Perhaps given three extra years leading to a general election, Jeremy Corbyn could’ve rallied the UK behind Labour. He just might’ve been able to convince the electorate – including the disgruntled members of his own party – that he represents the interests of the country and would make a competent Prime Minister. In 2020, Labour might’ve just won it.
But now that Theresa May has told the UK that we will be deciding who should form the next government on June 8th, it’s not looking likely. All eyes will be on Corbyn in the coming weeks, and he needs to change his style fast. As superficial as it may be, a lot the country will be voting for a party based on their opinion of its leader: do they look, speak and act like a Prime Minister? It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what qualities people consider ‘Prime Ministerial’, but Corbyn’s laid-back do-gooder style isn’t cutting it for most of the public.
I’m personally a Corbynite; in my lifetime I’ve never seen a politician that I’ve believed to be such a genuine humanitarian. For me, he represents a new, radical, exciting type of politics. I appreciate, however, that his image doesn’t quite match this description: he seems too old, gentle and inoffensive. For many, Corbyn looks more at home in his allotment than in Parliament. His principled nature comes across as a weakness to some, but it needn’t, it’s just a matter of presentation.
If he wants to succeed in British personality politics, he should learn from the most successful politician of last year: Donald Trump. On the surface, the pair are binary opposites: Corbyn, a principled democratic socialist, and Trump, an unscrupulous reality TV star. But there’s a lot of similarities between the two.
Throughout his presidential campaign, Trump was below Clinton in the polls and he had consistently negative press coverage. His radical ideas gave the impression that he was a non-serious, ‘anti-politics’ candidate. But despite all this—and partially because of it—Trump is now the US President.
And Corbyn? Well… he is enjoying dire favourability ratings and in addition, Labour – after seven years in opposition – are polling mediocre at best, and shockingly at worst. He is also receiving a significant level of negative press coverage and like Trump, he also espouses some pretty radical ideas. If Trump can secure a victory from a similar underdog position, then Corbyn has something to learn from him about how to win elections.
In his campaign, Trump presented himself as a populist, a ‘man of the people’ who, like much of the US population, was tired of the political establishment with which they have become more and more disillusioned over the past decade. Armed with this attitude, he dominated every debate.
His opponents would be droning on about a boring legislation and he would interrupt and shout out some batshit policy (probably made up on the spot) like building a 1,900 mile long wall, complete with armed guards, along the Mexico–United States border. They ask how he plans on paying for it. “Mexico will pay for it,” he retorts. Of course. It’s that simple.
Obviously, Corbyn doesn’t share Trump’s far-right views or controversial attitude (he’s not trying to build any walls or grab any pussies), but he could learn to similarly embrace this image of the anti-politics politician. Theresa May, like Trump’s opponent Hilary Clinton, is boring and robotic; while she systematically repeats her campaign slogan, ‘strong and stable’, every thirty seconds, Corbyn could be acting as a source of excitement in the election. He has some radical ideas: he wants to renationalise the railways (cheaper train tickets!), he wants to increase the minimum wage to £10 per hour. How does he plan on paying for it? By implementing a more progressive income tax system and tackling corporate tax avoidance. Regardless of whether you think this is viable, his discourse, like Trump’s, should be that simple. Corbyn is a drastic departure from the typical British politician, so he should steer clear of the typical political rhetoric. Nonetheless, if you don’t scour his website or follow him or the Labour Party on Twitter, you’d never know any of his policies. Trump was loud and he said what people wanted to hear. Corbyn’s ideas are what people want to hear – they’d benefit the working class, the majority of the country – but he’s far too quiet.
Over the next few weeks, I want to see Jeremy acknowledge his negative press and how it is unfairly biased against him. I want to see him push his key policies and justify them, and I want to see him loud, confident and smiling – the party needs it to combat its defeatist attitude, and the country needs it to give them faith that he can competently perform on the world stage.