This September, Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour leadership election with a landslide of support from party members. Speaking to delegates, he declared that he would focus his time as leader on bringing about ‘a decent and better society’.
In the run up to the election, he was the only candidate to defy the party order by voting against the welfare reform and work bill and in doing so, he managed to allow his supporters to present themselves as progressive and itching for real, tangible change – something the Labour party had struggled to do for some time.
They were looking for a true antidote to the Conservative’s programme of welfare cuts, austerity and pain. They were looking for a change in Labour politics.
He also said he would look to acknowledge the mistakes of the past, including the Iraq war –something no previous Labour leader since Tony Blair had found the courage to do and probably for good reason.
Following their resounding defeat in the general election, Labour were clearly searching for answers and a change of direction. This came perfectly in the form of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign, so surely the least he could expect is a fair crack of the whip – after all, he was able to justify his leadership by pointing to a 60 per cent mandate from party members.
Unfortunately, issues such as Trident and renationalising the railways, which Corbyn has advocated for years, were shut down before the public were able to examine the advantages and disadvantages of his argument. Corbyn, it seemed, was trying to inject these topics into the public forum so they could be properly debated despite overwhelming pressure from the national press.
From the very beginning of his tenure though, it was clear that Corbyn would face challenges on multiple fronts and that his ability to manage these threats efficiently would ultimately lead to his success or failure in the new role.
Many of the party faithful could still not believe that this rank outsider had managed to propel himself into the hot seat as Labour leader and some party top-brass, who were clearly unhappy with his election from the very beginning, would look to undermine him through any means necessary.
For many, this took the form of attacking Corbyn through the media and in the months following his selection, many prominent Labour figures appeared on television and in print to pour scorn on his leadership – no matter how beneficial it may to the long term health of the party.
Corbyn’s first week in the job saw a full-scale assault on his leadership as the press ‘declared war on him’, according to a report by the Media Reform Coalition (MRC). They say the mainstream press were ‘unrelentingly negative’ towards the new Labour leader, as many of the national newspapers took aim and attempted to shoot him down.
From the news stories that week, MRC report that 61 per cent were classed as ‘negative’ and 32 per cent were deemed ‘neutral’, while only 6 per cent out of 292 news stories were classed as being ‘positive’. As if this problem with the media wasn’t tough enough for the new leader, dissent within the party began to appear publicly.
John Mann wrote a piece for the Daily Mail insisting he did not feel Jeremy Corbyn was ‘up to the job’ on the very day Jeremy Corbyn won the leadership election.
I would ask, how can you assess whether someone is appropriate for a job like party leader before they have even had their first day in the office?
Later, Jess Phillips, the MP for Birmingham Yardley, revealed that she would ‘knife’ him if it seemed he wasn’t going to win the next general election.
For Corbyn, The Oldham West and Royton by-election was billed by some political commentators as the first major electoral challenge – or a headache, depending on what media you tuned into. Clearly, he had no reason to worry, however, as Jim McMahon secured an almost 11,000 vote majority over his nearest rival. Hardly a bad result for party with a leader ‘not cut out’ for the job.
In my mind, there is no doubt that Jeremy Corbyn also enjoys the support of Labour party members – his election victory proves that. The membership has more than doubled to 325,000, according Labour party figures, and who would have thought that was likely after the general election defeat in May?
The long-term question is whether he can translate that grass-roots enthusiasm into wider public support- but that would be the same question posed to any new leader. The character assassination Corbyn has received at the hands of the press since he came to power is nothing short of astonishing.
But Jeremy Corbyn presents a clear distinction between Labour and Conservative policies. Jeremy Corbyn stands up for what he believes in. He will not be dictated to by party machinery or the hecklers from within. Jeremy Corbyn will challenge austerity and aim to make the country fairer for millions of low-paid workers. He will back the NHS against the creep of privatisation. And as Jeremy Corbyn said on the Andrew Marr show recently, he isn’t going anywhere.