Your challenge now is to prove to us that you stand for more than yourself.
Dear Jeremy Corbyn, I am writing to congratulate you on your new job as Leader of the Labour Party. You won by a massive landslide majority. Your mandate is clear. The scale of your victory also proves the success of the £3 membership scheme, which brought thousands more people into the fold. I’d like to congratulate you on this too, because by entering the race and rousing so much support, you have achieved an unimaginable feat of political engagement.
However, I am writing also to warn you. Please remember that party members and Labour supporters are not the same political animal. You might think that because so many signed up, and then went and voted for you, you’ve got it all sewn up. Out here in the real world though, there are millions of people calling themselves “Labour-leaning” who would never vote for you in a million years.
Sorry to be harsh, but that’s the way it is. You’ve spent all of your 32 years in Parliament as the backbench MP for Islington North. With three wives under your belt, and numerous trips to ahem, troubled, countries to speak of, I have no doubt that you are a worldly-wise chap. You have even identified that your own constituency has similarities with any safe Labour seat in South Yorkshire, in that it has only ever had a Labour MP and many of your constituents live in poverty.
However, with respect, I’d like to point out that the radical political circles of North London are a very different place from the radical political heartlands of Northern England, the South West, Wales and Scotland. I hesitate to use the word “sheltered” but I am afraid you are. In fact, I lived just down the road from you in Islington South in the 1990s, so I know your sort. And although you’re elected on an equality ticket, much of what motivates you politically comes directly from the streets of the metropolis. Your economic stance, your arguments about expensive housing, your vehemence towards private finance, all arise from living in a London divided terrifyingly by a chasm between rich and not-rich.
Also, you’re a teetotal vegetarian who wants to give a home to thousands of refugees. Your beliefs are not going to chime with many in the tap-room of any working men’s club I can think of. Promise to re-open the coal mines? Interesting idea, but how does this sit with your attitude on climate change? It’s not that simple, is it?
This is the crux. Your conviction is unassailable. However, to be an effective leader – and potential Prime Minister – you have to find a way of creating a national political manifesto out of a personal credo. This is where I warn you not to get carried away with the marvel of your victory. Your moderate opponents, Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall, suffered crushing defeat. However, a party veteran such as yourself must surely recognise that the Labour movement is a vast umbrella. It’s your unenviable task to keep it aloft – and united.
Indeed, I’d wager that quite a few of your supporters will be wondering what, in the cold light of day, they have actually done. It is one thing to make a protest vote, quite another to live with the outcome. Your predecessor, Ed Miliband, was criticised for showing his hand too late on vital matters such as education and the NHS. No-one can argue that you have not been outspoken, nor your manifesto wide, but these ideas need a swift lift-off from the drawing board to become workable intentions.
And then of course, there is your role as official leader of the Opposition. Whilst it is vital that you engage all those moderate Labour supporters, it is here that you will really need to prove your political mettle. If you don’t no-one will take you seriously. David Cameron has had years to sharpen his wits, and his claws. He’s going to rip you to shreds.
If you show up that is. There’s no room for being a parliamentary rebel when you’re the boss. I’ve even heard a rumour that you’re considering giving everyone a turn at tackling PMQs. Whilst I admire your democratic approach, to most people, politicians are anonymous creatures they wouldn’t recognise if they sat next to them on a (re-nationalised) train. You need to seize every opportunity you can to get your personal brand across to those who might just confuse you with an earnest teacher of geography in an inner-city comprehensive school.
I can sense that you won’t like what I am saying. And to an extent, I agree with what you embody. Underlying the massive downfall of the “New Labour” you revile was an obsession with spin and image. This is one of the reasons why your popularity is such. People are sick of the sham. In you they see a man of principle who will fight for their rights. Your victory represents a major breakthrough for “identity politics”, because individuals identify readily with your standpoint. That’s just the start of things though. Your challenge now is to prove to us that you stand for more than yourself.