Being a starving artist in a garret and all that, social outings aren’t so abundant; but I do make a point of venturing out to my local parade of shops each morning and if there’s one thing guaranteed to raise a smile when I’m not in the best of moods to face the world, it’s the newspaper stand at Sainsbury’s. Oh, how the headlines on the Mail, Express and Sun have cheered me up over the years; even though the shock-horror scaremongering is intended to have the opposite effect, those headlines often provide me with the biggest laugh of the day. I’ve sometimes noticed grim-faced soothsayers gathered round the papers glaring at me when I let rip with a hearty chuckle, but I can’t help it. I hope all three papers keep going as long as I’m living, if only for the free entertainment value they provide, especially when the autumnal onset is slowly making mornings indistinguishable from evenings.
This week there have been encouraging signs that the Mail, Express and Sun have regained their mojo in a big way; they’ve been gifted with a new hate figure upon whom to project their ‘end of the world is nigh’ forecasts, and he’s not an Islamic terrorist or a dead Paedo; he’s the new leader of the Labour Party.
Seven days on from his astonishing election as Opposition Tsar, Jeremy Corbyn has excited the right side of Fleet Street like no Public Enemy No.1 since Arthur Scargill. Ed Miliband had a rough ride, true; but that was basically playground name-calling. His policies were largely superfluous to his comedy voice and geekiness as far as the press was concerned, for he did his best to court favour with Middle England and its promotional brochures as he munched his way through a bacon sandwich, all to no avail. So far, Corbyn has given no indication that he wishes to seduce Murdoch, Dacre and the rest of them; the impression is that he has nothing but scathing contempt for the barons.
The response of the barons has been a string of front cover horror stories that have honed in on Corbyn’s most extreme opinions, hurled from the safety of the backbenches when he never imagined he would be leading his party; just as Nick Clegg could confidently announce his intentions to scrap tuition fees without an inkling the promise would be put to the test in government, Corbyn has regularly tossed a series of cats into the Westminster pigeon loft, something backbench MPs routinely do as a means of making themselves heard above the Commons cacophony. But you have to hand it to the editors of these rags; they know what buttons to press. Corbyn is anti-monarchy, anti-nuclear deterrent and anti-rich; he’s pro-Palestine (which means pro-Hamas), pro-nationalisation and pro-republican. He once met Venezuela’s democratically elected President, the late Hugo Chavez, while Mr Cameron recently attended the funeral of a despot in a country poised to literally crucify a teenager. Corbyn’s absence of acceptable patriotism has also been seized upon this week by papers owned by tax-dodging nom-doms; but read their prophesies of doom ‘n’ gloom on a salt-free diet and the only alternative to the socialist holocaust on the horizon is to run to the hills and locate a cave to hide out in, playing ‘God Save the Queen’ on a loop (and singing along while you hack the mobiles of Her Majesty’s grandchildren, of course!) until the all-clear signal rings out across the ruins of Albion.
The reaction of the Government to Corbyn’s election was interesting. Like many, I assumed the Tories would be ordering fresh batches of St Michael’s underwear to compensate for all the pairs soiled by the hilarity that accompanied the possibility of a Corbyn victory. Defence Secretary Michael Fallon launched the first missive, preempting his Fleet Street friends by declaring Corbyn as a threat to the country’s safety; coming from a man who has overseen record redundancies in the armed forces and thinks replacing professional soldiers with part-time amateurs is a good way of securing the country’s safety, it was an odd remark to make. Anyone would think the Government was worried.
David Cameron’s first dispatch box confrontation with Corbyn must have been quite a challenge for the PM. He naturally expected to be crossing swords with yet another estate agent from the Spad conveyor belt and instead found himself face-to-face with the kind of politician his hero Tony was supposed to have rendered extinct. Cooper, Kendall or Burnham would have been a walkover; he spoke their language because they’re cut from the same cloth. But all, bar Burnham, have gone. The priceless stony-faced expressions of the Blairites when Corbyn was confirmed as leader reminded me of the losing nominees at an Oscars ceremony; that they then flounced out of the shadow cabinet as one was portrayed as a damaging body blow to Labour. But losing Tristram Hunt or Chukka Umunna a body blow? If Blair was Elvis, these second generation imitations were Vince Eager or Duffy Power (ask your gran) – crap tribute acts in the absence of the Real McCoy. They’ll be missed like a lanced boil.
The press, along with the Tories, are using a language to demonise Corbyn and his team that has an almost quaint, nostalgic feel to it. ‘Loony Left’ was a phrase most of us thought had disappeared around 1992, yet it’s been excavated from the lost lexicon of political lingo. References to the Winter of Discontent might mean something to those of us over-40, but for many under that landmark age, it’s about as relevant a reference as the General Strike or the Corn Laws. The election of Corbyn has given both the Government and Fleet Street an opportunity to recycle archaic insults because they’ve been so wrong-footed by this sudden and fairly dramatic resurgence of Old Labour that they haven’t have time to invent any new ones.
Imagine if one of the other contenders in the Labour leadership contest had won. We’d be exposed to endless vacuous spin-doctor sound-bites for the next five years, Westminster Birt-speak designed not to excite or offend. Female columnists would be mocking the dress sense of Cooper and Kendall while the male ones would be poking fun at Burnham’s Action Man hair and his eyelashes; but all three would still come across as Tory-Lite lame ducks and no doubt this very blog would be awash with comments on how there’s no difference between Labour and Tory and that they all look and sound the same. The electorate, especially those uninspired enough not to bother voting, would most likely agree; and the few prepared to journey to the polling booth would opt for the safe hands that have spent the past five years preserving the status quo.
What’s happening with Labour at the moment is utterly bonkers and nobody knows what the hell comes next. I think I’d rather have that than another half-decade of CGI politicians saying nothing to me about my life. Besides, there’s another half-decade to look forward to of headlines that help start the day with a guffaw. So, enjoy the break from daytime TV politics and settle down for the post-watershed drama. I’ve a feeling we ain’t seen nothing yet.