Jeremy Corbyn- Britain’s Obama

After hearing so much about it, I finally witnessed the Jeremy Corbyn phenomenon for myself, at a meeting in Cardiff. And, believe me; phenomenon is the right word.

I have previously attended meetings in Cardiff with both Liz Kendall and Andy Burnham, which had audiences of up to around 300 people.

Corbyn’s meeting had over a thousand, with all seats taken and almost as many squeezed in, standing at the back, as were sitting down.

The audiences for the other candidates were polite, respectful and interested.

Corbyn’s audience was passionate and enthusiastic, at times bordering on fanatical. When Corbyn walked onto the stage, the whole crowd rose to its feet; whooping, cheering, clapping and shouting- giving him the kind of welcome normally reserved for rock stars. His speech was interrupted after every sentence, by the crowd cheering and applauding his statements, in the same way that they would cheer for their favourite song played by their favourite band at a concert or festival.

It was fascinating and amazing to watch.

I had arrived really early; partly to ensure that I got a seat, but also to give me time to observe the make-up of the crowd and talk to as many other people there as I could.

In almost equal numbers, the people I spoke to, fitted into the following groups:

  • Long-time Labour members, who felt that they were finally going to get a leader they could support wholeheartedly
  • Labour voters, who said they would now become members, because of Corbyn
  • Ex-members, who felt that (like Mhairi Black of the SNP) they hadn’t left Labour, but Labour had left them. Corbyn has drawn them back
  • Supporters of other parties, who said they would vote Labour, if Corbyn won
  • Non-voters, who had decided that they would now vote- for Labour, if Corbyn won

The main reasons given for their support of Corbyn were as follows:

  • All other politicians are all the same and are only in it for themselves; he is different- genuine, authentic and deeply passionate about creating a fairer society
  • He communicates really clearly and effectively, giving straight answers to all questions- not ducking or avoiding them, like most other politicians
  • You can trust him- he is honest and he has always shown himself to be a man of principle
  • Other politicians seem to want us to believe that there is no alternative to austerity and gross inequality; Corbyn rubbishes that idea, offering a real and compelling alternative vision, of a much fairer, more equal, and happier society
  • The Labour Party is now just another part of the establishment; with middle-class, ‘career’ politicians, who don’t represent or serve the people who the Labour Party was created for. Corbyn is a ‘real’ Labour politician, who can turn the Party back into the true ‘Party of the People’ it was originally created to be

These are all compelling reasons for his support, but they don’t, on their own, explain the almost religious fervour I saw at the meeting. The only way to explain it; is to compare it to the only other modern politician who has had the same effect- Barack Obama.

Corbyn doesn’t have the same charisma or oratory ability, but he is creating the same effect- why?

It’s because he is offering the same thing Obama offered; the same thing that people join the Labour Party for; the same thing people are always longing for, from politics:

Hope, and change.

That’s what has gained him a fanatical following and that’s why all the dire warnings and intellectual arguments are useless. His followers now have a deep emotional connection to his campaign, because of their longing and yearning for hope and change; for the fairer, and altogether better society they have always dreamed of, but never thought they could have, until now.

Hope and change:

This is the most powerful force in politics, against which, intellectual and economic arguments have no impact, because in the same way that intellectual arguments cannot dent religious faith; they also can’t dent the passionate need and desire for hope and change.

Hope, and change:

That’s why Corbyn is so popular and that’s why he will win the leadership contest. Whilst many of us may support other candidates, who are all very talented politicians, we now just have to accept that they are not going to win, as they are all seen as just offering ‘more of the same’, which stands no chance against Corbyn’s irresistible offer of hope and change.

That’s why the critics and doom-mongers are all wrong, because what Corbyn offers, is much more attractive to voters than any carefully costed and credible economic policy.

That’s why we should back him wholeheartedly, when he becomes the leader of the Labour Party, because what he offers is so powerful; because hope, and change, is what we all need and yearn for, regardless of our colour, creed, or political leanings.

That’s why he is so appealing, to such a wide range of people.

That’s why he has drawn in so many new members and supporters, many of whom had abandoned the Labour Party, were previously supporters of other parties, or did not usually vote.

That’s why he could win the next election.

Hope, and change:

That’s what gave Obama his historic victory

That’s what could do the same for Corbyn.

Hope, and change: isn’t that why you’re here?

Brian Back

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What should we do, if Corbyn wins?

Let’s face it; with so little time left before members vote for a new leader, it is time that we stopped the shouting, insults and dire forecasts for the future.

It is time to face the facts.

It is time that we took a calm, pragmatic view of the possibility of a Corbyn win. Whilst we should not stop campaigning for the other candidates, we have to face the fact that a Corbyn win is a real possibility. That being the case; how should we deal with this prospect?

So far, everyone seems to be asking the wrong questions regarding the possibility of Corbyn becoming the new Labour leader.

Some have asked whether those in the centre-ground of the Labour Party should split, and start a new party, if Corbyn wins. That is not a sensible question, because forming a new party would just split the left-wing vote, thereby guaranteeing a Tory win at the next election. Also, most members would stay with the Corbyn-led Labour Party, as would the unions, so the new party would have few members or activists, and very little funding, as well as a very short life-span.

Others have asked whether the centre-ground MPs should stage a coup and force another election contest. This is not sensible either, as disunity and conflict are the biggest problems we face; problems which, if not dealt with, always spell electoral disaster, and a coup would only make things much worse. Furthermore, the next contest would probably be won by Corbyn again, but with a bigger majority, as Labour members react with fury against MPs who are seen to ignore members’ wishes.

