12 April 2016

What the left must learn from Jeremy Corbyn


The Corbyn experiment will not last forever. Eventually, years in the wilderness will convince Labour to bring in someone electable, just as hunger for power after Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock created Tony Blair.

The Labour party will feel a strong temptation to swing the pendulum once more to the right and bury the past.

Politically, this can be no bad thing. Labour looks set to lose 150 council seats at the local elections, to the Conservatives, UKIP, and yes, even the Liberal Democrats.

Corbynite positions on defence and security simply scare people, and Labour still lacks well thought through and attractive policy in other areas that can win over the swing voters needed to carry the day.

But in terms of style, trying to find an heir to Blair would be a mistake.

Perhaps Corbyn’s greatest asset is his relative normality.

Let’s face it; most politicians are a bit weird. They act strangely, they don’t answer direct questions, questions, and when interacting with members of the public, they often seem to put on a façade of humanity.

They act like aliens who have fallen to earth and can only communicate through acquired soundbites and outdated cultural references that they don’t fully understand themselves.

Indeed, allowing himself to be so synthetically stage managed was Ed Miliband’s single greatest mistake.

For all his warmth and intelligence in private, the public persona his inept advisors created for him was a complete disaster.

Rather than embracing his political geekiness, he completely lacked the human touch when talking to voters or on television and it was the bacon eating buffoon, not the passionate reformer that came across to the public.

He simply could not inhabit the political shell his advisors had created for him and look comfortable while doing so.
By contrast, for all his far left politics Jeremy Corbyn comes across as remarkably normal.

While touring Bristol last week, he just talked to ordinary men and women in the street.

Imagine the shock for the trailing journalist pack as they were stood up in lieu of long conversations with shop keepers and builders. Quelle Horreur!

When Corbyn meets members of the public, he, surprisingly, actually seem to enjoy it.

Compare that, to Zac Goldsmith’s delusional attempts in The Guardian to explain his values and to make a convincing case for why he deserved to be elected instead of Sadiq Khan. All he could muster was to say Sadiq was “an extremist that just had to be stopped.”

For all the dead cats in Lynton Crosby’s arsenal, there was none big enough to distract from this great a lack of purpose.

And David Cameron knows this all too well. For all his failings and stage management, Cameron can convince voters that he believes in much of what he does in government.

The problem for Corbyn of course, is that while he is seen as a nice bloke, his politics are simply not a vote winner. People will talk to him, they’ll take selfies with him and wish him well in his endeavours, but they won’t actually go out and vote for him.
He will never be able to convert fandom into victory.

But an heir to Blair will not solve this credibility problem for Labour.

Voters have seen where attempts to proactively manage both image and narrative have led. This spin over substance played a major role in convincing the public that the invasion of Iraq tackled a legitimate security threat, something that in the cold light of day the public has not forgotten.

Instead, if the party has a hope of winning an election, it needs someone who can put across well-constructed and credible centre left policies, but who can also communicate them with the public without panicking or squirming.

Someone who believes what he or she is saying and can just be themselves, without having to think about interacting with the public, but just gets on with it.

While unable to help on the policy front, Jeremy Corbyn’s example of just saying what he believes, and chatting to ordinary people about what he believes in, is a leadership style that should not be discarded out of hand.

George Greenwood is a freelance political journalist, published in the New Statesman, The Independent and The International Business Times.