Prior to June 2nd, Jeremy Corbyn was an almost unknown political entity. His humanitarian campaigns, like his efforts to free his constituent Andy Tsege from Ethiopian prison I spoke to him about in February, received limited national press coverage. Jump forward two months and Corbynmania has taken hold. Depending on who you ask, Jeremy Corbyn is either the saviour of an austerity hit nation, the man who will single handedly destroy Britain, or a smouldering Clooney-esque sex symbol.
The Conservative supporting press is baffled that, despite their constant insistence that his “radical” policies will drag the country back to the 1980s, Corbyn has achieved his stratospheric rise through the political ranks. However, putting aside the fact that many of his policies have wide reaching support, Corbyn’s policies have little to do with why so many are now backing him.
For my generation, raised in the Blairite era, there has never really been a fierce opposition party. Blair adopted Conservative spending plans and Labour’s economic policies were then effectively endorsed by the Tories until the crash of 2008 (something they have now apparently forgotten). Nick Clegg made all the right noises in the build up to 2010 election, and then reneged on nearly all the promises that had put him into government. Ed Miliband was more a publicly funded figure of ridicule than a leader of the opposition. All this means that the most powerful figure the left of my generation has had to rally behind has been Russell Brand – and the papers can’t understand why people are flocking to Corbyn!
Although this may sound like an odd comparison, the roots of Corbyn’s support are similar to those of Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson. Although these three have widely differing policies, their popularity stems from the fact that they all have distinctive personalities that differ widely from the generic political mould. It doesn’t matter that Farage had to publicly shame a member of his party on an almost weekly basis (way back in May when we actually cared about UKIP) or that BoJo is an old Etonian with hair too complex to comprehend. What matters is that they are all different and interesting.
Many of Corbyn’s newfound fans won’t see radical policies ushering an era of socialism, they’ll see a genuine challenge to the political dogma that has ruled pretty much continuously since Margaret Thatcher took office.
Unlike the three other contenders in the leadership race, when speaking to journalists Corbyn does not speak as though his answers have been relentlessly fed through focus groups until they are totally void of meaning. This was brilliantly illustrated in a recent LBC interview with all four contenders for the Labour leadership race. They were each asked whether they would give a cabinet position to Ed Miliband. Yvette Cooper, Liz Kendall and Andy Burnham all dodged the question in typical fashion, but Corbyn answered that he would be keen to make Miliband environment secretary.
It’s slightly depressing, but by actually giving a genuine answer to a question Corbyn was able to distinguish himself and put him ahead of the pack. How have other politicians not unlocked this painfully obvious recipe to public support?
Regardless of his policies, I can’t help but warm to Corbyn. He is alone in the Labour leadership contest in that he looks like he will genuinely hold the Conservatives to account. For the first time in my lifetime, I could see a genuine leader of a real opposition. Will he win the leadership race? It certainly looks that way. Will he win the election? Probably not. Will he even make it to the election? It’s doubtful. But one thing that is clear to see for all of us not involved in politics – if you stop patronising the public and tell us what you are genuinely planning, you will go up in the polls.