CGM blog: The importance of being what you are

Chris GreenJeremy Corbyn’s victory in becoming Labour leader has shocked us all.

Reaction has hardly been understated. ‘A threat to national security’, said David Cameron. A ‘teetotal vegetarian’ was the Daily Mail’s chief slur, before laying into a series of ‘dubious’ causes he’d supported in the 1980s such as an apartheid-free South Africa and power sharing in Northern Ireland. Hang on…

Yet Corbyn has secured a massive mandate. No other British politician has mustered anywhere near this level of popularity to become their party leader or win by this sheer weight of votes, which cannot be blamed on union block votes or similar. Another 16,000 are said to have joined Labour since Saturday’s result. The Corbyn bandwagon plugged in and played to packed houses all summer. Why?

Dark nights lay ahead for Mr Corbyn, I’m sure. It will be a tough act to unite his own party, let along the country. A serial naysayer will have to persuade people to take positive action – he has to lead, not carp from the sides. Unfamiliar territory.

Yet his biggest strength may turn out to be something he’s never consciously cultivated – image.

As he stood on the victors podium on Saturday and as he strode out for his first day’s work as party leader, Corbyn, so often accused of being out of touch by his critics, looked the way many men aspire to look when they too reach 66. Urbane, slim, calm – suit-free.

Check out the images of entrepreneurs like Richard Branson or James Dyson. They’re Corbyn-like – open necked shirt, casual jacket. Even beards are in fashion.

The newspaper photos that were supposed to damn Corbyn on the morning of his election – shorts, polo shirt, bike, newspaper tucked under his arm, reflect one of Britain’s fastest growing sub-cultures – the MAMILS (middle-aged men in lycra). Thankfully Corbyn is lycra-free, but you get the point – exercise keeps you fit and thin.

Anti-austerity, a more humane approach to migrants, a clampdown on bankers’ bonuses and calls for the re-nationalisation of the railways – lots of things may yet go Corbyn’s way with past plagues on the houses of all recent UK governments be they Labour or Tory.

Regardless of electoral success (let’s face it, Labour hopes can’t now be high) Corbyn’s greatest contribution could be to end the ever-desperate ‘getting down with the kids’ displays by politicians. David Cameron thought The Jam’s Eton Rifles was a jolly drinking song and Tony Blair once claimed to have had a seat at Newcastle United’s Gallowgate End for decades even though it had been terraced up to two years before.

Stop. Shut up. Be what you are.

And maybe that’s what, refreshingly, Corbyn represents. You may not like his views but you can respect his honesty. A more casual approach, not speak-your-weight politics may be what the front bench of British politics needs.

Chris Green is managing partner of Chris Green Media.