Before this election, Jeremy Corbyn was subjected to such incredible levels of hostility from sections of the media that even David Dimbleby, along with a former chair of the BBC Trust, former BBC politics editor Nick Robinson and a BBC investigation into Laura Kuennsberg began to criticise his treatment by some journalists.
The offices of the Guardian and Observer have been at the forefront of this, and have churned out tens of thousands of words in anti-Corbyn blogs and op-eds in the past two years. Someone has even compiled 24 of their most vitriolic anti-Corbyn hit pieces.
Of course, much of the criticism Corbyn came in for was spurred on by fellow Labour Party politicians, who helped drive and shape a news agenda that focused on Corbyn’s apparent incompetence or unsuitability, by simply providing broadcasters and broadsheets with what they wanted to hear. Evidencing this, Channel 4 news recently published a video featuring dozens of clips of senior Labour MPs and politicos predicting doom if Corbyn remained as leader.
Since Thursday night however, our well-salaried commentariat and the backbenches of the Parliamentary Labour Party have been falling over themselves to recant their words. A huge deluge of ‘mea culpas’ and apologias have littered the pages of the Guardian and Observer, and across the airwaves of Sky and the BBC.
One pundit literally ate his words, chewing through his new book live on air.
There are wider debates to be had about why the chattering classes got it so wrong, for which I’d recommend Phil Burton-Cartledge’s excellent take on their lack of a ‘sociological imagination’. But for now, to keep you up to date with the important question of who has, and has not, eaten their humble pie, read on.
Who has tucked into their humble pie?
Nick Cohen, who penned pieces with titles such as “Don’t tell me you weren’t warned about Corbyn” has said, “rather than blame [May], I would rather apologise to affronted Corbyn supporters instead. I was wrong.” Although he does stop short of a full reversal – he still insists he was right to tell his readers not to vote for Corbyn at all last summer.
Andrew Rawnsley, The Observer’s biggest of beasts, and one of the favoured reporters of the Blair era, helped himself on Sunday morning, writing:
Here, I consume a monster helping of humble pie. I never thought Jeremy Corbyn had the capacity to win additional seats for Labour. I didn’t believe he could get his party anywhere close to a 40% vote share. I was wrong. Wrong, too, were the vast majority of Labour MPs.
Special points for Andrew for going the extra mile and explicitly invoking the humble pie metaphor.
Jess Phillips, who once told the press she would ‘knife Corbyn in the front’, has changed her mind. She has actually put the words ‘humble pie’ into the title of her Observer piece (the Observer again? is there a theme running here?), where she tells us, “We all of us need to eat a slice of that humble pie”. We don’t quite agree here. Surely it’s incumbent on those who were actually wrong about Corbyn to do the bulk of atoning? No matter, it’s good to actually see it in writing.
Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill. Timothy, Theresa May’s co-chief of staff, was lauded by many as the ‘Erdington Tory’ who would turn the Conservative party into the ‘true’ party of the British working class (something commentators tend to claim is happening at least once per election cycle, see Essex man, Basildon man, or Reagan Democrats as examples). Instead, two days after the election, May has cut off her right and left hands, forcing Timothy to resign. He said, in a statement on Conservative Home, “The reason for the disappointing result was not the absence of support for Theresa May and the Conservatives but an unexpected surge in support for Labour.” Meanwhile, his other co-chief, Fiona Hill, resigned immediately afterwards. Her own statement was notably absent of any humble pie.
ConservativeHome, the Tory insider website, are having to eat a lot of humble pie themselves. Read this fascinating piece by their editor Paul Goodman about what a huge pit the Tories now find themselves in.
Matthew Goodwin, the co-author of ‘Brexit: Why Britain voted to leave the European Union’ definitely wins the humble pie eating contest hands down. After tweeting on May 27th, “I’m saying this out loud. I do not believe that Labour, under Jeremy Corbyn, will poll 38%. I will happily eat my new Brexit book if they do”, he went live on Sky TV on Saturday to literally eat his words, devouring his book on air. You can watch it right here:
Jonathan Freedland, the executive editor of opinion at the Guardian, has been a fierce critic over the past two years. Here’s what he had to say in his column on Saturday:
Just as I wrote that Corbyn had to take responsibility for Labour’s disastrous local election results in May, so it’s obvious that he deserves credit for this astonishing performance in June.
John Harris, a fairly sympathetic and left-leaning member of the Guardian team, but also a major Corbyn sceptic, wrote:
eventually their argument that the Tories envisaged leaving Europe as another step towards some Thatcherite dystopia chimed with a big part of the public mood. For people, including me, who criticised their contortions on Europe, pointing this out entails eating a big helping of humble pie. That’s fine: it deserves no end of praise.
