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FOR many months now we’ve been hearing ad nauseam from Jeremy Corbyn’s opponents (some even in his own party) that he’s “a nice man but not a leader.”
No doubt part of the deliberate intention in these ritualised orchestrated put-downs is that old Goebbels trick — if you repeat a lie often enough, eventually it becomes “truth.”
So the contrived, unimaginative mantra that Jeremy “is not a leader” needs careful unpacking and deconstruction, before we assume it to hold any substance.
First, we need to question the very notion of “leadership” itself, and whether old “parental” definitions are remotely appropriate in a 21st century where people increasingly insist on taking personal responsibility for what they think and believe — rather than looking outside of themselves to some reassuring “mega-parent” (that all-powerful mama or papa) who’ll look after us so we don’t have to go to the trouble of thinking for ourselves.
We see this kind of brain-dead parental approach to leadership when Tory politicians and right-wing newspapers bluster on about how the country needs “strong leadership” (always articulated with a gruff, rugged-sounding voice, notice) — but without any attempt ever being made to define precisely what “strong leadership” actually consists in.
As if just parroting this vacuous, undefined phrase is enough to reassure us so we don’t have to bother our tiny minds any further — thinking closed down, propaganda job accomplished.
But let’s start with some uncomfortably incongruous facts that will be most unwelcome as far as Jeremy’s critics are concerned.
This allegedly “weak” leader has inspired a huge, unprecedented surge of new party members (who else could conceivably have brought hundreds of thousands of new members into the party? — Chuka Umunna; Dan Jarvis; David Miliband?); forced embarrassing U-turns from an arrogant, uncaring government; shifted the political centre of gravity in Britain significantly to the progressive left; brought morality, fairness and peace into previously moribund political narratives; performed very well in local elections before the putsch last summer by the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) elite; has consistently out-performed Theresa May at Prime Minister’s Questions in recent weeks; has had the courage to take a nuanced, thoughtful view of Brexit — rather than adopting a tabloid-esque, grandstanding “pro” or “anti” position — and has remained dignified and calm in the face of daily vituperative attacks from the media, the entire Establishment and even his own party.
In any remotely dispassionate analysis, if the latter achievements don’t constitute the hallmark of a strong and effective leader, then frankly we don’t know what does.
Mahatma Gandhi said: “Strength does not come from physical capacity but from an indomitable will.”
Over the months we have repeatedly witnessed Jeremy’s extraordinary will and courage being tested in the most extreme of ways — and we are hard-pressed to think of any present-day politician who would have been able to withstand the ferocious onslaught that the Establishment has unloaded on to him — and continues to, as we write.
He has been bullied, betrayed and ridiculed, and yet he carries on with the same grace and care he always shows to others — however objectionable their behaviour and treatment of him might be.
The genuinely warm send-off Jeremy recently gave to resigner and serial Corbyn-critic Tristram Hunt is a case in point.
We also know no other politician in this country who possesses the maturity and dignity to have walked out of the unprecedented PLP meeting of June 27 last year with all its scarcely believable bully-boy nastiness directed viciously at him and to immediately urge his many thousands of supporters in Parliament Square to act respectfully, even to those we disagree with.
In the months and years to come, it is our strong conviction that it will increasingly dawn on more and more people that in Jeremy we’re looking at a deeply powerful and courageous human being.
We would also far rather measure someone’s leadership abilities by their integrity and their devotion to living honestly by their principles, rather than by the size of their macho ego-driven pretensions and their ability to look, sound and act “tough.”
If “strength” is measured by how combative and adversarial someone can be, then the likes of Hilary Benn certainly measure up, as his infamous speech (fawned over by the rightist media warmongers) advocating the bombing of Syria clearly showed.
And we’d better not even start on Tony Blair.
Conventional Establishment definitions of leadership held by the political right assume that a “good” or “strong” leader is someone tough and often charismatic, who “leads from the front” (commonly with a significantly puffed-up ego — we can surely all think of many examples).
Such an approach is essentially a construct deriving from big business, with personal responsibility being abdicated, and where people are dictated to and so effectively rendered powerless.
This is a key reason why Jeremy’s refreshingly new approach to political leadership is routinely misunderstood at best, and vilified at worst, and is under such sustained attack from those who don’t begin to (or, indeed, wish to) understand it.
In saying that “it is better to lead from behind and to put others in front,” Nelson Mandela knew how to lead in the most gentle and, paradoxically, subtly powerful of ways — and most importantly, he led people to recognise the voice of their own hearts.
This is why people are afraid of Jeremy — for here is a man who is seeking to empower people once more — and the more gently and respectfully he does it, the more frightened the Establishment becomes.
We, alas, still live in an era when unthinking reverence is commonly paid to the voice of the head and the sirens of the ego, which in turn then determine the dominating narratives about power and “regimes of truth” that so many people blindly accept, and are then ideologically positioned and dominated by.
We have an elite and an established political class who are quite incapable of recognising a leader whose inner strength and wisdom can lead us to the truest and deepest democracy.
For true democracy requires a leader who shares power and voice, a leader who strives with an open heart to mindfully serve the prosperity of all.
This is precisely why Jeremy could well ultimately become the strongest leader our nation has had for several generations: someone who deeply understands the word “listen” (as opposed to pretending to), and who listens deeply with both heart and head.
Someone who seeks to empower others, rather than disempower them through pathologically driven, bludgeoning “leadership” concerned with the accumulation and the exercising of “power over,” rather than Jeremy’s “power with” approach.
Jeremy has the ability and wisdom to lead from the centre and to command an authority that is honest and ethical. He is a man our hearts can trust and our minds can work with.
Let’s all work with him on the progressive left, and fully recognise the man he is, the counter-cultural qualities he possesses that transcend narratives of domination and the rare gifts he can therefore bring to all of us.
- Skeena Rathor and Richard House are Labour Party activists working in Stroud, Gloucestershire, campaigning to bring ethics, kindness and heart back into politics through Skeena’s innovative Politics Kitchen. For more info visit: mstar.link/PoliticsKitchen.
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