Words by Tom McGivan
Like most people, I’m fairly wary of unsubstantiated claims. Particularly at election time. One I’ve repeatedly noticed over recent weeks as we close in on June 8th runs along the lines of, “I like Labour’s policies, I just can’t see Jeremy Corbyn as a leader”. It’s something I’ve heard plenty of people say (myself included) and of course, there’s nothing wrong with the statement itself. That is until you inquire why, when invariably the reply is “well, I just can’t”.
Before continuing, I should add that the following is by no means a marching order to vote for Jeremy Corbyn, but it is a plea for you to think twice before dismissing him as a leader.
First elected to Parliament in 1983, Corbyn has maintained his seat in Islington North ever since, placing him among some of the UK’s longest-serving MPs. In some respects, it’s what made his 2015 Labour leadership victory all the more extraordinary. Yet, unlike his long-running constituency position, his time as leader has been far from stable.
So if Corbyn is unfit to be a leader, what is it about him that makes him so unsuitable? In the name of taking a systematic approach to this topic given the wealth of opinions on this subject, I thought I’d run through criticisms one by one.
He’s too old.
At 67 years-old, Corbyn is far from youthful. And he’s been involved in politics for almost as long. But crucially, before he was an MP, he was a campaigner. Ever since he was a school boy he’s been politically active. The thing is, more often than not, he’s been right. From standing up against the apartheid, to fighting for LGBT rights, he embodies the true progressive, foreseeing what will eventually change. In addition, if you were ever worried his age would mean he doesn’t appeal to the country’s youth, the Grime for Corbyn movement would suggest otherwise.
He’s an idealist.
An anti-establishment, utopian dreamer without a real plan – that’s how his version of the left is often painted. But you’d have to ask, why spend so much time as an MP if you didn’t believe in change through the political process? Unlike your typical anarchist, Corbyn believes in the system, otherwise he wouldn’t have dedicated his life to it. He’s not interested in slating others’ views either. In an interview two years ago, he commented on Miliband’s critics from inside Labour, “I obviously didn’t agree with everything he did or said in the campaign, but he stood up well and worked very hard and should be thanked for that. I’m not joining in personal attacks … I don’t do personal attacks.” It’s fair to say he continues to live up to that statement.
He can’t compromise.
Yes, I rolled my eyes when he didn’t sing the national anthem. I did again during his lacklustre efforts campaigning for Remain. But I find Labour’s manifesto and Corbyn’s recent interview coverage pretty impressive. His interview with Andrew Marr paints him as a man not desperate to always have his own way, but someone who understands the system requires compromise. He refuses to say Theresa May “rigged” the election by calling it in April, he avoids saying he would never push a nuclear button and he emphasises that his grammar school-free vision of Britain is a long-term vision and not something that will change overnight. He comes across calm and pragmatic, which is a far cry from how his reputation has developed.
He doesn’t represent the people.
When commenting on his frugal lifestyle, Corbyn once said, “I don’t spend a lot of money, I lead a very normal life, I ride a bicycle and I don’t have a car.” (Remember how much Theresa May’s trousers cost?). In fact, it was reported at the time of the expenses scandal, Corbyn had the lowest expenses claims in the whole country. It’s a revelation that shows Corbyn is not only modest on camera, he is in private too. And ironically, that feels like a luxury among most of today’s politicians.
He’s not an orator.
So he’s not tall and striking. But at least he doesn’t adopt a 2015 Tory-esque power stance. Corbyn’s campaigning history has actually given him ample speaking experience. His recent speech during a music festival at Tranmere Rovers ground is testament to that.
He doesn’t dress like a leader.
Whilst completely superficial, this does matter. Particularly when it comes to foreign diplomacy and public appearances. But if you compare him now to how he dressed five years ago, you’ll see he wears a smart well-cut suit and a tie. I get the impression he’s willing to change his suit if it means changing Britain.
In light of the above, I hope I’ve provided a glance into an alternative way of framing Corbyn’s leadership potential. As Gary Younge rightly points out, “It is certainly true that, were Corbyn not running the party, its standing would be different – but there is nothing to suggest it would be faring better.” It’s also worth noting the alignment between Labour’s recent upward polling and the general election broadcast impartiality rules kicking in.
In a world of self-obsessed politicians, Corbyn is a man for whom the policies matter more than the public image. A man who would put the country above himself in a way others wouldn’t. A man who might just be the change we need. After all, you can train someone to iron their shirt, you can’t train them to care.
So if you’re not voting Labour, that’s fine. But at least give a good reason.