On becoming Labour leader four years ago, Jeremy Corbyn promised to usher in “a kinder, gentler politics”. How’s he getting on so far? Well, put it like this. At Labour’s election campaign events, his colleagues have started begging his supporters not to abuse journalists for having the temerity to ask questions.
Today Mr Corbyn went to Liverpool to watch John McDonnell, his shadow chancellor, give a speech about the economy. Hosting the Q&A afterwards was Lucy Powell (Lab, Manchester Central). But before calling the first journalist, she turned to the audience, and issued the following plea.
“We’re going to take a few questions from the media,” she began gently, “and we’re going to do so respectfully, and in a patient way, if that’s OK.”
The audience received this information in silence.
“We’re really proud of the policies we’ve announced today, and so we want them to be covered by the media,” explained Ms Powell helpfully. “And that means allowing the media some time to ask John some questions. Even if you don’t like the question being asked, we’re going to listen to it respectfully.”
All credit to her for trying. It can’t have been easy. It was a bit like listening to a long-suffering teacher, pleading with a class of teenage boys not to throw stationery at the Ofsted inspector.
At first, her charges complied. But then, a few minutes later, a journalist asked about Ian Austin, the former Labour MP who’s urging the public to vote Tory to keep Mr Corbyn out. She also mentioned the Jewish Chronicle newspaper, which has also urged the public not to vote Labour.
The audience groaned and grumbled, ominously.
“Now,” tutted Ms Powell, “we said we’d be respectful!”
A few moments later, though, something unexpected happened. Mr McDonnell instructed the room to “thank the journalists” for their questions – and immediately the room gave a round of applause.
Well, always wise to do what the headmaster says. You wouldn’t want to end up in his bad books.
As for Mr McDonnell’s speech, it was packed with expensive pledges: a £250billion Green Transformation Fund here, a £150billion Social Transformation Fund there. As ever, though, he sounded so grim, so leaden, so heavy with gloom. Maybe it’s just his voice. But even when he’s announcing a policy he’s presumably proud of, and believes will herald a glorious future for one and all, he somehow sounds overcome with foreboding.
I’m trying to imagine Mr McDonnell sounding cheerful about something. It isn’t easy.
“Happy birthday? Happy for some, maybe. Happy for the Tories and their billionaire friends. But not happy for ordinary workers and their families. Did you know that, under this cruel Tory Government, there are children in this country who are having to wait up to 12 months for their next birthday to come round? That’s why we’re announcing today that the next Labour government will put right this historic wrong – and give every child in Britain a minimum of three birthdays, every single year. Vote Labour. It’s time for real change.”