Jeremy Corbyn is suddenly the fastest gun in the west, but he's firing at all the wrong targets

Tom Peck
It was a timely reminder that with his own crowd, his own people and his own ideas, he has always been a decent campaigner: Getty

The tactic of persecuted minorities stealing the language of their abusers is not new. It has put the N in NWA and the Q in LGBTQ. So arguably it was no surprise that Labour launched its general election campaign with the Conservatives’ most devastating attack line. It fell to Ian Lavery, MP for Wansbeck-For-Now to do it.

“It is my pleasure to introduce the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Jeremy Corbyn,” he said, and in a hired church hall down the road from his Westminster office where he has worked for 34 years, the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom bound on to the stage and burst the Westminster bubble.

He looked the part. He sounded the part. From the first word of his speech to the last word of the generous number of questions he freely took from the press, Jeremy Corbyn spoke in crisp, rousing rhetoric and his crowd clapped like wild.

“Concentrate on the policies,” his backers always say. “The policies are popular.”

In politics, the policies are the ammo. The leader is the gun. Corbyn’s reputation for not quite being the fastest gun in the west is not undeserved, but never had he been more well oiled than now.

Trouble is, he took the easy shots at the big targets, and – trouble is – the bullets tend to bounce off them.

“Much of the media and establishment are saying that this election is a foregone conclusion,” he boomed.

“They think there are rules in politics, which if you don’t follow by doffing your cap to powerful people, accepting that things can’t really change, then you can’t win.”

Don’t play by their rules if you don’t want to. Take on the powerful, the vested interests. Take on Rupert Murdoch. But Ed Miliband tried that and it all took for them to ruin him was a nanosecond’s difficulty with a bacon sandwich, as opposed to, say, long decades worth of on-the-record support for the IRA.

In the questions at the end, only once did his supporters openly boo the media. Progress, perhaps. Martha Kearney from the BBC dared to ask him if, having sworn to take on the elites, he perhaps wasn’t “a member of the Islington elite” himself.

The booing filled the room, and Corbyn was having none of it. “I am proud to represent Islington North in Parliament,” he said. “In Islington North, half of our children are born in poverty.”

A woman two rows in front of me rose halfway to her feet. “Yeah!!!” she bellowed. Have some of that BBC! Child poverty.

Still, it was a timely reminder that with his own crowd, his own people and his own ideas, he has always been a decent campaigner. He was, he reminded us at one point, 200 to 1 to win the Labour leadership, a job he has now won twice in as many years.

Of course, he has been an unprecedentedly woeful leader of the opposition, and the job he campaigns for is rather bigger than that. But that small problem can wait for another day, seven weeks from now.

If he can stay this crisp, this fluent, for that whole time, and it’s a big if, there’s no reason to imagine he can’t keep the damage to something close to minimum.

By way of anecdotal evidence, more than one traditional Labour-supporting Corbyn loather has told me that yes, they will vote Labour, on the basis that this election will definitely finish him off and so the party might as well be in as decent a shape as possible for the return to sanity they imagine to be inevitable but which is anything but.

Be under no illusion. “The next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom” will be Theresa May, but if, having forced a general election on to an utterly exasperated public, and her reward for doing so is a parliamentary majority increased from 12 to, say, 40, the next leader of the Labour Party might very well be Jeremy Corbyn, and the embarrassment will not all be his.