Is there anything to add on Jeremy Corbyn’s expected but still shocking victory to become Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition? Well, there is Corbyn the outsider. This thin-skinned college dropout, this contrarian younger brother, this rebellious three-times married romantic, this prep-school boy with distorted empathy (in this case for terrorists): he’s a classic of the species (at least by my pseudo-expert reckoning).
And that should certainly alert us to some of the dangers ahead. For instance, Outsider Jeremy (OJ) is an unlikely team player: as already shown during 32 years as a Labour MP (voting against the party whips more than 500 times). Of course, many may claim that, as leader – especially with such a sizable mandate – being a team player is unnecessary. OJ needs to lead, to inspire – to encourage others to follow – which he’s clearly done and does. Yet that’s to misjudge the nature of leadership, which – as well as to inspire – is to encourage loyalty by example and to forge partnerships: two unlikely eventualities in a Corbyn-led Labour Party.
Corbyn is patently principled, which is inspiring. But one person’s principles can be viewed, by another, as dogma: intransigent theological “truth” used as a weapon against more flexible opinions. In fact, being “principled” is another typical outsider trait – though one often used to justify highly-unprincipled behaviour. For outsiders, principles are inconsistently applied and, most often, act as the last refuge of the rogue (something to hide behind when chastised for behaving badly). And, for leaders, principles can become leaden weights – threatening to bring down the entire balloon.
And the principled individualism of outsiders makes any sense of team discipline – even of collegiate responsibility – all but impossible. In this case it’ll no doubt be excused as refreshing “democratic expression” – as part of the promised “new kind of politics” – though that’s little more than a fig-leaf for the ensuing chaotic infighting. Shadow Cabinet meetings will likely be a hoot – by which I mean they’ll be disorganised, tempestuous affairs with an underlying air of menace. Meanwhile, the backbenches will be in near-permanent ferment – such is the outsider’s less than iron grip on any organisational structure.
As leader, OJ’s behaviour will set the benchmark (whether he likes it or not), meaning that this 66 year old Class War veteran is going to have to either radically alter his modus operandi (unlikely) or preside over an anarchic shambles of a party with rebellions occurring almost constantly. The alternative is pure Stalinism, with thuggish party enforcers projecting ever-tightening ideological strictures on the remainder of the party – exactly what used to happen in town halls and local constituency parties infiltrated by Militant Tendency in the 1980s (as I witnessed first-hand as a student).
Certainly – given his track-record – Corbyn’s calls for unity are likely to be met with incredulous sarcasm, leaving him unable to confront the government with anything resembling a coherent strategy. And spinning this as refreshing is unlikely to fool many people for very long: not least because the Opposition is supposed to be a government in waiting, and is judged as such by the electorate.
In this respect, I’d go as far as to say that the notion of an outsider being leader of an established party of government is a contradiction in terms. Yet it isn’t just their failings as a team player that render them so ineffectual. It’s their poor judgement. As shown by the friends he keeps, OJ’s judgement is awry, and is unlikely to improve with the burden of responsibility. Outsiders tend to be conspiracy minded, which will become a paranoid conspiracy-obsession in office. They’re forced into survival mode – constantly fearing coups. And that makes rational judgement impossible.
Of course, OJ has every reason for feeling uneasy as the head that wears a crown. Senior party figures have already asked for his removal. But the outsider is unlikely to compromise or use such a threat to build alliances or pacify doubters. Instead, he’ll adopt a siege mentality – circling the wagons by surrounding himself with an ever-tightening and self-purifying cohort of “reliable” acolytes. Eventually, even the inner circle is distrusted and becomes alienated. And then it’s just a matter of time before, Robespierre-like, the leader himself is purged.
Or at least it’s a matter of time unless our outsider, as leader, can develop insight. In fact, with insight OJ could yet confound his naysayers. But it’s an insight requiring a profound change of heart – now – at the very moment he feels finally vindicated for all those years in the principled wilderness. It’s an insight into the minds of the people he seems to ignore: the aspirational middle classes. Corbyn comes from this very group, yet – as is the way with outsiders – seems to detest them. As far as I can tell he’s never once sought to reach out to them or even understand them: despite the fact Blair’s three general election victories were built on the votes of those very people (as Liz Kendall, Tristan Hunt, Ben Bradshaw and a few others well know).
Business is another group requiring insight – not least because it’s the very element generating the growth and wealth that governments are keen to redistribute. In fact, here OJ has made some positive noises about small businesses, particularly in sectors employing low-skilled workers such as retail and food. But the majority of small businesses are in the services sector, and many rely on big business for their custom. Also, many know that governments that attack business rarely differentiate between big and small (usually to the detriment to those less able to fight back).
Insight is therefore hard work for the outsider. Far easier to align with other outsiders: in this case the dispossessed, the alienated and assorted waifs and strays – even pretending they can generate some form of majority (once they’re “given something to vote for”). Of course, many such groups deserve empathy and our help. But as a basis for forming a government, they’re a non-starter: as, I’m afraid, is this particular outsider as a prime minister in waiting.