His stance on the “wage cap” changed—several timesby John McTernan / January 10, 2017 / Leave a comment
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn gives a speech on Brexit at Paston Farm Centre in Peterborough ©Chris Radburn/PA Wire/PA Images Where does one start with Jeremy Corbyn’s relaunch? It is an iron law of politics that you should never have one—the only thing that ever happens after one is that the adjective “beleaguered” ineluctably attaches itself to your name, swiftly followed by the intensifier “increasingly.” Still, if you are going to go for it then you should totally go for it, with painstaking preparation and ruthless execution—get your message right and get it across. What you shouldn’t do is change your messaging within the media cycle, which is what Jeremy Corbyn did. As the hours passed—and he began to backpedal, using his speech in Peterborough—headlines about him changed from: “Corbyn sets out case for higher earnings cap” to “Corbyn: wage cap would be ‘higher’ than my salary, but footballers’ wages are ‘ridiculous’” to “Jeremy Corbyn rows back on proposed cap on wages” A line that shifts so rapidly is one that hasn’t been thought through. And footballers’ wages are the simplest of all objections to a wage cap. Either Corbyn’s office thought it was sensible—and potentially popular—to pick on them, which is bad enough. Or worse, no-one thought about it at all. In the end, Corbyn settled on the position that company bosses should have their pay limited to 20 times that of their lowest paid workers, if they hope to be eligible for government contracts. Helmuth Von Moltke’s observation that “no plan survives contact with the enemy” is as true in politics as it is in warfare. A robust political strategy not only anticipates and answers the first order objections, it systematically works through the second, third and fourth order ones too. In opposition all you have is time. It weighs heavy on your hands, but it does allow—are at least it should—the opportunity to get the big moments right. The thing is, not only did the Corbyn team have all of the Christmas holiday to prepare for this week, they also chose the “let Corbyn be Corbyn” strategy. Which, to be fair to Jeremy, he has been. When he said “I would like to see a maximum earnings limit, quite honestly, because I think that would be a fairer thing to do” he meant it. That is his honest view. It is wrong for his spokesperson to backtrack and say that Jeremy “misspoke.” And it is destructive too. Just because an opinion is unpopular is no reason for Corbyn to abandon it. His selling point as a politician is that he is “not like all the others.” His perceived “integrity”—which is substantiated by the lifelong unpopularity of virtually everything he stands for—is all about going against the grain rather than with it. That’s what makes him “authentic” and it is why his team briefed before he returned to active politics that they were learning from the successful insurgency of President-Elect Donald Trump. Jeremy Corbyn’s office is right to recognise that a populism of the right might well be matched by a populism of the left. Bernie Sanders, Trump, Marine Le Pen, UKIP and Syriza do not share many policies—but they share a rejection of the way things are, and a view that things need to be shaken up totally. But you do not emulate Trump’s success by havering and wavering. Go hard or go home. Corbyn—on the evidence of his relaunch—is unable to do the former, so he will ultimately and inevitably end up doing the latter.