Monday, 27 January 2020

Hilarious Hyphengate

Matt Chorley in The Times tells the story of 'Hyphengate' and the race to replace the hapless Jeremy Corbyn as the next leader of the Labour Party.

Imagine there’s no hyphen for Rebecca’s leadership hopes

By Matt Chorley - The Times

Consistency used to matter in politics. Obviously dead-in-a-ditchgate proved that these days you can say one thing one minute and do something else the next and still waltz off with a majority.

The Labour leadership has not been immune from inconsistency. Jess Phillips wanted to campaign to return to the EU, and then she didn’t. Barry Gardiner was running, and then he wasn’t.

But a candidate to be prime minister not being totally clear how to spell their own name is a new low for inconsistency.

Rebecca Long Bailey had been Rebecca Long-Bailey, until The Times sub-editors checked with her office and were told categorically that it was Rebecca Long Bailey. She was an angel who must be missing a hyphen.

Only yesterday Rebecca Long Bailey went on Sky News and told Sophy Ridge on Sunday that she is in fact Rebecca Long-Bailey. “There actually is a hyphen.” It turns out hyphen has a place on earth.

Which matches her name on Twitter, but not on her own website. It matches her election campaign video but not her election campaign posters. It matches her Wikipedia page but not the sign outside her own office.

She was born Rebecca Long (or possibly Rebecca-Long), and married Stephen Bailey, and they came together surname-wise.

And a hyphen is probably more the vibe an aspirant hard left Labour leader wants. Matthew Parris has long had a theory that Jacob Rees-Mogg is not as posh as he makes out, writing in 2017: “The seriously grand don’t dress up, don’t stand on ceremony and don’t hyphenate; the Rees-Moggs are just rich people from Somerset whose boy never outgrew a silly phase at Oxford.”

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Who cares about hyphengate? Is hyphengate hyphenated? Why am I going on about this? When there is so much else going on? Well in part because between the outbreak of world war three, the inferno engulfing the planet, and the general collapse of civilisation, it is quite nice to focus on the small things.

And every time someone looks into Lon-G Bailey’s story it is, well, a bit all over the place. The Sunday Times’s Gabriel Pogrund, who has become a must read for disassembling dissembling Labour politicians, has been digging around Lo-Ngbailey’s past.

She claimed when standing as an MP: “I have been working as a solicitor with the NHS in Manchester for the past ten years.” Except she hadn’t been employed by the NHS. And had only been a solicitor for seven years.

Last month Pogrund revealed inconsistencies in her story of growing up watching her father, a docker, witness redundancies at Salford docks in her constituency. In fact, the docks closed when she was two and her father worked at another site.

There was also the strange story of how she claimed at her selection meeting to have voted for Ed Miliband in the 2010 leadership election, despite not actually being a Labour member then.

Does it matter? Probably not. But it is quite funny. And Labour people thought it was quite funny when Ukip’s Paul Nuttall had all of that trouble with his LinkedIn profile claiming he’d got a PhD. And when Andrea Leadsom had that trouble with her CV when she got the dates wrong for when she became the first American man to walk on the moon.

And this is the sort of stuff that tells you something about someone’s character.

Sir Keir-Starmer isn’t exaggerating how long he was director of public-prosecutions for. Although he is probably over-egging how much right-on work he did to prove he was on the side of the workers.

L-Ong Bailey was once seen as a frontrunner for the leadership. She is the leading flag bearer (flag-bearer) of Corbynism. Perhaps the only flag bearer.

The problem for the Corbyn project is that over the years the powers that be – Corbyn’s office, John McDonnell’s office, Unite the Union, Momentum – have clashed with, fallen out with or otherwise gone off anyone else on the Labour front bench who was any good.

Angela Rayner came and went as a Team Corbyn favourite. Emily Thornberry did the same. Clive Lewis too, once upon a time.

-Long Bailey is the only one left. And she is discovering that repeating the Corbyn playbook from 2015 isn’t working. Part of his appeal back then was him: scruffy, beardy geography teacher just saying what he really thinks. It doesn’t work for her to just say what he really thinks.

In her Sky News interview she went some way to distance herself from Corbyn too, insisting that Labour had not “won the argument” in the election as Corbyn himself has suggested. “If we’d won the argument we would have won the general election unfortunately and we didn’t.”

She was also more critical of the handling of antisemitism in the party than she had been, insisting she did speak up about it at the time (though some have questioned this, suggesting she put loyalty to Corbyn’s office above all else).

Asked to give Corbyn marks out of ten for dealing with antisemitism, she refused insisting “it’s not Top Trumps”. Perhaps she forgot that she gave his leadership ten out of ten last week.

Momentum is now backing L-o-n-g B-a-i-l-e-y, although as Emma Burnell points out in a piece for Red Box today, the left-wing campaign group accounts for less than 10 per cent of the Labour Party membership. There is also a question, as today’s Times editorial points out, about the wisdom of following Momentum’s lead: “Members might be better not taking advice from a team that has just led them to a colossal defeat.”

As Labour looks to the future, being the candidate of the recent past might not be the best thing as her rivals prepare to give her – and the Team Corbyn project – both double-barrels.

Matt Chorley’s analysis first appeared in The Times Red Box morning newsletter. Subscribe at