Corbyn embarks on an Easter policy blitz – but is it too little, too late? | Heather Stewart

Heather Stewart
Corbyn speaking at the Federation of Small Businesses, where he promised to tackle the culture of late payments. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Free school meals for primary school kids; a £10-an-hour minimum wage; and a pledge to take up the cudgels on behalf of small firms short-changed by big business. The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is on an Easter policy blitz.

One of the longstanding gripes of centrist Labour MPs sceptical about Corbyn has been that having won the leadership handsomely, twice over, promising a new, more radical politics, there have been few detailed policy announcements.

With more pledges to come in the next few weeks, Corbyn and the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, hope they are finally beginning to flesh out what it might mean to be a leftwing, anti-establishment party in the 21st century.

Some veteran leftwingers gripe that they would like to see Corbyn emulate the leftwing firebrand French presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon rather more, and his predecessor Ed Miliband rather less.

But many Labour MPs are heartened by the fact they will now have more to say on the doorstep in the forthcoming local elections – the free school meals pledge, in particular, is apparently proving popular.

However, Corbyn’s backers also know this latest relaunch, which has also seen the him take an aggressive stance against journalists considered hostile, has been born of necessity. “When your back’s against the wall, it does force you to take action,” said one senior MP close to Corbyn’s inner circle.

With Theresa May’s poll lead comfortably in double figures, team Corbyn know they may only have a limited amount of time to show they can turn things around.

The question is whether the latest rash of populist pledges, masterminded, say insiders, by key Corbyn adviser Andrew Fisher, is enough to strike a chord with a public who may have heard little of Labour in recent months but infighting and division.

More bullish members of Corbyn’s inner circle say they are determined to bring about a poll bounce, and fast – partly, they say, because May’s lead will start to erode once her Brexit “Plan for Britain” hits the realpolitik of tough negotiations with the EU27 member states.

They cite more disciplined messaging as evidence the leadership is taking a tighter grip on policymaking; and promise more fresh announcements over the next four weeks – which they hope could even give the party a fillip in the polls in time to improve their performance in what will be a challenging set of local elections on 4 May.

But even some of those closest to Corbyn now talk of “steering the ship safely home”: completing the political project of shifting Labour off the centrist trajectory of the Blair years, towards a less interventionist foreign policy; and a more full-throated opposition to public spending cuts.

They believe Corbyn’s leadership of the party, and the transformation in the ideological makeup of the membership, has changed the political landscape so that Labour would be safe in the hands of a leader from a different strand of party opinion, such as Lisa Nandy or even Yvette Cooper.

But diehard Corbynites still fear unless they can win a crucial rule change at September’s party conference – dubbed the “McDonnell clause” by critics – that would allow a contender from the left wing of the party to run in a future leadership race with nominations from only 5% of MPs, they will risk a return to a brand of Labour politics they despise.

In private, even Corbyn’s staunchest critics reluctantly welcome the renewed vigour with which Labour’s top team appears to be approaching policymaking – though some joke the policies are more Miliband than Marx. But even his most enthusiastic advocates wonder whether it may be too little, too late.

By using Yahoo you agree that Yahoo and partners may use Cookies for personalisation and other purposes