Professor John Gaffney comments on the first 100 days of Jeremy Corbyn's leadership of the Labour Party
Reflecting on the first 100 days of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, academic expert, Professor John Gaffney, Professor of Politics at Aston University and Co-Director of the Aston Centre for Europe and author of Leadership and the Labour Party: Narrative and Performance, comments:
Since his election in September, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has been under constant scrutiny and debate, with endless cries of his inexperience, left-wing and old-fashioned approach, all played out in an extremely biased mainstream media. 100 days in, the Labour Party seems to be in turmoil; a leadership challenge appears increasingly likely; failing that, the prospect increases of a breakaway group of MPS, members and council activists forming a new movement.
Corbyn won the Labour leadership election because his narrative filled a void that had existed for Labour since Tony Blair’s reign. However, since September he has failed to offer the rhetoric, leadership and performance that excited so many over the summer. Instead, it is Hilary Benn who is taking up this mantle.
Yes, Corbyn’s democratic legitimacy is unquestionable, but by deferring so strongly to ‘The Grassroots’, party strife is building and public indifference is setting in once more. Increasingly, his most vocal supporters are the ones allowing the Party to seem like it is moving to the extreme left. Corbyn must appear to be the man who was elected in the first place: modest, sincere, thoughtful, quietly eloquent and actually saying something as opposed to the narrative desert of his opponents. Then he must build on that.
Leadership politics is not a power struggle but an art. Corbyn must now develop a blended, personally performed rhetoric that brings together all elements of his party. He should avoid creating rhetoric around contentious issues, ‘traps’ set by the Conservative Party, such as Trident. He should use the success of certain Labour councils, grassroots activism, and make it into a story, but one that is led by someone who is perhaps not naturally one of his closest allies. Develop this blended, personally performed rhetoric now and stick to it until 2020.
MPs represent their constituents as well as their parties, and for some, this is the perfect excuse to oppose some of Corbyn’s ideas. This tension has been here since forever, particularly in left parties. Corbyn must tackle this head-on, and instead of allowing it to be used as a form of intimidation, must address it, showing a degree of magnanimity to these MPs, so that he can win them round.
Concluding Professor Gaffney says:
The challenge that was presented to Corbyn back in September was to unify a fragmented party; create a strong narrative; and build a narrative that had been missing since Blair, which could persuade and win over voters. So far he has struggled to do this. It is not too late, but he must learn from these first 100 days and make changes now before it is too late.