The Spectator's Notes

Jeremy Corbyn must have brilliant spin doctors

Their technique was pure Mandelson/Campbell

3 October 2015

9:00 AM

3 October 2015

9:00 AM

Contrary to the sneers of what he calls the commentariat, Jeremy Corbyn has already acquired brilliant spin doctors. In advance, the media was full of how his party conference speech would be all about his patriotism. Actually, this was barely mentioned. This technique of spinning the speech beforehand is pure Mandelson/Campbell. The emphasis on ‘free debate’ is also spin. In fact, the subtext of the speech was what communists call ‘the leading role of the party’ — control by activists. It was cunningly done, apparently sweet, actually tough.

Mr Corbyn also followed the proud tradition of the Bush family. He accidentally read out the instruction, ‘Strong message here.’ President Bush Snr, making a similar mistake, once declaimed: ‘Message is: I care.’

Radio 3 on Saturday had interesting, if over-long programmes about the effect of music on the mind. In one of them, people were discussing musical education. All the panellists agreed with the proposition that ‘everyone is musical’. Later in the day, I attended an exhibition opening at the De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill, at which Peter Bazalgette, the chairman of the Arts Council, spoke. ‘Everyone is an artist,’ he said. Two things struck me about these propositions. The first is that they are now the orthodoxy in the arts: no teacher in the state system or anyone working in the subsidised arts could publicly deny them and expect to get promotion. The second is that they are not quite true. Some people are extremely unmusical and/or unartistic, just as some are bad at sport, mathematics or acting. If people refuse to accept this, they will waste a lot of time. They will also tend to deprecate high art/music, and high individual achievement in art/music, on the grounds that art/music is what everyone can do. Quality gets equated with ‘elitism’, from which it is not much of a step to filling the National Gallery with kiddy pictures.

What is true, however, is that almost everyone can benefit from art and music. Almost everyone can learn some techniques — drawing, piano — to some extent. Just as even very unpromising pupils can usually learn to read and write, so they can learn to draw a recognisable picture of a cow or play a simple tune. In doing so, they will learn something to their advantage as appreciative and expressive human beings. More interesting, from the point of view of everyone else, some without formal qualification may produce something that makes us think or feel. The show Peter Bazalgette was opening was a case in point. Called ‘In the Realm of Others’, it was produced by the brilliant Project Art Works, which helps people with severe neurological impairments. I was there because two of my nephews, George and Sam Smith, both autistic, were participants. It was fascinating to see how each exhibitor has a distinct character as an artist, as in life. Accompanying videos showed the authors at work. Sam attacked the canvas boldly and sometimes noisily, squirting the paint out of tubes to produce striking effects not unlike those of Gerhard Richter. George, the more verbal and outwardly sensitive of the two, was more delicate and his work more etiolated. With theirs and most of the other works in the show, one could see neuro-untypical minds producing challenging perceptions which differ from those of ‘normal’ people.

The De La Warr Pavilion features as ‘a badly maintained modernist building’ in David Hare’s recently published memoir The Blue Touch Paper. (It is well looked-after today, I am glad to say.) Hare was born in St Leonards in 1947 and moved to nearby Bexhill when he was five. I was born in next-door Hastings in 1956 and brought up in the country nearby. As a child, I visited Bexhill, chiefly to go to the dentist. So I am interested by his view of the place. ‘For any young person,’ Hare says, ‘“Bexhill” and “boredom” were joined at the hip.’ It was not so for at least one young person. I loved the elegance of the De La Warr, surreal beside the surging sea and the pseudo-Indian buildings on the front. It seemed a realm of the imagination. Hare vividly evokes the feeling of being trapped in a culture obsessed, after the war, with quiet respectability, so repressed that ‘lifestyle could kill’. He longed to escape. I remember almost exactly the opposite sense — an attraction to a place where nothing much happened in the street and a corresponding, unsatisfiable interest in the lives lived behind net curtains and privet hedges. This was not my way of life (I was brought up on a farm) but I instinctively respected it. It is interesting how one’s political views are formed by the pre-political feelings of childhood. It is wholly fitting that David is a great left-wing playwright and I a jobbing member of Jeremy Corbyn’s detested commentariat.

I am grateful for the letter from Professor Geoff Palmer (Letters, 26 September) about the interview which he believes he had in 1964 in which Sir Keith Joseph allegedly told him to go home and grow bananas. (I did not say that the interview took place at Nottingham University, but that Sir Geoff sought a place there, so I cannot offer the apology which he requests.) In further inquiries, I have found no evidence that Sir Keith had anything to do with the Ministry of Agriculture which — according to Sir Geoff in the BBC programme where he told the story — he represented on the interview panel. A friend who worked with Joseph during the 1979 election campaign remembers him specifically telling him that he would answer any question on any subject except agriculture, since he knew nothing about it. Besides, it would have been against the rules for a cabinet minister to take part in choosing an individual student to receive a government grant. The racism charge against Keith Joseph is serious, so it is worth establishing whether it is correct. Can Sir Geoff help elucidate?

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  • WFB56

    “Can Sir Geoff help elucidate?” As good a phrase as anything spun by Hare.

  • WTF

    During the cold war, most pundits agree we survived through MAD (mutually assured destruction) by being willing to press the button but what concerns me with this ‘peacenik’ is his policy of SAD (self assured destruction) !

  • It was “Message: I care”

  • Sten vs Bren

    “Some people are extremely unmusical and/or unartistic, just as some are bad at sport, mathematics or acting. If people refuse to accept this, they will waste a lot of time. ”

    And have a lot of fun. That is permitted, is it?

