Corbyn’s demise and the politics of personality

Since Corbyn’s re-election in September, it’s been guaranteed that a phone conversation with my 49 year old, North Walian working class mother with a keen eye for realist, anti-Tory politics will end sour.  The conversation will begin with good intentions; we’ll discuss the weather and gush over our dog, but at the slightest mention of politics, things quickly turn nasty as we become enthralled in an argument over the legitimacy of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.  My mother claims that he is a weak, idealist leader who will never win an election and I argue that he represents real socialist change, his values are honest and he has been voted in twice- so people must like him! We talk pretty much every other day, but I can count on one of these ‘Corbyn cacophony’s’ at least once a week.

Both my mother and I are on the left, but, like the falling apart Labour front bench we cannot agree on Corbyn.  Despite our agreement on most other issues and a shared dislike for the Torys, this thorny issue isn’t going away. My mother and I represent two demographics within the Labour party that are coming to a head: the older generation of traditional working class voters who grew up under Thatcher; and my generation, specifically pro-immigration University yuppies who like a good march about Trump. Broadly speaking, these two groups represent two sides of the Labour party who cannot agree on a leader. I have not lost faith in what Corbyn believes, but even I cannot deny that the Copeland by-election, in which Labour lost the seat they have held for the duration of the constituency’s existence, was an alarming signal for the 2020 election. The Torys have the working class fooled with talk of ‘benefit scroungers’ and the need for austerity because the government ‘have no money’.  On the opposition bench, Jeremy’s plans to spend 500bn on social infrastructure sound foolish to the people whom such reforms would actually help. Corbyn’s stance that ‘immigration is not too high’ seems even more mind boggling and out of touch to many working class Labour voters. But I don’t think it’s his policies that are the primary reason for his unpopularity – people do want a stronger NHS and a fairer system even if Jeremy’s way of doing it seems a bit ‘radical’ with the Tory back drop.

The problem with Corbyn in parliament, as opposed to Corbyn at rallies in the summer of 2015, is a problem of personality. The cult of the personality is something I very much despise in politics; big popular personalities which don’t always match up in terms of ability to create effective policy. For example, despite being one of America’s most popular Presidents of the 21st century and being an encapsulating communicator, Kennedy’s strengths did not lie in coherently considering the fine details of policy, we have seen the rise of on the right in the States, France, the Netherlands, and even over here with Farage and UKIP. These personalities get votes,  however, personality does not  necessarily deliver. But with polls showing massive losses for Corbyn, a charismatic personality could be what the party needs to get cynical voters interested. After an approval rating of 55% last February (2016), a recent Yougov poll showed that this February Corbyn’s approval rating had dropped to a meagre 17%. His policy stance hasn’t changed, but the appeal of his ideals and his not so politically savvy image is starting to wane.  More people are siding with the sceptical wing of the Labour party who have seen enough Tory governments to know that nice ideals do not capture the public’s imagination, especially not in our current political climate. With opinion ratings at a record low and 26,000 members having left the Labour party since the summer; despite my own personal cynicism and dislike for personality in politics, perhaps a charismatic, ‘tough’ leader is what the Labour party needs.

Poll statistics from the New Statesman:
Bethany Donkin

(Image courtesy of Dan Rebellato)

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