Another big question is whether his opponents should refuse to accept shadow cabinet positions if he wins. Some big-name MPs have already stated that they would not work with Corbyn.

However, those MPs who have said that they will not work with him are surely only saying that for tactical reasons, because their main argument regarding a more centre-ground approach is that; you have to be in power, if you want to make changes. By that logic, it is obvious that accepting a shadow-cabinet post gives one the power to influence Corbyn’s policies, so they will, and must surely find a way to reverse that decision and work with him, for the good of the Party and the people it represents, who desperately need the Party to be at full strength and firing on all cylinders. Most commentators who oppose Corbyn have stated that his leadership would leave us forever ‘shouting from the sidelines’. Once again, the argument holds true regarding a shadow cabinet position- refusing a place in the cabinet would relegate centre-ground MPs to a position of just grumbling from the backbenches.

These questions have to be seen as just tactical manoeuvres in the leadership contest, which, whilst being entirely understandable in that context, have no place in any serious discussion regarding a Corbyn-led Labour Party.

Instead of these questions, we should now be asking the same question we would ask regarding any of the candidates- if they become leader, how do we win the next election?’

So, firstly, we need to consider the biggest question regarding winning the next election; is Jeremy Corbyn unelectable? The answer is: only if we make him that- by creating a self-fulfilling prophecy; by causing conflict and refusing to work with him, thereby making not just Corbyn, but the whole Party unelectable.

I have been as guilty as others, in my assessment of Corbyn; as in a previous article, I called him unelectable. Whilst that may have been understandable and ok at the start of the contest, it will not be ok if he wins. If he wins, then the Party must treat him as they would any of the others; by uniting behind him and focusing on finding a way to win the next election.

Whilst some may say that winning the next election is impossible with Corbyn as leader, this is not true.

The Left has seen a huge resurgence across Europe; in France, Spain and Greece. Whilst the overall situation may be significantly different in those countries, the electoral success of the Left in those countries clearly demonstrates that choosing Corbyn as leader may not be as disastrous as it is generally being depicted by most commentators in the media.

We need to learn the lessons from those countries; that a mass-movement, of the kind that seems to be developing around Corbyn, can lead not only to effective opposition, but also success in elections. Building on the growth in membership and the groundswell of support that Corbyn’s campaign seems to have generated, could give us a community-based movement that is easily strong enough to combat the wealth of the Tories and their devastating media power and propaganda.

However, this will not be enough on its own; we must also learn the lessons from our defeat in the election.

Polls consistently show voters agree with and want policies that promote a fairer society, but the election showed that wasn’t enough. There has now been sufficient post-election analysis for us to be sure of what is required to win back voters: a credible plan for economic growth and stability, which also shows the definite gains which will come from greater investment in public services; as well as real solutions for the issues of welfare and immigration. These are obviously massively difficult problems. Finding credible solutions will therefore require all the talent, from all parts of the Party. This once again shows the need for us to put aside the rivalries, conflicts and insults of the leadership contest, directing all our energies towards the tasks of opposing the Tories and winning the next election. Corbyn has offered the olive branch to his opponents, stating his desire to work with all sections of the Party. His opponents must accept this offer and help to create the ‘big-tent’, unified Party that is strong enough to win in 2020.

We also need to learn from the Tories. Their media strategy was hugely effective, we need to emulate it. Their policy of endlessly repeating, in every media appearance, by every Tory politician, the same message- that Labour caused the crash, did huge damage to our reputation. If Corbyn wins, a powerful and effective media strategy will be vital, to make the possibility of a left-wing Labour government seem viable and attractive to voters.

We cannot rely on many of the national newspapers, so we need to focus on developing a radio and TV strategy, that is focused on maximum exposure and repeatedly hammering home the same message; which blames each individual issue on the Tories’ failing and unfair austerity policies and then gives our superior solutions- solutions that are fairer, which will also boost the economy.

This strategy must be pursued on national and local media, by big-name shadow-cabinet members, backbench MPs, AMs, councillors and activists. Staying on-message, hammering home the same clear, direct and easily understandable points at every opportunity, will give us the chance to dominate the debate, to once again make left-wing ideas mainstream, ‘normal’ and acceptable by the whole population, pulling the political centre-ground away from the current right-wing position.

We don’t need to be concerned that Corbyn’s politics would take us back to some kind of Marxist ‘dark age’, in which we all address each other as ‘comrade’, whilst planning to overthrow the capitalist system. We can combine arguments based on fairness and social justice, with a hard-nosed, economic analysis of the problems caused by poverty and inequality: educational failure, poor health and lower life-expectancy, unemployment, crime, low productivity, absence from work, huge costs to the NHS, and an ever-increasing welfare and prisons bill.

There is a huge wealth of rigorous research evidence to back up these arguments, to ensure that our approach is seen as credible: from The Rowntree Foundation and Townsend’s work on poverty, as well as its effects on educational attainment; to The ‘Black Report’ (1980) on the class-based inequalities of health; to Wilkinson and Pickett’s ‘The Spirit Level’ (2009), and Piketty’s work on the corrosive effects of inequality, to name but a few.

This approach would enable us to appeal to people’s head, as well as their heart; to their self-interest, as well as their conscience; to voters on the right and the left of the political spectrum.

So, when we consider how strong and effective this overall approach could be, we can see that it is possible to be hopeful, rather than despondent, at the thought of a Corbyn-led Labour Party.

We can also see that it is obvious that we have been asking all the wrong questions about the possibility of a much more left-wing Labour Party.

In fact, when we consider how strong and effective this approach could be, the most pertinent question concerning this issue may be: ‘why haven’t we done this before?’

Brian Back