Vice News have released a 30 minute fly-on-the-wall documentary accompanying Jeremy Corbyn during the 8 weeks from Easter to just after the May 5th local elections.
I think it provides us with a measured, unfiltered look at Corbyn, his team, and how they are conducting their campaign – if you can call it that.
I was a quiet believer in Corbyn during the Labour leader election campaign. The other three candidates were distinctly lacklustre and either offered Ed Miliband redux or Tony Blair lite. Corbyn set out a clear position to unite and energise the party after an unexpected election defeat, and vigorously oppose austerity.
It is nine months later and although the Labour party has attracted hundreds of thousands of enthusiastic new members, the parliamentary party are deeply divided and remain generally opposed to Jeremy. He hasn’t presented any clear policy positions and has been decidedly ineffective at opposing a government that was falling apart as soon as Parliament returned from the summer recess. As of May 5th 2016, we could rank this 12 months as one of the worst starts a newly elected government has ever had. Yet where are the Labour party? Losing seats in local elections and making no mark on the political landscape at all.
My feelings after watching are thus:
Jeremy Corbyn just isn’t suited to a leadership position. He seems to doubt power to an even greater extent than me, to the extent that he idolises the poor, the downtrodden, the marginalised, the powerless. The voices of these people need to be heard, and are too too often ignored. To adore them to such as extent, however, and to fear the wielding of power – even to their benefit – is to create a self-aggrandizing, self-satisfying, ultimately aimless movement.
The political aims of those who benefit from the current political system, the winners, are clear – more of the same. This is concrete, observable, and as Americans might say, actionable.
The aims of those who don’t, the ‘losers’, are similarly clear – change. But change is not tangible. It’s potentialities are infinite. It is for individuals and groups to conceptualise alternative futures, conduct research and present ideas and the leader(s) to choose and/or synthesise these into a series of concrete policies.
Dreams are not enough. Ideology is not enough. Specific policies must be formed together into a coherent narrative. Not an ideology, which is utopic, rather a discursive direction with a story to tell itself and the public, and measurable goals by which to rate its implementation.
Jeremy Corbyn is surrounded by too many ‘Yes Men’ who are willing to forgive his frankly abominable implementation because they believe so strongly in his philosophical ideas. In fact, some of the meetings have an air of cult of the personality about them. Where is the passionate dialogue? Where are the frantic discussions? This is ironic as Corbyn so rejects himself as being a personality figure, but also worrying.
You can always sell ends to those already invested in them. Yes you want a vanguard of committed activists who will see your will be done and they need encouraging, but your primary target of persuasion must be those currently indifferent or moderately opposed to you. To these people, which fortunately for Corbyn is a very large majority of the British public, the means are how they judge a leader and allow themselves to be convinced by his ideas.
Saying the national anthem does matter. It’s normal, it’s reassuring. No political movement has actually succeeded off the back of wholesale change. It’s about incremental steps. Identify your priorities, target them like a homing missile, and in every other regard be a normal, social-norm abiding citizen.
Cameron lowered British democracy when he ignored an important question to insult Corbyn’s dress sense, but the sentiment is there among the public. Sloppy incoherent dress reflects a sloppy character, a bumbling old man, whether or not this is actually the case.
Corbyn needs a team of advisors unafraid to argue with him. People who have their own integrity and their own red lines that they won’t cross. A successful leadership team is made up not of those who want to gain power at any cost, nor to protect ideals at any cost, but those interested in conducting politics – that is, compromise – for honourable, justifiable ends.
Jeremy Corbyn needs to leave the media to his director of communications. He shouldn’t be watching news reports or reading opinion columns about himself. He doesn’t have a thick skin against vitriolic criticism, but then neither did Blair, or Clinton, or even Hitler.
The kind of people who want to be leaders tend to care immensely what others think and say about them. Their whole life is about others. Listening to them. Convincing them. Representing them. Leading them. The inevitable criticism turns some of these leaders to anger, censorship and revenge. It turns some of them to sadness, self-doubt and withdrawal.
The only answer is to focus on the facts of a situation, switch off from the commentary and listen to the heartfelt advice of your advisors.
Jeremy Corbyn should not be allowed to fail in his own time and on his own terms. The country deserves so much better than prime minister Boris Johnson. It deserves better than any Conservative government. This will be the result if Labour go into the 2020 election with Corbyn as their leader. The people don’t have time to sit idly by and let the man dig his own grave, as it now seems abundantly clear he will.
Do I believe that someone who is humble and focused on helping the neglected can become a world leader? Of course.
Do I believe that the UK needs a political alternative both to austerity, small-state Conservatism and Third Way Labour neoliberalism? Absolutely.
Do I believe that there is a different way to do politics that isn’t so antagonistic? Yes, but I’m not sure it’s the panacea Corbyn and his allies believe it is. After all, China has the most peaceful, harmonious political system in the world. It’s highest legislative body, the National Peoples’ Congress, has never rejected a proposal put before it. This isn’t healthy politics.
Do I believe that Jeremy Corbyn is the man who can formulate and implement such a political movement? No. He is a grassroots, issue based campaigner. He revels in energising the already converted. He distrusts anyone seeking power, even himself. He is, ultimately, a nice man, but politically irrelevant. Forever outside.