"I knew him when we were 18 or 19, and his views have not changed. We are talking about the thick end of 50 years ago."So said one of Jeremy Corbyn's old friends when interviewed by the Shropshire Star last year.
That planting a red flag on top of the Wrekin is the most endearing thing I have read about Corbyn, but his friend's comment did play into the fear that his politics do not represent an engagement with the world around him.
So it was good to hear him today accepting political reality and arguing Britain should remain in the European Union.
As Martin Kettle says:
The Labour leader finally caught up with the pro-EU shift that his party made under Neil Kinnock in the 1980s.That pro-EU shift did arise partly out of despair at Margaret Thatcher's repeated victories, but it also recognised that the world was changing. Westminster was not the only seat of power, and battles that could not be won there might be won somewhere else.
Throughout this period, Jeremy Corbyn clung to his anti-EU beliefs. He was a supporter of the Labout left's 'alternative economic strategy' and its emphasis on import controls.
There is a danger in getting less radical as you grow older - "I used to be a bit of a firebrand when I was your age, but you can't change human nature" - but there is a greater danger in living inside your head and not engaging with contemporary problems.
Somewhere in the background of every young radical is the ghost of Billy Liar and his imaginary kingdom of Ambrosia.
So I was pleased to see Corbyn accepting reality and arguing for continued British membership of the EU.
For the result of Brexit would not be the socialist paradise of his dreams, but - as he recognised - a more right-wing government glorying in the opportunity to remove protection from British workers.
Someone should tell Jenny Jones the same thing when it comes to environmental legislation.
Martin Kettle goes on to say:
Meanwhile the feebleness belongs to David Cameron. He called this referendum. He always knew he would be campaigning to stay in Europe. But he did little to prepare the ground and has given practically no thought to the alliances that will be required to ensure a remain win. A reckless budget and an inept response to the Panama Papers means that Cameron comes to the campaign starting line like an athlete lining up for the race of his life after a night on the tiles.
All of which adds up to the extraordinary truth that, for once, Cameron desperately needed Corbyn to rise to the occasion. Labour votes will be crucial on 23 June, and until now Corbyn has allowed the idea to get around that he is not massively bothered by the outcome of the referendum. That made Thursday a speak-for-England moment for a Labour leader who is an instinctive sectarian – yet it was one that he seized.This is a little strong: I doubt that Corbyn will appeal to the sort of Labour voters who are or have been tempted to vote Ukip,
But he is right that Cameron has been feeble. And not just Cameron.
I wrote in Liberal Democrat News (remember that?) five years ago:
For years the main parties have engaged in something close to a conspiracy. The issue of Europe has been taken out of general elections, with the promise that it will be decided through a referendum. Those referendums never take place. The result has been an infantilisation of debate on Europe, as politicians are allowed to take up self-indulgent, extreme positions they know they will never have to defend to the electorate.Well, that referendum could not be put off for ever and it is fast approaching.
The political class will survive it unscathed: it is the rest of us who will suffer.