Jeremy Corbyn turned in one of his most assured media performances in the Sky / Channel 4 ‘Battle for Number 10’ programme. Answering questions from the audience, Corbyn was confident and kept his temper under some hostile questioning. He took every opportunity to return to his key messages. He framed them in a reasonable, rather than ideological manner.
Now, this is not to say that Corbyn was telling the whole truth. On Northern Ireland, he suggested that all he had ever wanted was a peace process and a dialogue. But his activity at the time was far closer to sympathy for the IRA, then support for a peace process. It is worth remembering that he opposed the Anglo-Irish agreement and that Seamus Mallon, the deputy leader of the Nationalist SDLP, said of Corbyn that he ‘very clearly took the side of the IRA and that was incompatible, in my opinion with working for peace’. But a voter not versed in these details might have accepted Corbyn’s claim that he was just pushing for a Good Friday-style deal.
Overall, Corbyn was engaging with the audience. He seemed relaxed, confident in his own skin, and not trying to be something he wasn’t. One might have thought that the interview with Jeremy Paxman would have been tougher for him. But Paxman spent the first half of the interview pointing out that the Labour manifesto is not as left-wing as Corbyn is. Now, it isn’t the worst thing for Labour in this election for voters to think that some of Corbyn’s more extreme views will be tempered by his party.
Corbyn had a slightly more difficult time in the second half of the interview. Paxman pressed on him calling the retaking of the Falklands a ‘Tory plot’ and questioned him about when he would order a drone strike. But at the end of the event, I suspect Corbyn’s team were pretty happy and Labour MPs relieved. If the polls are right and Labour are closing the gap, Corbyn did nothing to halt that momentum this evening.