Nowhere else in the world of politics, other than in Britain, is there or could there be a Jeremy Corbyn. The more his fellow parliamentarians seek to marginalize him by publicly distancing themselves from him and the more mainstream media seek to minimalize him by downplaying his credentials, the more British Corbyn becomes. His story as leader of the Labour Party is yet to be told but what we do know from the preamble is that it is a story triggered by a very brave admission and it will be an adventure rich in eccentricity, intellect, compassion and ambition.
The Labor Party triggered this story about electing a hitherto unelectable leader by admitting that the party lies shipwrecked, rudderless and lacking a political compass. And the wisdom in this admission is that it licenced the party to publicly articulate that it cannot go forward until it determines which way to face and who should lead the way. Such a brave and forthright admission is not seen elsewhere in the political world: it is a very British admission. For example, in the political arenas in the former British colonies of the US and Australia an admission is erroneously perceived to be the last step to political obscurity and not the first step to political salvation. Choosing Corbyn gives the Labour Party new purpose and direction. The choice made amounts to an about face. A Labour Party led by Corbyn turns its back on its Blair led era of conservationism which supported or became inhibited by the big-end of town, the ruling class, and heads back towards liberalism which supports equality for the long-suffering majority, the working class. And so under Corbyn’s leadership, ‘New Labour’ becomes ‘Classic Labour’ in what amounts to a journey back-to-the-future.
Corbyn is an eccentric. He obviously lacks a fashion stylist and that is part of his appeal: he looks and sounds normal. To equate normality with eccentricity is to reveal just how far away from reality we are as a society. A society in which we have mindlessly placed our trust in ornament, for example we have placed trust in a series of manufactured and well marketed political leaders. Shakespeare sent a message to future generations warning us of the peril of ornament when in 1596 he wrote in his play ‘The Merchant of Venice’ that the world is still deceived with ornament and how ornament is used to hide grossness. However, now more so than in the past, ornament is the norm across all classes in society and there in lies a knotty problem for Corbyn to unpick: he needs to convince disillusioned voters nurtured on rations of deceit that what he says is what he means and what he means to say is that he hears their cry for help and he is mounting a rescue. Or put in Orwellian terms, the solution requires Corbyn to dismantle the mantra: IN DECEIT WE TRUST!
Corbyn is a pragmatic and perennial intellectual. On a Sunday afternoon, one expects to find him collaborating with local folk on how best to solve a new problem which has arisen in the community or resting in a quiet spot re-reading a well-read copy of works by Plato, Montesquieu, Locke, Marx or Benn or occupied in a bookshop seeking to discover new pearls of wisdom from lesser known authorities. He is clearly not a showpony nor a mouthpiece.
Corbyn is a man of compassion with a long history of advocating and participating in humanitarian causes in Britain and abroad. He is a parliamentarian and not a politician: Corbyn favours ideas over rhetoric. He is an open-mind that humbly stops mid-sentence to agree with an opponent where he encounters a meeting of the minds. Corbyn is the intellectual that academia never gained. And most striking of all, which in turn infuriates TV interviewers for whom long questions and instant short answers are mandatory, is Corbyn’s habit of pausing silently for a few seconds to think before he speaks. Or as von Goethe explained in 1809 through a character in his book ‘Elective Affinities’, and I paraphrase, he paused to map his thoughts on to his tongue.
However, how the Corbyn story unfolds will perhaps turn more on how he manages ambition, the human trait that in one person is a blessing and in another a curse, than any other single factor. Corbyn will need to manage not only the ambitions of a leadership team and party members but his own personal ambition. To assist Corbyn in the former task, the Labour Party has gifted him a complementary deputy, Tom Watson, who is well-suited to play a critical role in assisting to configure and implement the policies that need to engage and not frighten the majority of voters. Corbyn will need to steady the party when right-wing parliamentary members rock-the-boat by leaving the party to seek to fulfil their political ambitions elsewhere. And perhaps more importantly, Corbyn will need to identify and protect himself from the Judas characters that plot with elements of the mainstream media to turn what is a very British story into a very British coup. But perhaps the greatest task is the later task which requires Corbyn to manage his own ambition. After all, Corbyn is seeking to transition himself overnight and absent the benefit of succession planning, from the fringe of politics where ambition is limited to success at a constituency level, to the peak of mainstream politics where in addition ambition requires success at national and international levels.
The Corbyn story is about to unfold and what we do know so far is that the election of Corbyn and Watson to the leadership of the Labour Party is an intellectually refreshing and ambitious step in the modern era of British politics. Hopefully, it is a step towards an era where intellect shapes ideas and dialogue and puts an end to the ‘Punch and Judy’ rhetoric and sound-bites which have for too long lowered the tone of Britain’s parliamentary democracy.Tags: Domestic (UK)
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This post was written by Mark Horner