On September 15:
- After “receiving a standing ovation”, Corbyn called Tories “poverty deniers” in a speech to the TUC. He also accused them of “social cleansing” and “declaring war on organised Labour”;
- For Kevin Maguire at The Mirror, Corbyn’s “decent, common sense and simply-explained politics” were “compassionate and sincere”, and were “under such ferocious assault” simply because they were considered such a “threat” to his “more cynical opponents”. His admission that “he isn’t all-seeing, all-knowing” was to be seen as “a radical departure in politics”, and his desire to “listen to the good ideas of ordinary people” was “revolutionary”. And finally, although he was “no great orator”, asserted Maguire, “he could change British politics for the better”;
- With an ICM survey showing “a six-point lead for the Tories” over Labour, “down from nine points in the previous survey”, it was clear that Corbyn’s election had boosted support for Labour in the country;
Corbyn’s integrity and the outdated national anthem
- Having released a statement to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, in which he praised the “heroism of the Royal Air Force” and the “tremendous courage and determination to defeat fascism” shown by his mother (who “served as an air raid warden”) and his father (who was in the Home Guard), he “remained silent during the national anthem” at a memorial service at St Paul’s Cathedral on September 15. The Labour party later stated that he had “stood in respectful silence”, while Corbyn himself said he was “thinking of [his] mum”. And, in a supposedly ‘democratic’ country of religious people, non-religious people, monarchists, and republicans, surely he was entitled to have his own beliefs respected. Forcing someone to sing a national anthem which glorifies an unelected head of state and invokes the blessing of a specific deity would surely be something one would expect to find only in an authoritarian country. The Stop the War coalition, for example, had spoken just days before about the British monarchy’s “criminal record” and “moral vacuum”;
- On September 16, Corbyn (and a plethora of supporters on the internet) justified his actions the previous day. Adam Bienkov at Politics.co.uk, meanwhile, said “Corbyn should be applauded for refusing to sing the national anthem”, especially given that there were “several perfectly sane and reasonable reasons for Jeremy Corbyn not to have joined in with the anthem”. It was “refreshing”, he said, “to see someone stick so resolutely to their principles”. Chris Blackhurst, meanwhile, spoke at The Independent about how the “avowed republican” would be “damned” if he did sing the national anthem (for “being a hypocrite”), and damned if he didn’t (for “being unpatriotic”), whilst suggesting he would have to “play by the rules” if he wanted to progress in the anti-democratic British political system.
- The Independent’s Holly Baxter reminded readers that Corbyn had been elected as Labour leader precisely because the party’s members and sympathisers had “tired of mindless conformity”. Therefore, the “real insult” was not Corbyn’s refusal to sing the national anthem but the Tories policies which were ‘ruining veterans’ lives’. She also quoted war veteran Harry Leslie Smith who had said in a tweet that he was “not offended by Corbyn not singing [the] national anthem” but was “offended by politicians who sell guns to tyrants” (making an apparent reference to “the world’s biggest arms fair” which had come to London on September 15;
- Smith himself, who in 2013 had argued that “the solemnity of remembrance [had] been twisted into a justification for conflict”, stood up for Corbyn in The Morning Star, saying he was now “going to war again” to defend Britain’s welfare state. Arguing that “the media isn’t an ally”, and that the Cameron regime would “use every cynical device and cruel smear” to delegitimise Corbyn’s progressive policies, he stressed that all sympathisers should ‘help out’ on the “long but progressive march to victory in 2020”;
- Left Unity, meanwhile, once again stood alongside Corbyn, saying that, “as a republican party”, it stood “full-square behind any choice not to sing that the Queen should be ‘long to reign over us’”. It was “entirely reasonable to show respect for the dead without endorsing the institution of the monarchy”, asserted spokesman Salman Shaheen, insisting that the “right wing media” were “playground bullies” who both hated and feared the new Labour leader;
