In just over three weeks’ time voters will be going to polling stations to cast their vote in the EU referendum. The polls are increasingly close, the Conservative Party is, predictably, tearing itself apart on the issue, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage are having whale of a time campaigning to large crowds around the country. This, then, is the obvious time for a film (full film here) about the apparently pro-EU leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, to rail against those enemies of socialist progress, the BBC and The Guardian columnist.
Inside Jeremy Corbyn’s press team there is someone who thought allowing filming of the leader behind the scenes, by a Labour-supporting, Corbyn-voting activist, for Vice News was a good idea. Viewers certainly see the good bits of Jeremy Corbyn. He is evidently active in his Islington constituency, is excellent at talking to people, likes being with members of public and is clearly interested in their concerns and interests. At one point he remarks rather endearingly ‘every single person you meet knows something you don’t know, if you don’t interact with people you can’t learn anything and, also, it keeps you humble’.
But, the whole atmosphere pervading the film is one of paranoia, not helped by a grim-faced Seumas Milne, Corbyn’s executive director of strategy, frequently hovering in the background. While it can certainly be true that just because someone may be paranoid, it doesn’t mean people are not plotting against them, it isn’t the familiar newspaper foes that get it in the neck, it is the New Statesman, the BBC and the Guardian writer, author of an ‘utterly disgusting’ column, Jonathan Freedland. Does Corbyn really believe the BBC is obsessed with damaging his leadership? Is there really a ‘Gerald’ at the heart of his operation, leaking his PMQ question to a Tory 'Karla'?
Neither major party is a picture of competence currently. The government is hopelessly split over Europe and, thus, is incapable of presenting a coherent vision for the future of the country and has presented a Queen’s Speech denuded of anything that might be vaguely controversial. Cameron’s government, with only a small majority, has been forced into making u-turn after u-turn. Despite claims that these have been Labour successes, many – such as forcing successful schools to convert to academies, tax credit cuts, disability benefit cuts, Sunday trading laws, the repeal of the Hunting Act – have all occurred due to Conservative backbench rebellions. Yet, Labour remains stubbornly behind in the polls. And while it is certainly true that Labour’s performance in the local elections was better than expected, they were hardly – Sadiq Khan excepted – an indication of a party on its way back to power.
What is most troubling, however, is not the Jim Hackeresque confidence that everyone is conniving against him, it is the timing. Jeremy Corbyn has not been prominent in the European referendum debate thus far. It has followed something of a pattern: Conservatives in rival camps shout at each other; a few Labour figures, like Alan Johnson, Tom Watson or John McDonnell, emerge to speak briefly from the sidelines; someone questions where Jeremy Corbyn is; Corbyn duly appears and makes a speech he rather seems not to want to be giving; Corbyn goes back to whatever he was doing before anyone noticed his absence.
And, so it is today, Corbyn has been giving a speech in which he will outline his fears about the dangers of Brexit. And yet, it has already been overshadowed by this unnecessary, self-inflicted, wound.