Jeremy Corbyn: the right answer to the wrong question

British political culture is obsessed with leadership. Leaders are required to be visionary, charismatic, good looking, inspiring, firm but fair, correct in all things and (most crucially of all) victorious. If they miss the bar on any of these aspects, they must resign.

The fact that the Labour Party’s response to losing the election was to immediately start a process of electing a new leader is just the latest manifestation of this obsession.

This attitude prevails not just for the leaders of political parties and football teams, but for senior managers in all walks of life, especially in what used to be known as public service. We are told, for example, that our local council needs a Chief Executive on a salary of well over £100k, in order to ensure that we attract a “high calibre individual” able to “provide leadership”. [PDF] Unfortunately, the job of Chief Executive at Brighton & Hove Council now seems to be endangered by every shift in the political balance of the council.

The combination of (real or perceived) political patronage with salary levels that mimic those of private sector CEOs, has proved pretty expensive for the council’s budget over the past few years.

Maybe we should try organising our local services without a Chief Executive for a while. While we’re at it, we could get rid of all the managers and trust the front line staff to make decisions about how to organise their work. Maybe it would save enough money to pay care workers a decent wage.

It’s not just the mainstream that looks for answers in leadership. The left is always in search of new leaders whom we can idolise, and later despise. The political tradition in which I was educated (the Trotskyist Fourth International) held that there is a crisis of leadership in the working class, and that overcoming this is crucial to getting out of the pretty pass we find ourselves in.

So wedded are we to the leadership model of political organising that we simply don’t know how to respond when people (even famous people) speak about something quite different.

What Russell Brand has brought to the national conversation is a recognition that there is a crisis, not of leadership, but of representation and accountability – a crisis of democracy. Our elected representatives are distant from the true centres of power and our voting system denies most of us any meaningful choice, even from within the diminished pool of candidates presented to us.

The Labour Party should not be asking “who will be the leader who can return us to electability?” They should be asking “how can we represent and support the people who are at the sharp end of austerity?”

In the absence of political representation, some of those people have been organising themselves. In the absence of media coverage, people have been making and sharing their own news. The internet has been used to create the networks of knowledge, support and resistance that the traditional political system has failed to offer over the last five years.

The victory of the Tories at the election has driven people to take action – hundreds of people from Brighton joined the demonstration in London last week, including many who had never been on such a demonstration before.

This is the constituency for Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign for the leadership of the Labour Party. His Facebook page has over 30,000 likes. Labour MPs were pestered and petitioned to nominate him, not by the dwindling Labour left but by the growing movement of activists who are angry that the official opposition seems to find it so difficult to actually oppose anything.

I first met Jeremy Corbyn around 30 years ago, when I was a rising young thing in the peace movement and he was a relatively new MP. For a few years, he would recognise and acknowledge me when we turned up at the same meetings and demos.

Jeremy Corbyn is not leadership material. He is not charismatic, firm but fair, correct in all things or victorious. I will leave the question of his looks to people more qualified than I to comment. He is an inspiring speaker, who articulates a vision, shared by many people, of a world that is more just, more peaceful and more sustainable than the one we are living in now.

He is the kind of MP most people would love to have – the kind we are also blessed with here in Brighton Pavilion – a hard working, principled advocate and representative. A kind of anti-leader. He, like Caroline Lucas, stands in solidarity with the people who are fighting for justice.

That’s why I’ve registered as a supporter of the Labour Party, in order to vote for him in the leadership election. Not because I think the Labour Party can be reclaimed. Not because I think electing a new leader is the best way to do that, even if it were possible. But because his candidacy amplifies the voice of those grassroots campaigns and their demand for representation.

Into the vacuous soundbite-filled “debate” between Burnham, Cooper and Kendall, the Corbyn campaign brings real politics and an understanding of the need to build a movement for real change.

God knows, we need some of that!

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8 Comments on “Jeremy Corbyn: the right answer to the wrong question”

  1. ianchisnall says:

    Reblogged this on ianchisnall and commented:
    A great blog by my friend Dani

  2. Great post. Trusting care workers to manage their work is being developed as a specific model for nhs trusts to adopt in the UK by Public World http://publicworld.org/projects/whocares http://www.publicworld.org/files/care-at-home.pdf

  3. […] prominent Brighton blogger, Dani Ahrens, recently posted a piece reporting that she had signed up as a Labour supporter in order to vote for Jeremy Corbyn in the […]

  4. […] Jeremy Corbyn: the right answer to the wrong question → […]

  5. wilsondan says:

    I’m curious Dani. How did you vote in the local and general elections in May this year?

    Seeing as you’ve registered as a supporter of Labour, did you support them at the ballot box?

    Dan Wilson

    • Dani says:

      I voted Green in this year’s elections. I live in Brighton Pavilion, where my Green MP has been absolutely steadfast in her opposition to austerity over the last five years. I would have been crazy to vote to unseat her.

      If I lived in Islington North, or Hayes & Harlington, I’m sure I would have voted for those excellent, principled Labour MPs. If I lived in Brighton Kemptown, I would have voted for Nancy Platts. No idea what I would have done if I lived in Hove.

      Despite my publicly stated criticisms of the Green Party’s record in office, I also voted Green in the local elections. As disappointing as the Green administration was, the behaviour of local Labour politicians in opposition was even more offputting.

      I am not a party tribalist. I don’t really think parties are that useful. I don’t really think (most of the time) voting is that useful.

      I am an activist, trying to make a difference by supporting initiatives that reinforce a feeling of solidarity. Under the current leadership, the Labour Party is an obstacle to that effort. I’ve been given no good reason to vote Labour for many years, so I haven’t.

      I recognise Jeremy Corbyn as a person who also understands the importance of solidarity and self-organisation. That’s why I am supporting his campaign.

      • wilsondan says:

        But that’s not quite how it works. You aren’t registering to support Corbyn’s campaign, you’re registering as a supporter of the Labour Party. In doing that you had to agree to this declaration: “I support the aims and values of the Labour Party, and I am not a supporter of any organisation opposed to it.”

        I’d say that it’s very difficult for you to agree to this, considering your comments above.

      • Dani says:

        What have I said above that contradicts the labour party supporters statement?

        I assume the labour party is deliberately not asking people to declare that they voted labour this May, because they want to include people who didn’t vote labour.


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