No matter what the let-Corbyn-be-Corbyn purists say, clothes and appearance matter in politics. They appeal to, or put off, the average voter who does not pore over every tweet or question at PMQs but consumes politics in idle glances and snatched phrases.
The rule that every party leader of the last 50 years has adhered to Jeremy Corbyn has made it his mission to ignore. But he could not escape it.
His appeal in his first leadership contest was stitched into his £1.50 white vest; it was in the crumples of his unpressed beige suit. They loved him because he didn’t dress properly. They loved him more when David Cameron said his mother would tell him to put on a proper suit and do up your tie.
But a year to the day since Corbyn became leader, something has changed, a little. There has been a PR tweaking of his image. Not a full spin, but a gentle delicates wash cycle.
On the BBC’s Question Time special last Thursday, the penultimate hustings of this painfully drawn-out contest, Corbyn wore a smart royal blue suit and red tie of which Cameron’s mother would certainly approve. From the collar down, he looked like a 21st century politician.
And from the collar up, even his answers were more clipped and tailored. Example line to rival Owen Smith: You obviously have enormous talents. Why can’t we work together?
On this anniversary of his leadership, even Corbyn’s harshest critics must acknowledge that all of us – journalists, MPs, Westminster’s seen-it-all-before know-it-alls, underestimated him. We laughed at the incompetence of his first shadow cabinet reshuffle, conducted just before midnight.
We scoffed at his underpowered Labour conference speech. On and on the gaffes came and went with the seasons: not singing the national anthem, opposing shoot to kill of terrorists, failing to mention Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation in his response to the Budget. There was the continued speculation that Corbyn would throw in the towel, particularly given his half-hearted performance during the referendum campaign.
Yet one year on, here Corbyn remains, a man more stubborn and unbending than Poldark in the dock at Bodmin Courthouse. His suit and one-liners may be more tailored, his image a little moulded by aides, but beneath the slightly more polished veneer the Labour leader has not been changed by his first year in power. And why would he?
Corbyn has held his views and policies for more than 40 years while the Labour Party changed around him. Now that he has his grip on power, he will not give them up.
Tony Blair once said that the burden of true leadership was like a strip of granite running through my being. But Labour’s most successful leader also moved with the times, recognised Britain’s changing society, strived for a government that responded to voters’ concerns.
It is Corbyn who is the impermeable rock, utterly unchanged by events in the world around him. It is a quality that his die-hard fans admire in him most but is one that will be disastrous for Labour’s electoral chances.
Unbending ideology appeals to the Question Time audience members who mobbed Corbyn for an on-stage selfie at the end of last week’s hustings, and it will likely appeal to a majority of Labour members who are voting in this leadership contest. But it does not sit well with the wider electorate.
Britain – the relaxed, generous, tolerant country where most of us believe we live – is ill at ease with ideologues. That is why a poll for Opinium at the weekend showed that 45 per cent of people identify themselves as in the political centre. Only 7 per cent said Mr Corbyn was in the same place.
Corbyn will doubtless have more anniversaries as Labour leader. But his in ability to change means he will never become Prime Minister.
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