All week, the search for the “new” Jeremy Corbyn has gone on. That the leader of the Corbyn Party presents to the equilibium of the media-political industrial complex the most extraordinary and baffling challenge that it has ever faced is indisputable. On the one hand, Corbyn is more conservative than any other politician in the country, reared on a lifetime of protest meetings, solidarity marches and incomprehensible discourses on Marxist-Lenninist ideology in stale rooms above public houses. That kind of commitment never washes out: a man willing to go to bed with Diane Abbott has travelled so far to embrace the left-wing cause that there is no hope of ever reeling him back.

Yet reeling him back is precisely what the complex is programmed to do. Its gut cannot digest the unspun politician: the man who will not communicate in its clichés, or even communicate at all; who refuses to appoint a press officer to spoon feed it pre-prepared paragraphs of rhetorical rusk; who bails out on the set-piece interviews so as to spend time singing the Internationale with fellow leftists. Wishing for none of this to be true, reporters and commentators have hoped desperately for some sign that Mr Corbyn might be prepared to make accommodation with its methods and mores. They have staked out his meetings into the small hours. They have run down the road after him, promising not to bother him with their questions. They have published gossip about his extra-marital affairs.

Playing the game as the media want it to be played doesn’t have to mean that Mr Corbyn puts on a suit, appoints a corporate social responsibility tsar and looks out for countries that he might want to invade. But surely the man could try a little. Faced with the indisputable truth that failing to appoint a woman to shadow either the Treasury, the Foreign Office or the Home Office is a misogynistic blunder of historic proportions, he replies simply that health, education and transport, all positions occupied in his shadow cabinet by women, are of equal importance to these offices of state. Rationally, there may be something to this argument, even if it is also true to say that our national security is not threatened by the M62 in the way that it is by terrorism, Russia or by Jean-Claude Juncker’s immigration policy. Rationality though has got nothing to do with it. It simply does not compute.

The paradox is that a new way of looking at Mr Corbyn has emerged from these early days of fumbling engagement, even if it is not the one that we were searching for. Disappearing already is the idea of the red revolutionary, who would abolish the monarchy, align with Russia and murder readers of the Daily Mail in their beds. In is place has come the character of a rather endearing and bumbling old leftie, a lovely man by all accounts, who is fixated on ideology much as other men are obsessed with collecting the numbers of railway locomotives. After all, no one ever got shot in the back of the neck by someone wearing a courdroy jacket with a pair of spectacles half way down his nose.

On this analysis, the appointment of John McDonnell to be shadow chancellor was a favour to a mate, rather than a statement of economic iconoclasm, still less the gender snub it was made out to be. Mr Corbyn’s failure to sing the national anthem at a church ceremony in memory of the Battle of Britain was not the act of the anarchist in the aisles, but because he forgot: after all, has Mr Corbyn not spent a lifetime of attending meetings where they finish up singing the Red Flag rather than God Save the Queen? It is possible that he had never even heard the national anthem before, still less realized that you are meant to join in. His look in the church as the dirge droned on was certainly more one of bemusement than Bolshevism.

This narrative survived – indeed it rather prospered as a result of – Prime Minister’s questions in the middle of the week. Mr Corbyn is not the first participant in that ritual to seek to change its format, rather like a television ’creative’ addressing the failings of The Voice or the second season of Broadchurch. Unlike those before him, however, he rather succeeded, or at least he did on his first outing. Adopting the mundane persona of a host on an LBC phone-in, he brought along six questions from among the 40,000 he claimed had been sent in to him from members of the public. The questions were about simple, unfussy, things, like housing and mental health. Again this challenged our expectations, since we imagined Mr Corbyn’s postbag to contain inquiries about the overthrow of capitalism or the means to securing the ultimate victory of the proletariat by mobilizing the socialist working class. None of Mr Corbyn’s questions troubled David Cameron, but that wasn’t really the point. In the oldest cliché in politics, the enemy was behind him, but how could anyone from among the ranks of distressed and angry Labour MPs beat up on a leader who was about as sinister as Alan Partridge.

In the middle of the general climate of chaos and amateurism ushered in by Mr Corbyn’s victory, the Government passed a measure that would virtually halve the entitlement to tax credits for the low paid. Controversial even on its own side, and attracting Tory rebels, the Government’s action sailed by the Commons with a majority of 35, three times the size of what it should have been on paper. On a matter where you would have expected it to be tough and united, Labour literally didn’t turn up.  In the space of a week, Mr Corbyn has morphed from being a figure of fear to a figure of fun, and it looks as if serious opposition is going to be the loser.

Advertisements