The Labour World Cup

The contest was always expected to be hard-hitting, brutal, and filled with passion, excitement and energy. A smorgasboard of ambitious young specimens looking to inflict pain and embarrassment on their rivals. No holds barred. No I’m not talking about the Labour leadership, but the Rugby World Cup.

Jeremy Corbyn, the rank outsider – a Fiji, or Japan if you will – shot through the ranks, filling his supporters with enthusiasm and excitement, the likes of which hasn’t been seen in British politics since perhaps 1997.

‘Straight talking, honest politics’ was the slogan. Jeremy Corbyn has made a virtue out of arguing for ‘what is right’, regardless of whether or not it’s politically expedient or tactically sound. Yet these same supporters who were in jubilation on Saturday, were aghast on Sunday as Corbyn appointed his cabinet.

His first mistake came with the sacking of Ivan Lewis. For months Corbyn had faced accusations of being close to anti-semites and calling Hezbollah and Hamas ‘friends’. Ivan Lewis, a Jewish cabinet minister, was among the first to be unceremoniously dumped. No rebuttal came from the leadership, and later it forced their second mistake. Seemingly in response to the outrage, insiders murmured to the press that they wanted to create a ‘minister for Jews’. Cue outrage.

Then came the big one – Corbyn appointed all his top posts without choosing a single woman, despite there being a plethora of female MPs supporting him and a number of other talented people to pick from.

Day two, and the Corbyn camp found themselves uncomfortable when subjected to media scrutiny. Videos were released of Corbyn exiting Parliament alone late at night, remaining deadly silent when accosted by journalists. A normal tactic for journalists, and one of the many reasons PR people stay close and field the messaging to protect the politician. Any successful campaign requires the perfect confluence of the right messaging, the right people and the right spokesperson. Corbyn is failing on all three.

His shadow Foreign Secretary, whether wilfully or not, was also completely off-message on the Today programme saying Labour will fight for Britain to stay in the EU in all circumstances,  leading Corbyn to completely contradict him at a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party that evening. Corbyn later faced rows with his own party over the colour of the poppy he would wear at Remembrance Day. An argument that duly found its way out of the PLP and into the hands of the drooling media.

The problem for Corbyn, is that he is being led by events, rather than leading them. Unlike Ed Miliband, he had the advantage of knowing some way ahead of time that he was highly likely to win. He could have planned his first few days in intimate detail had he wanted to.

So what does Corbyn needs to do? Well, actually, Corbyn could probably do worse than looking at rugby teams and how they organise themselves.

Firstly, he needs to sort out his defensive line. Unforced errors are abundant and it’s hurting him. He needs to let people help – the right political advisers and the right people to talk about messaging.

Secondly, sports scientists increasingly talk about ‘marginal gains’, the sum total of doing lots of little things well, thus leading to a much greater outcome. If Corbyn can starts getting the little things right – bringing colleagues on board and getting back some goodwill amongst the PLP, it will make his life that much easier

Once he has his party behind him, he can start setting the agenda. Pushing back that bit harder, being able to rely on his colleagues, and beginning to free himself up to be more strategic. None of this can happen overnight.

Fortunately for him, if this was an 80 minute match, he might have conceded early, but there’s still time left in the game. The bad news? In this competition, there’s only one match, and it’s both your first game, and the final – and your opponents have played it before.


Lauren Roden

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