What do people see in Jeremy Corbyn?

Jeremy Corbyn with Labour Party members as he enters the conference arena in Liverpool Image copyright PA

What do you see in the picture below? Optical illusions are curious, and powerful, dividing us into three groups. Some see in this image a beautiful young woman. Some see a craggy looking old lady. Those with lucky eyes can see both.

And after five days of talking to delegates in Liverpool, it is astonishing how different their impressions of their leader are.

Backers of Jeremy Corbyn look at his huge success with the party membership, and see his second victory as another major step towards building a movement that can get to Number 10 - a win that allows him a chance to reassert his authority over Labour and for supporters to be given more power.

This afternoon, they looked at him on the platform as a leader who has changed the Labour Party, and now is on his way to changing the country.


But his critics - still the majority of MPs and also many long-standing members of the party - look at Mr Corbyn, some in anger, some in sorrow. They see a man on the platform whose long standing principles are alien to most voters in the middle, where elections have been traditionally won.

And a man whose ability to run a political operation is not even close to good enough to take Labour back to power.

Although Jeremy Corbyn promised olive branches to his MPs this week, there has been precious little sign of the leadership taking concrete steps to bring those back on board.

Image copyright Grand Illusions
Image caption Impressions can be diverse and contrarian

There are intense conversations going on behind the scenes over a deal on reshuffling the shadow cabinet, giving MPs a chance to select a proportion of the team.

But Mr Corbyn's backers are split over how to proceed.

One tells me "he won, he has to be the big person" and "has to offer something big to the right" to allow them all to move on.

Another close ally, though, says this is his chance to show he is in charge - "we won, what bit of that don't they understand".

And the backstage wranglings have showed few signs of a party that is prepared to pull together. MPs and union sources are disappointed that Mr Corbyn's team have tried again and again this week to overturn decisions already taken by the party's ruling body last week.

It's worth noting that those attempts failed, despite his victory - one NEC source who opposes him told me "it's seven - nil".

Mr Corbyn is expected to announce a new team next week, and as we've reported the talks have made progress.

'Vision thing'

But there's been no big new idea or vision this week that Labour can suddenly rally round. No big move from the leader boldly to bring the party back together. One of Mr Corbyn's senior backers said that even he was "depressed", telling me, "I'm just not sure that he's capable of a big vision."

There are plenty of MPs who will try again to make it work, and most accept that there is precious little chance of ousting Mr Corbyn before the general election - whenever it is.

But what will enrage the leader's team and his supporters is that his fiercest internal opponents won't be silenced and one former minister is even talking of plans for an "alternative shadow cabinet".

The danger for Labour in all of this, is that while they are so preoccupied with their own woes, they simply don't have the time and energy to do what really counts, and that is talk to the general public about what they would actually do in government.

Looking at Labour this week, there's a risk that voters are under no illusion - they are the third group who see nothing other than confusing pen strokes scratched on a page.

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