour leader this afternoon, insisting that he “loves” Britain and that he is driven by “British majority values”. His new-found patriotism shows that the rows he has been caught up in over his failure to sing the national anthem and whether he would wear a poppy have hurt. His team initially dismissed such stuff as “tittle tattle”, while Corbyn took time to decide what he thought of the anthem, but this morning’s papers show they know these things matter.
The tone from the new Labour leadership has been markedly emollient, with John McDonnell living up to his promise yesterday to not deliver his “usual rant” (despite this, I identified 7 concerning parts). “The arduous process of rebranding Mr McDonnell as a prudent pragmatist is under way,” said Michael Deacon. Corbyn’s team are trying to be conciliatory, with the new leader making several u-turns in his first fortnight, so Labour can get used to the idea of him at the top, and to prevent his first conference turning into anarchy. Dan Hodges touches on a deeper reason for Corbyn’s critics being well-behaved – “fear”. “It is the great unifier now”, he writes in today’s paper. “Fear of the unbelievers. Fear of being branded an unbeliever.”
The conference has been markedly well-mannered so far, with McDonnell and Peter Mandelson acting like best buddies before the cameras. But scratch beneath the surface of the “new politics” rhetoric and tensions are simmering. John Woodcock told a private event that the party was “f***ed”, while a new poll found 33% of Labour parliamentary candidates feel “embarrassed” by having Corbyn as leader. “We failed to win the last election because we had a joke of a leader, and now we’ve elected an even bigger joke,” one exasperated MP told me.
Expectations are low for Corbyn’s speech, with delegates telling us that they hope he’ll promote themes like “unity”. We’ll be covering it on our liveblog. If you just can’t wait, it’s worth trying our automatic Corbyn speech generator. Meanwhile, Labour moderates have effectively given him seven months to show his appeal to floating voters, with Tristram Hunt saying Labour must win next year’s London Mayor election. If Corbyn doesn’t deliver, he’ll find his “kinder” politics may not last too long.
“I am not imposing leadership lines. I don’t believe anyone has a monopoly on wisdom.”
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