Summer has officially started. Parliament has broken up. The weather has taken a turn for the worse. It’s the countdown to a well-earned break. Unless you’re a political leader.
You’re never really ‘off’, especially when there’s mutiny brewing amongst the ranks. Holidays for political leaders are always a minefield – unless they’re literally offering to clear one in some far away country.
David Cameron was famous for chillaxing a little too readily and was like the Judith Chalmers of politics. Gordon Brown famously agonised about whether to relinquish command and control and his aides would get him to do an awkward photoshoot in a park when he was still clearly on duty because nothing screams “holibobs!” more than a man in a work suit with a clenched jaw.
Theresa May is off for another one of her walking holidays, but this time it’s the Alps, so God only knows what political trauma awaits the country upon her return. Maybe we’ll try and break away from the planet Earth. We don’t need to be tied to these pesky earthlings dragging us down. We’re Brits and we can go it alone in the universe. Stop talking us down. Planetexit means Planetexit and I intend to make a success of it. Ironically her three-week holiday in Europe could end up costing her £700 because of Brexit and the weak pound.
This is the first summer since Jeremy Corbyn became Labour’s leader two years ago that he hasn’t faced a leadership challenge. His surprise, perky election campaign means he’s seen off any challengers from the PLP and he can bask in the comfort of job security, chillax and spend some time with his allotment.
But not our Jezza. He’s discovered an impressive new work ethic (oh, to have seen that energy during the EU referendum campaign … sniff). Gone are the days where we heard tales of ‘time off in lieu’ for appearing on the Andrew Marr show.
This summer, Corbyn’s channelling his inner Kerouac and going On the Road. He’s touring round the country campaigning in marginal seats across Scotland, England and Wales in a bid to keep crackling the momentum he lit during the election. He’s even taken a leaf out of my book and is performing at the Edinburgh festival.
At the start of the book, Kerouac’s alter-ego, Sal Paradise, is “tremendously excited with life” and the prospect of the road trip. “Somewhere along the line, I knew there would be girls, visions, everything: somewhere along the line the pearl would be handed to me.” I’m sure the JC4PM tour will be very similar. But with fewer drugs. And more hummus.
The summer blitz will target around 100 seats and is one of Labour’s biggest operations outside of a general election campaign. It’s impressive, ambitious stuff. As well as high profile appearances from the “Absolute Boy” and other key Labour figures who haven’t escaped to Torremolinos or Tuscany (depending their poshness), there will be an accompanying well-resourced, targeted social media campaign. So, it really is all systems go for the Labour Party. As opposed to all cisterns go at the start of the election campaign when the party lagged behind in the polls, and Corbyn did a photocall in a toilet.
I absolutely applaud this summer campaign. Keeping up the momentum is vital and good for morale. But before we all start chanting “Oh Jeremy Corbyn…”, I have some advice.
Labour’s summer campaign can’t become a comfort blanket for the leadership and the party. There are big threats and opportunities coming down the track when we head into conference season and none bigger than Brexit.
Labour Party members and many of the trade unions are highly committed to the UK staying a member of the Single Market which Corbyn appeared to rule out at the weekend. This will be a major fault line in the party and be raised at conference. Corbyn has prided himself on party democracy and listening to members on flagship policy in the popular manifesto.
Indeed, he yielded on his lifelong opposition to the renewal of Trident. Will the same happen on Brexit? How will Team Corbyn square that circle with an increasingly anxious party? Team Corbyn are hoping and praying for another election soon. With good reason.
Labour is doing well in the polls and Corbyn would have a fighting chance at becoming Prime Minister if there was an election any time soon. With the Prime Minister’s authority shot to pieces and David Davis opting for a harmless, nothing to see here, staycation, that wish may be granted. Whenever it happens, Team Corbyn need to be ready and that means having gone through every manifesto commitment and every potential ‘promise’ or ‘ambition’ that has a hefty price tag on it – and be honest about it.
Corbyn’s authenticity trumped credibility. People want to believe him, especially young people and students. I doubt the “self-correction” on student debt will make people turn against him, but it will make people concentrate more on the small print. Honesty is a big part of his brand. And the economy will matter again, especially with a hard, heavily-chlorinated Brexit on the horizon. By the way, I know everyone’s going mad about chlorine in chicken but have you seen what goes in your pitta at 4am with a bit of red cabbage and chilli sauce? And some of the chicken I’ve had at corporate dinners would have been more appetising poached in a disinfectant foot bath and served in a verruca sock.
Finally, the most important ingredient the party needs, if there’s even a sniff of an election, is unity, so I hope Corbyn will quell all talk and threats of deselection which only serves to whip both sides into an unnecessary frenzy on Twitter – that should be reserved for really important things like Love Island.
Corbyn is a political rock star now. He can draw a crowd at the drop of a Lenin cap – his upcoming appearance at the Edinburgh festival sold out in hours (unlike mine – tickets still available!). He has proved he’s a great campaigner. He now needs to show he can do the other bits.
Corbyn’s road trip this summer – like Sal Paradise’s – will be a spirited, bohemian odyssey filled with friends, lovers and fellow travellers (what’s not to like?) but if he’s serious about one day being Prime Minister, he and his team will have to spend time on the boring stuff – the big thorny complex political issues like Brexit and the economy which need deep thinking even while you’re larging it on the road.
Ayesha performs State of the Nation, 14-20 August at the Gilded Balloon at the Museum.