Conference Diary 2015: Jeremy Corbyn is speaking the unions' language

In the Blair years, the unions weren't comfortable with either the message or the messenger, writes Mary Maguire, former head of press and broadcasting for Unison.

Finally, the Labour leadership is speaking the same language as the unions, writes Mary Maguire
Finally, the Labour leadership is speaking the same language as the unions, writes Mary Maguire
But, after the hammering of years of Thatcherism, it was heads down, gobs shut for Labour to give the new kid on the block a chance.   

They didn’t want the Tories back. They wanted to progress the social justice agenda, renew public services, enhance workers’ rights and bring in a minimum wage. 

Tony Blair had voter appeal, he won elections. That’s why he was tolerated.

It was an uneasy, volatile relationship, and the historic link was brought into question. Two unions parted company with Labour.  

There were many clashes both on and off the conference floor. And they never grew to love him as Peter Mandelson wanted. 

It’s all different now. Jeremy Corbyn received a great reception.  

It wasn’t just that he was the new leader elected on a massive 59 per cent of the vote. The unions like the message. He speaks their language, cares about the same issues and is unafraid to say so.  

There were no chants of "Jez we can", just genuine spontaneous, sustained applause.  

Many talk of "getting their party back".  The conference slogan was simple: Straight talking. Honest politics. 

Everyone believes what he says. He is regarded as an uncompromising conviction politician. That, the unions figure, could be a strength, even though not all of them backed him for leader.  

And those who weren’t part of the Corbyn bandwagon are willing to give him a fair wind.  

They want the public to understand the message in a clear, unspun way.  

Many commentators think Labour should have its collective head examined for electing him leader with the subsequent ‘lurch’ to the left.   

They say the unions have voted with their hearts. 

In their sophisticated media world where everyone is groomed, handled and managed, there is no place for a man who breaks all those rules. Corbyn doesn’t dress to impress. He says what he thinks.
Trade union leaders may be idealists, like Corbyn, but they are also pragmatists.  

A good leader will know when to strike a deal, when to compromise, when not to blink and will always have a clear exit strategy. 

Trade unionists are people, too. And like the rest of the population, they are just as fed up of all the spin, the hype and the doublespeak of many politicians.  

So it is refreshing for them to feel a valued part of the Labour family, to feel that they can identify with the leadership’s values.

The unions know how to operate in the media world. They know that Corbyn and shadow chancellor John McDonnell will be easy targets of attack from sections of the media.  

Yet, for some reason, the more people see and hear of Corbyn on their TV screens, the more they will realise that he is polite, serious and sincere.

They know, too, a Labour government is the best chance for their members for the sort of society they want for working people and their families.  

But they want a Labour government that does what it says on the tin. 

Mary Maguire is former head of press and broadcasting for Unison and a Labour councillor

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in