A problem in politics at the moment
Ask yourself this: how did you decide whom to vote for in last year’s general election? In the EU referendum, how did you decide to vote?
Was it partisanship, policies or a person who helped you make your decision?
The other day I read an interesting piece in The Telegraph on how personality cults have become more common, certainly more prominent, in British politics. In the article author Tom Harris makes the case that Corbynism is “at least by some definitions, more of a cult than a political movement”. I’m sure many of Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters would disagree with this assessment, but I actually think it holds a lot of ground.
Since Corbyn became the Labour leader I think it’s fair to say that the Momentum Corbyn’s had hasn’t exactly followed through. Sure he’s been a man of principles and all for radical change, but he hasn’t exactly followed that up has he? He seemed to have quite a promising start but over the last nine months hasn’t fought off the criticism from the media, government, and even his own party.
And it’s here that we find ourselves, watching Labour crumble and maybe even split as the Labour leader is staunchly defended by his most adamant supporters against calls for him to go. And part of the problem is these supporters, admirable in their loyalty, stubbornly fail to accept any other point of view or recognise any argument other than their own. Particularly when there are some, I’d like to think, obvious flaws.
People’s attitudes need to change. The point I’m trying to make here is that people need to be able to look past whether they like someone or not (Yes, it works both ways) and think about whether they’re the best person for the job. The media doesn’t always help but I honestly think people need to calm down. And that applies to everyone, not just Labour. But, again using the current Labour example, at a time when the country needs a strong, united and effective opposition, which can do its job and hold the government to account, is stubbornly defending someone who’s not lived up to expectation really worth losing even more over?
People have become too focused on the people and not the practicalities. I’m not saying that policy has been completely ignored, that would be stupid. I’m just saying I think there is too much of a focus on personalities.
The campaigns ahead of the EU referendum vote are the perfect example of this. Save for the fact that the referendum was decided almost entirely on the immigration argument alone, it was all about personalities. Namely Boris Johnson. He and Farage campaigned under the promise that if we were to leave the EU we would be able to spend an extra £350 million on the NHS every year. The day after the vote they admitted that wasn’t possible. What compounds this is there were people disputing this, but those who supported the Leave campaign didn’t listen. Mind you it wasn’t like the Remain side was completely free from embellished promises and ideas.
But the stubbornness of people to refuse to listen to any other argument other than their own is remarkable. The effect a charismatic personality can have is also remarkable.
The televised debate between all seven party leaders in last year’s election also highlighted this really well. The debates have always tended to turn into an all-out catfight and this was no different. Nicola Sturgeon surprisingly came out on top according to a YouGov poll the next day (+28%). Sturgeon was one of the two leaders that had received a noticeable bump in the polls, the other being Nigel Farage (+20%). Both illustrate how much the leader can make a difference. They should too because they are important, it just feels like too much emphasis is placed on them.
Going back to the Corbyn example, and I know it look like I have something against Corbyn, and I can promise this isn’t a rant about him. But I think his supporters are the most guilty of this right now.
What Corbyn has managed to do is electrify the electorate, which I can only see as a good thing. Voter turnout has been notoriously low for years now and since Corbyn was elected as the leader of the party we’ve seen a historic rise in the number of people who are at least interested in politics. If that has an effect on the number of people who vote then we’re going to see election results representing a greater share of the population, and hopefully a government with an even greater mandate to rule.
What I think Corbyn’s supporters need to do is take a step back and think about what is best for them, the Labour party, and the country. If they honestly think that Corbyn is the best man suited for the job then fine. As long as they have made that decision consciously and at least thought about whether there is a more viable alternative. I’m not advocating Owen Smith here as well, I just think people need to assess whether it’s more important to support a man who while principled hasn’t actually come through with much to back this up.
Maybe it’s a question of attitudes, and I’m more than willing to accept I’m wrong here, but as it stands I can’t help but feel like something’s being lost or ignored that really shouldn’t.