Polly Toynbee wrote the 27th of September last year that, “Corbyn and McDonnell, burdened by their history, will never ever earn the trust of enough voters to make any plans happen.” Two months earlier, she wrote, “it’s Smith who has the policies, daring and coherence to take the party to power”. Now Toynbee has recanted. She wrote on Friday:
Listen to the sound this morning of the eating of hats and the munch, munch of humble pie from those of us who worried he could never get anywhere near success.
We are listening Polly, we are listening…
Iain Dale, presenter of LBC’s early evening Drive show, actually went one step further than the rest of the commentariat featured here, and called on his colleagues to admit they were wrong too. He tweeted:
John Rentoul has given us a very frank piece, titled, “I was wrong about Jeremy Corbyn”, he writes:
I had already been wrong about him twice. I thought he would come fourth in the Labour leadership election in 2015, and I thought that, when he was exposed to the British public in an election campaign, Labour’s support would go down.
Like an unruly schoolboy made to write lines, Rentoul ends by saying, “the important thing for me is to understand my mistakes and to learn from them.”
Chuka Umunna, MP for Streatham, who hasn’t exactly been friendly over the past two years, told the BBC on Thursday night that, “There is absolutely no question hanging over Jeremy’s leadership”
Owen Smith spent the entirety of last summer slinging mud at Jeremy Corbyn, Momentum and the left, plunging our party into a totally unnecessary and destructive leadership election. During that contest, he said:
The reality is that 12 million people are what we need in the Labour movement, voting Labour in Tory seats and Labour seats. Jeremy I don’t think can bring that along.
After Jeremy got 12.8m votes on Thursday, Owen had changed his tune. He told the BBC:
I was clearly wrong in feeling that Jeremy was unable to do this well and I think he’s proved me wrong and lots of people wrong and I take my hat off to him… I don’t know what Jeremy’s got but if we could bottle it and drink it we’d all be doing very well. We were hearing people who hadn’t voted for a long while voting Labour yesterday evening, who were inspired by the policies, and it has to be said by Jeremy, to vote Labour last night.
Peter Mandelson, the dark lord himself, who claimed to spend “every day” plotting to bring down Jeremy Corbyn, went on television to eat his humble pie. “An earthquake has happened in British politics and I did not foresee it”, he told viewers.
Neil Coyle, one of Corbyn’s original nominators and MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark, quickly became a critic. He’s since recanted, telling the Times:
I think I underestimated the enthusiasm Jeremy Corbyn has generated among young people and we’ve had people turn up just on the tuition fees’ policy and we had those young people out campaigning. They were desperate not to be saddled with debt.
Phillip Collins, The Times columnist and former speechwriter to Tony Blair has played a less-than-helpful role during the campaign. Granted, he is a columnist in a Murdoch newspaper and must earn his pay attacking the left – which we don’t deny he does with much sincerity. He wrote just a week ago, “Corbyn’s surge marks a new low for Labour”. One of the earliest to tuck into their pie, Mr Collins tweeted on Thursday night as the results came in, “humble pie? I am on my third helping. Delicious.”
Sam Stopp, a Labour councillor, actually wrote an open letter to Corbyn. It reads:
You don’t owe me or people like me anything, although I do owe you an apology. You’ve renewed our party and inspired millions of young people. Thank you, honestly – and the truest thing I can say for now is that you have won my loyalty.
Perhaps a sign of the new unity to come.
Who hasn’t tucked into their pie yet?
While we welcome the words of those above, there are a few notable figures who haven’t joined in the chorus. Chief among those is…
Chris Leslie, who obviously wasn’t checking his WhatsApp groups on Friday morning, broke the line of unanimous praise for Labour’s performance by former critics, taking to the airwaves on the Today programme. He told listeners, “I just can’t, I’m afraid, be a cheerleader for that particular outcome because this was an open goal for all of us.” Mr Leslie’s majority increased from 19,208 to 28,102 between 2015 and 2017. We wonder if he really believed Jeremy Corbyn and the manifesto had nothing to do with that?
Jim Messina, the guru behind David Cameron’s election and the Democrats’ win in 2012, tweeted this on May 31st:
We wonder what Messina is thinking now? He hasn’t tweeted at all since polls closed.
Rupert Murdoch, owner of the Times, Sun and Sky News, reportedly stormed out of his paper’s election night party.
Gavin Barwell, in the early hours of Friday morning , was democratically ‘evicted’ from his seat in Croydon Central and role as a housing minister. Thankfully for Barwell, by Saturday afternoon he had a new job, as May’s Chief of Staff, replacing Timothy and Hill. Barwell was the author of a book titled, ‘How to Win a Marginal Seat’, to which he could presumably write a good sequel about how to go about losing one.
Theresa May, who according to Andrew Marr was in tears as results came in, is planning to continue as prime minister in a minority government, propped up by a ‘coalition of crackpots’ in the Democratic Unionist Party, most of whose MPs are members of the sectarian Orange Order, and whose views on LGBT rights, abortion and climate change make UKIP seem positively liberal.