Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has, by most accounts, done his reputation and his party a whole lot of good this afternoon with the kind of conference speech many wished he had made not just at last year’s party conference, but at one or more times in the intervening 12 months when he had the chance to do so. It was rapturously received, and should play well on the TV news bulletins during the evening. The party faithful will return home happy.
But Corbyn has one major problem: he needs to get some positive coverage from the press, which despite steady falls in circulation, still has the ability to shout its way to the top of the news agenda and bully the broadcast media into pushing its chosen talking points up the agenda. Jason Beattie of the Labour-supporting Mirror gave a broadly positive reaction, which will cheer Team Jezza.
“This was an assured performance by the Labour leader. He looked comfortable on the stage … He talked the language the delegates wanted to hear … He is convinced of his mission” he reported, before sounding the obvious caution “What is not clear is whether he can persuade the voters outside the hall to join his crusade”. And standing in his way is a viciously hostile cadre of vested interest, who won’t like his proposals at all.
Not least of these was the commitment to stop selling arms to the Wahabist régime in Saudi Arabia, a brutal theocratic dictatorship that for too long has had Britain’s leaders paying homage to its ruling elite while ignoring the appalling abuses of human rights, subjugation of women, and routine exporting of war to adjacent countries, including most recently Yemen. But the Saudis also have oil.
The Saudi question will be an issue to watch: papers like the Mail, Telegraph, Express, Sun and Times, if they mention it at all, will either frame it as the kind of practical price we have to pay for British jobs - part of the Trident argument - or ignore it altogether. When Beattie talks of “more housebuilding, investment in education, higher business taxes to pay for skills and training and an emphasis on research and development”, the hostile part of the press will immediately talk of taxes, and warn they would be too high under Labour.
What benefits might accrue will, of course, not be told: readers will be assailed by routine abuse - “loony lefty, Islington socialists, metropolitan liberals, out of touch”, along with sneering comments about the kinds of food they might serve at mealtimes, and the price that Corbyn’s house might fetch were he to sell it.
Yes, this is crude and gratuitous, but it is this against which any Labour leader must make his or her pitch nowadays. That is why cutting through using broadcast media, before the press gets to work demonising the speech, is so important. And why, once the leader’s line is set out, it must be held unswervingly while getting after the Tories when they gather in Birmingham next week, with discontent all too obvious and Theresa May vulnerable.
The task for Corbyn and his party is not, and never will be, Mission Impossible. But there is no point in pretending that it is other than a very big ask indeed.