This is our truth, tell us yours
The leader of the Labour Party has had, according to his critics,a bad week.
He is, at best, a reticent public speaker who gives the air of a Quaker who’d much rather be having a fireside chat with you than hectoring you from a pulpit. The cockpit of parliament isnot his natural environment, and he ran for leader in a way that made clear he was a break with the past, a conscious rejection of the style of Blair and Brown.
For all their differences Blair and Brown were cut from the same cloth when it came to parliament, with their rhetorical flourishes honed via university debating clubs, and their speeches polishedby writers slected for their ability to provide hooks and to re-frame the debate in a way the waiting focus groups would approve of.
The problem for Corbyn is that he can;t change tack and remain authentic; having sold himself to the Labour Party membership as the antithesis of the university debaters like Blair and Brown, who remain divisive to the majority of the Labour membership (as evidenced by the result of the leadership campaign, when their heirs could barely land a blow on Corbyn) he can’t now re-fashion himself as a great parliamentary debater in their style. So he doesn’t try, and that infuriates those in the parliamentary party who revere the cut and thrust of parliamentary debate.
It makes for a poor spectacle for the TV audience too. Corbyn plods on, like Inspector Bucket diligently pursuing a murderer, while Cameron and Osborne are all flash and flourish, with, like Dickensian villains, a nice suit and a secret wickedness waiting in the wings.
Corbyn’s problem is that his explanation of what he’s trying to do isn’t cutting through to the rest of the population. He’s always ben a leader whose authority depends upon his ability to reach over the heads of the PLP and talk direct to the awkward coalition of Labour supporters on the left and the currently disenfranchised who must vote for him if he is to win an election.
The problem for Corbyn (and for Bernie Sanders) is how much he makes explicit that his style of leadership is a deliberate attempt to move parliament away from the performative style of Cameron and Blair, towards a more genuine, less aggressive style. If he talks too much about the style of debate he risks opening up his weaknesses to criticism, while also tempting others to claim that his style is just a strategic decision to cover up his weaknesses, and that he is as inauthentic as the rest.
In a very real sense Corbyn’s style has to be attritional; to wear away at the Tories, and to persuade his audience that he is genuine, that Britain would be a nicer place with a new style ofleader who prizes listening above the hectoring, deaf to anything but their own pre-prepared soundbites styleof Prime Minister’s QuestionTime. It’s a huge gamble on, in essence, a belief that when the Tories have a debacle like the resignaton of IDS, the damage is done in Saturday’s papers, not the following Wednesday in parliament.
Corbyn’s problem is that the people he’s ignoring, the bulk of his own PLP have a platform via the lobby journalists who form a powerful echo chamber for anyone who longs for the old insincerities of Blairism. Corbyn’s bet, that people turnedoff politics by the echo chamber will turn to his authenticity, is risky, but it may be the only chance he has.