politics

Labour hopes banging NHS drum will be music to voters' ears


Jeremy Corbyn had one central aim as he brandished the 451-page “secret” NHS document at a hastily-arranged press conference on Wednesday: to drag the general election debate safely back into Labour’s comfort zone.

Corbyn had endured a difficult 36 hours, from the chief rabbi’s brutal letter about Labour’s record on antisemitism, splashed all over the front of the Times, to a bruising BBC interview with Andrew Neil.

In the interview a tetchy Corbyn declined to apologise for Labour’s record on tackling antisemitism among its members since he became leader – though he has said sorry in the past.

And he also faced tough questioning over the party’s decision to spend £58bn on compensating the Waspi women – those who lost out through increases in the state pension age – and how it would be funded.

Labour has long backed the vocal Waspi campaigners, some of whom have been driven to considerable hardship; but it announced the decision after it had published its manifesto, and John McDonnell’s accompanying “grey book”, with policy costings.

That allowed Neil to challenge Corbyn repeatedly over where the money would come from. His answer was to highlight the moral dimension of the decision; but again he appeared irritable and defensive.


Jeremy Corbyn reveals 451-page unredacted document ‘proving NHS up for sale’ – video

Labour sought to fight back on Wednesday. At his Westminster press conference, he waved the document around and said threatening to hand over chunks of the NHS to US corporations was “a plot against the whole country”.

He was pressed about his record on antisemitism, and his refusal to apologise in Tuesday’s interviews; but the future of the NHS is playing strongly as an election issue, and the secret papers made news.

Later in the day, Labour released its latest slick party political broadcast. In it, Corbyn is seen speaking to party activists, and lamenting attacks on him and his party in the media. “I thought there was no further abuse that could be thrown at us, because there has been so much for the last four years, but they’re dredging even deeper,” he says.

He urges them not to hit back, using the familiar phrase “they go low, we go high”.

The message appeared aimed at reassuring potential Labour voters about some of the things they may read – though it may also irk some of those who fear he sometimes appears not to engage directly with criticism, including on Labour’s record over antisemitism.

By dialling up the rhetoric on the NHS, however, Corbyn appeared to have succeeded for the moment in rekindling a row that is energising many of its activists, but also, say senior party figures, starting to be raised spontaneously on the doorstep by voters.

As well as changing the media narrative, though, Labour needed to restore Corbyn to what he has called his “Monsieur Zen” persona – the man who turned up at last Friday’s Question Time debate boasting that he’d just enjoyed a caesar salad, and calmly withstood a string of tough questions.

An unseen, unsung part of the job of advisers and strategists during any election campaign is to keep their frontman (or woman) calm and relaxed enough to perform well in challenging situations, day after day after day.

The Labour leader’s aides well know there is no better therapy for him than a scenic rail trip. And by mid-afternoon on Wednesday, he was pictured on his Twitter feed peering through a train window at a rainbow, as he headed to the West Country to talk about the environment – with the tetchy Corbyn of 24 hours earlier banished, at least for now.

Jeremy Corbyn
(@jeremycorbyn)

A beautiful rainbow on the River Exe, as I travel to Cornwall for a rally on Labour’s Green Industrial Revolution. pic.twitter.com/a8hmsFUcNp


November 27, 2019





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