Whatever the outcome of the Labour leadership debate, Jeremy Corbyn, the rank outsider, a Labour type familiar from the 1970s and 1980s, has grabbed all the headlines and given the socialist left an unlikely hero to rally around.
Firstly and crucially Corbyn scores off-the-scale on authenticity. He is a vegetarian and teetotaller and has been an outspoken left-winger all his career. Often in his 32 years as an MP he has been a thorn in the side of the party establishment – speaking out consistently against the tide of New Labour. This consistency and his length of service show clearly that he is not in the politics game for the money or self-aggrandisement. He says repeatedly that the campaign is not about him, it’s about giving a voice to people who think society can be run differently.
Authenticity: the ‘big idea’
Authenticity is a big buzzword in PR at the moment. Post the banking crisis, PR people looking for a new ‘big idea’ are latching on to the notion that 21st century super brands need to be about more than making money. Brands, it seems, now need to demonstrate they are working for the public good. Whilst there is room for cynicism here, it is clear that there is a backlash, particularly amongst millennials, against the perceived greed of bankers and money-men. It’s clear the consensus of capitalism is being eroded. Here is a piece from PR Week last year that addresses this trend.
Corbyn does not dodge questions
Corbyn’s authenticity is therefore catching the public zeitgeist. And it is very evident in the way he conducts interviews. He does not dodge questions. He seems very comfortable with his record on controversial subjects such as being ‘friends’ with Hamas, wanting to talk to Sinn Fein back in the 1990s and the fact that he would prefer the UK to be a republic with no Royal Family. He always accepts these things before moving on to what he wants to say.
Calm and considered
Secondly, the Corbyn style is always calm and considered and never vitriolic. He may be suggesting that Tony Blair should be tried for war crimes but he does it quietly and in a way that deliberately avoids making it personal: ‘all those who made decisions that were illegal should be prosecuted.’ He is happy to work with people who disagree with him. He repeatedly defuses tension in an interview by being quietly spoken and reasonable. (Compare this to Liz Kendall’s response to being asked about how she managed her weight. Something my colleague blogged about last month.) He also constantly insists political debate should not be personal.
Corbyn makes more use of specifics
Thirdly, analysing what Corbyn says versus the other candidates, there is much more use of specifics. He doesn’t lose sight of the big picture, ‘We need a fairer society’, but he backs it up quickly with detail ‘we need to reboot council house building and cap private rents’. he is particularly fond of reciting the specifics of his experience on a particular topic. Interestingly he doesn’t use numbers very often but he does dive down to specifics much more readily than his rivals. This makes his arguments convincing and it plays into the authenticity card.
This calm, detail focussed style is in stark contrast to what most people think of as good political rhetoric but again Corbyn seems to be catching a mood. Many people don’t trust politicians, are scathing of spin and are quick to assume anyone is self-serving. Many more have felt disenfranchised by the political system and now suddenly feel their moment has come.
Win or lose Jeremy Corbyn is teaching us all something important about post- crisis Britain.
[Pictures are used under a creative commons licence via flickr, the Corbyn picture was taken by Gary Knight.]
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