Saturday, 19 September 2015

Foolish to write off Jeremy Corbyn

As I mentioned in my last article, I did not support Jeremy Corbyn for the leadership of the Labour Party, but Jeremy Corbyn has already shaken the political establishment. He may not look like a Prime Minister in waiting, but he may change the face of British politics for the better - substance and passion may win out over spin.

He has an uphill task made more difficult by a hostile press and a puzzled media.  Here is a bloke who answers questions with some degree of sincerity.  When he doesn't know, he disarmingly says so. He has none of the slickness of the political elite. He is rough and ready in sound and appearance. Somehow, the political establishment have found themselves with an outsider.  Already they are writing him off, but I detect a bit of hedge betting.  Even the gainsayers have a niggling question - is he for real? The answer, of course, is yes.

Politics in Britain hasn't encountered a conviction politician at the helm of a major party since Margaret Thatcher.  It is worth remembering that Margaret Thatcher was rarely popular - more admired than liked by voters.  She won three general elections almost in spite of her own unpopularity.  In 1979 she had been consistently less popular than Prime Minister James Callaghan, yet her party won the election that year.

My feeling then is that Labour should not worry at this stage about a popularity contest with Prime Minister Cameron.  Leaders of the opposition rarely look 'like a Prime Minister in waiting' as the pollsters like to put it. How could they? What does a Prime Minister look like? Well, he/she looks like somebody who is prime minister.  Little wonder then that Leaders of the Opposition, unless they have been Prime Minister, are rarely judged to look Prime-ministerial.  The more this would be so for someone who bucks the trend and looks decidedly anti-establishment such as Jeremy Corbyn. No, he won't win on that kind of popularity contest. So what is the prospect?

The prospect for Labour depends I think on three things.  The first is whether  he can change the narrative of British politics.  The second is events.  For the first he can at least have a good try, and has made some progress in his first week.  The second he has little control over.  The third is party unity. He needs to develop a consensual approach which does not simply look weak. He will have to give up some of his positions to build that consensus.  His trick must be to do so without losing his unique strength.

I have warmed to Jeremy Corbyn. He appears to many as a genuinely nice bloke.  In these troubled times of politics that may be his greatest asset.  Just as many underestimated his ability to become leader of his party, so many might underestimate his resolve and strength of character to lead his party.  They would be advised to give him time and support.

The canvas of British politics has changed substantially since the financial crisis. A new picture is emerging. It would be foolish to write off Jeremy Corbyn.

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