A frantic burst of policy activity shows Jeremy Corbyn on mixed form on the clarity front. On the one hand, he was absolutely plain about bank holidays. The Labour leader could not have been clearer about his intention to boost them by four with an extra one for each UK patron saint.
On the other hand, the more trivial question of nuclear weapons caught him in less decisive mode. Until now, the Jezza doctrine has been to keep Trident while guaranteeing that there are never any circumstances to use it.
Some considered that a bit bemusing, but I can’t see why. It makes as much sense as Jose Mourinho buying Antoine Griezmann for £150m from Atletico Madrid, and swearing on his children’s lives at the signing ceremony never to put Griezmann on the Manchester United bench, let alone in the starting XI. What on earth would be bonkers about that?
In a bid to clarify on Andrew Marr’s BBC1 sofa, Corbyn went beyond restating that he would never call for the codes. He also said there will be no pledge to retain Trident in Labour’s manifesto, and stated beyond a scintilla of doubt that maybe, once installed in Downing Street, who knows, he might consider, well, it’s too early to be sure, but mm, it is conceivable that his government would scrap Trident. Or not.
Now you can’t be clearer than that.
I was mightily impressed by his squirming on this point. If you or I were facing his election odds – it’s three times likelier that Miley Cyrus will infiltrate the Pyongyang regime on Thursday, twerk the Young Leader to death on Friday, and have reunited North and South Korea by Saturday teatime – we wouldn’t bother nuancing the policy commitments.
If only for the merriment, you or I would blatantly promise anything and everything in the certainty that a) almost no one is listening; b) those who are won’t take a blind bit of notice; and c) there is more chance of Miley defusing the North Korean nuclear menace on the timescale stipulated above, than of you or I kissing Her Majesty’s gloved hand on 9 June.
For the impact it would have on the future occupancy of No 10, Jeremy Corbyn might as well promise every UK national their own hippopotamus and an ornamental lake to keep it in, or to ennoble Ilie Nastase and make him the minister of state for women and minorities in the Lords.
At 8.10am on tomorrow’s Today programme, he could inform John Humphrys that his first act as PM will be to pass emergency legislation, making it an inalienable human right for British citizens to have a date with Bradley Cooper and/or Jennifer Lawrence once a week – and the polls wouldn’t move a fraction either way.
If Corbyn rose at noon on Wednesday to launch PMQs with “Will the Prime Minister tell the House if she will join me in promising to make singing the national anthem a criminal offence punishable by an all-expenses-paid weekend in a fantasy suite at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, with tickets to see Celine Dion thrown in”, the electoral weathercock wouldn’t budge. He’d still be losing both the Celine Dion lover and Celine Dion hater demographics to Theresa May, just as he is losing all the rest.
Admittedly, it’s only a rumour that ICM has him trailing her by 49-37 per cent among the Jeremy Corbyn blood relatives demographic. But it is a recorded fact that the Labour leader – the Labour leader, if you care to imagine those italics in Neil Kinnock’s gravelly tones – is losing (29-26) to May on trustworthiness to run the NHS. After seven years of Tory/Tory-led government, with the health service widely perceived to be in crisis, a Tory PM is deemed more competent to manage it than her Labour counterpart. If the history of electoral polling in Britain has ever produced a more chilling figure for an opposition party, it slipped my notice.
In this desperate context, it feels churlish and pointless to wonder why Corbyn promoted the bank holiday banality above a seriously populist policy such as renationalising the railways. If he is making the worst of an abysmal hand – and the combination of Brexit and the anti-centre left backlash elsewhere in Europe and the US – the outcome will be much the same as from making the best of it.
So rather than carp at his stubbornly inadequate line on Trident, or the failure over 18 months to develop a coherent strategy (let alone anything approaching a vision), let’s celebrate Corbyn’s resilience as he marches cheerily towards the gunfire.
One of his four new bank holidays (St Andrew’s Day) falls on November 30. That also happens to be Churchill’s birthday, and in one regard Winston would be proud to have inspired the man who would succeed him in Downing Street. Corbyn may or may not take some beating when it comes to messing up. But no one in peacetime memory has given such a courageous demonstration of what it means, when facing impossible odds, to keep buggering on.