The Corbyn Personality Cult

In Brighton this week, Jeremy Corbyn has had a twinkle in his eye and so well he might. A year ago he was the bête noir of not just the Tories but also large sections of his own party who saw his jump to the left as the death knell for the party. But oh my, what a difference one year and a general election makes…

Before Jeremy Corbyn had even made his keynote speech to the Labour party conference I received an email from him summarizing its contents (which I came across by chance, in my Spam box).  In it he told ­me; I promised two years ago that we would do politics differently. And we are. The vital word there is “we”. Together, we can create a country that works for the many, not the few. Join us today and make sure you’re a part of “we”. I was naturally flattered to receive a personal email and hit reply to thank him… only to discover the original sender was actually theteam@labour.

‘Team’ has been a bit of theme this year in UK politics. Theresa May made much of (HER and) her team in June, and now here’s Jeremy Corbyn and his team too. While Mrs May publicly had her fingers burned trying to shoehorn the ‘I’ into team, so far it seems to be working for Mr Corbyn. Some political commentators have wondered out loud this week if new look Labour is the real deal or still a fad built around JC’s unlikely celebrity as evidenced by chants of “Oh Jer-emy Corbyn!” sweeping the conference floor (can you imagine such a carry on in the era of Tony Blair?).

Mr Corbyn has fitted into the populist politician’s shoes more snugly than any other UK political leader in recent history (yes, even surpassing 2010’s “Cleggmania spreads across Britain). Idolised by the young and the left wing idealists JC, with his mild manner, simple ways and beard (not to mention matching initials) has more than a hint of the Messiah about him – at conference this week, a light up shrine was even paraded around the room (how Tony Blair must have been looking on wistfully). Meanwhile, in meme –land, he is forever being compared to Jedi white knight Obi Wan which, considering over 176,000 UK citizens claimed Jedi as their religion in the last census, furthers the Messianic theme.

There is certainly more than a hint of personality cult about Mr Corbyn, and one that fits easily into a ‘Red Jez’ narrative. Momentum have made him sexy to a whole new generation who will not have known him as the throwback thorn in the Blair project – voting against the Government whip 428 times and occupying a backbench position that may as well have been in Siberia for all the engagement he had with mainstream Labour. Yet now the amiable rebel has become chic and the internet is choc a bloc with opportunities to get your hands on Jezza-as-Che t-shirts. For the record, once you’ve perused those, you may want to google what is on offer in terms of Theresa May inspired apparel…

This week JC has looked like he is enjoying himself (‘living the dream’ in social media status parlance) after a couple of tough years trying to convince as Labour leader. Leadership has changed his style too. Never happier than when he is tub thumping to a crowd, he has learned to tone done the agit-prop element, and now delivers a far more polished act on the political stage. That said, it is very easy to lead from opposition, when political ambitions can be listed with the luxury of ambiguity that comes from not being the party in power. These are populist times, but when push comes to shove, will the Brits have it in their national constitution to follow heart over head?

Earlier this week, Sky News political editor, Faisal Islam, tweeted about an interview with the newly esteemed leader; Ask Corbyn about cult of personality tells me, modestly: “I’m not in favour, & don’t encourage it and I often feel deeply embarrassed by it”. However sincere his answer it is, nevertheless, clear that the team behind Mr Corbyn knows how important the JC factor is in the Labour rejuvenation and for that reason expect the personality cult to run as Labour chases its second coming…

Luan de Burgh

September 2017

Luan de Burgh is a speaker, writer and founder of de Burgh Training – a specialist business communication training provider dedicated to helping people perform at their highest potential.