Change Practitioner of the month – September 2015

The honour goes to Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn …for the “Corbyn Conundrum”

Jeremy Corbyn isn’t exactly new to the political establishment, having been the Member of Parliament (MP) for Islington North since the general election of 1983. But being a self-described democratic socialist in a capitalist society, having never held a true position of power within Parliament, the once ranked outsider has now found himself at the thrust of the political limelight as the new leader of the Labour Party. And whilst many have welcomed his appointment as a breath of fresh air to the otherwise archaic political establishment, others have pondered with pessimism the potentially destructive impact “Corbyn-mania” has brought onto the Labour Party and to politics as a whole.

Jeremy Corbyn: A New Era?

Corbyn has vigorously declared and promoted a campaign pledge of “a new kind of politics”. Indeed the campaign itself has been marketed and built on a foundation of mistrust of the political elite, with Jeremy Corbyn offering a seemingly honest and refreshingly transparent approach to politics. Such an approach it seems, puts the interests of the public first buy seeking to serve their needs and keep them at the heart of the political process, making decisions and creating laws that will eventually affect their day-to-day lives.

One of Corbyn’s first acts as leader of the opposition was to participate in Prime Minister Questions (PMQs). Infamously known for its theatrics and the ironic tendency to be more occupied with throwing insults at one another rather than seriously answering any questions, Corbyn, as the Telegraph reports, “asked all his questions in a sober, low-key manner and did not resort to the kind of quips and put-downs normally exchanged in the weekly clash”. It was just one element of his new-style politics that he was determined to introduce to the forefront of British politics. This modern approach, according to Corbyn, is one that is demanded by the public, who he claims believes that Prime Minister’s Questions and Parliament more generally was “out of touch and too theatrical”. And instead of choosing which questions to pose to the Prime Minister (PM) based on personal agendas or party members’ concerns, Corbyn lived up to his pledge to revolutionise politics by crowd-sourcing his questions from an appeal to the public to tell Labour what they would like him to ask the PM. The appeal produced 40,000 responses, from which six questions were selected – highlighting queries on, amongst others, housing, rents, tax credits, benefit thresholds and mental health.

The PM David Cameron welcomed the change in tone, stating “no-one would be more delighted than me”, if PMQs could become a “genuine exercise in asking questions and answering questions”, to which Corbyn thanked his commitment to answering questions “in a more adult way than it’s been done in the past”.


Before Corbyn

After Corbyn

In the main, Corbyn hopes that a new style of serious politics could end the alienation of thousands of people from the political process. As reported by the Guardian, Corbyn is determined to win back those who do not vote in general elections, by offering a new era of civility in Westminster politics. “Fundamentally”, he says, “many people are turned off by the political process when the major parties are not saying anything different enough about how we run the economy, and totally turned off by a style of politics which seems to rely on the levels of clubhouse theatrical abuse that you can throw across at each other in parliament and across the airwaves”.

In addition to the change in approach regarding PMQs, Corbyn is also planning on changing the way the party makes policy more generally, using the internet and social media to hold bottom-up policy consultations. The era is over, he said, “when you elect some all-knowing, all seeing celebrity who sends it down the food chain”.

So what has this meant for Corbyn’s approval ratings and overall popularity? Has this commitment to changing the heart of politics to benefit the public actually resonated with the electorate? Well if you believe the latest opinions polls, the answer is not even close.

As reported by The Telegraph, Jeremy Corbyn has become the first Labour leader to score negatively on his opening Ipsos-MORI, with a dismal score of just minus 3%. This puts him significantly behind some of his predecessors, with Gordon Brown scoring 16%, Tony Blair scoring 18% and Ed Miliband scoring 19%. Corbyn’s rating is worse than every other party leader since 1980.

The Ipsos-MORI scores leaders on how well they have performed since taking up the role. And when Corbyn is compared directly with Cameron, his results are even more dire.

On the question of who would make the better leader, David Cameron scored 62%, whilst Corbyn scored just 32%. Cameron also beat Corbyn on judgement, being good in a crisis, understanding the problems of the nation and having a clear vision for the country. On the bright side for Corbyn, his campaign to distinguish himself from the political establishment as an honest candidate seems to be paying off, with 56% of the public believing Corbyn is more honest than most, compared to Cameron’s 30%. Also positive for the integrity of his campaign message is the fact that 65% of the public believed Cameron was out of touch, compared to just 39% for Corbyn.

As good as that may be for Corbyn’s reputation as a different kind of politician, his strong left-wing views are in danger of isolating him from the majority of the political electorate. Peter Kellner, the president of YouGov, highlighted this problem with Corbyn’s campaign. Commenting in the New Statesmen, he said “successful party leaders marry the enthusiasm of their supporters to the mood of the wider electorate.”

Of the results from the Ipsos-MORI poll, Kellner said, “by this test, Jeremy Corbyn looks destined to fail. Those who voted for Jeremy Corbyn overwhelmingly describe themselves as left-wing. They reject capitalism…want to abolish private schools and the monarchy, and favour higher taxes to pay for greater welfare…Labour’s target voters think none of these things. Nor do many current Labour supporters.”

So with just under a month into his term as Labour leader, Corbyn has certainly divided opinion, not least amongst his fellow Labour MPs. Though he has had a galvanizing effect on a particular section of the electorate who Corbyn claims have become disillusioned with the current “cookie-cutter” crop of politicians, there is no doubt that he still has a long way to go and a lot to prove to convince the wider public of his left-wing policies and his ability to lead the country. Whether he can keep this current momentum for the duration of the election campaign, all the way to the 2020 General Election is still yet to be seen.

However, for daring to be a different type of Leader, we at Facilitate4me vote him the (Fledging) Change Practitioner for September 2015.

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