  • Migru Ghee

    Good to see Charles is fully aware of current affairs. 20 days in and Corbyn clan has already dealt three major blows which I am afraid to confirm the general public have not ignored unlike most commenters would have hoped.

    Blow 1) We’re not going to war in Syria, under no circumstances as Labour oppose it. That’s how Westminster politics works.

    Blow 2) Trident funding isn’t secure at all.

    Blow 3) The Chinese state is invited to buy up HS2 stake, the British state however is not. I am not passing judgement on this curious circumstance but will point out that it is not apparent to large parts of our society why that would be the case.

    • Gahd McAfi

      Did Germany, France or Spain require large sums from abroad to build their high speed rail tracks and fleets? How did they fund theirs decades ago?

      Someone will have step forward and start answering these questions.

      • Kingstonian

        Well the answer – if you are interested – is that the UK Taxpayer will be paying for HS2. Osborne simply asked the Chinese if they would like to bid for some of the building work. Not the same thing as paying for it.

        • Gahd McAfi

          I am always interested in a satisfactory answer. Do we need Chinese construction workers to deliver British railway systems?

          • PasserBy

            The Chinese have a huge pool of experienced and well trained engineers and construction workers with lots of recent experience in building hundreds of miles of track and infrastructure. We don’t. So while we don’t need to have Chinese construction workers, the problem is that to not use them, we need to invest and build up a huge workforce of skilled workers who will only be used for this project, will take time to create and will not get any further work because A. The money won’t be there and B. Everyone overseas will just go to China if they can’t do it in house. Or we can pay a Chinese firm with tons of experience, expertise and manpower, accept we’ll get stiffed on the price but have the project done faster and without having created a workforce that is unemployable.

            Both options are awful, but that’s what forty plus years of mismanagement have led us to.

          • Lord of the Manor of Tyburn

            You are talking down British capability now, you troll. Britain cannot build its own railway infrastructure? You are certifiably insane.

          • PasserBy

            Learn what trolling is. It isn’t just saying things you don’t like. I am pointing out the facts. China has built 40,000 km of railway track in the last ten years and upgraded much of its existing rail infrastructure at the same time. It’s like armoured fighting vehicles; we used to be world leaders, we squandered the capability and now we have to buy abroad or spend a large amount of money regenerating the capability.

          • Gahd McAfi

            So the privatisation scheme under PM John Major was a cockup of gigantic proportions, is that what you are saying? How else could we have lost all this capability so quickly?

          • PasserBy

            We had already lost the capability by the 1990s. That said, it was a colossal cock up; either it should have remained nationalised or the rail network should have been properly privatised returning to the pre-war days of different networks each responsible for their own locomotives and infrastructure.

      • Lord of the Manor of Tyburn

        No one ever will, look at the sorry bunch below. Ridiculous.

      • realworlder

        By borrowing. I don’t know about Germany, but the French and Spanish rail systems lose billions every year on High Speed Rail. The rolling stock is ancient, and too expensive to replace.

        • Gahd McAfi

          You mean they had High Speed rail for over thirty years and now need to replace the rolling stock. A nice problem to have by comparison.

          • realworlder

            The LGV has never made a profit, and loses about 5 billion a year. Over twenty stations are being closed. Most trains run half empty.

            There are serious questions being asked about the new line to Bordeaux, as it transpires that they just made the economic case up. Passenger numbers are now forecast at a third of the original projection.

            Fares are extortionate unless you can plan your journey two months in advance and sit on the PC all day waiting for their special offers.

          • Gahd McAfi

            Whatever you say. Some nations cannot afford trains, others afford only badly working systems at huge cost, and then there are those nations who lead the way regarding connectivity.

          • realworlder

            I am still trying to work out what you are saying.

            But having spent the last five years in Spain and now France, any suggestion that their transport systems are connected, either internally or externally, is absurd. Cross country rail travel in France is almost impossible without going through Paris. As for Spain, most of those bridges to nowhere are only intermittently connected by anything so vulgar as a road. Those that are, are generally falling apart.

            But I do recommend the Ferrol Santander Railway (about 250 miles). For scenic interest it is hard to beat. But don’t forget to take a packed lunch. And dinner. It takes between 12 and 15 hours

      • Hamburger

        We now live in different times. Today we worry about national debt, in those halcyon days it was not so important.

  • evad666

    Go on ask him about his innaction over Child abuse allegations in Islington Care Homes.
    Ask was Islington the first case where victims were ferried around in Taxis?
    Why is the Met not investigating links to the BBC and also later cases across the UK?
    Spin that.

    • post_x_it

      Yes and how on earth did that puffed-up moralising cretin Margaret Hodge get away with it?

  • Jaria1

    As it happens I think he has some excellent people in his team.
    However look at the opposition he faced. Would you have picked anyone of them out.
    His policies can only be adopted by the far left and the gullible youth and his team know what buttons to push .
    Look at the nonsensical protests with people dressed as Pigs.. We know its unsubstantiated rumour but what mental IQ could these people have

  • pobinr

    Corbyn is promising the impossible
    Socialism’s fine until you run out of other people’s money
    Which he would, then years of austerity would follow
    Poorest countries in the world are socialist or communist
    Hence why millions of migrants are coming to our capitalist country from their poor ex commie ones
    And Corbyn intends to do nothing to stop them. In fact he proposes to increase min wage which will suck in even more
    So the social housing queus & traffic queues just get longer & longer
    More & more full schools & more fields built on
    Wages driven down & house prices & rents driven up by half a million more people here every year
    Come the referendum
    Vote OUT
    To get our democracy & our borders & our country backback
    50 years of LibLabCon treachery >