What an interesting time it is in British politics. We have the Labour Party engaged in the dichotomy that occurs when an organisation’s philosophical roots reassert themselves after years of adjusting to a perceived market space. The situation requires a veering to the right to garner votes in order to be electable, yet demands it to be something it is not in the minds of many of its rank-and-file members.
Cognizant of this position, we have allegations that many members of other parties covertly joined the Labour Party in order to elect its leftist candidate, thereby ensuring the in-electability of the party.
You couldn’t make this up really, could you?
So what is the appeal of Jeremy Corbyn and what is this phenomena that we are seeing? Is it a resurgence of socialism in the UK? It’s true that any dynamic system needs counterbalancing forces and Marx himself talked of the dialectic where polar positions were required to produce an ultimate synthesis. But something more fundamental than systems logic is afoot here.
The Labour Party itself has had a debate about electability not being important. Taking that logic forward, there is some sense in having, at the very least, an effective opposition, which we have not seen on the green benches for some time. However, with the advent of the SNP, the growth of UKIP et cetera we are more likely to see more pluralism in opposition than we will ever see with a government that achieves a majority.
The truth is, Corbyn brings something back to the Labour Party and to a certain extent, to politics itself. Many years ago I remember the lonely, beleaguered image of Michael Foot standing at the Cenotaph in a Mac (that’s a coat, not a computer) and the media pillorying him for being out of date and shoddy. The fact that the Mac cost hundreds of pounds, was procured from Harrods and that Michael Foot was an incredibly intelligent, sincere man, was lost due to image.
Indeed, much of our political debate has been lost to image. In a world of mass media, where the modern politician must be “on message”, we’ve lost the genuine idiosyncrasies of politicians of the past, that in many ways were distinctive, created familiar associations and more than anything else reassured ourselves of the individuality of the person concerned.
Decades of “spin”, with image and media consultants working with our politicians to ensure that they present with the right non-verbal behaviour, and cultivating stylised, falsely sincere language patterns that seem to fit communication science, have washed out much individuality. We have simply in many cases, politicians whose communication and personal presentation to the public is little more than that of a skilled clone.
So it comes as little surprise that such interest is focused upon a 66-year-old man, who gets upset on television with Krishnan Guru-murthy, is filmed openly in the community with people who seem to care about him, wears clothes that are more likely to have come off the shelves of Dunn & Co than the Armani outlet and perhaps talks about ordinary people.
In an age of authentic leadership, Corbyn is doing pretty well. Now we know that socialism can lead to the shelves being empty if we apply economic models and we know the extreme left of socialism can be as autocratic and exclusive as an unregulated extreme right. But that doesn’t matter, we are still in the age of image and in that, Corbyn comes over pretty well for a lot of people, enough to achieve a landslide victory. We have to credit the man with that.
Authentic leaders are very much centre stage these days. People have frankly had it with politicians being chameleon-like, noncommittal and using weasel words to win votes. That was very evident in the last election.
Labour may or may not be doomed by its socialist roots and a swing to the left under the leadership of Corbyn. At least it re-inherits what it is socially and culturally rooted in, and forces that ideology to address the modern age, rather than simply adapting much of the principles of the right for popular appeal and hoping the public can discriminate the minor differences that then exist between Parties.
Much has been written in recent years on the subject of authentic leadership. At its core, it is about an approach that is fundamental to who we are. Authentic leaders develop self-awareness, they are people of deep conscience and self-reflection and are open to not only their strengths and weaknesses but are clear on their values. They celebrate transparency in relationships, sharing openly their thoughts and beliefs, exposing the debate. They process information in a balanced way being receptive to alternative, even opposing viewpoints and undertake objective consideration of these.
Most of all their ethical stance is well set, possessing a strong moral compass within the core that is resistant to external pressures rather than dogmatic. They are respectful of individuals and views, they embrace complexity and are unashamed of humanity and feel no need to project something that is incongruent with the person inside.
Just how many politicians display these qualities? I’m not going to offer a critique of politicians as lacking these, but in our post-Blairite era of media appearances, where “message received” is pretty much the management task, who is truly showing this? We certainly saw more of this in David Cameron than any other candidates in the election, Nicola Sturgeon perhaps excepted, then along comes Corbyn, whose principles anchor and differentiate him in the minds of so many.
In the age of the authentic leader, if the politicians of the future really wish to hold capital with the electorate, they need to get with the program. This is not about populist “soundbite” policies, the glib uploading of presentation techniques that look good on camera. This is about the Realpolitik of being a human and serving the public and being true to what they believe, something we’ve only seen pockets of for some time. Corbyn may never win a General Election, but what he represents is a paradigm shift in the way politicians must now present themselves.
And an increasing number of members of the public know it.