Notebook

Corbyn’s problem was not that the media hated him – but that he hated the media

21 December 2019

9:00 AM

21 December 2019

9:00 AM

On the morning of the election, we buried my lovely mum. I write this 24 hours later, now on a flight to the States, with the mud from her graveside still all over my shoes. This was just the ashes, because we had the funeral six weeks ago, but it was oddly fitting. The 1970 election was called a week before she married my father, who would go on to spend the bulk of his working life as a Tory MP, which meant they had to postpone their honeymoon and spend it canvassing the streets of Edinburgh instead. Four years later, the sudden second 1974 poll was held two days before the birth of my older sister. And there we were, right at the end, doing it to her yet again. She hadn’t talked much for the past few years, because multiple sclerosis can be savage like that. Still, if I close my eyes, I can very easily picture her rolling hers.

It was at another funeral this year that I met Jeremy Corbyn. He was a beloved friend of my own beloved friend Jeremy Hardy, and I can’t ever think of him, or write of him, without remembering it. Putting aside all else, a striking thing about this last election is that the best Corbyn, the twinkling, sparkling, genial, comfortable Corbyn, never quite made an appearance. He’s always in there somewhere, and it’s not just his friends who know it. Mad strangers spot it, too, and write poems about him on the internet.

Whose fault was that? They had a section on the Today programme a couple of days before the election in which they interspersed an ad-libbed bit from a speech he gave to supporters in Carlisle — where he broke off and started chatting about Iain Duncan Smith to a voter’s dog — with the snappy, charmless, irritated answers he gave in that BBC debate to Nick Robinson. It could have been two different people. Among many Labour supporters, it’s an article of faith that Corbyn’s biggest problem was that the media hated him. I wonder if it might actually have been the other way around.


I’m heading to Washington for a friend’s wedding. It’s a proper Hugh Grant-style election weekend, this. I’ve bought wifi on the plane, and I’m reading everything, and it’s not really getting me anywhere. Having struggled for the past month to decide what I wanted to happen, I now struggle to decide how I feel about what actually did. Beyond, of course, bad. Labour proved as unelectable as I’d always expected, but if the likes of me start sounding smug, give us a slap. Nobody wanted our great centrist realignment, either. If anything, they wanted it even less.

Although there’s always Scotland. I spent a week back there this election and I loved it. As ever, it was like remembering a second language I’d half forgotten I even spoke. I think we all know I’m a bullshitting fool for the most part, but among the high streets, harl and hillsides of Scotland, I feel atavistic ley lines of comprehension at my fingertips. There is nothing about English politics that I will ever grasp on the same saturated level that I can grasp what it means to be a Perthshire Conservative, or a Lib Dem islander, or a Govan Red Clydesider seeing the shine of SNP gold.

It’s more civil up there, too, albeit sometimes covertly. Post-interview, and chatting with the staff of the SNP’s Stephen Gethins in North East Fife (who in the end lost his seat to the Lib Dems), I mentioned that I hadn’t yet got hold of his Conservative challenger, who had in the past described the SNP as ‘obsessional’ and ‘mindless’. ‘Do you want his number?’ a few of them asked.

American Christmas decorations are much bigger and better than ours, aren’t they? Back home, our own tree is normally a fake John Lewis one we keep in the attic, because my wife is an ardent environmentalist, and if you think that doesn’t make sense then I dare you to tell her that. This year, though, we’ve gone for a real one. It’s quite big. I went down to the garden centre to get it last week, and the tree guy helped me tie it on to our roof rack. ‘I suppose you do this quite a lot?’ I said by way of conversation, but he told me he was new to the job and still learning. On his first day, one customer bought a mammoth one and he helped him tie it directly on to the roof, looping the ropes through the car’s open windows. ‘OK,’ said the punter, afterwards, ‘but how do I get in?’

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