Jeremy Corbyn stakes his claim to be PM

The JC problem: Corbyn is a messiah to some, a Leninist hardliner to others.

Who really is Jeremy Bernard Corbyn? Today he will make a pitch to be Britain’s prime minister. To many he is man of vision and integrity. To others he is an old-school socialist hardliner…

For a while, before the Labour Party’s annual conference began in Brighton this week, there were plans for its leader Jeremy Corbyn to walk on water. He was going to “stand on a platform floating in the sea”, an MP told the Daily Mail. “They thought it would make a great picture – JC literally walking on water, sort of.”

In the end, the famous Channel tides scuppered the plan. Or perhaps it was never a plan; Corbyn’s team denied it, saying, “We're inventive but not that inventive.”

Fake news or not, the story captures something about Corbyn’s current rock star status. He was greeted by chants of “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn” from his supporters on Sunday evening. On Monday London’s mayor Sadiq Khan called him the “king” of Glastonbury and grime. The latest YouGov poll put his favourability six points ahead of the prime minister, Theresa May.

Today, he will capitalise on that popularity when he says Labour is “on the threshold of power” at his speech at the conference.

No matter your politics, Corbyn’s transformation over the last two years is remarkable. When he was first nominated for leader in 2015, he was known as a rebel who defied Labour’s whip 617 times in Parliament. That is, if people knew who he was at all.

Now he has won two leadership elections with around 60% of the vote. In June he helped Labour to gain 30 more seats in Parliament. He now says he hopes to be prime minister for ten years.

And yet there is a dark side to “Corbynism”. Yesterday, his followers faced more accusations of anti-semitism after speeches made at a festival hosted by the organisation Momentum. Meanwhile, the BBC’s political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, was forced to hire a bodyguard at the conference due to the abuse she has received.

In The Times, columnist Rachel Sylvester blamed the “bullying and controlling side” of Corbyn’s support on a “generational divide” between his idealistic young followers, and “hard-left cynics” in the mould of Russian revolutionaries Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky.

So what is Corbyn really like?

Jez we can?

His fans say he is a hero. His honest, principled style has finally inspired young people in Britain to embrace politics. His calls for a “kinder, gentler” style came at just the right time, as people are sick of petty political insults and abuse. And his mission to tackle Britain’s high levels of inequality is the perfect antidote to rising nationalism.

“Wrong,” argue his critics. He may say that he wants people to be nice to each other, but he does little to rebuke his angry supporters who abuse their opponents, shut down debates, and threaten to deselect dissenting MPs. What’s more, his ideas have been proven not to work; they failed in the 1970s, and they will fail again.

You Decide

  1. Is Jeremy Corbyn a hero or a villain?
  2. What makes him so popular among young people in Britain?

Activities

  1. Congratulations — your class has been hired to write Jeremy Corbyn’s speech! Now split into six groups. Each will write a paragraph for one of the following sections: introduction, Brexit, the economy, schools, the NHS, conclusion. Take it in turns for a speaker from each group to read out their paragraph.
  2. Research one of the policies that Jeremy Corbyn has proposed while Labour leader, and list its pros and cons.

Some People Say...

“Fascism is capitalism in decay.”

Vladimir Lenin

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
New policies proposed by the Labour Party at its conference so far this week include: a tax on bookmakers to help treat gambling addiction; nationalising some of the private finance initiatives which provide funding for NHS hospitals at a future cost; reducing women’s retirement age to 64; and a cap on credit card interest rates to stop people having to pay back more than double what they borrowed.
What do we not know?
What Corbyn will say in his speech, scheduled for 12:15pm today. We also do not know how long his popularity will last. It reached its peak in the days after June’s general election, at a time when Theresa May was at her most unpopular. However, their ratings have been getting closer again ever since. And, as Corbyn knows, one election can change everything.

Word Watch

Glastonbury and grime
Corbyn drew huge crowds when he spoke at Glastonbury this summer, and was supported by grime (the music genre) artists during the general election.
Six points
According to a poll conducted September 4-5th, Corbyn’s rating was -14 and May’s was -20.
Whip
An MP whose job is to ensure party discipline including that MPs vote in Parliament according to party policy.
Anti-semitism
A speaker at the festival said free speech should include questioning the Holocaust. Yesterday Corbyn said anti-semitism is “completely at odds” with his party.
Revolutionaries
Lenin led Russia and then Soviet Union after the revolution in 1917. Trotsky was a fellow revolutionary who opposed the rise of Lenin’s brutal successor, Stalin.
Nationalism
A form of extreme patriotism, including thinking your country is better than others.
Deselect
To reject and replace party candidates for MP. In this case, the idea is to remove Corbyn’s critics in the party.
1970s
Labour was in power 1974-79, an era of high inflation and unemployment, with widespread industrial strikes led by powerful trade unions.

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