- Even Conservative MP James Gray defended Corbyn, insisting that, although the Labour leader was “a pacifist and not a royalist”, he had nonetheless “gone along and stood in the front row” at the memorial service;
- Finally, James O’Brien at LBC radio left a nationalist caller “lost for words” when he rang up to criticise Corbyn for not singing the national anthem. First, O’Brien insisted that the song was about the Queen rather than the nation or its dead soldiers, before being told that not singing it was disrespectful to those who had died to protect (among other things) freedom of speech. The presenter then stressed that the caller should therefore respect Corbyn’s own right to express himself freely. Finally, when asked to recite the second verse of the song, the caller essentially admitted that he didn’t even know it;
At Corbyn’s first Prime Minister’s Question Time:
- In his maiden PMQs, coming just a day after “tax credit cuts” had been passed “by a majority of 35”, Corbyn spoke about how he had “received 40,000 replies” to his offer for Labour members to ask David Cameron their own questions. According to the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg, “Camp Corbyn and David Cameron’s team” were “both happy with the outcome” of Corbyn’s first PMQs. Her use of the term ‘Camp Corbyn’, however, appeared to show significant bias against Labour, suggesting that Corbyn’s team resembled an unserious summer camp or a disorganised refugee camp (or any of the other connotations the word ‘camp’ tends to have) while the Prime Minister’s team was treated with greater formality (or deference).
- At the same time, Kuenssberg claimed that “asking six different questions rather than pushing the prime minister on a single point” may have given Cameron “an easy ride”. This seemed a fair point, as many of Cameron’s answers (particularly to do with the economy) were misleading and required a strong reply from Corbyn, which they did not always receive. For Asa Bennett at the Telegraph, the fact that Cameron was not hard pressed on specific issues had simply meant that he “barely broke a sweat”. On the other hand, though, the Labour leader’s strategy did manage to cover a range of questions on a number of important issues which would probably not have been covered otherwise.
- Later on, Corbyn told Kuenssberg he “would not campaign for the UK to leave the European Union”, though he would “fight any moves towards a more free-market relationship”.
- In PMQs, when Corbyn was talking about housing, it appeared that Tory MPs were laughing in a very elitist manner at the fact that Corbyn was actually asking the question of an ordinary citizen rather than one of his own. Liam Young wrote at The Independent, however, that this reaction, along with “Cameron’s stock responses”, had shown the Prime Minister up as “out-of-touch”, while Corbyn “triumphed”. SNP MP Mhairi Black, meanwhile, tweeted: “Tories sniggering every time Corbyn mentions a member of the public’s name. At least they are real people, unlike those the DWP made up”;
- For The Guardian, meanwhile, Corbyn’s “crowdsourced session” and his cool, “non-confrontational” performance meant that he effectively “stabilised his position” as leader of the Labour Party and given him “vital breathing space”. He also seemed to force more ‘civilised’ rhetoric from Cameron, who even “congratulated Corbyn on his “resounding victory””. Nonetheless, MP Toby Perkins stated that, although it had been “perfectly sensible” to emphasise that he was “speaking for a lot of people”, Corbyn’s approach would have to “evolve” in the future to put Cameron under more pressure. The official Guardian stance on Corbyn’s performance, meanwhile, was that it was “promising” and “a very reasonable start”;
- While The Guardian’s Suzanne Moore unsympathetically argued that Corbyn’s Labour was “a party without a point”, her colleague Seumas Milne claimed that Corbyn (having “already transformed politics”, could now “break open the political system” if his supporters ‘kept their heads’. And, with such conflicting views out in the open, it was clear that there was an internal struggle going on within a supposedly progressive paper which had, on the whole, stood firmly against Corbyn’s leadership campaign. Owen Jones, however, insisted in the same newspaper that, “without engaging with the mainstream media it [was] almost impossible to get a message to the as-yet unpersuaded” and to stop right-wing smears from sticking;